'Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes'
The new Netflix docuseries is a devastating testament to our obsession with serial killers.
Netflix released Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes on January 24, 2019—the 30-year anniversary of Ted Bundy’s execution.
I watched the entire show in a night—with only four episodes, it was easy.
The hard part was actually watching the show.
Watching Ted Bundy smile for the cameras and cross-examine a witness during his own trial is enough to make anyone’s blood run cold. Hearing Bundy talk in such a calm, relaxed voice is entirely different. It’s chilling.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, The Ted Bundy Tapes uses old photographs, videos, and tapes recorded while Bundy was on death row to paint a picture of a monster—a man who blamed his crimes on an obsession with pornography and painted himself as the victim, even with overwhelming evidence convicting him of over 30 murders. There are also interviews from police officers involved in his arrests, a victim who escaped, and the journalists he spoke with.
The show is hard to watch, but hard to look away from. It feeds into our societal fascination with murder, an obsession with people who commit unspeakable evil.
I wanted to review the show, but even after a day to process what I watched, I don’t have the words. How do you review something like this? The plot and characters are real; Ted Bundy murdered women all over the country, escaped from custody twice, and arrogantly acted as his own lawyer during both of his trials.
Thirty years later, the fear he instilled in America persists. Bundy was different than other serial killers—charming and educated, with the judge who handed him the death penalty saying, “You would’ve made a good lawyer... I don’t feel animosity towards you, I want you to know that.”
That shook me. How could he, after sitting through the trial and hearing the awful things Bundy did, feel any sympathy towards him? It was sickening to see that Bundy was so charismatic that people couldn’t believe he’d done what he’d done, that there were people who still trusted him.
One of the most shocking revelations of The Ted Bundy Tapes, at least for those unfamiliar with his story, is that Bundy was arrested multiple times during his reign of terror. The first time was in Utah in 1975. The second was in Colorado in 1977. His final arrest was in Florida in 1978.
Ted Bundy escaped custody twice due to police incompetence. There’s no other way to put it. He was so likable that he was able to disarm law enforcement, so clever that he was able to escape twice. The first time, he was left alone and jumped out of a second story window. The second time, he crawled through the ceiling in his cell. Each time he was arrested, police had enough evidence to show he was a dangerous man—weapons and a ski mask in his car, a paper trail showing where he’d been, even a witness who’d escaped him—and they didn’t treat it seriously enough.
Because of this, more women died.
It’s clear that from the first time he was arrested in 1975, Ted Bundy was handled inappropriately. He shouldn’t have been allowed to defend himself at trial. He shouldn’t have been given opportunities to escape custody. He should’ve been regarded as dangerous, but his charismatic demeanor blinded everyone to his true, dark nature.
Netflix has an abundance of true crime shows, some good and some bad, but Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes unsettled me in a way nothing else has. Without dramatic re-enactments, it relies on photos of victims, interviews, and the chilling words of Bundy himself to terrify its audience. It does a good job.
Ted Bundy was undoubtedly a monster; he claimed his innocence only until his execution was inevitable and tried to blame his violence on pornography, instead of his own psychopathy. Yet society is still fascinated by his crimes, as we are with all things that are “extremely wicked, shockingly evil, and vile.”
Stephen G. Michaud, the journalist whose tapes gave Netflix a new show, acknowledged that Bundy wanted to be talked about. He requested to be interviewed, offered to give the story of his life. Bundy hid behind claims of innocence as a way to narcissistically boast about what he’d done. He was proud, and he was getting the attention he wanted, even when pretending he wasn’t guilty.
Our obsession with evil has done exactly what Bundy wanted—thirty years after he sat in the electric chair, he’s still getting attention. Books are still written, movies are still made.
Serial killers sell, and Ted Bundy is the best of the best.