The Only Living Witness – Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth

20200726_120134On January 24, 1989, the executioner on Florida State Prison’s stepped forward to exercise his duty in carrying out orders of the state.  But this was no ordinary execution. In fact, it was one that no one would ever forget. At 7:16 a.m., Dr. Frank Kilgo declared the prisoner deceased and his announcement provided the conclusion to the final chapter in the life of American serial killer Theodore Robert “Ted” Bundy (1946-1989).  During his incarceration, Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth conducted a series of interviews with Bundy in an attempt to understand thoughts and motives, and to clear up mysteries surrounding his crimes. The result is this intimate look at Bundy through the eyes of the authors who came face to face with a killer who is firmly entrenched in the annals of American criminal history.

It should be noted that the book is not a biography of Bundy.  And although the authors do discuss Bundy’s early life first in Vermont and then later in Tacoma, Washington, the story focuses mainly on his crimes and movements between the 1974 of teenager Lynda Healy and his arrest in Pensacola, Florida on February 15, 1978.  I believe that it goes without saying that the book is not for everyone. Those sensitive to descriptions of violence and the subject matter presented should use discretion.  To be expected, the authors provide details of each crime but at no point is the story reduced to a gore fest. In fact, the graphic details serve mainly as a supplement to the main story and are used when needed to emphasize the true scale of Bundy’s horrific actions.  The purpose of the authors here was not simply to tell what Bundy did but to really explore the man behind the atrocities.  Society has always been fascinated in learning the driving factors behind serial killers.  Bundy is firmly at the top of list and in the future, I am sure that his life will be revisited by law enforcement, forensic psychologists and those who simply have a strong interest in true crime.

The book was originally published in 1983 and updated in 2012.  This explains the Kindle version having comments about his execution which did not occur until 1989, six years after the first version was published. Putting that aside, the story is essentially the same and true crime lovers will be hooked instantly once the book starts.  Michaud begins the by giving a recap of how he and Aynesworth became acquainted with Bundy and the similarities between the lives of Bundy and himself.  The dark part of the story begins with the disappearance of Lynda Healy on January 31, 1974.  Over the next few months, several more women disappeared without a trace and police were left scrambling to understand what happened and why.  The northwestern part of America did not yet know it, but it was the starting place for the cross-country murder spree by the man witnesses said was called “Ted” and who drove a Volkswagen Beetle.

To say that Bundy was a loose cannon is a severe understatement. However, like most serial killers, he was extremely charming and even those closest to him could not imagine him being the monster authorities said he was.  In fact, this quote by former associate Larry Diamond, sums up how most of the people who knew Bundy felt about him:

One who remembered Ted cutting a handsome figure that summer is Larry Diamond. “Frankly,” Diamond told me, “he represented what it was that all young males anywhere ever wanted to be. He held that image. I wanted that image, and because of that I was jealous of him. I think half the people in the office were jealous of him. The males — and all of the women — were taken by him, down to the crease in his trousers. If there was any flaw in him it was that he was almost too perfect.”

This description reaffirms that serial killers cannot be identified simply by sight.  They often blend in with society are extremely charming and well-liked.  But under the surface lies a raging monster that preys on the innocent and finds satisfaction through acts of violence and murder.  Bundy fit the profile of the All-American male and very well could have been elected to a high position of power anywhere in the United States.  And that is part of what makes this story so chilling.  In spite of what has been said about him, his IQ was fairly average but he did possess sharp intellect and the gift of persuasion which is on full display in the relationships with several girlfriends and in particular Carole Boone who married Bundy while he was on death row. The detachment Bundy displays from the crimes he committed in his discussions with Michaud and Aynesworth is both chilling and revealing.  His ability to compartmentalize and then rationalize what could be describe as normal human acts as opposed to the dark rages within, highlight the mental dysfunction within his mind.  And his insistence on discussing the crimes in the third person adds another layer of bizarre behavior to the long list of his quirks.

In August, 1975, Bundy’s luck began to run out when he was arrested in Utah.  Soon, it was learned that the mysterious figure from out of state had tried to kidnap Carol DaRonch, the only living witness to Bundy’s insanity.  However, before facing justice in Utah, a series of events in Colorado took place that convinced authorities that the prosecution of Ted Bundy was priority number one.  The section about Colorado will have some readers staring in disbelief. Today, the thought of Bundy pulling the escapades that he did seems unthinkable, but in the 1970s, America was a very different place and the man called Ted was still largely unknown in the days before social media and the internet.  From Colorado, he stopped in Chicago before heading to Florida where he would reach the end of the road.

On January 15, 1978, several women were attacked at Florida State University’s Chi Omega Sorority house. Two were killed and the survivors were left with devastating mental and physical injuries.  The description of the attacks relayed here is nothing short of barbaric.  The events of that night became known as the Chi Omega Murders and in time, the world would learn that Ted was nothing short of a nightmare.  But before he was finished, Tallahassee, Florida would also suffer the Ted Bundy experience and the case of Kimberly Leach should leave readers with no doubt that Bundy needed to be taken off the streets.  After his arrest in Pensacola, authorities had no idea who they were dealing with.  Bundy had refused to reveal his name, undoubtedly due to the charges in several states.  But he finally caves and as authorities in others states learn that America’s most wanted killer is in custody, the walls began to close in on Bundy.  But ironically, it is at this part of the book that the story becomes even more bizarre with turns and twists that are simply surreal.  Between arguing with his own lawyers, acting pro se and making unsolicited outburst during proceedings, it seemed as if he did not truly understand the gravity of his situation.  And even at various points in the book, he makes several decisions that even the most common criminal would know not to make. And considering that he was a law student, it is even more bewildering that he commits the blunders that he does. But I believe that they show just how unhinged and detached from reality Bundy truly was.

There is a good discussion of the trial in Florida but it is quite condensed. I think it was a good decision by editors as it would have resulted in the book draggin out for too long.  The authors do provide just enough for readers to get an idea of what was taking place between as Bundy’s defense began to crumble.  Readers who are interested in the trial and in Bundy’s own words may find the Netflix docuseries Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, highly enjoyable.  Although it is not the end all source for information on Bundy, there is a wealth of information on Bundy’s thoughts and crimes.  However, this account by Michaud and Aynesworth is  a good starting point for understand the life and crimes of Ted Bundy.

ISBN-10: 0451127528
ISBN-13: 978-0451127525

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