Have you heard the name Karen Sparks? The name Lynda Healy? Donna Manson? Susan Rancourt? Roberta Parks? Georgann Hawkins? Janice Ott? Denise Naslund? Nancy Wilcox? Melissa Smith? Laura Aime? Carol DaRonch? Debra Kent? Caryn Campbell? Julie Cunningham? Denise Oliverson? Lynette Culver? Susan Curtis? Margaret Bowman? Lisa Levy? Karen Chandler? Kathy Kleiner? Cheryl Thomas? Kimberly Leach?
You probably haven’t. But I can guarantee you’ve heard the name Ted Bundy. You know who he is and who he pretended to be. Chances are, you know as much about what he did as you can stomach but very little about who he did it to. You may know it’s a much, much longer list of names than the ones aforementioned, but you don’t know all the names. Amazon Prime’s new documentary series “Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer” wants to change that.
Anchored by interviews with Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall, “Falling for a Killer” emphasizes the importance of a woman’s perspective on his crimes. The series begins with Kendall describing the blissful years leading up to Bundy’s infamous murder spree. Soon, the domestic tranquility of her family’s life is juxtaposed with the savage violence that came to define her seemingly perfect partner.
Joined by feminist scholars, relatives of Bundy’s victims, female law enforcement officers and a few survivors of his crimes, Kendall attempts to explain how Bundy was able to attack potentially over 100 women within the span of four years. The series details how cultural and political movements influenced Bundy’s crimes and how the public understood them at the time.
In the mid-1970s, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing, Roe v. Wade had recently secured women’s right to choose, and Republicans were scrambling to maintain control amidst Nixon’s disintegrating administration. Bundy, who previously aspired to study law and become a conservative politician, committed his murders at the height of the university protests and demonstrations calling for radical social change.
While the connection between cultural movements and a psychopathic murderer’s motives may be tenuous, the link between a systemically oppressive society and male violence against women is undeniable. Kendall and her daughter, whom Bundy helped raise, recount anecdotes of his constant need to control their wardrobe and social lives. His reputation in the media as a criminal mastermind leading a perfect double life falls apart when his colleagues and relatives are able to tell their own stories.
Capitalizing on tragedy and victims’ pain has become a characteristic of the true-crime genre, particularly regarding the crimes of Ted Bundy. After countless documentaries and 2019’s controversial film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” starring Zac Efron (“Baywatch”) as the infamous killer, the story of Bundy’s crimes has been repeatedly rehashed with little new interpretation. “Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer” provides a response to his version of events.
One woman interviewed in “Falling for a Killer” has never spoken out before. Known to the public by the pseudonym Joni Letz, Karen Sparks is Bundy’s first known victim and one of his few survivors. In showing her face and telling her story, this series seeks to show its audience what the point is in revisiting these events.
Rather than immortalize a manipulative rapist and murderer, “Falling for a Killer” opts to shift the public’s perspective on the topic and refocus the true-crime genre’s values. The show presents a group of women too often discounted as a list of names, rather than victims and survivors. You know his story. It’s time to learn theirs.