Commentary Historic America

Did ‘White Privilege’ Enable Ted Bundy?

Police, prosecutors, and a Florida jury had no problem strapping this heinous killer in the electric chair.

Actor Zac Efron, who plays serial killer Theodore “Ted” Bundy in Netflix’s new film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019), has claimed in multiple interviews that ‘white privilege’ allowed Ted Bundy to continue his killing spree that resulted in the murder of 30 young women in the 1970s.

Efron told an interviewer at the Tribeca Film Festival “The fact is that this movie really happened. The fact is that the whole world, literally, all the media, everybody, was capable of believing that this guy was innocent. Talk about white privilege, talk about white… whatever. Every major topic in this movie is bent on showing you how evil this person is.”

He also told Ellen DeGeneres, “Ted Bundy was a clean-cut white dude who just did not seem ‘white person.’ So, talk about white privilege,” Efron said. “What he got away with back then, nobody would be able to do today.”

It’s indisputable that Bundy cultivated the image of a clean-cut law student to mask his homicidal tendencies. He often posed as an injured person in need of help to lure women into a false sense of security. His conventionally handsome features continued to work in his favor as he proclaimed his innocence at trial and racked up a bevvy of female admirers.

“The first time I saw him, he didn’t look like a serial killer. He looked like a Philadelphia lawyer,” said Jury Foreman Patrick E. Wolski.

But it’s also true that police and investigators weren’t buying the routine. Bundy, who thought he was the smartest person in any room, couldn’t fool a jury of his peers, who looked past his dark charisma to sentence him to death in 1980.

Zac Efron isn’t the only one who believes ‘white privilege’ allowed Ted Bundy to ‘get away’ with his crimes for so long. A number of blog writers have made similar points ever since Netflix released Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019) earlier this year.

The only problem is that Bundy didn’t “get away with his crimes for so long.” His killing spree lasted between 1974 and 1978, but less than that if you consider the fact most of his murders occurred in 1974 and 1975, and five in one night in 1978. His last murder was committed in February 1978 before his recapture. Most of his killings were spread across five states at a time when information sharing between state police departments was limited at best.

In contrast, Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) evaded capture for twenty years. No one talks about his “white privilege”, because he was an uneducated, working class guy who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a privileged frat boy.

If you want to talk about a person’s privilege allowing him or her to get away with a crime, Ted Bundy is not a great example (OJ Simpson comes to mind). Not even Bundy’s own court-appointed lawyers believed his bullshit.

Ted Bundy believed that by adopting a certain persona—that of a typical “bro”, a clean cut white boy, a law student—he could get away with his crimes. In a sense, he was relying on so-called ‘white privilege’ to save him from the electric chair. But he was dead wrong. Floridians looked past his carefully cultivated public persona and threw the switch in 1989.

Hundreds celebrated outside the prison on the day of his execution, shouted “burn, Bundy, burn”, sold t-shirts, and lit fireworks.

Ted Bundy fascinates people because he seemed so “normal.” He didn’t seem like a lurking monster in the darkness, but he ultimately paid the price for his horrible crimes. Society saw through his clean-cut facade to the sociopathic killer beneath.

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