A Review of Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

“How could anyone live in a society where people they liked, loved, lived with, worked with, and admired could the next day turn out to be the most demonic people imaginable?” Ted Bundy, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

This is the mythology of one of the most notable serial killers in American history and the subject of Netflix’s most recent true-crime documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Ted Bundy, nearly forty-five years after his first known murder, continues to captivate the public as the charming, handsome law student who led a shocking double life eluding law enforcement and brutally murdering thirty young girls throughout the 1970s.

As a true-crime enthusiast, I was naturally very excited for The Ted Bundy Tapes, which promised never-before-heard audio from death-row interviews with Bundy and examination of what truly went on inside the psychopath’s brain. Through four episodes, several interviews with police officers, journalists, lawyers, and a Bundy survivor, along with video footage and recorded audio from Bundy himself, the documentary chronicles the life of Ted Bundy from the early years of his childhood to his last moments in “Old Sparky”.

 

So, did the documentary succeed in capturing the man behind the supposed mythology, the ‘true’ Ted Bundy?

His story is a familiar one, especially to true-crime fans. Several books have been written about it, including The Stranger Beside Me by Anne Rule, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile by Bundy’s long-time girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, and Violent Mind by Al Carlisle. There have been quite a few movies specifically about Bundy, most notably Mark Harmon’s portrayal in Deliberate Stranger, the upcoming Zac Efron film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, and even more movies inspired by Bundy and his crimes.

This documentary does not dissent from the familiar narrative already told and re-told countless times by previous story-tellers, nor does it add anything new or especially revolutionary to it. It does, however, string together a variety of different perspectives and relationships to Bundy and weave them together in a captivating way, often to show the direct contradiction in Bundy’s own testimonies.

The Ted Bundy Tapes does, admittedly, play into the handsomely brilliant sociopath portrait that follows Bundy in every medium. His good-looks, intellect and charm are of heavy focus throughout all four episodes, and it is consistently emphasized that Bundy is not the ‘expected’ version of a serial killer. The documentary focuses on Bundy’s respectable traits- that he ‘dated’ a lot of women, that he was a law student, that he was conventionally attractive. However, it never combats these with the defects that Bundy was also known to have, like being a law school drop-out, having very few long-time girlfriends, or being a chronic nail-biter.

However, viewers can catch a glimpse of the “true” Bundy in his own footage and interviews and draw their own conclusions about who he really was. His own words and behaviors seem to paint a more accurate picture than the other testimonials do. He is long-winded and pretentious, constantly utilizing large vocabulary to authenticate to himself and those around him what an educated and intelligent man he was. He hunches over in his interviews and his crooked smile is more unnerving than it is charming. Most obviously, he is a liar. He constantly takes his interviewers on twisty, stilted ramblings that have no clear ending, and he never admits to any of his actions. While the interviews offer little insight into Bundy’s crimes, I believe the interviews reveal the average, unremarkable truth about Ted Bundy that is hardly acknowledged. Bundy, in my opinion, hardly lives up to the ‘evil-genius’ reputation he’s been given.

Disappointingly, the documentary glosses over the victims, making the young women small bit players in Ted Bundy’s dramatic story. There is little talk about any of the girl’s dreams, aspirations, goals, or personalities. It is heartbreaking that the killer is more humanized than any of his victims, and the documentary horrendously fails in bringing the necessary empathy and compassion to the women who suffered such horrors. Each and every girl who lost their life had a bright future ahead of them, and families and friends who loved them, and the documentary does little more than slap a victim number on top of their headshots.