The End of Evil: America’s Most Famous Serial Killer and the Myth of the Psychopath [Believer Magazine]
Sarah Marshall wrote a 2015 profile of Ted Bundy, who launched the myth of the serial killer into pop consciousness.
More than 30 years after he was put to death, Ted Bundy lives on as a remorseless, evil superman. But in reality he was a pathetic, self-hating, broken creature, who put to lie the myth of the psychopath.
In myth, the psychopath is coldly rational and superior to his victims and other mortal humans. In reality, according to the lawyers who knew him best, Bundy was incapable of behaving rationally in anything.
Ted Bundy is the textbook psychopath who shows us how to recognize the evil in our midst. His story is the story we all know. And yet the longer you listen to it—and listen not just to the legend, but to the people who knew Ted Bundy, and even to the man himself—the more you will find yourself hearing the story of a man who was not a mastermind, was not a genius, and who seems to have understood as little about what motivated him as the people around him did. As you draw closer to its center—and closer and closer to the demon core—you may begin to feel that the longer you spend inside this story, the less sense you can find.
Bundy was initially a folk hero when he escaped police custody.
After he was captured in Florida, Ted Bundy changed, in the public eye, from an outlaw to a monster….
“That he most probably looked normal and walked among us seemed the greatest of horrors,” a Florida State student wrote in the The Florida Flambeau.
Thomas Harris, a “crime desk reporter turned thriller author” observed Bundy’s trial, which “influenced his creation of Hannibal Lecter, the cold, calculating, erudite villain of the best-selling series that included ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’”
Today, the diagnosis of “psychopath” is meted out as freely in the courtroom as it is during prime time, and its effect is always the same: instant dehumanization.
When it comes to assigning blame, no designation could be more comforting. The psychopath is born bad. Nothing can fix him. Society cannot be at fault, and there is no point in wondering whether timely treatment could have averted the inevitable. He does what he wants to do. He knows it is wrong. He can control himself; he simply chooses not to. The idea that the psychopath is somehow more deserving of blame because he was born bad—that his lack of empathy serves as proof of his evil, despite a diagnosis that says he cannot feel it, no matter how he tries—is a paradox few have attempted to address.
Are serial killers unusual monsters? Unfortunately, violence, including minder, torture, and rape, are normal human behaviors. We call serial killers monsters because they kill, torture, and rape without government authority. Even the US had proven willing to torture people it’s decided are terrorists.
Marshall is now co-host of the wonderful You’re Wrong About podcast.