In the summer of 1999, the specter of a serial killer was once again thrust into the fore of the American consciousness when handyman Cary Stayner confessed that he had beheaded a young Yosemite National Park naturalist. He confessed, too, after his arrest, to the sexual assaults and murders of a woman, her daughter, and a family friend some months earlier. The question in the minds of the public when another monster is discovered in our midst is "How can someone commit such despicable acts?" To find the answer, we must swallow our bile and peer into the mind of a killer.
That's exactly what Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth did two decades ago when, acting as both biographers and private attorneys attached to the accused's prospective appeals attorneys, they undertook a series of interviews with then-alleged murderer Ted Bundy. By the time he was executed in Florida's electric chair in January of 1989, Bundy had confessed to the sexual savaging and brutal murders of thirty-two women (police believe the number to be forty or more) along a raggedly bloody trail from the Pacific Northwest to the sunny Southeast. A handsome, articulate but seriously flawed young man, Ted Bundy shattered collective assumptions about what a serial killer looked like, for he was the picture of the boy next door. Appearances were deceiving, as they often are. Even after his conviction for the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach (for which he received a death sentence), Bundy continued to charm and fool people who came within his presence -- people including the woman he married and conceived a child with while on trial in the Leach case.
Ted Bundy was a manipulator, a twisted murderer who relied on his chameleon good looks and on what he called the "anonymity factor" to achieve his coast-to-coast killing spree. He preyed on pretty young women and adolescents, using a variety of modus operandi that included -- but wasn't limited to -- bludgeoning, strangling, beheading, sodomy and rape. He escaped authorities twice, exploiting both the incompetency and trust of his jailers. Several times he believed himself free of what he called an "entity" inside him that took over when he attacked. Yet each time his drive to possess and destroy women came back with ever-increasing urgency. The two journalists, as they delved deeper into Bundy's deranged mind, found themselves repulsed at times beyond their ability to cope. While a nation watched Bundy's trial in horrified fascination, Michaud and Aynesworth were in the process of setting down their experiences and conversations with the man who arguably remains the most famous mass-murderer of modern times.
Originally published in the early eighties, The Only Living Witness still stands out among a bevy of other Bundy books. The New York Daily News called it one of the ten best true crime books ever written. Prolific true-crime author Jack Olsen says that "The Only Living Witness towers over the rest...a monument to book-length journalism." Robert Ressler, a former FBI profiler and himself an author, says it is "a timeless classic." Indeed, this book is a fascinating and necessary one with worth not only as an investigation into the mind of a serial killer, but also as a warning: the devil sometimes wears a fair face.
To read more about Stephen G. Michaud and his books, visit his home page.