Why This Car Model Is Strongly Associated With Ted Bundy

For such an innocuous make and model, the Volkswagen Beetle has a strangely sinister set of associates. Even leaving aside its problematic origin — it involved Hitler, Forbes explains — the car so cheerful it helmed a whole series of kids' movies (via TheDisInsider) is permanently linked to one of America's most despicable serial killers. Volkswagen is known for both unique April Fool's pranks and a series of cars from the minibus and microbus (which is getting a new electric rebrand), but this connection is something else entirely.

The monster in question is Theodore Robert Bundy, known to the world as Ted. Ted Bundy killed at least 20 women between 1974 and 1979, though he boasted about killing many more (via Biography). He abducted his victims from public places, often claiming to be an authority figure such as a police officer or security guard, or feigning a need for help, such as an injury — he often wore a false cast — or fabricated car trouble.

That's where his poor unassuming VW Beetle came in. Fans of Herbie the Love Bug and/or the car's recent resurrection as a modestly successful daily driver may be surprised to learn that Ted Bundy used his tan 1968 VW Beetle in several of his crimes.

Perfect car, perfect crime?

A substantial study undertaken at the University of Kentucky found that, to the extent any one quality characterized Ted Bundy's crimes, it was a certain gift for petty manipulation. A classic psychopath, Bundy looked at things and people alike as tools to be used for his own benefit.

In that respect, his choice of a Beetle made perfect sense. It provided Bundy with another mask: harmless, unassuming, charming. Better still, it was among the most popular cars in existence — the best way possible to blend in with the crowd. In a crowning touch, the Beetle was both famous for mechanical glitches and famously easy for owners to service, making it ideal for someone looking to trick an unsuspecting victim with car trouble. As with everything in Bundy's life, he twisted his otherwise unremarkable car into a means of evil. 

The people's car

Of course, things are rarely so simple. In seizing on a VW Beetle as a vehicle of choice, Ted Bundy plainly overlooked the fact that it was still a VW Beetle — tiny, cramped, not terribly reliable, and with so little room available that any evidence would stick out like a signed confession.

This, it did. The tan Beetle was one of the first recurring elements to link the Bundy murders and retained hairs from several of his victims (via Crime Museum). When searched for the first time, per Alcatraz East Crime Museum, it contained what must be the single most suspicious list of contents in the history of crime:

"A crowbar, a box of large green plastic garbage bags, an ice pick, flashlight, gloves, torn strips of sheeting, knit ski mask, handcuffs, and a strange mask made from panty hose."

Undeterred, Bundy actually stole another VW during the second of his two escapes from prison. The car was immediately flagged as stolen — nobody ever said Bundy was an especially good criminal — and a Pensacola policeman pulled the car over near the Alabama state line. This time, he arrested Bundy straight out of the VW. He had stolen it three days previous (per WKRG).

He did not escape prison a third time. Theodore Robert Bundy met his end in the Florida State Prison electric chair on January 24, 1989 (via Crime and Investigation UK). The car, we're happy to report, came to a much happier end. Having contributed to the undoing of its erstwhile owner, Bundy's tan 1968 Beetle currently stars in its own exhibit at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum.