Psychology of Serial Killers Ted Bundy

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Psychology of Serial Killers Ted Bundy

Psychology of Serial Killers: Ted Bundy

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Serial killers have been the most complex criminals as law enforcers and criminal psychologist try and understand why most serial killers often commit crimes including murder and raping of their victims who have never done anything wrong in their life. The need for serial killers as often be explained from both as sociological and psychological perspective. This paper looks at the theories on what makes a serial killer through the life of Ted Bundy a serial killer that was able to get away with so many murders. An understanding of the serial killers thinking and action is important in the world of criminal justice as it helps in investigation of current serial killer’s cases as well as helping in deterring future related crimes from happening


Psychology has been a great aspect in criminology in trying to understand crimes and why criminals often feel the need to commit crimes especially serial killers who get the urge to kill people without even stealing from them as most cease crime is associated with material gain. Criminal behavior does not necessarily indicate mental illness, however majority of criminals engage in criminal acts because of underlying psychiatric conditions. Some of these conditions manifest themselves in symptoms such as lack of impulse control, illusions, suspicion, inability to settle and take charge of one’s emotions and feelings. It is important to understand criminal behavior because, it is the genesis of life in crime in the lives of many criminals CITATION Sud16 l 1033 (Sinha, 2016). People act the way they do because there is a particular force that guides and influences their actions and decisions. Criminal behavior can also be defined as the conduct of an offender that results in the commission of an unlawful act. Ged Bundy has often been used as an example of a criminal in helping understand criminal behavior especially his motives that he had to kill.

Research questions

In conducting this research, there are questions that will guide me to obtain the information that I need on criminal psychological behavior of a serial killer. Below are the key questions that will be useful in my research:

What factors contributed to ted Bundy’s tendencies to be a serial killer

What are the key characteristics of serial killers?

What are the various theories that address serial killers?

Literature Review

Theodore Rober Cowell also commonly referred to as Ted Bundy in particular is an example of an individual whose criminal behavior could be seen at an early age and further studies and analysis on his life show how it got there CITATION Sam1 l 1033 (Yochelson, 2015). He had issues from his childhood that resulted in the series of crimes he committed. Ted Bundy was born on November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont he grew up to be a very intelligent, delightful and articulate person. It is believed that Bundy’s life story could have been of profound use by giving valuable and fascinating resources for criminal and psychological studies, if only had he not been electrocution. Bundy was born out of wedlock and his mother’s family were ashamed of her unmarried status. They claimed the child was their own right from both and Ted was made to believe his mother was his older sister. At the age of thirteen Ted’s cousin proved to him that his older sister was actually his mother and the revelation did not seat so well with Bundy. He got angry with his biological mother for withholding the truth. It is believed that Bundy experienced a lot of confusion with his identity right from childhood. Absence of emotional attachment between Ted and his mother influenced his life negatively CITATION Jen171 l 1033 (Murray, 2017). He was distant and to a great extent it contributed in the development of his serial killer characteristics.

Studies indicate that the years 6/7 are paramount in the life of an individual and it is during this period that the most important figures in a child’s life is their mother as they teach their offspring what love is. When the relationship between mothers and children is cold and distant, lacking love, negligent with minimal touching and emotional warmth the child will certainly suffer from love deprivation, what is believed to have affected the life of Ted Bundy. Ted was separated from his father figure his grandfather at a time when he needed him most. Growing up he had valued and cherished his grandfather as a role model. Bundy’s grandfather was described by the local church as a very violent person who terrified his family and everyone around him and it influenced Bundy far more than he could have imagined. His grandfather was very brutal and extremely violent and tortured even the most innocent creatures; animals. Ted Bundy demonstrated serial killer tendencies at a very young age CITATION Jen15 l 1033 (Piel, 2015).He stuck butcher’s knives in his bed and demonstrated very worrying behaviors and for that reason he was separated from his family and started living with his stepfather, who was supportive and fond but Ted never felt a close connection with him.

On reaching teenage years Ted started exhibiting signs of the brutal and aggressive serial killer he would become. He confessed in interviews that he was antisocial and he could wander the streets searching for pornography material that had been thrown away or peep through open windows and he could spy on women without even them knowing through the window CITATION P l 1033 (Pollock, 2015).Ted Bundy violently stole the lives of scores of young women and he did not easily fit to any section of the criminal theory. He was a college graduate and had a promised himself to pursue a career in law or politics. Though he did not pursue it because his passion to violently assault people took over. He preyed on young and very attractive college women. He was tactical on how he executed his missions; he often wore his arm in a sling or had a fake cast on his leg or even used crutches. He faked disability and used his charm to persuade his victims to help him carry books or get objects from his car CITATION Kat l 1033 (Kruger, 2014). He was also known of impersonating law enforcement officers such as police officers, firefighters to gain the victim’s trust before he attacked. His car was where he committed most of his crimes. Once he had lured the unsuspecting victim to his car, he would strike them over the head with a crowbar or pipe and would go ahead to immobilize them with handcuffs and get them into the vehicle. He had dismantled the passenger’s seat from his car and there was an empty space where the victims could lie out of the sight of any suspecting individual as he drove away. He committed a series of crimes. The crimes were outrageous and extra. He raped victims and murdered several. He strangled and clubbed his victims and went ahead to mutilate them after death. He took it further by gaining sexual gratification from corpse. Authorities were contacted about the behavior but they ruled it out on grounds of his upstanding character and clean-cut appearance. He had read numerous detective magazines and gained sufficient amount of knowledge and techniques on how to leave virtually no evidence that could be traced by the backward forensics techniques of the 1970s. Bundy had some serious mental health issues and it is believed to be what contributed to his crimes.

Research methodology

In conducting this research, I used qualitative research method in gathering information it involved extensive documentation analysis of various works that have been published on the matter of criminal psychology especially on serial killers. The secondary data that was used in my research paper was obtained from Criminal Justice data. Content analysis of the archival text was an important factor in obtaining information that would help me out in my research paper. After a thorough analysis of texts from the library, a compilation of the ideas from the various researchers will be important step in helping me answer my research questions


Theories have been defined as models that help people understand certain phenomena. Psychology theories are frameworks for understanding, examining and elaborating human thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Psychological theories have been known to describe behavior as well as making predictions about future behaviors. Behaviorism which is psychology theory explains that behaviors are acquired through conditioning and they later translate to a person’s way of life. Psychological theories are of great importance and are valuable and provide guidance in teaching, enterprise and other domains. Theories offer answers to inherently, fascinating questions on a wide array of thoughts, sensations, insights teaching and problem-solving attempts. Theories take center stage in psychology because, psychology seeks to explain or deals with abstract phenomena and thoughts. There are examples of psychological theories: attachment theories and behaviorism.

Attachment theory explains that early attachments affect future life, and that there are particular windows during which attachments are resistant to form and the study of such attachments. Behaviorism on the other hand explain that everything that living organisms do can be altered by the environment. Psychology theory is caused by various approaches/ perspectives that guide the research on the theories. The causes of psychological theory include biological attributes of an individual. The biological components of people in psychology are explained by bio psychologist. Who tend to expound on the nervous system, hormones and the genetic make-up and how the distinct characteristics affect a persons’ behaviors. The biological causes of psychology theory also explain the relationship between a people’s intellects, their brain and the relating organs to further elaborate on how concepts, states and behaviors are shaped CITATION Oze16 l 1033 (Ozer, D. B, & Brnet-Martinez, 2016).

Criminal psychologist have often pointed out that the disruption of attachment through the three crucial years of a child’s life is likely to be detrimental in their ability to form meaningful emotional relationship. When children suffer psychological as well as physical abuse they may turn out as hostile individuals. Ted Bundy experienced all these and that is why most psychologist have often pointed out Ted may have suffered from affectionless psychopathy. His motivation to kill was contributed by childhood rejection, frustration, anger, feeling deprived of his mother’s love.

The biological causes of psychology theory mean that an individual is the sum of his/her parts. The choices and decisions of individuals are based on their physical make up. The other cause of psychology theory is behavioral approaches. It explains how the external environment influences a person’s behavior and that people can also be trained to act in a particular way. Behavioral causes of psychology theory are pegged to the fact that individuals learn and act based on a system of reinforcements and punishment. (Nathan et al.,2017) It emphasizes on how people don’t really care about how others think about them provided they are doing the right thing. It shows that people can be trained to act in a particular way and they end up adopting it as their way of life. Cognitive approach is another cause of psychology theory. Unlike the behavioral approach cognitive approach believes that behavior is determined by a person’s feelings and expectations (Charles et al., 2017). The approach further sheds light on the fact people function in a way that they expect will be good.

The humanistic approach suggest that people are basically good and have a unique sense of drive to become better individuals and to realize their full potential. The humanistic approach also focuses on the fact that an individual will feel good and proud of themselves only if they meet their needs and achieve their goals. It focuses mainly on the empowerment of the individual and how they are motivated to be the best they can be. Peoples’ choices and decisions emanate from trying to improve their lives. As stated in the paragraph psychological theory is as a result of different approaches which are also determined or elaborated as causes. Some of the causes can be treated when they result in negative influence. By understanding the cause then the treatment strategies are possible. The treatment of psychological disorders is termed as psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy seeks to identify and help an individual take charge and control of their well -being. The type of psychotherapy to be utilized depends on the cause of the deviation. Every cause has a remedy suitable to it. An example is the humanistic cause. It involves the influence and the motivation an individual has towards a certain behavior. When solving a problem caused by the humanistic approach, then it is important to reason with the client to clearly understand their motives and to help them realize that they can do it on their own. Psychotherapy is effective for numerous conditions, but there are those conditions that require biomedical approaches, where drugs are administered and a diagnosis is made by a psychiatrist.

Organized/Disorganized Typology of serial killers was a theory that was developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to this theory offender are likely to fall into two subsets either as organized or disorganized offenders. Through the evaluation of a crime scene and victims then the forensic evidence can greatly assert if the criminal was organized or disorganized. An organized offender is thought to be criminal leaving an organized life with an intelligence that is above average is socially competent and skilled employment. The crime scene of such an offender will be meticulous indicating that the offender had planned out the attack really well. An organized serial killer will ensure that they do not leave any DNA such as fingerprints, hair or blood. Most organized serial killers are often hunted for many years before the law catches up with them. Serial killers that have been known to be organized include Ted Bundy, Joel Rifkin and Dennis Rader. Unlike organized serial killers, disorganized serial killers leave a mess in the crime scene. The crime scene is likely to be filled with their evidence including fingerprints and blood. The killer is thought to have a below average intelligence and may also be socially inadequate.

Self-control theory has been defined using a classical and definite formulation, seeking to explain and elaborate on the interconnection between key variables. In the formulation inputs are present and the reference goal which in result translate to output. When the formulation is further analyzed and put in the human contexts, then the inputs are seen as the perceptions of an individual of the things in the environment, and the motives to approach and avoid certain states the reference goals and the person’s emotions being feeling states that revitalize an individual’s behaviors and deeds. Control theory plays a critical role in explaining how behavior is guided by everyday circumstances and environments CITATION Sus13 l 1033 (Calkins, 2013).Control theory helps in understanding what criminal behavior is and how it happens. Studies have shown that criminal behavior does not suggest that the individual has some mental illness. However, it is believed that criminals engage in unlawful and unsociable behavior because they are motivated by underlying psychiatric conditions. Some of these psychiatric conditions have been seen manifesting themselves in symptoms such as failure to resist a temptation or an urge, lack of self-consciousness and the inability to concentrate.

From the above discussion it is elaborate that criminal behavior was witnessed in the life of Bundy. It was contributed by the fact that he had unresolved anger from his childhood. He battled with his identity as a child. Growing up he had some sort of speech impairment and really struggled to fit in as the children his age teased him. He grew up thinking his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his older sister. The truth frustrated him when he got the revelation and distant him from his mother, who would have nurtured him in the right direction in life. Self-control theory was also evident in Bundy’s life. His behaviors and manners to a great extent could have been influenced by his environment. Living with is violent and brutal grandfather influenced him and he started exhibiting the same characteristics at a very tender age. It is believed that Bundy stocked kitchen knives around a sleeping female relative while she was sleeping and such actions were uncalled for. He had a traumatic childhood and grew up in a violent and brutal environment which influenced his behavior heavily. The humanistic theory also plays in life, when Bundy promises to work extremely hard and make his mother proud. He wanted to be outstanding and better than his other siblings. The very ugly break up with his first girlfriend who he thought was out of his league also played a critical role in the actions and behaviors of Ted. He raped young college girls as a way of trying to get vengeance after the break up. All of Ted’s victims to some extent resembled his first girlfriend a clear indication that he had some unresolved issues.

Ted history also relates to the self-control theory. He was able to control some urges and not give room for some of the unpleasant fantasies. Self -control has been defined as the ability to resist temptations and to restrain oneself from acting on impulses that they consider to be undesirable. When one lacks self -control then they act in ways that are not desirable or give their desires way, whether they are socially acceptable or not. Bundy had atrocious desires that resulted in him being a serial killer.

Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 1Table Portraying Serial Killers by Race

Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 2Statistics on number of kills that serial killers have made


There are characteristics that have often been picked out which are unique to serial killers. One of these characteristics is often how serial killers will have an isolated background or a difficult background and did not get the affection that they needed. Many serial killers as children suffered from issues such as dyslexia, weight problem, and stutters and were isolated from their peers. Another characteristic that is often evident is the strained relationship that most serial killers have with their mothers. Sigmund feud in his development theory stated that men often tried to reach autonomy with their parents and if this attempt is not successful then they were likely to become angry and develop rage. Feminist have often disputed this notion siting that it is another way that men use to try and blame women for poor upbringing of children and the idea that the women help in creation of a serial killer. According to a research conducted by Moesch, 66% of the known serial killers were raised with mothers as a key figure in their lives supporting and it is ironical that most eventually end up hating females.

In conclusion the life of Ted Bundy is of great importance in criminal psychology. It can be used to explain the different models and different psychological theories and hence it is a great resource to be used in research studies and appropriate strategies can be formulated to avoid the occurrence of the same behavior.


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Murray, J. L. (2017). The role of sexual, sadistic, and Misogynistic Fantasy in Mass and Serial Killing. Deviant Behavior Journal, 735-743.

Nathan A Fox, Heather A Henderson, Peter J Marshall, Kate E Nicholas Melissa M Ghera. (2017). Behavioral inhibition: Linking biology and Behavior within a developmental framework. Annual Rev psychology, 235-262.

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Piel, J. (2015). Serial Killer: The Psychosocial Development of Humanity’s worst offenders. The Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 541-542.

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Yochelson, S. (2015). The criminal Personality: A Profile for change. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

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