It could have been just another American love story, something worthy of the Hallmark channel where a young, struggling mother meets her prince charming with whom she could imagine a wonderful future. Things didn’t work out that way for Elizabeth Kloepfer, because her white knight turned out to be one of America’s most notoriously diabolical serial killers: Ted Bundy.
By the time Ted Bundy was sentenced to death in July 1979, Elizabeth Kloepfer had known him for close to 10 years. Their decade-long courtship spanned Bundy’s entire killing spree during the 1970s proved to be just as conventional as it was emotionally draining and toxic.
The catalog of Bundy’s grisly depravities are hard to fathom: rape, kidnapping, burglary, dismemberment, decapitation and necrophilia. It’s easy to forget about the affable, clean cut, young Republican facade that hid the monster beneath. There is no other person that knew this side of Bundy as intimately as his long term girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer.
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Ted Bundy and Elizabeth Kloepfer maintained an intimate 10 year relationship while Bundy spanning entire reign of terror during the 1970’s. Bundy was able to hide his demons under a charming, clean cut exterior and nothing ever suggested to Kloepfer that he was anything worse than a bad boyfriend
This month marks the 30th anniversary of Ted Bundy’s execution and true crime filmmaker Joe Berlinger is releasing two different Bundy projects in tandem. ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’ is a straightforward docuseries for Netflix while his other film, ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ staring Lily Collins and Zac Efron is a thriller framed by Elizabeth Kloepfer’s point of view. He told DailyMail.com: ‘Together the two projects look at both sides of the coin.’
Bundy and Kloepfer first met at a local bar in the University District of Seattle, Washington. It was September 1969, and the recently divorced, 24 year old mother had left her hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah looking for a fresh start. One ordinary night, she headed to the Sandpiper Tavern with friends where she instantly noticed a tall, sandy-haired man with clear blue eyes that she said, ‘lit up when he smiled.’
Kloepfer was instantly attracted to Bundy when they first met in September, 1969. She was captivated by his clear blue eyes that she said, ‘lit up when he smiled.’ She was only 24 years old when they embarked on a tumultuous 10 year relationship
Joe Berlinger’s latest feature is a thriller starring Zac Effron (right) and Lily Collins (left). The movie is framed by Elizabeth Kloepfer’s distinctly unique point of view. In her book, Kloepfer writes about how quickly Bundy assimilated to domestic life; becoming a father figure to Tina, Kloepfer’s daughter and a protector for both
The 23 year old Bundy was seated by himself and Kloepfer was surprised at how approachable and easily amused the handsome man was. The two danced and shared flirtatious exchanges; Kloepfer said in her now out of print book titled, ‘The Phantom Prince,’ ‘I knew when I first looked at him, before we had even danced, that he was a cut above the rest of the crowd.’ She was immediately captivated by Bundy and took him home from the bar that evening. The same Ted Bundy that became infamous for murdering women with his devastating charm was completely respectful of Kloepfer —nursing her hangover with a homemade breakfast.
It didn’t take long for Kloepfer to start dreaming of a future with Bundy. Like any other romance, their relationship blossomed through conventional dating rituals: picnics, weekend getaways, homemade dinners, dates to the cinema, gatherings with friends, and most importantly, outings with Kloepfer’s three year old daughter, Tina. Kloepfer was amazed at how quickly Bundy had assimilated to domestic life, standing in as a father figure to Tina and a protector for both. ‘Talking and eating and taking care of Tina and sleeping together all flowed along so effortlessly that we had become a family,’ she said.
Bundy thrived in his role as a ‘family man.’ He woke up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons with Tina while Kloepfer slept in, he picked Tina up from day-care, lavished her with gifts, took her to the zoo and organized her birthday party: replete with balloons, a homemade sign and a chocolate cake that he baked and decorated himself. ‘Finally, I did something right,’ Kloepfer remembers thinking.
One of the more chilling experiences in making this movie for Joe Berlinger was when he took a trip with Lily Collins to meet with Elizabeth Kloepfer. She allowed them to thumb through her family photo albums of the era which revealed a seemingly happy family. Berlinger said ‘you saw a family of three at the beach, going on vacation, going camping, going skiing and it reminded me of my own family, yet there was Ted Bundy in all the photos.’ Berlinger’s movie allows us into the world of deception and compartmentalization.
Within a few months of meeting, the couple introduced each other to their families. Kloepfer came from a comfortable middle class home in Utah and Bundy respected her father who was a successful dentist. Likewise, Kloepfer’s parents were easily charmed by Bundy. She recalled Ted talking politics and football for hours to her normally reserved father while also making a formidable impression in the kitchen with her mother.
The beginning of Kloepfer and Bundy’s 10 year courtship evolved blissfully like most conventional relationships. ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ belies everything we know of the infamous lady killer
Kloepfer’s introduction to Bundy’s family wasn’t as warm. It was tinged by a lifelong resentment Ted felt for his mother after she kept the identity of his birth father secret. At 14 years old, Ted traumatically discovered that he was illegitimate while being taunted by a cousin. The man who raised him with his four younger siblings was not his real father and Ted carried the stigma with him for the rest of his life. He was also humiliated by his working class roots. His mother Louise worked as a secretary at their Methodist church while Johnnie Bundy was a line cook at a local army hospital. Ted’s past betrayed the identity he carefully cultivated as the sophisticate—one that was well educated, wore perfectly pressed shirts, dressed in expensive clothing, and spoke in a faintly detectable British accent. Later psychiatrists would point out that Ted’s false façade, charm and charisma are hallmark traits of a sociopath.
This didn’t deter Kloepfer who was eager to get married to her prince charming right away. Of the time, she recalled in her book feeling like she had never been happier. The nature of love often prevents people from yielding to warning signs but nothing suggested to Kloepfer that Bundy was anything worse than a bad boyfriend. There were red flags early on that only became blatantly obvious to Kloepfer in the aftermath of Ted’s convictions.
Bundy was extradited to Colorado to stand trial for the murder of Caryn Campbell and he elected to represent himself in the case. Years later, a member of Bundy’s last defense team said, Polly Nelson said ‘Ted was the very definition of heartless evil’
As three years quickly turned into five; their relationship unraveled into a toxic, mental roller coaster that was defined by a series of emotional jabs and counter punches. Bundy would go on dates with different women which would send Kloepfer into an uncontrollable, lovesick spiral before he smoothed things over with all the right words.
Kloepfer would counter strike by going out with men hoping it might elicit a jealous response from Bundy that proved he cared. The couple would continue this emotionally abusive cycle of ups and downs; and over time it poisoned the well of Kloepfer’s happiness—leaving her feeling raw and broken. Eventually she turned to alcohol to medicate her mood, which only made matters worse.
In early 1974, a string of young women started to disappear around the Seattle area and by summer, the entire Northwest was clenched in fear. On July 7, 1974 two women vanished separately in broad daylight from Lake Sammamish State Park. A co-worker showed Kloepgfer the police sketch of the primary suspect in the case that looked remarkably similar to her Ted. Several eye witnesses at the lake reported they overheard the man introduce himself as ‘Ted’ and noticed he drove a bronze- metallic Volkswagen Beetle.
Elizabeth Kloepfer was rapturously in love with Bundy but not blinded by it: she couldn’t fight the nagging feeling that her boyfriend might have been involved. Bundy began to spend less time with her and Tina in their Green Lake neighborhood apartment; instead opting to spend the night in the bedroom he rented from an elderly German couple at a nearby rooming house.
Kloepfer began to draw more connections. In her book. she revealed that Ted mentioned he was at Lake Sammamish around the same time the crime reportedly occurred. The next day he was particularly vague when Kloepfer asked him if he had any plans for the afternoon. (Years later, Bundy admitted to revisiting his crime scenes multiple times to groom the corpses and perform sexual acts with their bodies until putrefaction). Like the suspect, Bundy also drove a tan VW Beetle and late one night Kloepfer had discovered a hatchet when she reached under the passenger seat to retrieve Tina’s stray sock. Eyewitnesses noted that the unidentified man also spoke with a British accent; she couldn’t help but remember the way Bundy spoke the night they first met in 1969.
She wanted to believe that all these things were mere coincidences but couldn’t shake the dreadful feeling that Bundy was involved. Looking to alleviate her guilt and find reassurance in discrepancies; Kloepfer called the cops.
Ted Bundy’s car is now a tourist attraction at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington DC. Kloepfer first became suspicious of Bundy after eye witness accounts said the suspect involved in the Lake Sammamish disappearances was driving a metallic Volkswagen Beetle. Bundy removed the passenger seat to make room for the bodies of his victims.the passenger seat so he could drive with the bodies lying down
Women continued to go missing; Georgeann Hawkins, a local co-ed, disappeared at 1:00 AM on August 8, 1974. Eye witness accounts said she was last seen helping a man on crutches that was having difficulty carrying a briefcase. Years later, Bundy admitted posing as an authority figures, using disguises and feigning disabilities to lure his victims and gain their trust. But at the time, Kloepfer was confronted with correlations that she could not overlook: Ted lived in the same neighborhood that Hawkins went missing and she remembered seeing crutches in his bedroom a couple weeks before. At the time, Ted explained they belonged to his elderly landlord and that he had offered to return them to the rental agency as a favor.
Ted Bundy left Seattle at the end of summer in 1974 to attend law school in Utah and coincidentally the spate of murders in the Pacific Northwest stopped at the same exact time. His reign of terror picked up in Salt Lake City shortly after he arrived. 16 year old Nancy Wilcox disappeared from her front yard on October 2, 1974, her body was never recovered. A few weeks later, the remains of 17 year old Melissa Smith were discovered in the mountains. Upon reading the news Kloepfer called the King County Police in Seattle, Washington and agreed to meet with Detective Hergesheimer in person.
After escaping prison for a second time in 1977, Bundy was on the FBI’s most wanted list. He was on the lam for 47 days before being captured in Pensacola, Florida
She was surprised to hear that Ted Bundy had already been reported by somebody else, a college professor that recognized the police sketch in the papers. Kloepfer spoke with Detective Hergesheimer at length, fielding personal questions about the couple’s sex life since the string of homicides were sexually violent in nature. He asked if they ever had anal sex and she said no but admitted that Bundy talked about it a lot in the previous year. Kloepfer told Hergesheimer about the time Ted brought home a book called ‘The Joy of Sex’ and after reading it Ted sheepishly asked her if she would try bondage. She revealed that they attempted it a few times before stopping because she didn’t like it and Bundy respected her decision.
Conversely, Ted Bundy, the serial killing monster was known to bludgeon and garrote his victims until they were unconscious before he mutilated their bodies, raped, killed and sodomized them. The depths of his degeneracy existed in stark contrast to the ordinary bedroom habits between him and Kloepfer, who wrote in her book, ‘Over the years our sex life had been a strong bond between us, our desire rising and falling in cycles, but always tender and gratifying for me, and I know why. I loved him with all my heart.’
Things began to snowball for Ted after he was arrested on August 21, 1975 for possession of burglary tools based on the items found in his car. He was placed in a line-up for the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch in 1974 and she identified him immediately. Police across three states began to close in on Bundy. Detectives from different counties questioned Kloepfer for a second, third and fourth time—asking if any of the items found in his car looked familiar and probed into the personal details of her relationship.
On August 16, 1975, Bundy was arrested in Granger, Utah for evading police. In searching his car they discovered ‘burglary tools,’ in actuality this was Bundy’s killing kit. Bundy later said that searchers missed a collection of Polaroid photographs of his victims
Bundy confessed to 36 murders but some estimate that the total is closer to 100. When looking at pictures of Bundy’s victims, Kloepfer couldn’t help but notice her similarity with their appearance. Most had long dark hair, parted down the middle and all were roughly the same age, weight, and height. Kloepfer wondered if they died because of her
Once again, Kloepfer found herself playing Judas, condemning Bundy to Pontius Pilot and she was haunted by intense feelings of guilt. On June 30, 1976 he received a 1-15 year prison sentence for the aggravated kidnapping of Carol DaRonch and Kloepfer regretted ever calling the police in the first place. ‘There were questions we didn’t ask each other by unspoken agreement. He didn’t ask me why or what I told the police and I didn’t ask him about his connection to the crimes.’ She stayed devoted to Ted during the trial and while he was in prison; a move that ultimately destroyed many of her friendships and strained her relationship with her parents.
Kloepfer and Bundy continued to write letters while he was locked up. She visited him twice at the Utah state penitentiary before was extradited to Colorado in April 1977 to be tried for the murder of Caryn Campbell. During this time, Kloepfer successfully dedicated herself to getting sober and life started to look up. She bought a house, got a promotion at work and learned to accept that her relationship with Bundy was all but over aside from their written correspondence. Bundy had alluded to his plans for escape in many letters to Kloepfer. And finally after two unsuccessful attempts, Bundy officially fled the Garfield County Jail through a suspended ceiling panel; he lost 35 pounds so he could fit through the one square foot crawl space.
Kloepfer didn’t hear from Ted until he was finally captured on February 15, 1978 by Florida state police; putting an end to his homicidal rampage that claimed at least 36 victims, though some estimate it’s closer to 100. He was on the lam for 47 days, unleashing carnage in the brutal murders of two Florida State University sorority sisters and 12 year old Kimberly Diane Leach. Leach was Bundy’s youngest victim and the same age as Tina at the time.
Bundy watches intently during the third day of jury selection at his trial in Orlando for the murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach. After his death sentencing, Bundy confessed to a true house of horrors; decapitating his victims and adorning his bedroom with their skulls, even going so far as to revisit the decaying bodies, grooming them and having sex with their corpses
In one of their last conversations; Bundy confessed to Kloepfer that he tried to stay away from her when he felt the power of his sickness building in him. She wondered if those were the times she felt removed from him, the times she descended into self-doubt thinking she wasn’t enough for her ‘phantom prince.’
Bundy’s case was the first time news cameras were ever allowed in a court room. He became a media sensation during the nationally televised trials and his boyish charm garnered Bundy many admirers despite the unspeakable nature of his crimes. He received hundreds of love letters while in prison and infamously married a fan in the courtroom. It was a known fact that inmates at Raiford Prison would pool their money to bribe guards for conjugal visits and thus Carole Ann Boone gave birth to their daughter in October 1982.
Kloepfer had long moved on from Bundy by the time he was executed in the Raiford electric chair at 7.16 AM on January 24, 1989. She re-established herself in a healthy relationship and came to accept that a part of her will always love a part of him. The preface to her book reads, ‘Never did I forget that real women had been murdered for no other reason than they were attractive and friendly. The hideous reality of their deaths became my reality, too. Their tragedy was my trauma…I am thankful to have survived, thankful for the chance to work my problems through, thankful for the resiliency God gives humans.’
Bundy and the lurid details of his killing spree continues to fascinate Americans perhaps because he goes to the heart of our deepest primal fear: that the person next to us is ultimately unknowable.