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.
All suspects are innocent until proven guilty and all opinions are my own and not that of law enforcement unless otherwise indicated.
In the early hours of Tuesday, July 20, 1971, horrified roommates found 24-year-old Rita Patricia Curran lying on the bedroom floor of her ground level apartment at 17 Brooks Avenue in Burlington, Vermont. The two other young women, Beverly Lamphere and Kerry Duane, also shared the quaintly converted Victorian home near the University of Vermont campus. During the school year Rita taught second grade at nearby Milton Elementary, but that summer she’d begun graduate classes in primary education at the university, and worked part-time as a chambermaid at the South Burlington Colonial Motor Inn. The motel was coincidentally located on the same street as the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers where Ted Bundy was born decades earlier. Described as “quiet, sweet, and almost painfully shy” with a religious Roman Catholic upbringing, the petite brunette schoolteacher was last seen alive at about 11:20 p.m. the previous evening, when Rita had returned home from a choral group rehearsal and was preparing for bed.
Her body was discovered around 1:00 a.m. when Beverly Lamphere returned from a date, partially nude, bloodied, and lying on her back just inside their shared bedroom’s door. Rita’s hair was in curlers, as if she’d been attacked while preparing for bed. Beverly’s boyfriend attempted resuscitation, but it was too late– the time of death was later given as approximately midnight. She had been murdered within the two hours she was alone, and the killer had already fled, possibly as a result of the roommates’ return home. 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 ultimately ruled to be manual strangulation. She was sexually assaulted (but “not raped”); her torn panties were discovered under her body. Neighbors did not report hearing screams or any other disturbance. Rita’s purse, containing about $20, was untouched, ruling out robbery as a motive. There were no signs of forced entry, as the girls generally left their apartment unlocked, but bloodstains indicated that the killer left through the kitchen and out the back door. No usable fingerprints were found.
According to the Burlington Free Press, Rita Curran had been receiving “mysterious phone calls late at night”– reportedly heavy breathing and silence– and had related concern about this to her friends. In the days and months following the murder, reports of threatening phone calls to single young women flooded in, and multiple women reported late-night intruders who fled when they screamed. Additional women came forward with reports of a peeping tom, seen mostly around the university. 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. A home invasion had occurred only a week earlier, when a 20-year-old woman was awakened at 4 am and raped in her own bed by an assailant she described as 16-17 years old. Another home invasion knife attack on a sleeping young woman occurred the previous October, only three blocks away from Curran’s apartment. The suspect was frightened off when the woman began screaming as he stabbed her, and dropped the knife before he fled. It is unclear if the perpetrator(s) of these attacks were ever caught.
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. As it would be reported years later, 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 never enough evidence for an arrest. Reportedly three other suspects were also intensely considered. All males in the Burlington area with a known history of sexual offenses were questioned, and over a hundred of Curran’s acquaintances were given lie detector tests. Rita’s roommates, as well as Beverly Lamphere’s boyfriend, were investigated and cleared. The rash of telephone harassment ceased by early September. Not even the offer of a $3,000 reward for information generated any leads. The case quickly went cold.
In July 1979 the Burlington Free Press reported that of the four major suspects from the early investigation, two had already died, and two were in prison on murder charges which “bore no resemblance to the Curran murder.” 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 in a few days.
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.
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. According to Rule, the Burlington-native Agent Bassett was “intrigued by the remarkable resemblance between Rita Curran and Diane Edwards [Bundy’s first girlfriend], the fact that Rita had died of strangulation and bludgeoning to the head, and the proximity of the Colonial Motor Inn where Rita worked to an institution that had wrought so much emotional trauma in Ted Bundy’s life: the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers.” Rule further speculated that Bundy had visited the Lund Home in the summer of 1971, was overcome with rage about his illegitimacy, and killed Rita 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 whatsoever of Bundy traveling to the east coast in 1971, and his girlfriend at the time Elizabeth Kloepfer (pen name Kendall) makes no mention of any travel in her 1980 memoir, The Phantom Prince. 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. In the summer of 1971 Bundy was attending classes at the University of Washington, and employed as a delivery driver for Pedline, a medical supply company.
Rita Curran’s sister, Mary Curran Campbell, sent a telegram to Florida’s Death Row, asking Bundy if he was involved in her death. In a recent interview, Campbell related that the FBI had sent her a response which stated that Bundy refused to confirm or deny the crime. But in the moments before his execution on January 24, 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.”
In 2016, after Rita Curran’s siblings published a memorial notice calling for answers, Vermont law enforcement revisited her case. Evidence from the crime scene was tested for DNA, and leads were again investigated. As Bundy’s DNA profile was uploaded to the CODIS database in 2011, any DNA from the crime scene should have theoretically shown a match if he was the perpetrator, but as of today Rita Curran’s 1971 murder remains unsolved.
Of all the murders ascribed to Ted Bundy, this one seems among the most unlikely to be him. The single coincidence that ties this murder to him– the fact that Rita Curran lived in the same city Bundy was born in, and worked near his birthplace– is tenuous at best. According to Seattle police timelines and his ex-girlfriend Liz Kloepfer’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.
Contrary to what is commonly reported, Rita Curran did not live near the Lund home; she only worked part time at a motel nearby. Her apartment at 17 Brookes Avenue was located two miles away from the Lund Home at 346 Shelburne Road. The Colonial Motor Inn, where Rita had finished her shift at 2:30 pm on the day of her death, was located at 462 Shelburne Road– not next door to the Lund Home as Rule claimed, but half a mile south of it. This means that Ann Rule’s hypothesis– that Rita was murdered simply because of her proximity to the Lund Home– doesn’t hold much water. Is it possible that on an unrecorded jaunt to Burlington, Bundy saw her working several blocks away from the Lund Home, waited until she got off work, followed her to her choir rehearsal, followed her home, watched as her roommates left, then waited until midnight to brutally murder her in the space of less than two hours? It’s possible. But it’s more likely that this was someone she knew personally, or someone who lived nearby her apartment.
In The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule wrote that perhaps Ted had visited Burlington in the summer of 1971, because he had informed her of his illegitimacy that fall, when they first met as coworkers at Seattle’s Crisis Clinic. This seems odd, especially since she also speculated a possible stop at the Lund Home during his otherwise confirmed travel to the east coast in the spring of 1969 (police however have never confirmed Bundy’s presence in Vermont after his birth there in 1946). Even if he had been in Burlington at that time, what would have been the point of this additional trip two years later? By then he was well aware of his illegitimacy. According to Kloepfer, he had already confessed the secret of his birth circumstances to her early in their relationship, which began in 1969. It seems unlikely that this vague coincidence in the timing of his disclosure to Rule means that Bundy was in Burlington that July.
While Bundy did sometimes break into victims’ apartments to assault them late at night, in all known cases where he used this modus operandi he lived in the same neighborhood, within blocks of his targets. The killer stalked nearly all of these women for days, possibly even weeks before striking. In a recent interview with Karen Sparks, the first known surviving victim recalled a seeing a man peering through her window late at night only days before her vicious assault– peeping was an activity Bundy would later admit. In his third person interviews with The Only Living Witness author Stephen Michaud, Bundy described how “a person” would have cased Seattle victim Lynda Healy’s home for some time before attacking her, learning the layout and which doors were left unlocked at night. Bundy confessed the same behavior to Dr. Dorothy Lewis in Florida on the night before his execution. He told the psychiatrist that he’d been watching surviving Tallahassee victim Cheryl Thomas for several days, and had learned her daily routine. Previously on the day of Thomas’ assault, he’d broken into her apartment and left a kitchen window unlocked for easy access later that night. Unlike all of these cases, Bundy didn’t live anywhere near Rita Curran, and therefore couldn’t have been stalking her for any length of time.
Nevertheless, when speaking to the Associated Press in January 1989, Rita’s sister Mary Curran Campbell said she believed Ted Bundy was responsible, and leaned heavily on the idea that Bundy’s victims all looked the same: “When her picture is put alongside the pictures in [Ann Rule’s] book, she just looks like all the other victims.” In her book, Ann Rule emphasized the idea that all of Bundy’s victims had long brown hair parted in the middle and resembled his first girlfriend, Diane Edwards. She believed Ted’s motive was revenge: symbolically killing the former lover who had spurned him by killing her lookalikes. I think this is an incredibly oversimplified and frankly wrong theory on his motivations, which could be a topic for another article in itself. Long hair parted down the middle was a very typical hairstyle in the 1970s, and brown is the most common hair color. Even so, several of Bundy’s victims were in fact blondes. The key factor in selecting victims, Bundy later related to his biographers Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, was simply that they be young and attractive.
The method of injury used against Rita was also different than Bundy’s known M.O. During his home invasions, Bundy always waited until his targets were asleep to attack them in their beds, but Rita was still awake and fought back. While Bundy often strangled his victims, he normally did so with a ligature, but Rita was strangled manually. While Bundy often struck his victims in the head with an object such as a crowbar or tire iron, Rita was viciously “punched with fists.” Bundy also used the element of surprise to quickly bludgeon his victims unconscious, while Rita’s assault was an intense struggle.
This crime seems to have been committed without the use of any sort of weapon or ligature, only hands and fists, which speaks to its potential impulsivity. Bundy famously used a crowbar to bludgeon, and a piece of cord or rope to strangle, because his crimes were generally planned. The more impulsive crimes, such as Chi Omega, he used nearby objects as makeshift weapons, but never attacked with his bare hands. While the supposed sexual assault with a crowbar is intriguing, it’s only referred to in the 1989 reports speculating about a Bundy connection, not in the contemporary reports at the time of Curran’s murder. It’s possible the crowbar assault could have been a held back detail, though unless the weapon was found at the scene 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 object).
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. Binding victims with piano wire while they were still alive was certainly not a known part of Bundy’s modus operandi. The woman I spoke to claimed this detail came directly from the Curran family, but without the case file or the family speaking out, these details cannot be substantiated and may just be rumors. However it is interesting to note that at least some of this information is corroborated by Rita’s mother, who publicly accused the police of a “cover up” in 1979.
I wasn’t able to locate the municipal dogcatcher records that Ann Rule claims she saw (unsurprisingly, animal control records aren’t subject to long retention periods). But assuming she somehow did see the record of a dog bite victim named Bundy during in her research nearly a decade after the murder, that surname 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 on either side of the North American continent, which equates to 45 hours of nonstop driving. This would have been a major trip even for a well traveled murderer such as Ted Bundy, and especially for a crime 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. In my opinion, her murderer was most likely the same prowler who had been reported committing acts of voyeurism, threatening phone calls, and rape in the area around that time, but somehow managed to avoid capture, either through self control, his own death, imprisonment, or the rumored “police cover up.” Perhaps the unknown killer entered Rita’s apartment intending a sexual assault on a compliant victim, but became murderously violent when she struggled so fiercely against him. Sadly, without DNA evidence, fingerprints, or a confession, after 50 years it seems unlikely that this tragic case will ever be solved. In 2021, Rita’s sister Mary said in a statement: “Fifty years is a long time to grieve, a long time to hope. The fifty-year mark confirms that a resolution in our lifetime to Rita’s murder is not going to happen... We know Rita’s death did not happen in a vacuum. Somebody somewhere knows what happened that night on July 19, 1971 and they will take that information to their grave. May God have mercy on their soul.”
Rita Patricia Curran
Rest in Peace
- The Burlington Free Press
- The Brattleboro Reformer
- The Associated Press
- The Stranger Beside Me (Ann Rule)
- The Phantom Prince (Elizabeth Kendall)
- Defending the Devil (Polly Nelson)
- Conversations with a Killer (Stephen Michaud & Hugh Aynesworth)
- The Seattle Police Dept.’s Bundy archives
- Karen Sparks Epley