If Zac Efron’s portrayal of the real-life serial killer is any indication, Ted Bundy seemed like a nice guy to many people who knew him. But there’s a reason Zac’s project is titled Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, an dElijah Wood and Luke Kirby’s brand new Ted Bundy movie, out this month, is called No Man of God. Bundy confessed to murdering 30 women and likely killed even more.
It’s only natural to wonder why Bundy chose to commit such heinous acts, especially since he appeared to live a relatively normal life before his killing spree. With Bundy’s family making cameos in many of the tales of what happened (Bundy’s mom was a character in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, for example), it’s easy to want more info.
Thankfully, a book by one of Bundy’s acquaintances sheds some light on his upbringing for those morbidly curious. In The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule described working at a crisis hotline alongside Bundy, who was in college at the time. While she knew him, Bundy told Rule that he grew up thinking his mom was his sister and that his grandparents were his parents.
“I’m illegitimate,” Bundy allegedly told Rule. “When I was born, my mother couldn’t say that I was her baby. I was born in a home for unwed mothers, and when she took me home, she and my grandparents decided to tell everyone that I was her brother and that they were my parents. So I grew up believing that she was my sister, that I was a ‘late baby’ born to my grandparents.”
Still, Rule claims that Bundy “knew” that Louise was really his mom. “Maybe I just figured out that there couldn’t be 20 years’ difference in age between a brother and a sister, and Louise always took care of me,” he reportedly said. “I just grew up knowing that she was really my mother.”
Tell me more about Bundy’s mom.
At 22 years old, Eleanore Louise Cowell gave birth to Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, at the Elizabeth Lund Maternity Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont.
In Rule’s book, she wrote that Bundy and his mom moved away from his grandparents when he was young. Reportedly, Cowell took him to Washington state when he was just a few years old, leaving her own parents’ home in Philadelphia.
After the move to Washington, though, Cowell and her son seemed to have a pretty regular life. She married Johnnie Bundy in the early 1950s, and they went on to have children together too. Bundy took his adoptive father’s last name, although he supposedly didn’t have much respect for him. Bundy reportedly thought his adoptive father was “unintelligent and too working class.”
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So, who was Ted Bundy’s biological dad?
Rule wrote in her book that Bundy’s birth father has been listed as Lloyd Marshall, an Air Force veteran and a Penn State graduate. But she also wrote that Bundy’s biological father “has never been absolutely established” and some sources have listed his dad’s name as Jack Worthington.
Al Carlisle, PhD, a prison psychologist who has interviewed Bundy, claims in the Ted Bundy Tapes that Bundy found his birth certificate when he was 14. In the spot for “Father,” it reportedly said “Unknown.”
There is a disturbing rumor that Bundy’s biological grandfather—whom he was originally taught was his father—really was his biological dad. “Many feel that he was a child of incest, fathered by his mother’s father, a man known for his violent temper,” Rule wrote in her book.
What effect did Bundy’s parents have on the serial killer?
Whoever Bundy’s biological dad was, though, he wasn’t in the picture for Bundy and his mom, and Bundy’s family history did seem effect him. At least, based on the conversations he apparently had with Rule at the crisis center. While it sounds like his mom and her husband did the best they could, Bundy seemed fixated on feeling “illegitimate” because he didn’t know his birth father.
Meghan DeMaria Meghan is an entertainment and lifestyle writer based in New York City.
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