Ted Bundy's mom defended him to the bitter end, saying "You'll always be my precious son."
On November 24, 1946, a young woman gave birth at the Elizabeth Lund Home For Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. Her name was Eleanor Louise Cowell, later Louise Bundy, and she was just 22 years old at the time that she became Ted Bundy’s mom.
Cowell was urged to give the child up as the stigma surrounding a child born of wedlock extended not only to the unwed woman but to the woman’s family as well. As a compromise, the young woman’s parents took in the child and raised him as their own.
As a result, that boy grew up believing that Eleanor Louise Cowell was his older sister, a complicated relationship which many biographers point out could be where his sociopathy started. Because it was on that night in November 1946, that Eleanor Louise Cowell gave birth to one of the most infamous psychopaths in the world. She named him Theodore Robert Cowell or Ted for short. It wasn’t until later when Cowell married and her new husband adopted young Ted, that he was given his lasting, infamous name: Ted Bundy.
How Eleanor Louise Cowell Became Ted Bundy’s Mom
To this day, no one perhaps Eleanor Louise Cowell is quite sure of the identity of the man who impregnated her. Rumors have, of course, abounded, naming everyone from a sailor on shore leave to Cowell’s own abusive father.
Bundy’s official birth certificate named an Air Force veteran named Lloyd Marshall as the father, however, Cowell later claimed it was a man who may have been a sailor, named Jack Worthington.
Years later, when investigating Ted Bundy’s personal history following his arrest, police could find no military record of a man named Worthington. The rumors about Samuel Cowell, Louise’s father, were never officially confirmed or denied by the family.
Whoever his birth father was, Ted Bundy seemed unconcerned with knowing. Throughout his early life, Ted Bundy was under the impression that his maternal grandfather was his father and that his mother was his sister – and no one corrected him.
For the first three years of her son’s life, Eleanor Louise Cowell lived with her family in Philadelphia where she was born in September of 1924. Her family life, however, proved to be too difficult an environment in which to raise a child.
While Louise Cowell herself was rather sane, along with her younger sister, the rest of the family had questionable tendencies. Mrs. Cowell, Louise’s mother, was subject to bouts of crippling depression, for which she underwent electroconvulsive therapy as treatment. Mr. Samuel Cowell, Louise’s father, was known city-wide to be a violent, drunken man.
Neighbors reported him beating his wife, the family dog, and neighborhood cats, while Cowell remembered him being a racist, sexist, imposing, verbally abusive man. Unfortunately, he was also the sole male figure which Bundy had to look up to. Worryingly, and perhaps tellingly, Bundy would later recall his grandfather fondly, saying that he looked up to the man, and “clung to” as well as “identified with” him.
Whether the fact that Ted Bundy’s ambiguous parentage contributed to his psychosis remains unknown. Bundy himself tried to brush off the matter, though unconvincingly:
“This, of course, this illegitimacy issue is, for the amateur psychologist, it’s the thing,” Bundy reported in an interview featured in the Netflix series Conversations With A Killer. “I mean, it’s so stupid. It just bugs the shit out of me. I don’t know what to do about it.” Then he added, “It’s normal.”
Ted Bundy’s mom may have noticed sociopathic, or at least, troubled tendencies in him early on, as she moved away from her family when he was just three. This was, allegedly, following an incident during which Cowell’s sister Julia awoke one morning to find her bed covered in kitchen knives — and young Ted smiling at the foot of her bed.
Eleanor Louise Cowell Becomes Louise Bundy
In 1950, Eleanor Louise Cowell changed her name to Louise Nelson and moved from Philadelphia to Tacoma, Washington. Her cousins lived there, and for a little while, Ted Bundy’s mom and he lived with them.
In 1951 at a church singles night, Louise Nelson met Johnny Culpepper Bundy, a hospital cook from Tacoma. Bundy, ironically, was a sweet and caring man. He was everything that Samuel Cowell was not and Ted Bundy’s mom immediately fell in love. Within a year they were married and within the next several years they had four more children together.
Despite the fact that Bundy adopted young Ted and bestowed upon him his surname, Ted Bundy never bonded with his step-father and indeed reported that he found him unintelligent and poor.
Louise Bundy fell quickly into her new life as a housewife. She enjoyed being a mother to her four children and watching her doting new husband take them on camping trips and fishing adventures. What she didn’t enjoy, however, was watching her oldest child, the moody and removed Ted Bundy, distance himself even further from his family.
Despite Ted Bundy’s mom’s best efforts to keep her family together, time and time again Ted would refuse to cooperate. Louise Bundy noticed this distance, but according to reports, nothing else in his behavior seemed to suggest that he could become a bloodlusty serial killer.
Indeed, Bundy once admitted in an interview also featured in the Netflix series Conversation with a Killer that, “There’s nothing in my background which would lead one to believe that I was capable of committing murder.”
Bundy insisted that he grew up in none other than a good, solid, Christian home with two parents — even though he refused to address his step-father as anything more than “John.” How much Ted Bundy’s relationship with his family and childhood contributed to his later crimes remains unknown as Bundy gave conflicting accounts of his home life to various biographers over the years.
Perhaps like any doting mother, Louise Bundy could only see the good in her children. When Ted Bundy pulled away from his new family, she assumed this was due to sadness or grief over having to leave Philadelphia. Even when Bundy was arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft at the age of 18, she never imagined that something more sinister was going on under the surface — but it wouldn’t be long until others did.
Defending A Serial Killer
As her children grew up, Eleanor Louise Cowell took a job as an administrative assistant at the University of Puget Sound where Bundy briefly attending before transferring to the University of Washington to study Chinese. He met Elizabeth Kloepfer Kendall around this time with whom he lived. Their romance ended explosively, however, when Bundy began his killing spree.
It’s believed by one biographer of his that around his time in the late ’60s while Bundy hopped from West Coast schools to ones on the East Coast near his grandparents, he learned his mother was not, in fact, his sister.
He later claimed to have killed two women in Philadelphia around this time, but his first confirmed kill did not come until 1974. From then on he became a murderous killing machine.
For those that aren’t familiar with Ted Bundy’s reign of terror, the brief overview is as follows: from 1974 and potentially even earlier, until 1989, Bundy went on a killing spree that claimed a self-professed 30 victims. He escaped several times over his prison career until he was finally convicted and executed in the late 80s.
His crimes were well publicized, as was his trial because he largely served as his own attorney. The media sensationalized his case, and museums around the country began displaying artifacts belonging to him in order to draw crowds of the morbidly fascinated.
Though Bundy initially decreed his innocence, he later confessed to the crimes and candidly offered up gruesome details surroundings several of the murders. The general view from the public was that he was guilty, but according to biographers, it was those closest to him that touted his innocence even after his public confession.
Among those who professed his innocence was his mother. Throughout his arrest(s) and his trial, Louise Bundy proclaimed that there was simply no way her son could have done these terrible things.
In 1980, following her son’s conviction for abducting and killing 13-year-old Kimberly Leach in Florida, Louise Bundy told the Tacoma News Tribune that she remained supportive of her son.
“Ted Bundy does not go around killing women and little children!” she said in an interview. “Our never-ending faith in Ted – our faith that he is innocent – has never wavered. And it never will.”
Even after his confession, Louise Bundy stood beside the murderer. When it was speculated in 1999 that Bundy may have murdered his 8-year-old neighbor, Louise came to his defense immediately.
“I resent the fact that everybody in Tacoma thinks just because he lived in Tacoma he did that one, too, way back when he was 14,” she said. “I’m sure he didn’t.”
Life After Ted
Despite her fierce support for and continued defense of Ted Bundy, there was not a thing Eleanor Louise Cowell could do to save her son from the electric chair. On the fateful morning of Ted Bundy’s execution on Jan. 24, 1989, Louise Bundy spoke to her son one last time.
His death by electric chair did little to erase his heinous legacy, however. Johnny and Louise Bundy continued to feel the backlash of being parents to one of America’s most horrifying killers. In the years during the trial, the couple had been forced to endure malicious rumors that they had known about their son’s indecency and tried to cover it up. They’d also been forced to move and to change their phone number to avoid hateful calls and letters.
But this didn’t phase Louise Bundy.
Following her son’s death, she became an active member of her local church, worked on outreach in the community, and focused on giving back. She continued to be a doting mother to her four remaining children and a doting wife to her husband. Those who knew the family in the Tacoma area described them as good people and a likable family, despite their association with the infamous serial killer.
While Ted Bundy’s name was never forgotten, Louise Bundy and the rest of the Bundy family remain relatively anonymous. Louise Bundy was, for her sake, able to melt quietly into the background for the rest of her life until her death at the ripe age of 88 in 2012.
Though she was remembered by those in her local community as a kind and loving woman, the general public will likely remember her as the doting mother of a serial killer who defended him until the moment of his death.
Take her last words to him, for example. Bundy spoke to her son twice on his execution day. In her final phone call to him, she proclaimed her love for him one last time. The words were recorded by the prison system:
“You’ll always be my precious son.”
After this look at Ted Bundy’s mom, Louise Bundy, read the story of Elizabeth Fritzl, who was held captive in her father’s basement for 24 years. Then, read about Christine Collins, whose son went missing and was replaced by an imposter.