Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes examines a famous American criminal. Based on real-life discussions between authors Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, the four-part true crime documentary chronicles Ted Bundy’s murders from 1974 to 1978, along with his arrest and 1989 execution.
Well-educated and charismatic, Bundy defied the typical serial killer profile. In fact, his arrest led the F.B.I. to reassess their investigative approach. Over the past 40 years, much has been written about Bundy’s personality and motivations. However, Netflix’s documentary offers an updated Bundy commentary, along with a disturbing snapshot of late 70s American culture and the circumstances that allowed the subject to go unnoticed.
Here are the most unsetting reveals from Netflix’s The Bundy Tapes, directed by Joe Berlinger.
- This Page: The Premise, Road Trip, and The Florida Ramage
- Page 2: The Bite Mark, Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol on Death Row, and Pop Culture
THE PREMISE IS A MACGUFFIN
Viewers expecting four hours of “conversation” will be disappointed. The Bundy Tapes’ premise is merely a “MacGuffin,” a narrative device used to advance the story in order to make larger points – in this case, about the subject and society as a whole. By the second episode, “the conversation” becomes almost non-existent, as the documentary strays from its premise to focus on people associated with Bundy’s case, along with the media coverage.
In the first episode, the aforementioned Michaud describes his first meeting with Bundy on death row, and the realization that the subject didn’t actually want to confess to any crimes. Instead, Bundy wanted a celebrity bio. The documentary reinforces the killer’s well-documented narcissism and delusion, as he rejects any type of psychological profile and paints a positive portrait of his childhood. Ultimately, Michaud uses a third-person approach to allow Bundy to philosophize about how someone could have committed all the crimes he’d been associated with. The documentary’s premise is misleading, though it does highlight the idea that Bundy is the ultimate unreliable narrator.
BUNDY ROAD-TRIPPED AFTER ESCAPING FROM JAIL
Per Michaud, Bundy went on a road trip after losing weight and escaping from his cell in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, this coming after he’d previously escaped from an Aspen courthouse one year before. According to the author, the story goes that Bundy took a bus to Denver, booked a flight to Chicago, and then drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he watched the University of Michigan play against his alma mater, the University of Washington, on television.
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At the time, Bundy was “just a legend in his own time zone,” as Michaud notes in The Bundy Tapes. Two weeks later, he arrived in Florida and killed more women.
THE TRUE HORROR OF BUNDY’S FLORIDA RAMPAGE
Because The Bundy Tapes doesn’t commit to the “conversation” premise, exposition becomes important. So, the filmmakers initially cover the basic facts about Bundy’s murders in Washington, Utah, and Colorado. Various interviewees offer insight into the subject’s frame of mind, and how he managed to escape from custody twice. However, the most unnerving moments emerge when The Bundy Tapes zeroes in on the subject’s 1978 Florida rampage, during which he murdered and terrorized women at a Tallahassee sorority house, and later killed a 12-year-old girl.
The Bundy Tapes‘ Florida sequences are both disturbing and revealing, as the documentary zeroes in on a specific time and place, and the horrible details of the crimes. First and foremost, this portion reminds that poor security measures directly led to more women being killed. In addition, these particular scenes depict Bundy’s killing methods, and in graphic detail. Upon being arrested, Bundy refused to identify himself, prompting the local media to label him a “mystery man” during news broadcasts. And when Bundy is finally captured and charged with murder, he’s seen standing side-by-side with a Florida sheriff, uncuffed, while performing for a public audience with cameras rolling. The subsequent courtroom footage is even more perplexing, as Bundy’s logic betrays the facts being presented. While the Florida sequences aren’t comprised of entirely new footage and crime details, the collective moments bring out the real Ted Bundy, allowing the audience to better understand the man behind the myth.
BUNDY FELT HUMILIATED BY THE BITE MARK EVIDENCE THAT CONVICTED HIM
Bundy had crooked teeth and was known for biting his victims. During his first Florida trial in The Bundy Tapes, he parades around the courtroom, winking and smiling, all the while filing bizarre motions. He inexplicably shames one of his own attorneys, this coming after a successful cross-examination of a witness. Bundy needs more attention. Acting as his own defense, he forces witnesses to detail the specifics of his crimes. But his demeanor changes when the prosecution introduces bite mark evidence.
Now regarded as “junk science” by one of Bundy’s court-appointed attorneys, the prosecution’s bite mark evidence further implies that Bundy had indeed killed young women at a Florida sorority house. It’s not quite DNA evidence – not even close – but it was effective at the time. In the documentary, Bundy states that he “couldn’t endure this humiliation,” which prompted him to stuff toilet paper into prison cell locks, thus delaying court proceedings and inciting a confrontation with the judge.
BUNDY WAS DRUNK AND HIGH ON DEATH ROW
The Bundy Tapes’ recorded conversations take place not long after the subject arrived on death row. Early on, Michaud describes how Bundy’s eyes turned from blue to black while discussing the crimes, and Aynesworth later notes that he often looked at Bundy’s hands, knowing how they’d been used to kill women. In addition, the authors discuss how Bundy was allowed to have sex with his wife Carole Boone, resulting in the birth of a child. (During a court proceeding, Bundy proposed to Boone in front of a judge, thus making the marriage official, according to Florida law.)
Michaud also reveals that Bundy was both drunk and high on death row. Per the author, Boone transported drugs vaginally, and Bundy transported them via his rectum. During a recording, Bundy says “I have never in my life been so f****d up.” After at 30 least homicides, two escapes, and two death sentences, Bundy was allowed to take valium, drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, and have sex in prison.
THE DOC REINFORCES BUNDY’S POP CULTURE PERSONA
After watching The Bundy Tapes, one might still be confused about the subject’s motivations for killing. To be fair, the filmmakers occasionally reference Bundy’s younger years, and the fact that he resented his mother for hiding the truth about his real father. But that information can be easily found online, or in other documentaries, along with the fact that Bundy had difficulty with his first break-up in college.
By The Bundy Tapes’ fourth and final episode, the filmmakers reinforce Bundy’s public persona, inexplicably spending more time on pop culture than Bundy’s mental illness and the manic-depressive diagnosis he received in the late ’80s. We now know that Bundy’s mother “squeaked like a mouse” when she heard her son confessing to his crimes, just days before his execution. But Netflix’s The Bundy Tapes mostly avoids any type of psychoanalysis, which is both unnerving and disappointing.