This is an installment of my ongoing “unconfirmed” case study series. All of these cases have been connected to Ted Bundy in some way, whether by active investigation or later speculation, but never officially linked to him. As they are all still unsolved, generally police will not release the case files. However, using newspaper archives and other works for reference, I have written the most exhaustive summary of each case as I can. I also include my own analysis based on my research and personal knowledge of Bundy’s timeline and modus operandi.
On Friday, May 30, 1969, Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry, both 19, were stabbed to death by an unknown assailant near Somers Point, New Jersey. The young women had been staying in Ocean City on vacation since the Tuesday before. At 4:30 a.m. they were headed back to Pennsylvania in hopes of beating the traffic, but stopped to have breakfast at Somers Point Diner. After leaving the diner about an hour later, the sequence of events leading to their deaths is uncertain. A state trooper found their powder-blue 1966 Chevrolet convertible abandoned by the Parkway around noon that day, and had it removed. Three days later at about 1:30 p.m., the bodies of the two young women were found hidden under piles of leaves in dense woods, 200 yards from the Garden State Parkway and about 150 yards from the abandoned car. Davis was nude, and her clothes were found in a pile near her, including her jacket and purse. Perry was clothed except for her underwear, which was missing. Contemporaneous news reports vary on whether the victims were sexually assaulted. Some state that Perry had not been raped, while no determination could be made for Davis. Other reports indicated that both bodies were too decomposed to make a determination, and still others said there was “some evidence of sexual assault” but did not elaborate on what that was. Later news articles stated that neither woman had been raped.
The coroner did find they had eaten breakfast about an hour before they were murdered, and gave the time of death to be approximately 6 a.m. One of the victims had been tied to a tree with her hair—an “unusual method of restraint.” Both had been stabbed to death with a small knife, possibly a penknife or pocketknife, though the murder weapon was never found. Perry died of a penetrating stab wound to her right lung; she also had three stab wounds in her abdomen and side of her neck. Davis died of a wound in her neck that cut her larynx; she also had four wounds on the left side of her abdomen and a non-fatal wound on right side of her neck. Due to the neck wounds, an investigator said he theorized the killer was at some point in the backseat of the convertible, jabbing at Davis as she drove in order to force her to pull over. Police found a men’s diver-style watch without a wristband near the scene, believed to belong to the murderer. The car keys were found ten days later, tossed to the side of the road a short distance away from the bodies. Robbery was an unlikely motive as the victims’ purses still had money in them and their suitcases were not disturbed.
Staff saw two young men dining with the victims at the Somers Point Diner, but when questioned the men swore they did not leave together, and passed a polygraph test. However one witness at the restaurant said he saw the two young women in a convertible picking up a young man of about 20, carrying a duffel bag and wearing a yellow sweatshirt, who appeared to be hitchhiking. The 18-year-old hitchhiker was quickly identified by police after acting suspiciously in Philadelphia, and admitted to having been in Ocean City the previous week. During questioning, the young man described taking a bus to Ocean City the previous Thursday and hitchhiking back to Philadelphia Friday morning- the same time frame as the murders. He flunked a polygraph test, gave “fuzzy answers to crucial questions” and made odd statements about “visions” he had about “two girls driving a convertible, and I was in the back, and their hair was blowing in the wind.” Despite this circumstantial evidence, police were unable to place him at the scene, and he was ultimately released on lack of evidence.
Three young men, sleeping in their car which had run out of gas along the Parkway, saw the girls’ convertible about 200 feet away around 7:15 a.m. when they awakened that morning. They hadn’t witnessed it park. Cleared as suspects, the teens did not report hearing any screams.
Two witnesses came forward to state they had seen a “lanky, slender teenager with curly brown hair,” a “narrow face,” and “sunken cheek bones” in a white T-shirt lingering near the abandoned car the morning of May 30 at about 8 a.m. However, the police cautioned: “we are not sure if this is the murderer. He was simply seen near the car.” Later in the summer a composite sketch of this suspect was released. An investigation into whether the murders were linked to similar murders targeting young women in Ann Arbor, Michigan committed by a similar-looking suspect produced no further leads and the cases were eventually determined to be unrelated.
The case went cold until a new lead surfaced in 1980, when serial killer Gerald Stano was arrested in Florida and later eventually confessed to the crime, calling it his first murder. He confessed to 41 total murders on the east coast, and often stabbed his victims without sexually assaulting them. New Jersey police sent two detectives down to Florida State Prison to interview him in 1982, and he signed a confession, but he had the murder taking place on the wrong side of the Parkway, and got all the details wrong. Detective Sgt. Robert Maholland said about the confession: “at this point, we don’t believe he’s our man. I’m not convinced at all.” Homicide detectives said Stano often exaggerated his record of killings, thinking the resulting investigations would indefinitely delay his execution or give him more attention and better treatment. Stano later recanted his confession. He was eventually executed in Florida in 1998 for another murder.
Inspired to come forward after hearing Stano had wrongly confessed to the crime, in May of 1983 a new witness surfaced, who claimed to have seen a young man in a yellow sweatshirt who was definitely not Stano, walking along the road in question the day of the slayings at about 6:30 a.m. When the suspect saw the witness coming, he ducked into the bushes. The witness easily picked the suspect out of a series of photographs, and chose the same young hitchhiker in the yellow sweatshirt who had originally been questioned and released back in 1969. The unnamed man was living in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and worked as a long-haul truck driver. In December 1983 that unnamed suspect was again cleared when the county prosecutor’s office did not move forward with charges, again citing a lack of evidence.
A Bundy Connection?
Shortly after Bundy’s execution in January 1989, forensic psychologist Art Norman contacted the New Jersey State Police claiming that Bundy had confessed the New Jersey murders to him in October of 1986. He presented them with a tape recording wherein Ted talked about his time in on the east coast in 1969. Ted explained to Norman that around that time he was getting more into violent pornography and had been visiting the “flesh shops” along 42nd St. in New York City. Ted said on the 1986 tape:
“Talk about being pushed to the edge with the most sophisticated, explicit pornography available in this country.” [Here he begins speaking in the third person] “…he decided to take a little bit of a jaunt to what they call the shore – the Jersey Shore. This is early summer. So, after being more or less detached from people for a long period … didn’t have any friends, didn’t really go anywhere, just more or less had school and then sort of entertained himself with his pornographic hobby and drove the shore and watched the beach and just saw young women lying on the beach. You know, it’s like an overwhelming kind of vision… he evidently found himself tearing around that place for a couple of days. And eventually, without really planning anything, he picked up a couple of young girls. And ended up with the first time he had ever done it. So when he left for the coast, it was not just getting away, it was more like an escape.”
Norman said neither woman was sexually assaulted, unlike subsequent Bundy victims, because he was “overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crime… it was quite a wild scene… that’s why it was very important because it was a start.” (Whether Norman inferred this, or Bundy directly stated it, is unclear.) “I’m convinced he did it,” Norman said. “And I believe that it was the first two murders that he got into. He had no reason to lie to me, and if he was lying, he had been saving this information for 20 years just to con somebody. Or is this just an amazing coincidence, that he just happened to be there on Memorial Day before he went back to the West Coast, and two girls disappeared in that area at the time? That is an amazing coincidence then, and I don’t think he had a little book of crimes that he knew about that he could use to throw his psychologist off. Everything else he told me has been borne out, so why should he lie just about that? I believe him.”
It’s important to note here that Bundy was incarcerated with Gerald Stano on Florida State Prison’s death row at the same time as when police were questioning Stano about this crime. In The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer by Robert Keppel, Bundy explains that he was able to read some of the Stano’s confession documents: “I last was with Gerry—we were both on death watch, as a matter of fact, together, and we also lived in the same wing together for some time, and I read a very confidential report, a presentence report prepared by some state agency. It went into great detail about his confessions and his past life… And so getting to know Gerry was fascinating, ’cause he’d tell me stories about things that happened, and then I’d read that something else had happened in the police report.”
Attorney Polly Nelson said that Norman had spoken to Bundy at a time when he talked about himself in the third person, exaggerated what he had done, and threw in purposefully misleading details. He repeated the story of his east coast trip to psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Lewis the day before his execution, this time with major differences. He claimed that he had visited Ocean City in the spring of 1969, and had attempted to abduct a woman there but was unsuccessful. As recorded in Nelson’s Defending the Devil, Bundy said:
“Well, later on that same year, in the spring, I went to Ocean City. And just hanging out at the beach, and looking at the young women, trailing them around. And my plan again was– I had never done anything like this before– I was… compelled to… act out this vision. (…) Okay, so I was just stalking around the downtown area of this small resort community and I saw a young woman walking along. (…) I didn’t actually kill someone this time, but I really, for the first time, approached a victim, spoke to her, tried to abduct her, and she escaped. (…) But that was the first– the kind of step that you just… that I couldn’t ever return from. (…) In Ocean City, I realized just how inept I was. And so that made me more cautious, and so I didn’t do that again for a long time.”
While making his final confession on the morning of the execution, the warden specifically asked Bundy if he had ever committed murder in New Jersey. “No, nothing,” he responded. The serial killer was electrocuted minutes later.
Investigator Major Thomas Kinzer, one of the original detectives on the murders, said that two New Jersey detectives tried to interview Ted in 1988 about the crime but he would not discuss the case. “There was never enough evidence to be sure that he did it,” said Kinzer. The Atlantic County prosecutor’s office called Norman’s report inconclusive. It was not viewed as substantial enough evidence to be included at the FBI conference in 1989, where police and the FBI re-examined a number of unsolved crimes in light of Bundy’s last-minute confessions. A spokesman for the New Jersey State Police said that the meetings were limited to law enforcement officials who had strong evidence linking Bundy to certain crimes.
Bundy was enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia from January to May, 1969. He returned to the west coast sometime in May, staying with friends in San Francisco and visiting his ex-girlfriend Diane Edwards for a few weeks before returning to Washington state and renting a room in the Rogers’ boarding house, but sources are unclear on the exact dates for these movements. Kinzer said he did find Ted’s Aunt Audrey in Philadelphia, who told him that her nephew could not have gone to the Jersey Shore that weekend because he had been in an auto accident and had a cast on his leg. No record of such an accident was found.
“Bingo,” said Richard Larsen, Seattle Times editor and author of The Deliberate Stranger, who interviewed Bundy extensively. Larsen believed Ted made the trip to New York City and Ocean City in a car borrowed from a university faculty member, and said this “leg cast” fit in perfectly with Bundy’s M.O., using an injury ruse to lure victims. Larsen said the killings were Bundy’s “first adult, planned crimes.” He believes that when the two young women drove out of Ocean City before dawn that day, they were headed into a trap laid by the 22-year-old Bundy, who had stalked them on the beach and was waiting on the Parkway, pretending to be injured with a leg cast to get them to stop. Larsen shared his suspicions with Perry’s parents, whom he had befriended after their move to Washington State. The victim’s mother Margaret Perry later said: “we are convinced that when Ted Bundy died, our daughter’s killer got his comeuppance.”
Without psychologist Art Norman’s testimony, a Bundy connection to this case would probably never have been considered. The east coast was not his usual hunting grounds. The timing of the crime predates his earliest known attacks by at least four years. The type of attack (stabbing) and the lack of any sexual assault were also not typical for Bundy, who generally preferred to bludgeon his victims into unconsciousness before strangling them to death while raping them. However it was the serial killer’s own pseudo-confession to the killings in 1986 which brought renewed attention to the cold case when revealed by Norman immediately after his execution in 1989.
While it does seem unusual for Bundy to have had such specific details about this case if he was innocent (the location, the time of year, the two victims), there is a simple explanation for how he could have known this: fellow death row inmate Gerald Stano. Bundy described his relationship with Stano at length to Keppel, even specifically stating that he had read Stano’s confidential reports which detailed his confessions. Since Stano had already confessed to the Perry-Davis double murder, Bundy could have easily gathered the basic details just by reading these reports. Bundy may have been amused by the coincidence as he himself had also visited the Jersey Shore that year, and decided to play a game with Norman as he seemed to enjoy doing with anyone who tried to compel a confession from him. Norman asserts that Bundy had “no reason to lie,” but in this case, his third person “confession” may have truly been about a third person after all- Gerald Stano.
Bundy did not fully come clean about his own crimes until several years later, in the days leading up to his execution. So far, none of the murders he was accused of and denied in his final days have been definitively linked to him, and he specifically denied ever committing any murders in New Jersey in his last moments. As of today, all indications point to his final confessions and especially his denials being truthful.
The more accurate story seems to be in his final interview with psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Lewis, when he talks about his visit to the shore in the spring of 1969 (not the summer). In this version, he never mentions anything about two victims at once, but says he followed a young woman and attempted to abduct her, but she escaped. Bundy repeatedly denied any assaults or murders, even any attempted ones, before this failed kidnapping in New Jersey. He claimed his first murder, possibly of a hitchhiker, did not occur until about 1972 or 1973 in Washington. This is more in line with what we know about his development as a killer. Bundy described to Dr. Lewis how his deviance began slowly, beginning with violent sexual fantasies, which incrementally increased to stalking and peeping, then attempted half-baked assaults and kidnappings (such as this one, which he claimed was his earliest). It took several years of this ‘conditioning’ and experimentation before he committed his first murder. After this botched kidnapping attempt in 1969, he realized he needed to better plan his attacks for them to be successful, and became more methodical and cautious. However even his other early attacks- including a pseudo-confession about hitting a woman in the head with a piece of wood, stalking a woman and attempting to suffocate her with a pillow in her bed, and his first murder, committed on impulse- show his lack of experience prior to his first confirmed murders in 1974. During a teary phone call with his ex-girlfriend Liz Kloepfer after his 1978 arrest in Florida, a despondent and vulnerable Bundy indicated a similar personal history, saying “I’ve fought it for a long, long time … it got too strong. We just happened to be going together when it got under way.” As he began dating Liz in the fall of 1969, this timeline makes sense- he had already attempted to act out his sexually violent fantasies earlier that same year, and his urges would only get stronger during their relationship.
Larsen makes a lot out of Aunt Audie’s assertion that Bundy had a cast on his leg during Memorial Day weekend in 1969, and that there was no record of an auto accident. He then jumps to the conclusion that therefore Bundy must have been using a leg cast ruse to lure the victims into picking him up. Several issues with this line of reasoning come to mind. First, Aunt Audie (his mother Louise’s sister) may have been mistaken on the timeline, since by the time she was asked, Memorial Day weekend of 1969 was twenty years prior. Second, even if her memory was in fact accurate, just because there was no record of an auto accident doesn’t mean one did not occur. Third, Bundy did in fact break his ankle before meeting Liz in the early fall of 1969. She described his ankle injury to the Seattle Police, said he had been in continuing consultation with a doctor about it, and that it prevented his draft into the Vietnam War. A timeline of his movements compiled by the Seattle Police in 1975 lists a broken right ankle, occurring in Philadelphia in 1969. Bundy’s broken ankle is again corroborated by the presentencing report compiled by Utah investigators in 1976. The report goes on to say that as a result of his injury Bundy was classified as 4F (“not acceptable for service due to medical, dental, or other reasons”) by the military. The FBI-Multi Agency timeline, compiled in 1992, also lists several dates for when he visited a Seattle clinic regarding the injury. Obviously Bundy did hurt his leg in Philadelphia sometime during the first half of 1969, but I was unable to verify exactly how or when it happened. Aunt Audrey could easily have meant this injury in her statement. Besides the fact that the cast was likely genuine, Bundy was not known to wear his ruse implements (cast, sling, crutches) around anyone but his victims. None of his coworkers, friends, or girlfriend never mentioned seeing him in them, so it seems unlikely that he would have worn a false leg cast around his aunt.
Aside from the final murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, who may or may not have had her throat cut, Bundy never actively used a knife in his attacks. None of the discovered bodies or bones attributed to Bundy ever had any apparent stab wounds. He also never confessed to using a knife on any of his victims (though he did say he used a hacksaw to decapitate Georgann Hawkins postmortem). To the contrary, in his confessions to FBI Agent Bill Hagmaier, Bundy spoke about how he preferred strangling incapacitated women, watching their last breath, and the godlike power it lent him. The killer also said that his first victim was manually strangled with his bare hands, but found that too difficult, later switching to a garrote. Therefore, the M.O. of this stabbing homicide makes little sense when compared with Bundy’s usual method, especially if we are to believe it was his very first murder.
Another major departure from Bundy’s typical M.O. in this case is the lack of any solid evidence of sexual assault (although one could argue that the victims’ state of undress could indicate some form of sexual molestation). Violence featured heavily in Bundy’s sexual gratification, as he often emphasized in his final days when attempting to answer the ‘why’ question of what he did. Arguably, the excitement or stimulation associated with the sexual aspect of murder were Bundy’s main motivations in committing his crimes. Nearly all of his assaults and murders involved some form of rape, whether ‘by proxy’ (using an object) or in the traditional sense of the term. In the few instances where he did not sexually assault his victims, it seems that circumstances and timing simply did not permit him to do so, such as the attacks on Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler at the Chi-Omega sorority house and Cheryl Thomas later that night. When examining the pool of confirmed Bundy victims it seems to me that if he had the time and opportunity, he would always rape before killing, as that factored so heavily into his violent sexual fantasies. Yet as in the 1966 case of Lonnie Trumbull and Lisa Wick, despite having hours to spend with the victims before they were found, this killer did not sexually assault them. Perry and Davis were not found until three full days after their murder. Perhaps their murderer simply enjoyed the threat of sexual assault and the fear it engendered more than the act itself. Or maybe he was scared off by something unknown after the victims began to undress but before the rape could take place, and decided to quickly kill them instead. Davis’ clothes found in a neat pile indicate that she removed them herself while under duress. By all indications, Perry’s underwear were simply missing from the crime scene, implying that the killer took them with him as a trophy or masturbation aid. Bundy generally did not keep the personal items of his victims, but preferred to discard them as soon as possible.
In my mind the best suspect in this case is neither Bundy nor Stano, but rather the young hitchhiker in the yellow sweatshirt who was spotted climbing into the back of the women’s convertible and later walking along the same stretch of highway. His “fuzzy” statements to police in 1969 and again in 1983 about riding in the back of a convertible with two young women are strange. Combined with his suspicious behavior around the time of the crime, the unnamed Pennsylvania man seems the most likely suspect, but I’ll admit the evidence is still largely circumstantial.
During my research, I never saw mention of unknown fingerprints found in the car, though it’s quite possible any potential evidence was destroyed when the car was towed to an impound lot the day of the murder. Without a sexual assault, DNA evidence is probably non-existent. Blaming Bundy or Stano may comfort the victims’ parents, but based on what we know about the two killers, they are both unlikely suspects. Barring a confession, sadly it seems this case will never be solved.