SALT LAKE CITY — In October of 1974, just one week after infamous serial killer Ted Bundy killed 16-year-old Nancy Wilcox, Rhonda Stapley says he tried to kill her.
Stapley, originally from Washington, was a first-year pharmaceutical student at the University of Utah. She was at a bus stop near Liberty Park after a dentist appointment on Oct. 11 and the bus was running late.
She was about to walk to another stop when she said a cute young man pulled up in a tan Volkswagen.
The man offered her a ride back up to the U. and introduced himself as Ted, a first-year law student.
"I was in a car with a serial killer," Stapley said Saturday night, 45 years after the incident, at a book signing at Weller Book Works.
Of course at the time, she said, she wasn't aware of that fact. To her 21-year-old self, he looked like a normal law student who was polite and even handsome.
"The possibility that this man could be dangerous did not enter my mind," she said.
She didn't become afraid until Bundy parked the car near Big Cottonwood Canyon, where she said he turned to her, his eyes changed from blue to black, and he told her he was going to kill her.
At the book signing, where more than 80 people were in attendance, Stapley didn't go into further details on the attack, saying she didn't want to upset people with the disturbing details.
In her book, "I Survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape & PTSD That Changed My Life," she describes the assault in detail, saying Bundy raped and strangled her.
Stapley told the Deseret News she almost didn't publish it.
"I'm very glad I published the book," she said. "I wavered back and forth for months whether to publish it or just keep it secret and I'm glad that I decided to do that."
A lot of people have reached out to her and said her story helped them get through horrible things that had happened to them — the reason she's glad her book is out there.
"I wrote this book because I survived Ted Bundy," she told audience members. "Assault doesn't end and the crime isn't over just because the assault is finished."
Edie Dean, 28, traveled from Orem to hear Stapley speak. She's been interested in Ted Bundy since 2012, she said.
"I don't like Ted Bundy as a person," she clarified. "I just think he's a really interesting example of evil because he doesn't have the face of evil that people expect. … Evil doesn't always appear to be evil."
Her friend, Amanda Stubbs, 23, from Pleasant Grove, said it was interesting to learn about something she was unfamiliar with.
"I know next to nothing about Ted Bundy or any of his cases or anything like that and so it was really fascinating to hear more information," she said.
Stapley said she supports shows like Netflix's new documentary series "Conversations with a Serial Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" so the upcoming generation, like Stubbs, can learn about him and what people can be capable of.
Stubbs praised Stapley for her courage to come forward with what happened to her.
"Rhonda's really brave to be coming out and sharing her story," she said. "Especially in a culture that people are always trying to falsify what people are saying, so good for her."
Dean said she it was interesting to hear how the assault impacted Stapley's life for so many years.
"It would be easy to assume that it was the hardest right after the event but it does stay with you even if you can push it down and come back later with just like the trigger that she talked about," she said.
That trigger was in 2012 when Stapley said her boss yelled at her in a way that reminded her of Bundy and sent her spiraling into a PTSD breakdown. It was the event that pushed Stapley to seek out therapy and eventually tell her close family members about the assault.
"I like hearing from survivors because I think it's important to learn their stories so we can learn about warning signs," Dean said.
Stapley said she kept the assault secret for so long out of fear people would judge her and not believe her.
"It wasn't that I forgot about what had happened, it was just I didn't allow myself to think about what happened," she explained.
Stapley's daughter, Amy Godding, attended the event and said she was proud of her mom. She also said out of the four or five of her mother's book signings she's attended, this was by far the largest.
"I know that she's making a difference and what she lived through means something, it wasn't just mindless violence against her, that it's being put to good use is I think good," she said. "I am super proud that she got up enough courage to tell her family and then tell pretty much everybody."
But it's hard for Godding to think about the violence her mother endured.7 comments on this story
"It makes me really really sick that anything like that can happen to anybody, but knowing that it's your mom who was hurt so much and that she didn't feel safe to tell anybody and that all that kind of psychic pain and trauma just sat there forever, just makes me so sick," she said.
The importance of sharing pain and trauma with trusted confidants is what Stapley hopes people take away from her story.
"If you've had a horribly traumatic experience in your life, share it with somebody — a parent or a friend or a therapist — so that you don't hold that all inside for years and get post traumatic stress disorder somewhere in your life," she said.