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.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 20, 1971, 24-year-old Rita Patricia Curran was found lying on the bedroom floor of her ground level apartment at 17 Brooks Avenue in Burlington, Vermont. Two other women, Beverly Lampher and Kerry Duane, also shared the apartment near the University of Vermont campus for the summer. In addition to taking graduate classes at the university in primary education, Curran also worked part-time as a chambermaid at the South Burlington Colonial Motor Inn, located next door to the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers where Ted Bundy was born decades earlier. Described as “quiet” and “almost painfully shy” with a religious Roman Catholic upbringing, the petite brunette schoolteacher was last seen alive by her roommates at about 11 p.m. the previous evening, when Curran had returned home from a singing rehearsal and was preparing for bed.
Her body was discovered at about 1:00 a.m. when Lampher returned from a date, partially nude, bloodied, and lying on her back just inside their shared bedroom’s door. Lampher’s date attempted resuscitation, but later the time of death was given as approximately midnight. She had been murdered within the two hours she was alone, and the killer had already fled. According to the Chief Medical Examiner Lawrence Harris, she was brutally beaten about the head and face by fists– “signs of an intense struggle”– although her cause of death was ruled to be manual strangulation. She was sexually assaulted (in later reports supposedly with a crowbar), and a torn pair of panties were discovered under her body. Neighbors did not report hearing any screams or any other disturbance. Curran’s purse, containing about $20, was untouched, ruling out robbery as a motive. There were no signs of forced entry into the unlocked apartment, but bloodstains indicated that the killer left through the kitchen and out the back door. No usable fingerprints were found.
Reportedly, Curran had been receiving “mysterious phone calls late at night” and had related concern to her friends. Detective Lt. Richard Beaulieu said his men were checking for a connection between Curran’s murder and several assaults on other young women in the Burlington area, including a home invasion rape a week earlier and a home invasion knife attack from the previous fall. All known males in the Burlington area with a history of sexual offenses were questioned, and over a hundred of Curran’s acquaintances were given lie detector tests. In the days and months following the murder, reports of prowlers and threatening phone calls flooded in, and later multiple women encountered late-night intruders who fled when the women screamed.
In September 1971 police announced a “major break” in the case and said that evidence would be presented to a grand jury, but nothing ever materialized, and no grand jury was convened. This “major break” was probably that police had interrogated and polygraphed a neighbor, and considered him a prime suspect after a previous unrelated rape accusation, but there was not enough evidence for an arrest. Reportedly three other suspects were also intensely considered. Nevertheless, the case went cold.
In 1979 Mary Curran, Rita’s mother, said she believed that there had been a “cover up” of some kind: “We felt a lot more could’ve been done but wasn’t for political reasons.” Her mother also stated that Rita had only been living in the apartment for a few weeks and had been planning to move out after an argument with her roommates about a young man spending the night. This was the first time Rita had ever lived independently, and after the argument she had planned on returning to her parents’ home.
A Bundy Connection?
Ted Bundy’s involvement in the Curran murder was first suspected by retired FBI agent John Bassett and reported by Ann Rule in the 1980 edition of The Stranger Beside Me, where she speculated that he had visited the Lund Home in the summer of 1971, was overcome with rage about his illegitimacy, and killed Curran. She also claimed that municipal “dogcatcher” records showed that a person named “Bundy” was bitten by a dog that week.
However, there are no records of Bundy traveling to the east coast in 1971, and his girlfriend at the time Elizabeth Kloepfer (aka Kendall) makes no mention of any major travel in her book. She describes July of 1971 as the month she moved into a new apartment closer to Bundy’s rooming house in Seattle’s U-District, but she also said that during this time their “lives were out of sync” and they weren’t constantly together.
Curran’s sister, Mary Campbell, sent Bundy a telegram on death row, asking him if he was involved in her death. It is unclear whether he responded. But in the moments before his execution in January 1989, Bundy specifically denied committing any murders in Vermont. Burlington Police Chief Kevin Scully said: “We have looked into the possibility of Ted Bundy’s involvement, and we’re satisfied that at the time of the Rita Curran murder, Bundy was somewhere else in the country.” There are no records of Ted traveling to the east coast in July 1971. He was enrolled at the University of Washington during the summer quarter and employed by Pedline, the medical supplies company that summer as well.
In researching this case, I spoke to a woman who was a teenager in Burlington at the time of the attack and claimed that her parents were close friends with the Currans. The woman (who wished to remain anonymous) said that Rita was found bound with piano wire, which she had apparently struggled against, as her skin was torn and bloodied. She also said that the police suspected the “son of a prominent judge” but did not have enough evidence to charge a high profile member of the community’s son with the crime, and instead his family put him in a mental institution.
In 2016, after Rita Curran’s brother and sister published a memorial notice calling for answers, law enforcement revisited her case. Evidence from the crime scene was tested for DNA, and “active leads” were investigated, but as of today Rita Curran’s 1971 murder remains unsolved.
Of all the murders ascribed to Bundy, this one seems among the most unlikely to be him. The single coincidence that ties this murder to him– the fact that Curran lived in the same city Bundy was born in– is dubious at best. According to Seattle police timelines and his girlfriend’s memoir, as well as his work and school records, Bundy can be placed rather solidly in Seattle in July, 1971. However there are several other issues with the idea that Bundy was involved in Curran’s murder.
Unlike what is commonly reported, Curran did not live near the Lund home; she only worked part time at a motel next door to it. Her apartment at 17 Brookes Ave. was located 2 miles away from the Lund Home at 346 Shelburne Rd. This means that Ann Rule’s hypothesis- that Curran was murdered in a fit of rage over his illegitimacy simply because of her proximity to the Home- doesn’t hold much water.
Is it possible he saw her working next door, waited until she got off work, followed her to her choir rehearsal, followed her home, and then watched as her roommates left and waited until after midnight to kill her in the space of two hours? I guess it’s possible. But it’s more likely that this was someone she knew personally or someone who lived nearby.
I wish I could ask Ann Rule why she thought he would have gone to Burlington in the summer of 1971. Especially since she claimed he’d already been there in the spring of 1969. What would have been the point of this ’71 trip? He was already aware of his illegitimacy– according to his girlfriend Liz, he had confessed the secret of his birth circumstances to her by this time. Not to mention, if he already knew, why would he have been so enraged to the point of murder at least two years later?
While the supposed crowbar sexual assault is surprising, it’s only referred to in later reports speculating about Bundy, not in the contemporary reports. It could possibly be a held back detail, though unless the weapon was found it seems impossible to be sure whether the object was indeed a crowbar or some other type of instrument. This may simply be a case of speculation (the weapon was presumed to be a crowbar because Bundy was known to carry a crowbar) conflated with fact (Curran was sexually assaulted with an unknown object).
While Bundy usually strangled his victims, he normally did so with a ligature, and Curran was strangled manually. While Bundy often bludgeoned his victims in the head with an object, Curran was violently beaten and punched “with fists”- not a common tactic for Bundy. Bundy used the element of surprise to quickly render his victims unconscious, while this attack was an intense struggle. While Bundy usually waited until his target was asleep to attack them in their beds during his home invasions, Curran was still awake and fought back. The crime scene details simply do not indicate Bundy to me.
The piano wire claim is an oddly specific detail that has never been mentioned in any of the news reports from that era or more recently. Obviously binding victims with piano wire while they were still alive is also not a known part of Bundy’s M.O. The woman I spoke to claimed this detail came directly from the Curran family, however it’s impossible to know if this is true. Without the case file, this information cannot be substantiated and may just be rumors, but it is interesting that at least some of this information is corroborated by Mary Curran who publicly accused the police of a “cover up.”
I wasn’t able to locate the “dogcatcher” records that Ann Rule claims she saw (turns out animal control records aren’t subject to long retention periods), but assuming she somehow did see them nearly a decade after the murder, the last name “Bundy” is relatively common– not exactly a smoking gun. And if Ted Bundy had indeed committed murder in the town or was planning one, why would he go to the police to report a dog bite? And give his real last name on top of that?
Seattle, Washington and Burlington, Vermont are nearly 3,000 miles apart, which is 45 hours of straight driving. This would have been a major trip even for him, especially for a murder so early in his development as a killer. After researching this case I am convinced Ted Bundy is not responsible for the murder of Rita Curran.