Monday marks a grim anniversary: It’s been 40 years since one of the most infamous crimes in Tallahassee, and the start of a series of trials that gripped the nation.
On January 15, 1978, Ted Bundy broke into Florida State University’s Chi Omega sorority house. He killed two women and hospitalized two others before breaking into another student’s home. “They were all beaten with like a big chunk of firewood, and beaten to death in their beds," Brent Kallestad, now retired from the Associated Press, recalled of the attacks. "There’s an irony about it too because there were probably at least 30 other women asleep or at least in the area and somehow he managed to do this quietly enough that nobody heard their screams.”
It took a month before Bundy was arrested, just days after he kidnapped and murdered 12-year old Kimberly Leach of Lake City, Florida. He stood trial for the Chi Omega homicides a year later.
Bundy’s trial was the first to be televised nation-wide. Despite his complaints about cameras in the court room, outside of it, he was unusually cavalier with reporters. In one clip, Bundy interrupted as the Leon County Sheriff read him his indictment. “My chance to talk to the press,” he joked, as Sheriff Ken Katsaris read the names of victims. “I’ll plead not guilty right now."
Bundy was sentenced to the first of his three death sentences in Miami. But it took 10 years before he was finally executed, after standing for another trial and exhausting all avenues to appeal. The killer spent his last days confessing to more murders, which had long gone unsolved. He was executed by electric chair on January 24, 1989 in Bradford County, Florida.
“There were probably a couple thousand people who were in the field across from the Florida State prison when he was executed," Kallestad remembered. "When it was announced that he was dead, cheers went up like the last second touchdown pass in a football game. He was really a person despised, and I’m sure feared, by the public at large.”
That mix of despise and fear inspired both biographies and slasher films, including Ann Rule’s autobiography, The Stranger Beside Me and the 1989 TV movie The Deliberate Stranger. Another movie appeared in 2002, with Michael Reilly Burke starring in Ted Bundy. Indeed, the decades since Bundy’s execution have done little to erode pop culture’s morbid fascination with the killer. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the name of an upcoming film about Bundy’s girlfriend Elizabeth. That movie will star Lillie Collins and Zac Efron.