Psychopathy in One of the Murderers from the 70’s

By Nathan M. Hoyt, MS4


After the recent release of Netflix’s Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, the streaming service had to beg viewer's to stop calling the killer "hot."  On the other hand, the biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile had to defend against criticism that it was possibly glorifying  the same killer. Clearly psychopathy sparks a social discussion. Who are psychopaths? Are they made or born? How should the media handle them? Does it matter? I am a 4th-year medical student going into psychiatry, and the social aspects of the discussion are particularly interesting to me. I am working with Dr. Puder during a 2-week elective and helped him prepare for the podcast episode on this topic.

After a week researching Bundy, violent pornography, and the effects of media coverage of violent crimes, I would be dishonest if I said I wasn’t tired of the man or that I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when I learned he was executed. As an empath, it takes a lot to push me to that place, and it is an uncomfortable place to be as I write this.

This killer believed that he was something special, that what he did was special, that he was particularly intelligent. None of those things were true, as we will learn over the course of the paper. He loved to see his name in the headlines, and I deliberately chose a title that would vex him if he were still alive. I would like to begin this paper with the observation that killing or destroying takes very little skill; entropy cheerfully carries the burden of the work. To wrestle and overcome entropy through education, creation, and betterment is what deserves adulation. The heroes of the story were the female students.

Clarification of Diagnosis

A discussion about Bundy could perhaps best begin with an analysis of his diagnoses. The Dark Triad is a term used in applied psychology and law enforcement and refers to the personality traits psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. It is believed that individuals who manifest these traits are more likely to commit malevolent crimes. Below, we show the DSM-V criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (criminal psychopathy), Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Machiavellianism is not a DSM diagnosis, but we explain the concept a bit. A thorough analysis of how these traits were manifested in the aforementioned Netflix documentary is provided in Table 1 at the end of this paper.

DSM-V: Antisocial Personality Disorder

  • Age 18 or older

  • Conduct disorder before age 15

  • No schizophrenia/bipolar cause

  • Pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of rights of others since age 15 (3 or more of the following):

    • Fail to conform to lawful behaviors (repeated acts that warrant arrest)

    • Deceitfulness (repeated lying, aliases, conning for personal gain/pleasure)

    • Impulsivity/failure to plan ahead

    • Irritability and aggressiveness (repeated physical fights or assaults)

    • Reckless disregard for safety (self or others)

    • Irresponsibility (work behavior, financial obligations)

    • Lack of remorse

DSM-V: Narcissistic Personality Disorder  

  • Pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, lack of empathy, begins by early adulthood (5 or more of the following)

    • Grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

    • Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, etc.

    • Special or unique and can only be understood by or associate with high-status entities

    • Requires excessive admiration

    • Sense of entitlement

    • Exploitative

    • Lacks empathy

    • Often envious of others; believes other envy him/her

    • Arrogant/haughty behaviors or attitudes


  • Not part of DSM-V

  • Can occur in children as well as adults

  • Evaluated using MACH-IV test: 20 questions; first published in 1970 by Christie and Geis; extracted 20 statements that they considered to be central to Machiavelli’s themes; scores are 20 (the least Machiavellian) to 100 (the most Machiavellian); >60 are ‘high Machs’ (more likely to deceive and manipulate others for their own personal gain); <60 are ‘low Machs’ (more likely to display honesty and altruism)

  • Centers around an individual’s beliefs about society, not behavior

  • Seems to largely overlap with Antisocial Personality Disorder

    • Only focused on own ambition

    • Prioritize power and money over relationships

    • Charming and confident

    • Exploitative, manipulative, deceitful

    • Flatter often

    • Aloof, cynical of goodness

    • Low empathy

    • Avoid intimacy


Some have stated that Bundy was some kind of criminal mastermind, but was this really the case? Ceci (1996) found that cognitive ability tends to be a good predictor of academic performance; measures of academic achievement (e.g. LSAT, GRE, SAT) correlate very highly with measures of cognitive ability. We do not know his actual LSAT score, only that he believed it was “mediocre.” University of Puget Sound School of Law (now Seattle University School of Law) was founded in 1972 (the year before he was accepted).

Was pornography to blame?

While on death row, Bundy blamed violent pornography for his murders, reaching out to James Dobson. This poses the question of whether porn or more specifically violent porn leads to real world violence.


A discussion of pornography might best be started with prevalence data. Regnerus, Gordon, & Price (2015) utilized survey data from 2008 to 2014, included ages 18-39, and had a total sample size of 14,684. They found that 46% of men and 16% of women intentionally viewed pornography in a given week. These trends are somewhat similar to a smaller study done by Carroll et al. (2008) of 313 male and 500 female undergraduate students, ages 18 to 26, which found that 69% of the male and 10% of the female participants view pornography at least once a month.

How much of porn is violent?

Bundy specifically cited violent porn, so let’s look at how much of porn is violent. Bridges et al. (2010), found 80% of best-selling pornography videos to include violent themes. Later studies disagreed, pointing out that Bridges’ definition of violence included bondage, discipline, and sado-masochism. Some later studies took issue with this, stating that these ways of sexual expression are consensual. This argument still begs the question as to whether an antisocial like Bundy could distinguish consensual from nonconsensual.

Shor & Seida (2019) explored whether porn was becoming more violent over time. They did not find any consistent increase in aggressive content over the past 10 years, and actually noted an overall decrease in duration of segments depicting aggression. Videos containing aggressive acts were less likely to be viewed or ranked favorably by viewers than videos clearly depicting pleasure.

Is pornography associated with real-world violence?

D'Amato, 2006, points out that the rates of rapes and sexual assault in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. Similar trends exist in other countries such as the once restrictive Japan, China and Denmark. Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and therefore the least access to Internet pornography—experienced a 53 percent increase in rape incidence, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes. While this is association and not causation, it certainly doesn’t fit with the narrative that sexual violence (rape has decreased since Bundy’s time) is tied to porn, or by extension, violent porn (which has exploded since Bundy’s time with the advent of the internet).  

What makes porn problematic?

While pornography, specifically violent porn, has not been scientifically linked to increases in real-world violence, violent porn has been associated negative attitudes against women. Hald, Malamuth, & Yuen, 2010, found that the correlation between violent pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women (r = 0.24) was significantly higher (P < 0.001) than the correlation between nonviolent pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women (r = 0.13). It is worth noting that these associations are weak.

Antisocial: Nature vs Nurture

On many occasions, Bundy adamantly denied causal factors in his childhood. He seemed to want to believe that he was special and unique and that his murderous tendencies had just appeared one day. Are antisocial origin stories really this unique? Seeking to shed light on the nature vs nurture elements of this discussion, Wesseldijk et al. (2018)  measured conduct and antisocial behavior problems in twin pairs using age-appropriate elements of the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (Child Behavior Checklist, the Youth Self-Report, and the Adult Self-Report). The study found that during childhood, genetic and shared environmental factors were equally important, explaining 43% and 44% of the individual differences in conduct problems, respectively. During adolescence and adulthood, genetic and unique environmental factors equally explained the variation.

In Bundy’s case, his father is listed as “unknown” on his birth certificate, and the family was very guarded in details leading to the killers birth. Whether Bundy’s mom was possibly raped or charmed by an antisocial is not known, but we do have reason to believe Bundy inherited a genetic etiology for his tendencies from somewhere.

Bundy’s childhood environment did not seem markedly worse than most, but the documentary does mention that his maternal grandfather had a violent streak, Bundy was bullied for a severe speech impediment, and he frequently lost in competitions.  Much is unknown about Bundy’s childhood, but his repeated adamant denial of causal factors makes us suspicious.

How should the media approach psychopaths?

In a society with a free press driven by financial interests, the question is sometimes raise if crimes are sensationalized or glorified by the attention they garner through news reports and whether this matters. Perhaps the best place to start this discussion is with the concept of social proof, which states that an individual determines what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct. This is especially true when the individual in question is uncertain about what action to take. Innocuous examples include a restaurant leaving a few dollars in the tip jar to make future customers think others are tipping or an online customer checking product reviews before making a new purchase.

Social proof has more powerful implications, however. Bandura & Menlove (1967) used social proof to cure phobias. Young children fearful of dogs overcame fear by watching (film or live worked the same) a little boy playing happily with a dog for 20 mins per day. After 4 days of this, 67% of participants were willing to climb into playpen alone with a new dog. Similarly, O’Connor, 1972, showed a single 23-minute film depicting social participation to severely socially withdrawn children. Those who saw the clips began leading their schools in social activity while those who had not seen the clips remained withdrawn. Clearly, what we watch can have a powerful impact on our behavior, but does this extend to the news?

The Werther Effect

In 1774, Goethe published a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther in which the hero committed suicide, and a rash of copycat suicides spread across Europe shortly thereafter.

Philips (1974) sought to determine if a modern Werther effect existed. The study found that within two months after front-page suicide story, 58 more people than usual commit suicide in area of publicity. Single-victim stories increase single-victim suicides, and murder-suicides were associated with an increase in murder-suicides. Philips (1983) found that homicides also follow Werther effect. Chillingly, publicized prize fights were associated with 10-day increase in murders of victims with similar demographics to the loser.


Psychopaths, criminal or otherwise, carry disposition shaped by genetics as well as environmental factors throughout life which pose a unique challenge to society. How should the social view and talk about the antisocial?

As Bundy had nearly all features of the Dark Triad, it is unsurprising that his narcissistic side would project confidence in his intellectual abilities not commensurate with his achievements. There is no way to definitively say based on his LSAT performance that he was not a genius, but we can safely say that there was no evidence that he was a genius. He likely seemed more skilled than he really was due to the fragmented police practices (lack of information sharing across state lines) and primitive investigative technologies of the time.

Bundy’s claims on death row that pornography eventually led him to murder were are not backed up by the literature. While violent porn has been linked to negative attitudes about women, it has not been linked to an increase in real-world violence against women. Besides, Bundy, himself, dispels such a notion later stating “I never said [pornography] made me do it. I said that to get them to help me. I did [murder] because I wanted to do it” (E4 1:06:21).

The fact that a percentage of the population is suggestable and uncertain of what actions to take at any given time, leaving room for the Werther Effect, poses unique challenges in a society with a free press with by financial interests. Reporting crimes in certain ways can lead to copycat crimes. How should stories about vicious crimes be reported, then? The answer is not clear, but it is obvious that media outlets should consider the matter with extreme care.

TABLE 1: Dark Triad Features Evident in Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes


Illegal behaviors

E1 27:42 (not fond of those [anti-war protester] delinquents who liked to feel that they were immune from the law)

E1 27:54 (engaged in political spying)

E2 33:52 (arrested for failing to stop for police officer)

E2 53:11 (stole comic book when 5 yo)  (<18 yo)

E2 54:43 (escaped CO prison)

E3 5:26 (invaded cabin)

E3 7:28 (stole car)

E3 13:40 (second escape)

E3 30:50 (stolen property, battery of police officer)

Also, all them murders


E1 18:46 (he tried to fool you and lie to you)

E1 41:17 (the area where I really failed [Liz] was not opening my whole life to her . . . I’m not sure what I was hiding)

E1 48:01 (I don’t want to talk about the murders now . . . history is fiction . . . you never know what is made up)

E2 16:38 (moving large distances to avoid detection)

E2 26:50 ([at Taylor Mountain] clearly trying to cover his crimes)

E2 54:05 (I’ve never physically hurt anyone in the way you are speaking of)

Impulsivity/failure to plan ahead

E1 9:38 (only cause mild forms of cancer)

E2 7:23 (saw girl walking at night, brandished knife)

E2 9:55 (would try not to but he did it anyway)

E2 21:41 (I thought I could smell alcohol)

E2 23:56 (impulsive violence: he was so angry that I got away that he drove elsewhere and killed someone else)

E2 (he would keep going back to [Taylor Mountain] because animals would do his garbage disposal for him––obviously didn’t work that way because all the bodies were still found there––poor planning ahead)

E3 11:57 (the better known he was, the more he put himself under undue risk)

E3 12:14 (boldness we see with [my personality] is being willing to take risk or not even seeing risk just overcome with boldness and desire to accomplish a goal)

E3 22:55 (same individual couldn’t get but a few blocks and had to do it again)


E1 17:45 (had a temper and liked to scare people)  (<18 yo)

E1 22:03 (in there somewhere is a desire to have revenge on Dianne)

30 homicides (1974-1978)

E1 52:03 (each violent act left him unfulfilled and hungry for more . . . maybe next time he would be fulfilled)

E2 1:25 (predatory violence: chooses victims for a reason)

E2 1:52 (motivated by possession, control, violence)

E2 (7:23 impulsive violence: saw girl walking at night, brandished knife)

E2 7:25 (impulsive violence and autonomic response: his eyes would go black when talking about the assaults)

E2 7:13 (psychotic violence: hear voice of “the entity” telling him what to do)

E2 23:56 (impulsive violence: he was so angry that I got away that he drove elsewhere and killed someone else)

E2 41:34 (when she came to witness, I was beside myself with rage)

E2 50:38 (innocuous comment from CO guard, Ted became red-faced, teeth bared, shaking)

Reckless disregard for safety

E1 9:38 (only cause mild forms of cancer)

E1 (tiger traps . . . girl fell in and slit whole side of her leg) (<18 yo)

E2 45:09 (held girlfriend’s head under water repeatedly)

E3 12:41 (felt as if he was immune, undetectable, no matter mistakes he believed he would be fine)

Also, all them murders


E2 10:15 (missed Liz’s daughter’s baptism)

Lack of remorse

E1 near beginning: People perceive me differently than I perceive myself. I want people to know what it was really like for me.

E2 39:56 (I didn’t do anything, I’m not worried . . . Ted relished the legal fight)

E3 28:11 ([after FL slayings] I was super confident, really satisfied with the way things were)

E3 42:15 (brags of how many killings)

E4 15:20 (cross-examines to bring out gore of what he’d done)

E4 42:21 ([on death row] I feel less guilty now than ever)

E4 42:41 (I am in enviable position of not having to feel any  guilt)



E1 5:33 (I intend to become a damn good lawyer)

E1 15:17 (what he really wanted was a celebrity bio)

E1 15: 48 (I was a champion frog catcher)

E1 18:43 (he wanted to be number 1 in class, but wasn’t)

E1 27:54 (hard for me to believe that [political spying] was noteworthy . . . I am embarrassed by the attention [laughs])

E 32:22 (pride in what he did; he was a big game hunter; he achieved something really special)

E3 30:40 (makes judge repeat his list of crimes so the court can hear)

Fantasies of unlimited power/success . . .

E1 18:20 (in high school, wanted to be president . . . wanted to show world Ted was the one to be dealt with)

E1 28:09 (aspirations of being affluent, recognized, looked up to)

E2 36:52 (the eyewitness was non-existent; I have to keep myself together, and keep my presence of mind, as long as I do, I will beat these people)

E2 54:33 (fantasized and prepared for escape from CO jail to be free)

High-status entities

E1 28:24 (wanted to be in upper class [Dianne’s class])

E1 40:09 ([Liz] was from a wealthy background)

E1 29:00 (I was attracted to him because his wife could cook good sushi–– the friend says: [Ted] looked up to me as a big brother . . . got same VW as me . . . I was in law school and soon he went off to law school)

Requires excessive admiration

E1 27:7 (I liked politics because . . . you went out to dinner with people, they invited you to dinner, they took you to drinks . . . a life I had been missing . . . I got laid for the first time)

E1 29:50 (mediocre LSAT . . . devastated that law school was not high-status)

E2 10:30 (says of crimes to Liz, “it’s pretty scary, isn’t it?”)

E2 46:52 (the prison psychologist hoped so much to be the one to open “Ted Bundy” up to the world [elsewhere calls him an asshole and an amateur])

E3 5:07 (my escape caused a furor and I felt really good, no one was helping me and I had nothing)

E3 8:30 (payed attention to every time his own name was used in media)

E3 9:44 ([braggs to psychologist] scars and blisters on feet from running around in the mountains was an extraordinary experience . . . brags that they’ve developed a paranoia that I might escape [laughs])

E3 11:09 (talking to psychologist like a father saying I almost did a homerun . . . he was really quite proud of that)

Sense of entitlement

E2 50:48 (angry that CO guards were treating him just like everyone else . . . like he was nothing special)


E2 1:41 (women are merchandise)

E2 7:54 (realized he needed sexual release through victims . . . and the act of killing becomes an end in itself [to seek fulfillment])

Lacks empathy

E2 1:41 (women are merchandise)

Envious, project envy

E1 30:15 (she stopped writing and I started to get fearful about what she was up to)

E1 41:36 (I was terribly jealous of [Liz])

E4 20:08 (says his attorneys are jealous of power so they won’t let him participate)


E1 5:33, E2 40:10 (A funny [anger] thing happened to me on the way to labor law classI got two weeks in the spa on the labor floor up here [fear], yes i intend to be a good lawyer [anger], I think things are going to work out [fear])

E1 23:38 (I compensated by being aloof and arrogant)

E2 42:00 (he was very arrogant, smirking in courtroom)

E2 49:58 (confident he could win in Colorado)

E2 51:45 (I know more about law than any of my class [shuffling in cuffs])

E3 12:41 (felt as if he was immune, undetectable, supernatural powers, no matter mistakes he believed he would be fine)

E3 47:09 (taunts sheriff during indictments)


Dishonest, flattering

E1 18:46 (he tried to fool you and lie to you)

E1 23:50 (I had to sit down one night and say this is what I want to be [aloof and arrogant but nice and tolerant])

E1 26:30 (all about image . . . selling something to the public)

E1 44:53 (used arm-cast disguise to abduct Naslund and Ott)

E2 42:06 (there is no right way to act; I showed emotion and people said ‘see you really can get violent and angry)

Only focused on own ambition

E2 1:52 (motivated by possession, control, violence)

E2 42:13 (I don’t care about what people think; I act according to what I think is right and best for me at the time)

E2 51:20 (vapid, egocentric conversations with lawyer)

E3 4:59 (interested in one thing: doing what he wanted)

Belief that most people are lazy, cowardly, vicious, suckers

E2 36:52 (I have to keep myself together, and keep my presence of mind, as long as I do, I will beat these people)

E2 11:19 (talked about how lucking the stupid people were who caught him and how he was intellectually superior)

E4 42:48 (guilt is the mechanism we use to control people . . . its a social control mechanism)

Only stupid criminals get caught

E2 32:22 (he felt that he achieved something really special that no one else had done because he was so good at it)

Lack of moral code, cut corners

E1 27:54 (engaged in political spying)

Also, all them murders

Manipulative, exploitative

E1 6:58 (reporter: he regarded me as someone to be manipulated . . .  for his cause)

E2 1:41 (women are merchandise)

E2 7:54 (realized he needed sexual release through victims . . . and the act of killing becomes an end in itself [to seek fulfillment])

Unwilling to trust, avoid intimacy

E1 19:10 (distant . . nobody got to be close . . . he didn’t date in high school)

E1 19:23 It wasn’t that I disliked women or was afraid of them . . . I just didn’t seem to have an inkling as to what to do about them

Charming and confident

E1 26:24 (he was a very nice guy . . . the kind you’d want your sister to marry)

E1 26:56 (he could always strike up a dialog at social events)

E1 39:40 (presented himself as just a boy scout, boyishly handsome, smooth-talking, and people really fell for it)

E2 43:38 (walked to prison psychologist smiling, looking nice, offering hand)

E2 52:48 (I feel now more than ever that I’m innocent and everything will turn out alright [in CO jail])

Low empathy

E2 1:41 (women are merchandise)


E1 17:14 He was different . . . speech impediment, teased a lot, just didn’t fit in . . . couldn’t tie knots, shoot guns, win races

E1 20:20 (there is no cause and effect in my life)

E1 30:30 (relationship with dianne ends –– I experienced a number of insecurities with her . . . she expected more from me that I could give . . . I couldn’t take her out and squire her around)

E1 20:00 (end of first summer of law school; coming apart at seams; broke up with Dianne, it was a nightmare, the end of the summer . . . I don’t know what the hell I did [women began to disappear])

E1 35:48 ([a year before the women started disappearing] I did some work on this crimes against women issues, particularly rape . . . to study this and tell Seattle police how they can prevent rape)

E1 39:30 (I probably have 60% women friends and 40% men friends and it has always been divided that way . . . I enjoy women)

E1 40:05 (I loved [Liz] so much that it was destabilizing)

E2 6:18 (acute onset of desire to kill women . . . started with interest in sexual images)

E2 6:36 (interest in sexual violence develops)

E2 6:55 (anger, anxiety, poor self-image reach a point . . . feeling cheated, wronged, insecure . . . he decides upon young attractive women being his victims)

E2 45:40 (found “unknown father” on birth certificate at 14 yo)

E2 47:05 (grandfather had violent streak . . . ample reason to suspect he was abused physically or psychologically)

E3 8:50 (they thought I would be depressed, a rotten tomato ready to open up after the escape, but they were barking up the wrong tree)


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