#0472

Ted Bundy's Car

Bundy's Volkswagen Beetle

Ted Bundy’s Car

"You own a Volkswagen!"

In August 1975, the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy was pulled over by Utah police during a routine traffic stop that would lead to his arrest. Officers questioned the young law student and upon searching Ted Bundy’s car, a tan colored 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, they noticed the front passenger seat had been suspiciously removed. What they found inside disturbed even these hardened policemen.

The Volkswagen Bug acted almost as an accomplice in many Bundy’s crimes, and he used the small vehicle to ferry his unconscious kidnapping victims to remote locations where they were murdered and buried. It was also used to house the murder tools he carried to perpetrate his serial killings. While offering an insight into the orchestration of his crimes, the car would ultimately prove to be the evidence that sent him to the electric chair.

Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen Beetle

The Vehicle of a Serial Killer

Sometime in 1969, law student Ted Bundy bought his first car, a tan colored Volkswagen Beetle. A compact German car first introduced in 1938 that became extremely popular in the United States beginning in the 1960s. The Volkswagen Beetle owned by serial killer Bundy was subsequently used in many of his crimes in Washington, Colorado and Utah between 1974 and 1975.

The Volkswagen Beetle served as Bundy’s primary mode of transport during that time, and he used it to travel to and from Colleges in Washington and Utah, for personal use in taking his girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer and her young daughter out on day trips, as well as his work at Ped-Line, Seattle’s Harbourview Hospital as a counsellor, and the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Commission.

When Bundy had an affair with Sandy Gwinn, a fellow Harbourview counsellor, in1972, he would take the young woman on long drives through the hills behind Lake Sammamish State Park, a place from where he later abducted two women on the same day. Those crimes were carried out in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of witnesses, and Bundy’s car featured significantly in the crimes he perpetrated.

Ted Bundy’s VW Murder Bug

An Instrument of Crime

From the moment he bought his Volkswagen Beetle and decided to begin killing, Bundy intended to use the car to carry out his crimes. He made several modifications to the vehicle so it would better suit his murderous requirements. With his plans to kidnap women, he needed a suitable and reliable car to ferry his victims to his dumping grounds, the places he buried the women.

Realising he needed to conceal his victim, Bundy removed the front passenger seat, which allowed him to position his unconscious victims out of sight where he could observe them as he continued driving. His Volskwagen Beetle was instrumental when planning his crimes, and featured in almost every aspect of that murderous process.

The car was used by Bundy in the searching for victims phase, and as he drove around looking for lone women to approach, he did so behind the wheel of his Volkswagen, giving him greater access to more victims. It was also used in the murder phase, and the later concealing of his crimes, with Bundy using his car to dispose of the bodies.

The missing seat, taken out of Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Bug.
The missing seat, taken out of Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Bug.

During his time at College, Ted Bundy did a large amount of driving. Despite being a cash-strapped student who’s carpooling responsibilities should have restricted his travelling to the 60 mile round trip from Seattle to Tacoma each week, Bundy clocked up hundreds of miles each week. He often drove across State lines in search of victims, and once said he thought nothing of driving 200-miles in search of a victim.

Once he had found a suitable woman that matched his requirements, that of a lone female, young and pretty with her hair parted in the middle, Bundy would pretend to be handicapped by wearing a plaster cast on his arm or leg. Once he had duped his intended victim into believing he was helpless, they seemed more at ease in helping a vulnerable male College student.

He often used this ruse to get students to carry his books to his parked car, and would wait for the woman to turn facing away and then hit her over the head with a tire iron he had concealed under the wheel arch. He then bundled the unconscious and handcuffed victim into the footwell of the passenger side, where he had removed the seat.

Bundy would then drive away with his victim hidden from view, and unaware they had been kidnapped. The Volkswagen was used in the final stage of his killing process, as Bundy drove his victim to one of several burial sites, such as Taylor Mountain, where they were raped and murdered, before being buried.

Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen at Lake Sammamish Park

The Day Ted Bundy Killed Two Women

On July 14, 1974, Ted Bundy was off sick from his job at the Washington DES office. That same day he decided to go to the Lake Sammamish Park. Bundy had previously visited Lake Sammamish Park on July 7th, and was seen there by several witnessed who recognized him. When asked what he was doing, Bundy told people he was “just walking around”.

July 14th, a Sunday, was a hot and sunny day, and many hundreds of people flocked there to go to the beach, walk their dogs, sail boats or enjoy picnics. At around midday, several people were approached by a young man with his arm in a sling who called himself “Ted”. He approached several women, who declined his request for help in loading his sailboat.

One young woman accompanied him to his tan Volkswagen in the parking lot, but then made her excuses and left. The same man then approached 23-year-old Janice Ott, who had gone to Lake Sammamish Park without her husband. Janice Ott was seen speaking briefly with the handsome young man before they walked away together. It was last time she was seen.

A photograph of two Volkswagen's, one of which is believed to be Ted Bundy's at Lake Sammamish.
One of two Volkswagen's believed to be Ted Bundy's at Lake Sammamish.

Some three-and-a-half hours later, the same young man was seen talking to other young girls and women before he asked 19-year-old Denise Naslund for help. The young woman was with friends but had wandered off to the rest-rooms when she was accosted by the man with his arm in a sling. Bundy would speculate years later what happened to the two women during his Death Row confessions.

Photographs from that day appear to show several Volkswagen Beetles parked in the parking lot at Lake Sammamish Park, and one of which is speculated to have been Ted Bundy’s car, which he used that day to transport the bodies of Janice Ott and Denise Naslund from where he murdered them, to one of his dumping grounds.

When he returned to work the following Monday, news had spread of the two missing women at Lake Sammamish, and composite sketches of the suspect had been distributed by police. Bundy’s co-workers agreed that Bundy looked similar to the suspect. They joked, “Gee Ted, you sure look a lot like that guy… and you own a Volkswagen!”

Ted Bundy’s Car and his Crimes in Utah

Bundy’s Car as an Accomplice

Sometime in August 1974, Bundy’s girlfriend Liz became worried about what he boyfriend might be capable of, and recalled once finding a hatchet under the seat of his car. One eye-witness later recalled seeing a Volkswagen like Bundy’s parked at Taylor Mountain, the site of his Washington dumping ground, on the same evening Susan Rancourt vanished.

In September 1974, Bundy left Washington State for Utah to attend College. Several days after his departure, authorities in Washington uncovered the remains of some of his victims at Taylor Mountain. One month after his arrival in Utah, several young College-aged women started to go missing.

During his later third-person confessions, Bundy speculated that the killer of Nancy Wilcox, who had gone missing on October 2, 1974. Bundy said the killer had not initially set out to murder Wilcox but merely rape her. While driving past in his car, he decided to attack her. Parking his Volkswagen further up the road, he ambushed Wilcox.

A picture of Bundy standing outside his Volkswagen Beetle.
Bundy standing outside his Volkswagen Beetle.

Threatening her with a knife, Bundy said Wilcox screamed and he placed his hands around her neck and throttled her into unconsciousness. He then raped her and upon realizing she was dead, he hid the body and fled in his car back to his boarding house. When he thought about evidence left at the scene, he drove around the area looking for the scene of the crime.

After trying to remember where he hid her body, Bundy said the killer found her and retrieved the body, placing it in his trunk and returned to his apartment. After engaging in necrophilic sex with her corpse for two days, he decided to dumped her body at an isolated area. In this crime, Bundy’s car was used extensively as part of his modus operandi.

Nine days after Bundy murdered Nancy Wilcox, he offered a ride to 21-year-old University of Utah pharmacy student Rhonda Stapley. She accepted, believing the man who said his name was “Ted” to be a fellow student, and the two drove for some time before Bundy pulled over and told Stapley, “Do you know what? I’m going to kill you.” He then physically and sexually assaulted her over several hours.

Stapley managed to escape, but kept the attack secret, believing such an act would cause her shame and embarrassment. Many years later, Rhonda Stapely would come forward to tell her chilling tale of how she was attacked by serial killer Ted Bundy, and how she became one of the few women to survive.

Another missing girl from Utah, 17-year-old Laura Aime, vanished on a night out on October 31st after leaving a Halloween party. Still wearing her costume, Aime went for a walk to a nearby park and never returned. Bundy speculated the killer had offered her a ride in his VW Bug, for which she accepted and was never seen again.

Ted Bundy and the Escape of Carol DaRonch

The First Victims to Escape Ted Bundy’s Car

Only one of Ted Bundy’s intended victims ever escaped from his Volkswagen Beetle, and lived to tell the tale. At the age of 18, Carol DaRonch was approached at a Waldons book store in Utah on November 8, 1974, by a young man who identified himself as “Officer Roseland”. The police officer asked DaRonch to accompany him to the local station to help identify a suspect who may have broken into her vehicle.

Although she agreed, DaRonch asked the man for some ID, to prove he was a police officer. After showing some ID, the two checked over her car and although she said nothing was missing, “Officer Roseland” insisted she accompany him to the station in his vehicle. Despite smelling alcohol on his breath DaRonch hesistantly agreed and reluctantly got into his car, a Volskwagen Bug.

The policeman reassured her his car was an undercover vehicle, and as they started driving he asked the young woman to put on her seat belt. When she noticed they were driving away from the police station she refused, and the man began driving faster. DaRonch readied herself to jump from the speeding car when the man suddenly stopped.

He attempted to handcuff her, but during the struggle he placed both on the same wrist and DaRonch was able to break free of his grasp and fell on the ground outside of the car. The man then came after her with a crowbar, throwing her against the car but once again she broke free after kneeing him in the groin and was able make a run for it.

An older couple came upon DaRonch and took her to the hospital as her attacker fled the scene. Little did Carol DaRonch know, but that day she had survived a terrifying encounter with serial killer Ted Bundy. DaRonch would later testify at Bundy’s trial, where he was found guilty of her kidnapping and sentenced to between one and fifteen years in prison.

Ted Bundy’s First Arrest in his Volkswagen Bug

The Capture of a Serial Killer

During his first arrest on August 15, 1975, Bundy was driving his tan Volkswagen Beetle through a Utah neighborhood, when he was spotted by a patrolman who noticed the unfamiliar vehicle. Curious about the stranger, the police officer turned on his lights. When Bundy saw the police car lights flash, he turned his off and started to speed away from the area.

Bundy was chased by the patrolman and eventually stopped at a nearby gas station. When the officer checked Bundy’s license plate, he asked him why he was out so late. Most likely hunting for victims, Bundy lied and said he had watched a movie at a drive-in cinema and was on his way home when he got lost in the suburbs.

Mugshot of Ted Bundy (16/08/75)

Other officers soon arrived, and one noticed the front passenger seat had been removed from Bundy’s Volkswagen. This raised the suspicions of the officers and they asked to search his car. Bundy agreed and it was then they came across several items stored in the passenger side footwell, items that raised even great suspicions.

They came across a black duffle bag that contained a crowbar, a flashlight, a ski-mask, a pair of gloves, rope, a pair of handcuffs, wire, a screwdriver, an ice pick, strips of cloth, large green plastic bags and a pantyhose mask. Bundy was immediately placed under arrest on suspicion of burglary. It was only later than the items in his car proved to be even more sinister when he was linked to the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch.

The Evidence in Bundy’s Volkwagen

Trapping a Serial Murderer

While the investigation into his attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch was ongoing, Bundy continued to profess his innocence. On September 17, 1975, he sold his Volkswagen Bug to a teenaged boy, who was, coincidentally an ex-classmate of Melissa Smith, one of his Utah victims who went missing on October 18, 1974.

Now charged with the kidnapping of Carol DaRonch, police were beginning to suspect Bundy was a possible serial killer after linking him to several other disappearances in both Washington, Colorado and Utah. Police managed to locate Bundy’s Volkswagen after it was sold, and seized it to conduct a thorough forensics examination.

Although he had attempted to clean the car, Bundy but did not do a thorough enough job, leaving copious amounts of evidence. It was a veritable treasure trove of DNA evidence, and investigators found hair samples that matched three of Bundy’s suspected victims, along with blood stains. The car was impounded indefinitely.

A photograph of the items found inside Bundy's Volkswagen upon his arrest in 1975.
The items found inside Bundy's Volkswagen upon his arrest in 1975.

Ted Bundy was found guilty at trial of the attack on Carol DaRonch, and he was sentenced to between one and fifteen years in prison. It was just the start of his legal troubles. On June 6, 1977, while waiting charges relating to the abduction and murder of Caryn Campbell, Bundy escaped from the Pitkin County courthouse and went on the run for six days before his recapture.

While charges were pending on a murder case in Colorado, Bundy was jailed at Glenwood Springs. There he began planning another escape. On December 31, 1977, Bundy managed to fit through a hole in the ceiling of his cell after losing weight, and walked to freedom. He fled to Florida, where he planned to live under an assumed identity.

Ted Bundy and the Florida Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Ted Bundy Stole

After arriving in Tallahassee, Florida on January 7, 1978, Ted Bundy found a room to rent and posed as a student. He then stalked the nearby campuses, much as he had done back in Washington and Florida. On January 12th, Bundy stole the license plates from a 1972 Volkswagen camper near Dunwoody Street.

He then stole an orange Volkswagen Bug from a young man named Ricky Garzaniti from 529 East Georgia Street. The reason for this was clear. Bundy wanted to drive a car he felt familiar with, and longed for some semblence of normality while living in a different state far from his old hunting grounds in Washington and Utah.

That same month Bundy went on to commit some of his most shocking murders, those of the Chi Omega sorority house killings on January 15th, and the later kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach disappeared at Lake City, Florida on February 9th. These crimes saw him added to the FBI Most Wanted List.

Ted Bundy’s Second Arrest in his Volkswagen Bug

The Last Capture of a Serial Killer

On the evening of February 15, 1978, and while being sought all over American for the murders were committed at Chi Omega, Bundy was driving the stolen orange Volkswagen Beetle when he was spotted by a patrolman who, again suspicious of the vehicle he had never seen in the area before, decided to approach the driver.

After running a check on the license plates, the officer learned the car was stolen. He began following the Volskwagen and Bundy sped away, but suddenly decided to stop. He ordered out of the car and told to lie down so the officer could handcuff him. However, Bundy fought and tried to run away, before the officer fired his weapon.

Pretending to be shot, Bundy laid still and attacked the officer again when he approached. The two men struggled over the officers gun, before Bundy was eventually overpowered and handcuffed. Bundy told the officers, “I wish you had killed me.” Only later did he learn that he had captured the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy.

The orange Volkswagen Bug stole by Bundy was returned after his capture by police to its rightful owner, Rick Garzaniti. No longer wishing to own a vehicle used by a serial killer, Garzaniti sold it four months later to a father and his sixteen-year-old daughter, who excited to own her first car, saw no issue with it being used by one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

The Legacy of Ted Bundy’s Car

The Infamous Volkswagen of a Serial Killer

After spending years on Death Row, serial killer Ted Bundy was executed by the state of Florida on January 29, 1989. His original tan-colored Volkswagen Beetle soon became a rare collectors item. During the 1970’s, it was purchased by former Salt Lake Sheriff’s Deputy Lonnie Anderson for $925 at a police auction.

This was long before the rise in the controversial “murderabilia” market for collectibles associated with criminals, and was considered in poor taste by his colleagues within the department. Anderson however said after the purchase that it was “as an investment.” By that time the car had been stripped of much of the interior by forensice investigators.

It sat in a storage yard for most of the next 20 years while Anderson decided what to do with it. Eventually he tried to sell it. He placed a classified ad in The New York Times in July 1997, with a price of $25,000 for the car. This soon caught the attention of relatives of Bundy’s victims, who expressed their outrage.

A photograph of Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Beetle at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum.
Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Beetle at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum.

To the victims families, the sale appeared opportunistic, with Don Blackburn, the father of Janice Ott, whose murder Bundy confessed to, claiming the attempted sale “repulses me.” By 2001, Ted Bundy’s car was part of the collection of crime memorabilia collector Arthur Nash, who leased the car to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C.

There it was put on display in the lobby in 2010, and when the Museum closed five years later, Bundy’s Volkswagen was on display at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where it currently resides. Arthur Nash still owns the car, and has announced plans to have it tested for DNA that might have been missing by investigators during the initial investigation.

While on Death Row, Bundy confessed to committing upwards of 37 murders, but is suspected by some of being responsible for as many as 100. Although Ted Bundy’s car undoubtedly helped him carry out his murderous deeds, it would eventually act as a confessional, giving up its secrets that saw him sent to the electric chair for his monstrous crimes.

Written by Nucleus

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