Antisocial Personality Disorder-Ted Bundy: A Perfect Storm

Antisocial Personality Disorder
 Ted Bundy: A Perfect Storm
Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASP) is defined as “the chronic manifestation of antisocial behavior patterns in impulsive or amoral persons.” The general characteristics associated with these types of behavioral patterns include impulsiveness, inability to delay gratification, narcissism, and problems effectively accepting and dealing with authority. (Vorvick & Merrill, 2010) In this paper we will examine one of the most prominent cases of Antisocial Personality Disorder; Theodore Robert Bundy. We will examine the biological, cognitive, behavioral and emotional components of the disorder that defined the man and his actions.
Our study begins in a sleepy town in the fall of 1948 in Burlington Vermont. Theodore Robert Cowell is born in the Elizabeth Lund home for unwed mothers to Eleanor Louis Cowell. From the moment of his birth his very identity is challenged as his mother moves them home to Philadelphia to live with his grandparents; calling herself his sister and leaving his grandparents to the business of raising the boy. A few short years later she would once again challenge his identity by moving to Tacoma Washington and marrying John Bundy; giving the child a name and legitimacy. The transformation to Theodore Robert Bundy was quick and unwelcomed by young Theodore. In these early years Theodore would begin to demonstrate antisocial behaviors that would later be diagnosed as Antisocial Personality Disorder and his actions would eventually earn him the title of one of the most prolific serial killers of our time. (Opfer, n.d.)
The capture of Bundy in February 1978 would spur forward the infant science of Forensic Psychology as William Hagmaier of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit in Quantico Virginia would be one of the last to interview Bundy. His interviews would shed considerable light on the components associated with the formation of such a prolific killer.  Hagmaier stated “with his ability to articulate why he made certain choices and why he let certain people die. He has become a standard by which other serial killers are measured.”(Sinclair, Koeppen & Golden, 1996) In his interviews he was able to outline the characteristics associated with the formation of such killers. He noted the rational execution of the crime, the ability to appear “normal”, killing as a form of fulfillment of emotional need for control and power, and sexual gratification as a secondary need; as well as allowing for the forgone conclusion of an existing personality disorder such as ASP. (Geberth, 1990)
There are many components involved in the evolution of Antisocial Personality disorder and the subsequent violent and criminal behaviors associated. In a paper written by Elizabeth Kandel PhD. of the University of New Hampshire; she notes that the potential biological connections to the development of this type of disorder can be associated with prenatal or birth trauma as well as a genetic link for aggressive psychological disorders. Kandel’s study revealed that there was strong connection between birth complications and recitative violence; however the associations between ASP and birth complications were indeed weak at best. Kandel then concludes that the association of ASP and violent behaviors such as those of Bundy come from different etiologies. (Kandel, 1991)
The assumption that there may in fact be some connection between birth trauma and the creation of such a man as Ted Bundy lacks any real concrete connections. Although it is taken into account in the evolution as Bundy’s own accounts of his mother’s traumatic experiences during the birth of his siblings are believed to be an accurate account of his birth as well. (Opfer, n.d.) The understanding of the trauma his mother suffered pointed more towards the emotional components associated with the evolution of this disorder in Bundy.
Emotionally Bundy was crippled; unable to experience empathy, affection, or even a conscience. These primary emotional components or rather lack thereof became an excellent breeding ground for the dark and charismatic Bundy. In his youth he was believed to have been exposed to unrelenting cruelty, at the hands of his grandfather and open neglect from his mother. His exposure to a sporadically critical and cruel caregiver set the stage for the development of the impulsive emotional needs. (Black, 2006)
Bundy‘s care changed dramatically after his mother removed him from the care of his grandparents. He had gone from the abusive and critical care to one of neglect through disassociation. As the illegitimate child; his existence failed to have an impact on the family structure and would provide yet another breeding ground for the continued evolution of ASP (Opfer, n.d.) The lack of structure associated with Bundy’s needs and desires created the perfect instances to foster a lack of control of impulses. This lack of delayed gratification contributed to the creation of a significant component of ASP. (Black, 2006)
Bundy’s intelligence also played an important role in the development of his emotional and behavioral responses. He suffered no notable cognitive impairments; in fact Bundy was reported to have an IQ of 124 at the time of his arrest; although his actual IQ is much debated. (Geberth, 1990)  This lack of cognitive impairment seemed to feed his ability to manipulate those around him and set him apart as an Organized Serial Killer. As an organized serial killer he demonstrated an above average intelligence, was methodical and logical in his planning and commission of his crimes. (Sinclair, Koeppen & Golden, 1996)
Bundy’s behaviors throughout his childhood and early adulthood did not scream out antisocial in anyway. In fact they helped to create a “mask of normalcy” that would become an intricate part of his psychopathic behaviors.  As an honor student of psychology he learned much and put this knowledge to use in the commission of his crimes.  His use of knowledge allowed him a level of adaptability that would not easily be surpassed in the annals of criminal history. The severity and intimacy of Bundy’s crimes seems to be the only outward indicator to his psychopathy. (Geberth, 1990)
Closing Thoughts
Through Bundy and other serial killer examinations it was discovered that the combination of biological, emotional, behavioral and cognitive components may vary in depth and degree but the each shares some common association with each category in determining the psychopathy and implications of ASP. At the San Antonio Symposium of Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators; Dr.Hare and his team determined “the distinct cluster of personality traits and socially-deviant behaviors of an individual fall into four factors: interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and anti-social. The combination of these individual personality traits, interpersonal styles, and socially deviant lifestyles are the framework of psychopathy and can manifest themselves differently in individual psychopaths.” (Mueller, 2005)
In the beginning of this paper it was stated that ASP is “the chronic manifestation of antisocial behavior patterns in impulsive or amoral persons.” In the final hours of Bundy’s life he claimed to be a victim as he laid the blame for the development of ASP squarely at the feet of the pornographic industry. It is this writer’s opinion that Bundy was in fact the result of a perfect storm resulting in a determination of ASP.
This diagnosis although revealing was not typical as Bundy was considered to be Factor I Psychopath as he demonstrated atypical characteristics such as elevated intelligence and few evidenced instances early on in life. (Meyer, Chapman and Weaver, 2009)  Unfortunately we must consider the sources of information and with the case of Ted Bundy most was offered by him thus coloring the facts with his skewed view of the world and his place in it.
Black, D. (2006). What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2011, from
Geberth V. J. (1990) Serial Killer and the Revelations of Ted Bundy. Law and Order, Volume:38,  Issue:5, Pages:72-77. National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from
Kandel E. PhD. ( 1991) Biology, Violence, and Antisocial Personality. New Hampshire University. Family Research Lab. Durham NH. Retrieved from:
Mueller R. (2005) Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators Symposium. Behavioral Analysis Unit-2. National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Critical Incident Response Group. Federal Bureau of Investigation. San Antonio Texas. Materials Retrieved from:
Meyer, R., Chapman, L.K & Weaver, C.M. (2009). Case studies in abnormal behavior. (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Opfer C. (n.d.) Criminal Profile: Ted Bundy. Investigation Discovery. Discovery Communications LLC. Silver Spring, MD. Retrieved from:
Sinclair M., Koeppen P. & Golden T. (June, 1996) New Detectives: Fatal Compulsions. Investigation Discovery.  Discovery Communications, LLC. Silver Spring, MD. Retrieved from:
Vorvick L. MD. & Merrill D.B. MD (November, 2010) Antisocial personality disorder. Sociopathic personality; Sociopathy; Personality disorder – antisocial.  National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda MD, 20894 USA. Retrieved from:

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