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45 Years Later, What Does Ted Bundy Tell Us About Seattle?

Almost a half century after Ted Bundy focused the nation on our region, Knute Berger wonders what this serial killer says about us today

By Knute Berger March 11, 2019


This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Seattle magazine.

This article appears in print in the March 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

It started quietly 45 years ago. Young women began disappearing.

On March 12, 1974, a young coed left her Evergreen State College apartment to walk across campus to attend a jazz concert. She wore pants, a colorful shirt, an agate ring and a fuzzy dark maxi coat. She was 5 feet tall, with long brown hair parted in the middle. She never came home. In fact, she has never been seen since. Years later, while on death row in Florida, serial killer Ted Bundy confessed to killing Donna Gail Manson.

I was editor of the Evergreen college newspaper, the Cooper Point Journal (CPJ), at that time. It took a while for Manson’s roommate to report her missing; Evergreeners were free spirits, and this was an era when students, male and female, might hitchhike somewhere or crash with friends without notice. As the weeks went by, however, it was clear something was wrong. In April, our paper ran a story about the missing student, along with a full-page ad offering a $500 reward for proof of her whereabouts. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office began a wide-ranging search.

I went out with one of these search parties, which combed a large stand of second-growth alders near campus, the kind of damp, dark woods that are everywhere in this wet region. Our group found some bones, but they turned out to be those of a dead deer. No sign of Manson.

Other young women in the region, about the same age and of similar physical description, went missing, too, most of them students. By early July, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office had hosted a “Homicide and Missing Persons” conference focused on the disappearing women for law enforcement and media. The purpose was for various jurisdictions and investigators to “brainstorm” about the phenomenon. Police had no evidence yet that any crimes had been committed in these disappearances, only dark suspicions.

A reporter we sent to the conference wrote a front-page story about it in the CPJ, headlined “Pattern in Disappearances.” The late writer Ann Rule, not yet famous, was there. She later wrote a true-crime book about Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me; she had known him from working with him at Seattle’s Crisis Clinic. But at this point, she didn’t know Bundy was involved. 

She noted that the abductor seemed to be taking women at regular intervals, roughly one per month. They vanished from the University of Washington, Evergreen, Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Oregon State University and who knew where else. As the list of women mounted, Rule predicted the next victim would vanish later that month, and that came to pass, only there were two victims. On July 14, two women disappeared in separate incidents from Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, last seen in the company of a young man with his arm in a sling, calling himself “Ted” and driving a tan Volkswagen bug. A massive manhunt ensued, and people came forward with stories connected to other abductions or attempted ones. Bundy wasn’t caught, but he’d left behind vital clues, such as his name, his car and a ploy of pretending to need help.

Nobody knows when Bundy became a serial killer, but those 1974 disappearances put investigators on his trail and helped lead to his eventual capture. Bundy confessed to at least 28 murders, but also hinted the toll could be in the triple digits. After murders in Washington and Oregon, he moved on to Utah, Colorado and Florida, leaving a trail of death and mayhem. He was eventually sentenced to death in Florida and executed in the electric chair in 1989. Because he was raised primarily in Tacoma and appears to have started his known killings here, he is inextricably associated with the Northwest.

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