At 7 a.m. on January 24, 1989, Ted Bundy died via execution in the electric chair at Florida State Prison after raping and murdering dozens of victims between 1974 and 1978.
Between 1974 and 1978, serial killer Ted Bundy killed some 36 people in unimaginably gruesome fashion. And when he was finally caught, countless people then wanted to see Bundy himself die.
On January 24, 1989, those people got their wish, when Ted Bundy died via electrocution in the electric chair — but that’s hardly the whole story. So how did Ted Bundy die and how did his last days before his execution actually play out?
Ted Bundy’s execution and death were famously a national event for onlookers outside the prison gates and millions of viewers watching from home. “Burn, Bundy, burn!” adorned protest signs and comprised the chants of hundreds.
The whole world was watching, eager to bear witness to Ted Bundy’s death. Once it became clear that he had brutally killed dozens of people — one of them 12-year-old Kimberly Leach — the public’s desire to see him snuffed out reached a fever pitch.
Ted Bundy’s relationships with Elizabeth Kloepfer and wife Carole Ann Boone, his grisly murders, and his heavily televised trial have all been thoroughly explored in the media. Meanwhile, these aspects of his story have drawn attention away from arguably the most important death in this whole saga — his own.
So, how did Ted Bundy die? From his last words to his final meal and beyond, this is the full story of Ted Bundy’s death and historic execution.
How Ted Bundy Was Finally Caught
After he was captured, Ted Bundy admitted his horrific deeds to his girlfriend over the phone.
“The force would just consume me,” he told her. “Like one night, I was walking by the campus and I followed this sorority girl. I didn’t want to follow her. I didn’t do anything but follow her and that’s how it was. I’d be out late at night and follow people like that…I’d try not to, but I’d do it anyway.”
Those activities soon led to a multi-year murder spree across several states, but Bundy nevertheless managed to evade justice numerous times, including his successful Colorado jailbreak and subsequent escape to Florida in 1977 (that was his second escape that year — he’d previously jumped out of a courthouse window and wasn’t caught for four days).
It was Bundy’s time in Florida that arguably put the final nail in the proverbial coffin. On January 15, 1978, he broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, killing two young women and injuring two others before maiming another several blocks away. After that horrific attack, there was only one other victim before he was caught.
About three weeks after terrorizing the Tallahassee campus, Bundy kidnapped 12-year-old Kimberly Leach from her school in Lake City, Florida. He killed the girl and dumped her body in Suwannee State Park.
In February 1978, he was finally caught by a Pensacola police officer who found Bundy’s car slightly too suspicious to dismiss. Not only did the car have stolen plates, but Bundy provided the officer with a stolen driver’s license. After years of killing, Ted Bundy was finally caught.
He admitted to his real identity after two days in custody, which had detectives curious if he was responsible for the deaths of Chi Omega sorority sisters Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, as well as the attacks on two of their sorority sister peers.
This was the beginning of the end for Ted Bundy. The man who had been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and who had been hunted by law enforcement for questioning in more than 30 killings was now under arrest.
He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.
When he called Elizabeth Kloepfer shortly after his Florida arrest, he was in tears. According to her memoir, he was desperate to take “responsibility” for his actions. When he admitted his violent deeds to his former lover, she replied by saying “I love you.” She wasn’t sure how else to respond.
“I tried to suppress it,” he told her. “It was taking more and more of my time. That’s why I didn’t do well in school. My time was being used trying to make my life look normal. But I wasn’t normal.”
The stage for Ted Bundy’s execution and death was now set.
A Monster Goes To Trial
Reporters discovered that Ted Bundy had been living at the Oaks apartment complex — an affordable residence blocks away from the Chi Omega sorority. A documented report of one of its members, Nita Neary, seeing a man walk down the stairs that night was used during Bundy’s trial.
“She was able to give a good, strong description,” said lead prosecutor Larry Simpson. “Nita Neary did meet with an artist and drew a sketch of the person that she saw leaving the Chi Omega house… it looked like Mr. Bundy.”
It wasn’t merely a passing similarity based on eyewitness reports that swayed the trial in the prosecution’s favor. Bundy’s hair matched fibers found in a pantyhose mask, for instance. The infamous bite mark left on Lisa Levy was also strong evidence against the killer.
“I think the bite mark, itself, is indicative of the primal rage that Mr. Bundy must’ve been in at the time that he committed those murders,” said Simpson. “It was just a total homicidal rage.”
“I thought a lot about the parents of the girls that were killed during the prosecution of this case,” said Simpson. “It’s one of the things that kept me going.”
On July 24, 1979, the seemingly charming law student was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of Bowman and Levy, as well as the attempted murders of Chandler, Kleiner, and Thomas. Ted Bundy’s death was now legally assured, his execution just a matter of time.
In January 1980, Bundy stood trial in Orlando, where he was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of Kimberly Leach. The evidence presented in court included eyewitness testimony, fibers, and hotel receipts from Lake City.
Like many death row inmates across the United States, Ted Bundy spent years in prison before his inevitable execution. After nine years in Florida State Prison, on January 24, 1989, Ted Bundy’s death came when he was executed in the electric chair.
Preparations For Ted Bundy’s Execution
Ted Bundy’s death came after he eventually exhausted his appeals and the final convictions ultimately convinced him to confess. Though he admitted to a staggering 30 murders, experts still believe the body count was higher.
Nonetheless, the time for Ted Bundy’s execution had come — but not before his last meal, and a citizens’ celebratory tailgating event outside the prison walls.
On his last night alive, Bundy called his mother twice. As hundreds set up camp outside to drink beer, howl chants for the killer to burn, and bang pans together in a feverish hurrah, it was time for his last meal.
Seemingly unenthused about dinner, Bundy refused to pick something and was given the standard concoction — steak, eggs, hash browns, and toast. With nerves and anxiety likely coursing through his body, he didn’t even pick at it. Ted Bundy died hungry.
How Did Ted Bundy Die?
In addition to the frenzied mob outside, the main event inside Florida State Prison was nearly equally well-attended. According to the LA Times, reporting from inside, 42 witnesses came to watch Ted Bundy’s death at around 7 a.m. on January 24, 1989. The Times covered the killer’s last breaths and left behind a detailed answer to the question of how did Ted Bundy die:
“Supt. Tom Barton asked Bundy if he had any last words. The killer hesitated. His voice quavered.”
“‘I’d like to give my love to my family and friends,’ he said. … With that, it was time. A last thick strap was pulled across Bundy’s mouth and chin. The metal skullcap was bolted in place, it’s heavy black veil falling in front of the condemned man’s face.”
“Barton gave the go-ahead. An anonymous executioner pushed the button. Two thousand volts surged through the wires. Bundy’s body tensed and his hands tightened into a clench. A tiny puff of smoke lifted from his right leg.”
“A minute later, the machine was turned off, and Bundy went limp. A paramedic opened the blue shirt and listened for a heartbeat. A second doctor aimed a light into his eyes. At 7:16 a.m., Theodore Robert Bundy — one of the most active killers of all time — was pronounced dead.”
Ted Bundy’s Death And The Legacy He Left Behind
After Ted Bundy’s execution, his brain was removed in the name of science. In the hopes that any glaring abnormalities could be found that indicated what caused such violent behavior, researchers examined the organ thoroughly.
Injuries to the brain have, indeed, been found by some researchers to cause criminality. In Bundy’s case, no such evidence was discovered. The lack of any understandable reason and physical causes has certainly made the man’s legacy of rampant rape, murder, and necrophilia all the more horrific.
Ted Bundy essentially represents the invisible psychopath. Were it not for a few mistakes caused by his bloody passions, and a few lucky breaks on behalf of the law — Bundy may have well continued to be a charming law student by day and a horror movie monster by night.
In the end, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Washington’s Cascade Mountains as he requested. The Cascades are the very same mountain range Bundy used to dump at least four of his murder victims.
Since then, Bundy has been the inspiration for countless horror films, true crime books, and documentaries. Decades later, humanity is still collectively trying to understand how a seemingly normal, handsome man with a decent upbringing could’ve been so violent, gruesome, and indifferent.
After discovering the answer to the question of how did Ted Bundy die, read about his daughter, Rose Bundy. Then, learn how Ted Bundy helped catch Gary Ridgway, perhaps America’s worst serial killer.