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Ted Bundy’s murderous charm still polarizes, 40 years later

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CINCINNATI — She kept her eyes on the dapper, wavy-haired man who smiled, winked and exuded self-confidence as the courtroom proceedings moved along.

“I don’t know what it is he has, but he’s fascinating,” the teenage spectator explained to me at the time. “He’s impressive. He just has a kind of magnetism.”

It was that beguiling magnetism that investigators said helped make the object of her interest — Ted Bundy — one of the nation’s most prolific serial killers, with at least 30 women and girls’ deaths linked to him across multiple states in the late 1970s.

I reported the teenager’s comments for The Associated Press’ coverage of Bundy’s 1979 murder trial in Miami, the first of two murder trials he would have in Florida. She was just one example of a regular courtroom backdrop of spellbound female spectators who were “attractive, young and single,” as I wrote at the time, just like the women Bundy was on trial for bludgeoning and sexually assaulting.

“I haven’t lost any sleep about the verdict,” a relaxed, self-assured Bundy told me in a jail-cell interview a few days after the jury swiftly convicted him of murdering two Florida State University sorority sisters and assaulting three other young women in Tallahassee.

Nearly 40 years after that trial, and 30 years after his death in Florida’s electric chair, Bundy’s deadly charm continues to captivate and perplex.

Some reactions to a new Netflix documentary series, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” prompted a Twitter appeal to viewers asking them to chill out about his “alleged hotness,” adding there are many other attractive men featured on the streaming service who aren’t convicted serial killers. Nearly simultaneously, a movie starring heartthrob Zac Efron as Bundy recently made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival with some criticisms that the film, shot last year in the Cincinnati area, glamorizes the killer. A Vanity Fair reviewer wrote that at times, “the movie feels almost sympathetic to Bundy.”

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who is the director for both projects, acknowledged in a Salt Lake Tribune interview he had tackled “a very polarizing subject” with Bundy, but insisted there’s no glorification. His movie hasn’t yet been scheduled for wider release. Efron, by the way, isn’t the first hunky actor to play Bundy — Mark Harmon starred in the 1986 TV miniseries “The Deliberate Stranger.”

The July 1979 trial I helped cover was for Bundy’s rampage on Jan. 15, 1978, in Tallahassee, Florida. Armed with an oak limb, Bundy left two Chi Omega sorority sisters dead and three other women injured. Less than a month later, on Feb. 9, he abducted, sexually assaulted and killed a 12-year-old girl in Lake City, Florida. She was Bundy’s final victim in a gruesome series of attacks that claimed the lives of dozens of women in states from Washington to Florida.

During the trial, I interviewed other young women in Miami who talked about Bundy’s handsome looks and expressive eyes, and also the chilling testimony about his crimes. A University of Washington psychiatry professor talked in a telephone interview about him giving women “Dracula shivers.”

Jurors deliberated less than seven hours on July 24, 1979, before convicting Bundy, then 32, of the Chi Omega murders. Three days later, I was assigned to go to Dade County Jail and find out what I could about what he was doing, who was visiting him and whether he was causing problems for jailers as he had at times during the trial.

A sergeant noticed I had been waiting for a while and asked who I was there to see. “Ted Bundy,” I replied quickly. He took me to a visiting cell where Bundy was meeting with one of his attorneys. The cell door closed behind me. I introduced myself, and it was clear by his grin that Bundy was amused by my audacity.

Despite the attorney’s uneasiness about an unplanned interview, I sat while Bundy, unshaved and dressed in jail greys left open at the top, leaned back on his elbows on a bench, and went to work on me.

He told me he was innocent, of course. Repeatedly. So innocent, he explained with that same grin spreading across his face, he wasn’t losing any sleep. “I’m not trying to sound callous. … I’m very confident we have a good appeal.”

He professed to be surprised and disappointed by the jury’s relatively quick verdict after a five-week trial with complicated forensic evidence. He told me it would take a mind like “William S. Burroughs” to explain it. Not a fan of the Beat generation author he referenced, I didn’t get what he meant, other than to show he was well-read.

Bundy expected the death penalty but said he’d be “kind of stupid” to predict what Judge Edward Cowart would decide. He then imitated the judge’s drawl: “Ah can only hope that the judge will look at mah case with an open mind.”

Bundy had me smiling, and he left me wondering about the contrast between this personable, engaging man across from me and the ruthless killer the jury found him to be.

The next week, Judge Cowart sentenced Bundy to die for “extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile” crimes — a quote that became the title of the new movie. Yet, as he had throughout the trial, Cowart showed judicial firmness mixed with some homespun warmth toward the former law school student who sometimes insisted on questioning witnesses, raising objections, and disrupting his defence team.

Cowart called him “a bright young man” who could have been a good lawyer, one he would “have loved” to have practice before him. “But you went another way, partner,” Cowart said. As deputies prepared to take Bundy away, Cowart added softly: “Take care of yourself,” and Bundy thanked him.

Eight years later, I would write an obituary for Cowart, a former police officer turned judge who died at 62.

A series of attorneys filed appeal after appeal for Bundy. One blamed the “Bundy mystique” for making it impossible for him to get a fair trial. Several argued he was insane.

Al Carlisle, a Utah State Prison psychologist who had interviewed Bundy extensively, understood the difficulty people had believing that the Bundy they saw could be such a calculating, remorseless killer. The courts ruled Bundy was competent.

He knew what he was doing, Carlisle explained to me years ago. Charm was one of his weapons.

“He believes he’s smarter than everybody else and that he’s going to play the pieces right, and win the chess game,” Carlisle said.

It ended Jan. 24, 1989, in Florida’s electric chair after he had ended his denials with sometimes-emotional confessions in his final days.

Hundreds of people, women and men, were thronged outside the prison. But this time, most were there to cheer his death.

——

Sewell, now the AP’s Cincinnati correspondent, wrote often in Florida about Bundy in the decade from the Chi Omega murders to the execution.

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LIFESTYLES

Nobody would give this teen with autism a job, so he started a business

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A 17-year-old Australian teen with autism started his own business cleaning garbage bins after he was rejected for other jobs.

“I searched and applied for jobs for two years and did not get one interview,” Clay Lewis told CTV News Channel from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

As of January, his business, Clay’s Bin Cleaning, has made more than AUS$6,000 and has roughly 70 clients.

He charges AUS$10 for the first bin and AUS$5 for each additional bin. He regularly offers free bin cleaning to local charities.

“I’m very proud of him,” his mother Laura Lewis told CTV News Channel. “I knew that he could do it.”

She added that employers were unable to “see past their own judgments” and made “unfair assumptions” about Clay’s competency because of his disability.

Clay said that he is looking forward to attending his high school prom and may put some of his earnings toward funding a trip to Abu Dhabi to watch his first Formula 1 race.

Lewis said that Clay’s story has given hope to a lot of people, particularly parents of children with autism.

“All Clay is doing is living a 17-year-old’s ordinary life: working, going to school, having a girlfriend and hanging out with friends,” she said.

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Meet Jelly Bean, the deaf canine contender for World’s Most Amazing Dog title

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CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from CTV London’s Sacha Long


Published Friday, February 22, 2019 7:50PM EST

A deaf Ontario dog is in the semi-finals of the World’s Most Amazing Dog competition, an interactive Facebook Watch show where dogs compete for a US$100,000 prize.

Jelly Bean, a three-year-old Australian cattle dog who lives in London, Ont., can catch and pass a ball with his front paws and jump on a stranger’s back. He follows the instructions of his handler, Melissa Mellitt, by sight because cannot hear.

“He is so highly intelligent,” Mellitt told CTV London. “He has no idea that he’s deaf. He doesn’t care. He’s just as happy as any other dog.”

Mellitt adopted Jelly Bean from the Deaf Dog Rescue of America when he was five months old. He has since gone on to travel across Canada as a professional stunt dog and works with Mellitt as an assistant to help rehabilitate fearful dogs.

“We knew that he had this potential,” she said. “This is exactly what I knew he was going to be.”

Mellitt hopes that Jelly Bean’s performance in the competition will help shatter some of the stigma around deaf dogs, who are often believed to be ill tempered and incapable of being trained. Mellitt said breeders euthanize many of them at birth, but she believes that Jelly Bean’s inability to hear is his “cool factor.”

If Jelly Bean wins the competition, Mellitt said that she plans to give half of the winnings to the Deaf Dog Rescue of America.

Viewers of the World’s Most Amazing Dogs competition get to vote on who should move to the finals.

“I think he could go all the way,” Mellitt said.

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Funeral held for sailor in V-J Day Times Square kiss photo

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NEWPORT, R.I. — The sailor photographed kissing a woman in Times Square at the end of World War II was mourned Friday at a funeral in Rhode Island.

George Mendonsa’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, and he was buried at St. Columba Cemetery in Middletown.

Mendonsa died Sunday after he fell and had a seizure at an assisted living facility, his daughter said. He was 95 and leaves behind his wife of 72 years.

Mendonsa kissed Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform, on Aug. 14, 1945, known as V-J Day, the day Japan surrendered.

The two had never met.

Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo of the kiss became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. First published in Life magazine, it’s called “V-J Day in Times Square,” but is known to most as “The Kiss.”

Another photographer, Victor Jorgensen, who was in the Navy, also captured the moment in a similar photo. The moment has been shared widely and is often seen on posters.

Several people later claimed to be the kissing couple, and it was years before Mendonsa and Friedman were confirmed to be the couple.

Mendonsa enlisted in the Navy in 1942, after high school. He served on a destroyer during the war.

Mendonsa was on leave when the end of the war was announced. When he was honoured at the Rhode Island State House in 2015, Mendonsa said Friedman reminded him of nurses on a hospital ship that he saw care for wounded sailors.

On Monday, a statue depicting the kiss in Sarasota, Florida, was vandalized. The phrase “.MeToo” was spray-painted on the leg of the statue.

Friedman said in a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project that it wasn’t her choice to be kissed.

“The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed,” she told the Library of Congress.

She added, “It was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn’t a romantic event.”

Friedman fled Austria during the war as a 15-year-old girl. She died in 2016 at age 92 at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, from complications of old age.

After the war, Mendonsa became a commercial fisherman, like his father, and worked until he was 82. He died two days before his 96th birthday.

Survivors include his wife, Rita; and his children, Ronald Mendonsa and Sharon Molleur, and their families.

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