I’m Not Guilty: The Development of the Violent Mind—The Case of Ted Bundy
Al Carlisle, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
Years ago, as a graduate student in English at the University of California, Riverside, I came upon the following passage while reading several poems by the nineteenth-century poet Robert Browning:
Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her.
Now, I was already used to Browning’s interest in sociopathic narrators; “My Last Duchess” has been one of my favorite poems since my Introduction to English Literature course as a freshman. Certain his portrait of the Duke should have warned me to be ready for anything.
But when I read that passage—especially the simple phrase “I found a thing to do”—I felt much of the shock and horror that Browning’s original audiences must have felt. That shock and horror was compounded by the prosaic tone of the remainder of the piece, as the lover sits beside the body of his murdered beloved, embracing her, staring into her eyes, and reveling in the fact that at that moment—for that eternity—she belonged completely to him. Then came the ending:
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!
The coldness, the dispassion, the distancing of himself from his act…no one could have drawn it better than Browning. Or even imagined it thus.
So I thought for many years.
Then, during the World Horror Convention 2012 in Salt Lake City, I began reading Al Carlisle’s study of Ted Bundy and received an almost identical shock. Just a little over midway in the book (pp. 212-213 in the Special World Horror Convention edition), Carlisle recounts Bundy’s narration of his first homicide.
There were the same images, this time not in poetic verse, not as an imaginative exercise in aberrant human psychology, but in reference to real people and real murders. After striking a young woman unconscious with a tire iron, Bundy pulled over, took her from his car, laid her on a blanket, and “made love to her”—not raped, but made love. He dwells in loving detail on the closeness the two felt, in his imagination, at least: “It was as if the two of us were having a very personal, intimate experience. You need to understand, at that moment, she was the person I had made love to so many hundreds of times in fantasy.”
He held her afterwards, and “gently rocked back and forth” until, when she began to regain consciousness, he “put [his] hands around her neck and ended any more suffering that she would have to go through.”
Even the conclusions of the horror seemed to mimic Browning’s poem: “Everything was silent and very still around me. I then gently laid the body on the ground and I picked up my blanket and left.”
For me, that passage was the emotional climax of I’m Not Guilty, even though the book continued for some pages. In it, Carlisle recreates what he believes Bundy might have said—the crimes he might have admitted to—had he agreed to a final interview the day before he was executed. Couched in a question/comment-and-answer format, the book incorporates both Carlisle’s concerns as a psychologicqal evaluator for the authorities and Bundy’s self-examinations and self-revelations, beginning with Bundy’s childhood and continuing through to the end of the imagined interview.
The book offers more than just an outline of a serial killer; its interest, in fact, resides more in the why than the how or the who. If it were a film, the book would probably merit a “PG-13” rating, since Carlisle adroitly avoids delving into the minutiae of the murders, satisfying himself instead with probing the state of Bundy’s mind at various stages in the killer’s development. In a sense, I’m Not Guilty might equally well serve as a text book for college-level courses in aberrant/abnormal psychology or a guidebook for horror writers wishing to create believable, chilling, truly terrifying and vicious characters. Either way, it does a creditable job in outlining the alterations in personality that accompanied changes in Bundy’s life and circumstances.
It does not transform Bundy into a kind of quasi-folk-hero, nor does it attempt to explain away a killer’s actions and motivations by blaming those around him—family, friends, schools, employers, lovers. Instead, it places the blame squarely on Bundy, defining those moments in which Bundy, although claiming to be under the influence of an almost supernatural “entity” within, nevertheless, chose to initiate actions that ultimately resulted in a string of murders of young women from Washington through Utah and Colorado, Pennsylvania, and finally Florida. While we might be invited to understand Bundy, I don’t think we are ever expected to sympathize with him.
The book, while fiction (the final interview never actually took place) re-creates reality in its tone, its style, its development. It could be an official psychological report, in fact, the final section of the book is titled, “Developmental Personality Profile of Ted Bundy.” It is objective, as far as any interaction with a serial killer can be termed objective; and at the end the reader is left to ponder not only the evil of Bundy’s actions but the decisions he made throughout his life.
Recommended for audiences interested in psychology, the psychology of serial killers, and horror.