Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Welcome to you can't make this up a companion podcast from net. Flicks. I rave oughta and I'm hosting this week episode here, and you can't make this up. We go behind the scenes of Netflix original true crime stories. It's special guests this week. We're getting into the Ted Bundy tapes this four part docu series follows the crimes of one of America's most notorious killers Ted Bundy from nine hundred seventy four to nineteen seventy eight Bundy committed a multitude of crimes including murdering over thirty women in seven states. The series is based on the book of the same name written by journalist and author Steven show Steven record over one hundred hours of his interviews with Ted Bundy which series features heavily but previously you could read transcripts of the interviews and Stevens book. This is the first time we're able to hear them and listen to ten Bundy in his own words, we brought in journalists Taylor Crompton who has written about Ted Bundy eighteen vote and cover social Justice in publications like paper, MAG and glamour. So let's get to that interview them. Stephen. Thank you so much for talking to me this morning. How are you? I'm just fine. We're getting ready to get frozen to death here. But right now disgraced that's terrible. So for listeners who don't know you could you briefly explain your connection to the docu series? I'm Stephen Michaud and back in the early nineteen eighties. I conducted a series of journalistic interviews with Ted Bundy at the Florida state prison over a period of about six months, and those conversations became the basis of the docu series conversations with a killer. There are tapes as well that my partner Hugh Ainsworth recorded with Bundy in the same period of time. And I know at someone who has watched this theory's, I'm he spoke about how you recorded over one hundred hours of tape with him, and you were very personal y'all had similar shared lived experiences of growing up in Vermont and Seattle area. So could you kind of speak about how it was. Was even being in that room with him consistently. Well, these these interviews were done for the most part in a small office right in the center of the prison at windows on three sides and Ted, and I would sit together at a table of two chairs in an ashtray. It's it was very claustrophobic. And it was also there lots of things to to make your nervous and Mike case I had misrepresented myself when I went into the prison. I said that I was an investigator for the for the appeals attorneys and that wasn't true. I I had a private investigators license, but I just knew that if I said, I was a journalist they weren't going to let me walk in and out of the prison for six months to interview their most famous serial killer. So all the way through that. The back of my head was gotta they listening to this. And at what point are they going to come in? And. Grabbed me by the SCRUFF of my neck and Marsh me out where March me into my own my own cell. So that was that was one level of nervousness. There was also the the constant stress of basically sparring with a sociopath. I didn't know what a sociopath was when I first went in there. I mean, I think I probably could have told you that it's a person who likes any remorse for anything that they've ever done, and they can't feel any guilt never having consciously encountered associated path. I didn't know how their minds worked. I got a lesson. I got I got really schooled by the time. I was three with Ted. And then there was on top of that the problem that Ted was claiming still at that time that he was totally innocent, which was patently untrue. So I had to figure out a way to coax him into talking about what I wanted to discuss. With him that is the murders. And that required in the end just taken taken a guess that the way into Ted's head was to treat him, basically, like a twelve year old because in a lot of ways that's all that he was he he was a case of arrested development. And I said to Ted, you know, more about these cases all of these cases all over the country than than anybody. Tell me from your expert point of view what led to these killings. What motivated the the person to do them? What went on inside his head whips at the objective? Why were these women killed in anything else? You can add to help me understand this this person and Ted grab the tape. Recorder out of my hand, kind of cruel himself around it and lit a cigarette and off we went and. For the next six months. Most of it was Ted conducting a monologue with me prompting him from time to time, and lighten is cigarettes and changing the tapes, I've noticed that in the Passover years, there's been this bike and content. Regarding truecar him the movie that's coming out. Starring Jack Ephron. There's new documentaries coming out every day about serial killers and kind of like this history. So how do you feel about the uprising this current phenomenon? Well, in some ways, I guess is just a new generation discovering. These guys me the the original interest in serial killers came in the nineteen seventies. The turn wasn't even known when when I first met Ted, nobody had ever used the term serial killer. But he and a lot of other guys just sorta seemed to come out of the woodwork at the same time. There were maybe ten or fifteen of them that everybody knew their names there. Kind of a select circle of Aborignes offenders. I think that people who didn't live through all of that are are sort of newly aware of what went on. And what is probably still going on? I think you know, instead of driving around the way Ted did and other guys did I think most of them are probably operated on the internet. I've been thinking a lot about Ted Bundy in the kind of context of this new generation that you spoke enough when we're in the areas of knee to and awareness around sexual assault in violence for folks with marginal nights identity, and especially and Ted's case I was curious about how much of his kind of anonymous being able to walk into a crowd and not be seen as tight a lot to his white male privilege in his identity because several times throughout the documentary series. We kind of witness this very positive treatment of Ted by law enforcement officials and even in the Florida trial. You know at the end of it the. Judge kind of compliments him for his actions in the courtroom for defending himself. Even making a statement that I wish you were a lawyer. So you could practice in front of me. So I saw several times throughout the series a lot of this confusion because Ted in my opinion, kind of weaponized his white male identity to hide in plain sight. And I was curious if you kind of saw any of that in your reporting, or maybe thinking of it now as we talking about, you know, these intersectional social Justice movements. If you think that Ted's whiteness had anything to play in his anonymous factor. Those are all good points by cautiousness was not nearly a raised enough back in nineteen eighty to think of this in in those terms, but there's truth in what you say Tibbs whiteness and his blandness worked very much in his favor as a sociopath. He. He worked very hard at making himself appear friendly appear. No, kind of concerned mild one of the things that was important in his story in understanding Ted was the number of people who knew him who were absolutely persuaded. He could not have done any of these crimes, but to help put a little more focus on your points. Not only was he a white male. But he was a Republican and a an a four square Republican. And you could go further his victims were all white women. I don't think he I don't think he attacked a single woman of color, most serial killers tend to have a kind of profile victim, and in many of them focused, for instance, on prostitutes, some of them focus on old people Ted took what he liked to think of his high value targets. These were. For the most part college coeds attractive, young women all white all going to large respectable institutions and to give you you know, to give you something more to think about part of what he was doing was getting his revenge because he felt that he had been passed over his anger was so rooted in his whiteness, and if we look at whiteness, it's this kind of power structure and dynamic a very much ownership in control, which even as kind of reminiscent of how he committed acts of sexual assaults against his victims. And I was thinking about on the context of a lot of sexual assault movements. Whether it be metoo, whether it be Harvey Weinstein, whether it be some other chargers, always kind of like this feeling of ownership in control. Like, this is mine I can exact control upon it. And I saw that a lot throughout the series with Ted and how has relation. With women or those who had denied his female always came from this aggressive defiant standpoint. Well, yes, again, Ted notably said to me one time that the the object of with this person was doing was possession. The word was position at and he said as you might possess a potted plant or a painting or a Porsche, but objectification taken to a malignant level. I think that those that his victims were in some ways completely abstract to him. It was important. I know not to have conversations with them. He said that he would you know, he he would only talk to them enough to get them in a compromise position where he could immobilize them or kill them. You know, he did not chat with him over a long period of time. And he said that there was always a problem if he did that they. They would start emerging as a as a human is a real person and screw up his fantasy. I find it troubling to talk to other men of of any age and the conversations tend to run towards wonderment about. Wow. How did he do that one of the things that we tried to do in the books, and I think again that the series also does is point out that Ted was a coward? There was nothing difficult about what he did. And and he, and I spoke about this a great deal that in those days, you probably could get away with kidnapping and killing young women much easier than you could stealing stuff from a supermarket. And I know it sounds bizarre. But I think it's functionally true that serial murderer is actually one of the simpler crimes to get away with and one that that to a certain. One set of men and serial killers are overwhelmingly males the rewards the potential rewards in very value system are wonderful. You get to possess what you wanna possess a dead woman. Being richer subserving Waffen to May US in Russian US. Guy through playboy right on to daily news. But I think Ted, you know, he spoke a lot about wanting to be attorney in wanting to be political activists and wanting to kind of guard our this center in a fame, and it seemed like almost as if he was entitled to be the center of attention. He always wanted to be in charge of his narrative in story. Whether that was I with you, and he kind of just wanted to speak about his childhood and not pay attention to the murders that he committed or whatever he was arrested trying to talk to the presser as far as being co-counsel when he had no law degree. He always tried to place themselves in the center and for me. I think it's because all the values that he grew up with told him that he could be the center of attention as a white male. There's something there's something else that you have to bear in mind with him is he is typical of these guys. Was a narcissist. And he was paranoid and those those two personality flaws or personality disorders interplay very closely across his life, for example, when Ted was in court, the paranoia reveals itself and his distrust for his attorneys that he thought they were plotting against him and the narcissism drove him to make a spectacle of himself. So he's you know, I'm not arguing with with any of your insights. But I sometimes think of Ted as this big ball of energy malignant energy being guided by these you know, what they say in meteorology the steering winds of of his other para Phileas of an and of his his other personality disorders against. Again, I'm being really circuitous here. But I think that the Ted I know the Ted was not particularly self-aware when we started talking about him in the third person. He had really no clue. I mean, I really honestly believe this. He had no clue as to how it happened that. He started doing what he started to do. He told me details. How it grew? I mean, the stages of it and all the rest of it. I remember him saying to me one time he faulted what he became he faulted society, and what he faulted society for was giving people such as him too, many choices and his way of illustrating that was to say that perhaps if this individual as he often referred to himself was raised in a really highly restrictive hierarchical society that all of this evil plasma inside of him would have expressed himself in. Eamon stamp collecting this this this then gets us back to the fascination with Ted is that he was brilliant at exploiting the structure of society. I guess is a way to say the the the presuppositions the kind of undigested assumptions about how things are so. Yeah, I think I think all all of what you say is is true. I was thinking about how you brought up how Ted represented himself. I'm during the trial, and it was very similar to me to how the Charlotte in shooter Dylann roof author represented himself during the trial. And if you look at their case, I'm even Dylan's legal team attempted to utilize the competency tests to kind of make sure that he didn't have this graphs of the responsibility on his actions. And if even if you look at his case, it's so similar to Ted how he proclaimed that he was in. Innocent how he represented himself. And then if we want to get very eerily how the police department treated Dylann roof in a similar manner to how Ted Bundy was treated. I mean there was meals given to him. There was like this very kind of assumptions of like, he's a good guy. It's all good even though both of them had committed. He's very violent acts. So if we're kind of looking like, this archetype at Ted Bundy has laid down it has really kind of like, but it into these other white male seal your killers who were utilizing the same kind of foundation that he built decades before that we're still seeing now filter tells me that what I'm hearing is that these societal structures are still very much in place, and they still encourage the development of the of the kind of behavior that we saw with Ted. Maybe maybe not so artful as Ted was. And maybe that you know, that as we, you know, we learn more about these. Guys. Maybe the law enforcement officials are further up the learning curve. I I mean, I I'll give you an example when Bundy Flynn Bundy, I became active in the early nineteen seventies. There was a lot of pushback from veteran. Detectives who said, you know, we know who kills people, you know, who people kill people that they know and they kill them. And if not the kill them for a really obvious reason anger money to you know, to hide hide their identity, and these either blood or familial connections, or the obvious motive is what you have to follow when you're trying to solve the crime and Ted came along and and showed the world. No, no, no. No known fact, that's the last thing that I would I would do. I mean, I killed strangers and killed them for reason. And so there was an institutional Rupe? Think that prevented the cops from even considering a guy like Ted because he he he he didn't meet any of their expectations, and they and they refused to even look at it. So that that was a huge advantage for him. And it was true in every jurisdiction that the problem in stopping him had a lot to do with the fact that no-one no-one could feature somebody just going around killing people because he wanted to kill them. There was no rational motive for anything that he did. He was an aborate killer. It was it was outside of their Ken and really was outside there can and can't had set a knowledge on half leaf departments. Where it kinda in the cities at talked about how he had an internship or some type of position. Within the Seattle police department and kind of figured out how these departments worked in silos never been in communication with each other. And it seems that innocence he may have had a fondness for law enforcement because even when the escaped survivor when in identified him, he changes appearance to match the law enforcement officers because he knew that he could easily blend in into assimilate. So I always thought into his during the series that he knew whenever he was in trouble or was going to get caught to assimilate into this kind of position of power improve lidge in which he could hype it walk through a wall. Will let me give you some other little tidbits that that are consistent with that. Ted used various guises when he was prowling stocking for victims one of them was the victim himself. He would he had worked as a driver for a. A medical supply company and boosted stuff like plaster of Paris, and slings and all this medical gear from the company, and then he would he would get himself up with a limp and with a sling, and maybe a maybe some kind of thing on his hand or whatever. And then go kind of hobbling down a street usually at night usually around campus with his books or his is whatever his his briefcase knowing that young woman, if they saw him in extremis would probably come along and say can I carry your books for you? Can I do this do that? And of course, he would lead them to his car where he would hit them over the head and off he went that was one another one was thirty figure the one girl that we know that escaped him said that he had approached her as a rent a cop at a mall telling her that somebody had broken. Into her car, and she had to come out and identify it another time he posed as a fireman in the afternoon for to a teenage girl who said that something had something to do with it were car was or something like that. So you right. He understood how how these relationships work and exploited that he did have some instincts. That's just a a pure animal predator. But I think that you know, that must have grown out of something e he either intuited or or worked very hard to to understand. And I think I would tend towards the latter because I remember talking to him about his work in in that study in in Seattle in it it had to do with recidivism rates, and that sort of thing, but what he did is he he he looked at a whole bunch of rap sheets from all these jurisdictions in the north. West and he figured out that, you know, a guy would get arrested for something and his name we go on a rap sheet. And but you could not figure out from the rat sheet. Whatever happened to it. Did he get convicted? Did he you know, what these they were always were incomplete. And so you the record keeping was subpar, and then the communication among these police departments was also non existent. So it dedicated predator such as Bundy with this maybe pre conscious, but nevertheless, real anger in him would go to work to take advantage of those exact things that he was that. He was studying he read detective magazines. He was a great fan of them studying them for what kind of criminal advantage. He could get from him. So he was a very active student of his psychopathology and since you've been contributing so much the Netflix documentary. Theories. And is there anything that you felt this series? Did it include or kind of profile in a right way? I'm very happy with the series. I was very eager to work with Joe Berlinger because mired his material we shared a determination to make this as honest and straightforward a series as possible and the idea which I think we achieved was to get into Ted's head. And I think that is the major contribution that this series is going to make and I'm curious since you are at journalist who has been reporting on true crimes for several decades about what areas you're focusing on now into any nineteen. Well, I'm sort of a reluctant serial killer criminal reporter, I when I finished the Ted book. I thought I was going to go back to work and be a magazine journalist, and I couldn't get anybody to hire me. So I sort of became a book writer with a specialty in crime. Because of market forces head, you know, ahead to eat, and I do do other things. It's not it's it's not a, you know, it's not my exclusive interests. So I've I've got some stories that are more conventional more people with with real motives, greed anger, more of a sort of main mainstream good old American killing, but they tend to be more multi level than than, you know, fallen around one serial killer. That's these are, you know, there's a lot of participants in the in the in the plot or whatever the story is that makes them complex and interesting to me. Well, Stephen, I wanna thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to me. I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it. A I think you taught me some things or or you encourage me to think in in different ways. And so I I owe you a thank you for that. It's I believe there's a lot of substance to your analysis, and it would probably help for a lot of people. In thirty to learn how to think that way, or at least be open to that possibility because the -bility to think to use the cliche outside the box was one of the major reasons they had trouble catching Ted, right man, anytime, it was a pleasure talking to you. That was Taylor and Stephen and now let's hear from you. It's time for a dramatic reading of your most dramatic social media reactions. This tweet is from at Susie Meister, Ted Bundy is evidence that a white guy can be mediocre in every way and a psychopath and people still think he's exceptional. This tweet is from director at your bright finished conversations with a killer. The Ted Bundy tapes, though, I was pretty familiar with the story. I still found this confounding compelling case study that made me to family sad and chilled to the bone. I don't know how numb you have to be to not be affected by it. Here's a grad that Billy gentlemen started. As we all binge the Bundy tapes on net flicks. And share the trailer for the Zach Ephron movie. Please remember the victims these women all had hopes and dreams they should all have movies made about them. I always try to remember what these monsters took away pass tag, Ted Bundy tapes, the rest of the thread memorialize is each victim. If you want to share your thoughts on any upcoming episode, make sure to find us on social media, just search for you can't make this up Netflix. We're the ones with the shiny blue checkmark. Before we let you go. We've got one more treat for you. It's time for what you're watching. It's where we find out what the people on this episode or watching on Netflix. I have just finished watching Bruma twice. And it just knocked my socks off what a wonderful movie. I I saw all these huge ads in in the New York Times. And I said, I gotta go see that thing. And then I said now it's net flicks. That you know, it was wonderful great. That's that's that's my latest thrill. I've been watching sex education on net flicks. Which I really think is this beautiful theory that allows generation v to honestly talk about their sex lives and their reproductive health. So I know for me, it's kind of like the last age of the millennials I wished that I grew up with accessible content in which people like me were talking about their sex lives in a healthy positive fashion instead of relying on the internet or urban legends or miss. So I think it's been a really beautiful and accessible content into which youth. Now who are so multi-faceted and have different intersection identities are able to watch something like that. In it relates complete need to their lived experience as someone who is growing and interior sexuality and gender identity. So I think it's a really beautiful content. And that's it for this week's episode. We'll be back next month with a new true crime series for you to add to your watchlist. 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