Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides that he committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. His confession, however, came a decade after his trials and convictions, only shortly before his execution in 1989. Throughout his multiple trials he vehemently denied his guilt, and was generally liked by the public due to his clean cut image and charismatic persona. His calculating, careful nature allowed him to remain undetected for years.
After committing murders in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, Bundy was first arrested in 1975 in Salt Lake City after speeding away from a patrol car while cruising a residential area. He was identified by Carol DaRonch, who had escaped after Bundy kidnapped her while impersonating a police officer. After escaping from the Aspen courthouse during a preliminary hearing he was recaptured 6 days later. However he escaped again from a Colorado jail, made his way to Florida, where committed several additional murders and assaults. Several of these were at the Chi Omega house at Florida State University. He bit one of his victims, which ended up giving forensic dentists a way to help stop his streak of heinous violence.
Bundy seems to have renewed public notoriety – a new miniseries on Netflix was just released, and an upcoming film about his life from his girlfriend’s perspective is to be released in the fall. In an era flooded with true crime stories, Ted Bundy’s is a unique case. The fact that he was able to do what he did largely was a product of the 1970’s being a more primitive, simple time. Law enforcement was too naive and trusting, there was no internet, no national databases for law enforcement, and no DNA analysis available. This allowed Bundy to perpetrate crimes across multiple states, escape custody twice, and remain undetected for as long as he did. He also was incredibly intelligent, organized, and thought by many to be attractive and charming. The latter traits helped him greatly in the court of public opinion – he just didn’t fit the image of what people thought a killer would look like.
Bundy was recaptured near the Alabama state line at a police checkpoint while driving a stolen car. In hindsight, with Bundy’s convictions, confessions, and execution in the past, it would seem that convicting Bundy would be an afterthought. However, at his first murder trial, he was a former law student who only was convicted of kidnapping. Despite two escapes from custody, and a trail of bodies on both sides of the country, the prosecution’s case was not incredibly strong due to lack of physical evidence.
Forensic dentists Richard Souviron and Lowell Levine made the case that stone models and a wax bite record from Bundy’s teeth matched with a bite mark that Bundy inflicted on one of his victims. This coupled with a witness who claimed she saw him at the sorority house where he attacked helped convince the jury to hand in a guilty verdict after only 7 hours of deliberation.
Bite mark analysis has been criticized over the years for its inaccuracy, with at least one case (Arizona man Ray Krone) of a conviction from bite mark analysis later being overturned with DNA analysis. However, at the time of Bundy’s first murder trial there was very scant physical evidence that linked Bundy to the crimes. In this case, Bundy fortunately had uniquely chipped/rotated front teeth, making marks from his bite easily identifiable compared to someone with fairly straight teeth. In this way the forensic dentists (and the prosecution) got lucky that Bundy had crooked teeth – it was easier to make their case to the jury and also not convict an innocent man.
Bundy would be found guilty in the Florida trial, and would be convicted at two subsequent trials, further cementing his fate on death row. But at the critical first trial, two dentists played a key role in helping make sure ted Bundy was never a free man again and would never harm anyone else. Flawed as bite mark analysis may be as a diagnostic tool, fortunately in this case it was the right move. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty fascinating that dentists helped convict Ted Bundy.
You can also read about how a dentist helped create the characters from ‘The Godfather’.
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