Roger Marolt: The Monster was not under our beds, but too close nonetheless
If you were here in the late 1970s, you know about our brush with the monstrous serial killer. He was a man so horrifically demented that it is difficult to talk about him in a way that aptly portrays his inherent evilness. We turn his story into legend, it feels, mainly for our own protection.
“Hey, Phillip, look! It’s Bundy!” A 10-year-old boy shouts to his friend as they ride their bicycles on the path that takes them from the baseball field through the school campus and past what used to be known as the Prince of Peace chapel on the outskirts of town. The man bolts.
It’s June 1977, several days after Theodore Robert Bundy outsmarted his guards to be left alone in the Pitkin County Courthouse library, from where he leapt from a window about 20 feet above the ground and made an improbable escape into the surrounding mountains.
The story goes that the kidnapping case against him was weak and going his way, so there was probably no reason to make such a dramatic exit from a destiny that likely would have cost him only a short stint in jail. Yet, he knew the true body count, the merciless bludgeoning of his victims, the sexual acts performed on the corpses in the desert — maybe that’s what made him run.
The boy on the bicycle was my brother. On his ride home, he spotted a man sitting on the railroad ties in the brush just below the chapel. He told us the man looked like the criminal whose face was all over the local newspapers. Two things about the kid’s story caused nobody in our family to believe him and, thus, the authorities never heard it: first, Bundy was surely long gone after his impressive jump and run and, second, my brother said the man was wearing leather shorts with suspenders, like they do in The Alps. That comical detail made no sense except to confirm a vivid childish imagination.
We would soon know, however, that Bundy was not long gone. He had gotten lost in the mountains and, after nearly a week of not being able to find his way out of them, he ended up back up in Aspen. Along the way, he broke into a backwoods cabin owned by an Austrian couple who reported some supplies and clothing missing. Weeks later, news of this made the impossible likely: My brother had been within a few yards of Bundy who was wearing the lederhosen he found in the cabin.
It wasn’t the only proof. That summer night, while nobody, including us, worried about the youngster’s story, we slumbered in a tent in the backyard after staying up late canvassing the neighborhood for the sake of adventure and Sawyeresque mischief.
The next morning, we heard that our neighbor’s car had been stolen. It was parked on the other side of the fence from where we camped. Later we learned Bundy was the thief.
This is where conjecture serves as a hook to get those intrigued by the story converting it into legend in their own minds, too. Our house was in a direct line from the chapel to the stolen car; the escaped killer obviously passed very close to our yard. We had stayed up late running around. Had he been lurking in the dark, watching us? Maybe he had tried to get into my father’s car before finding the older one across the street an easier target. Might he have considered taking one of us along as a hostage?
As the story began to coalesce with time and the revelation of details and, thankfully, by the eventual apprehension, confession and conviction of Ted Bundy (as we began to refer to him familiarly), I never felt any fear or anxiety about coming so close to the uncaged beast. In the process of creating our own paragraph in his legend I, and I suspect many others, lost the reality of the atrocity.
A few years before all of this happened, another of my brother’s schoolmates, 7 years old, discovered the cut-up remains of a human body in a garbage bag on the side of the road in Old Snowmass. It was later proved to be the remains of a local woman Bundy had killed and mutilated.
That is the memory that snaps me from the legend back to the cold reality of the nightmare lived by the victims and all who knew them in the aftermath of the demon whose name I think better not to utter when I really think about it.
Filmmakers will be in town in the middle of April interviewing Aspenites who are willing to talk about their experiences regarding Ted Bundy. If you would like to tell your story, you may contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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