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The women who survived Ted Bundy

A woman holds her face in her hands
Image: Shutterstock

What don’t people know about Ted Bundy? The sheer scale of his notoriety has made him a kind of stitched-together, Frankenstein’s monster of repeated media clichés: he was the handsome killer, the one with wit and panache, the one who drove a cute Volkswagen Beetle and charmed his trial judge and was cocky in court and hid his lethal sexual depravity behind a smiling mask.

But, setting aside the ubiquitous anti-icon that Bundy has been made into, other stories deserve to be remembered. The stories of the women who fell prey to him and survived.

Carol DaRonch

It was on a winter’s day in 1974 that an 18-year-old woman called Carol DaRonch went to a shopping mall in Utah. A mundane, seemingly safe excursion in public, with people all around – and yet, it almost led to her violent death at the hands of a serial killer. Whilst visiting a bookshop in the mall, she was approached by a young man who introduced himself as a police officer, and said her car had been broken into.

Luckily, Carol was able to fend him off and flee the scene in terror. She later identified Bundy in a police line up, leading to his conviction for kidnapping and assault.

Rhonda Stapley

Carol DaRonch wasn’t the only woman who survived Bundy in 1974. That same year, a Utah student named Rhonda Stapley was approached by Bundy in his car while she was waiting for a bus. He introduced himself as Ted, in his usual arrogantly honest way, and something about his clean-cut, charming demeanour persuaded Rhonda to trust him and accept his offer of a lift.

'This didn't feel like hitchhiking, what I did, this felt like a friendly college student helping another college student and that seemed normal and not out of place,' Rhonda would later recall. The normality was shattered when Bundy pulled up behind some trees and calmly told Rhonda that he was going to kill her.

What followed was a protracted ordeal where he physically beat her (“more angry than I’ve ever seen anybody”) and raped her, again and again. By some miracle, Rhonda was eventually able to flee from the killer, throwing herself into a stream which rushed her away to safety.

Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler

One night in January 1978, two students in a Florida sorority house – Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler – were having a quiet evening in after a busy day. After reading in their respective beds, the roommates went to sleep at around 10.30pm. In the small hours of the morning, the girls were suddenly awoken by the crash of someone entering their room – that someone was Bundy, who had escaped custody some time before and was on a deranged murder spree.

By the time he’d burst into Kathy and Karen’s room, he had already murdered two other girls in the sorority house, attacking them in their beds as they’d slept. Now, he was repeatedly hitting them with a log, inflicting devastating injuries before he escaped. Karen Chandler suffered severe head injuries, while Kathy Kleiner was found sitting cross-legged and rocking back and forth on her bed, with – in the words of a police officer – ‘her jaw hanging off one side… only one hinge was still attached’.

Poignantly, after spending a week in hospital with her jaw wired shut, Kathy returned to the scene of the attack, and was noted the blood that was splattered all over her bedspread. “My beautiful bedspread I had just gotten a few weeks earlier, that my mom and I had spent so much time picking out… That really stays in my mind.’

Cheryl Thomas

Incredibly, the carnage at the sorority house wasn’t enough to quench Bundy’s blood lust. Straight after his rampage there, he skulked a few blocks away and broke into the basement flat of Cheryl Thomas, a dance student who’d been out at a disco that evening.

After coming home around midnight, Cheryl had treated herself to a peanut butter sandwich, watched a bit of television and gone to sleep. Some time later, she awoke to the nerve-shredding sight of Bundy wearing a stocking on his face, eye holes ripped into the fabric. He had crawled into the flat through her kitchen window.

Fortunately for Cheryl, a neighbour heard the commotion that followed, and Bundy fled again, after beating her so severely that she had to give up her ambition to become a professional dancer, but would go on to teach ballet.

Elizabeth Kloepfer

Unlike the other women who survived Bundy, Elizabeth Kloepfer wasn’t some luckless random woman he happened to spot and target. She was his girlfriend, whom he’d met in a bar and entered into a long and rocky relationship with. Their connection was deep and real – she later wrote that she thought of him as her 'prince', saying 'I handed Ted my life and said "Here, take care of me."'

Ted, for his part, said 'I loved her so much, it was destabilizing.' Yet even she wasn’t safe from his murderous cravings, and he later confessed to her that one night he had attempted to asphyxiate her by blocking the chimney in her home and letting the place fill up with smoke. He also expressed darkly absurd remorse over the fact he once disposed of a victim’s head by burning it in Elizabeth’s fireplace. 'Of all the things I did to her,' Bundy said, 'this is probably the one she is least likely to forgive me for. Poor Liz.'

Read more:

Ted Bundy: Crime File