No one glanced at the young man who walked out of the Trailways Bus Station in Tallahassee, Florida, at dawn on Sunday, January 8, 1978. He looked like a college student -- perhaps a bit older -- and he blended in smoothly with the 30,000 students who had arrived in Florida's capital city that week. He had planned it that way. He felt at ease in a campus atmosphere, at home.
In truth, he was almost as far away from home as he could get and still remain in the United States. He had planned that too, just as he planned everything. He had accomplished the impossible, and now he would begin a new life, with a new name, a contrived, "stolen'' background, an entirely different pattern of behavior. By doing this, he felt confident that his heady sense of freedom would continue forever.
In Washington State, or Utah, or Colorado, he would have been recognized instantly by even the most desultory of media watchers and readers. But here in Tallahassee, Florida, he was anonymous, only another handsome young man with a ready smile.
He had been Theodore Robert Bundy. But Ted Bundy would be no more. Now he was Chris Hagen. That would do until he decided who he would be next.
He had been cold for so long. Cold in the frigid night air of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, as he emerged undetected from the Garfield County Jail. Cold on New Year's Day as he mingled with the tavern crowd in Ann Arbor, Michigan, cheering for the Rose Bowl game on TV. Cold when he decided that he would head south. Where he went didn't really matter as long as the sun was hot, the weather mild, and he was on a college campus.
Why had he chosen Tallahassee? Chance more than anything. Looking back, we see it is often casual choices which chart a path to tragedy. He had been enthralled with the University of Michigan campus, and he could have stayed there. There'd been enough money left from the stash he'd hidden in jail to pay for a twelve-dollar room at the YMCA but Michigan nights in January can be unrelentingly icy, and he didn't have warm clothing.
He'd been to Florida before. Back in the days when he was an energetic young worker for the Republican Party he'd received a trip to the 1968 convention in Miami as part of his reward. But, as he pored over college catalogues in the University of Michigan Library, he wasn't thinking of Miami.
He looked at the University of Florida in Gainesville and dismissed it summarily. There was no water around Gainesville, and, as he would say later, "It didn't look right on the map -- superstition, I guess.''
Tallahassee, on the other hand, "looked great.'' He had lived the better part of his life on Washington's Puget Sound and he craved the sight and smell of water: Tallahassee was on the Ochlockonee River, which led to the Apalachee Bay and the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico.
He knew he couldn't go home again, ever, but the Florida Indian names reminded him a little of the cities and rivers of Washington with their Northwestern tribal names.
Tallahassee it would be.
He had traveled comfortably up until New Year's Day. The first night out was a little hard, but walking free was enough in itself. When he'd stolen the "beater'' off the streets in Glenwood Springs, he'd known it might not be up to making the snow-clogged pass into Aspen, but he'd had little choice. It had burned out thirty miles from Vail -- forty miles from Aspen -- but a good Samaritan had helped him push the car off the road, and given him a ride back to Vail.
From there, there was the bus ride to Denver, a cab to the airport, and a plane to Chicago, even before they'd discovered he was gone. He hadn't been on a train since he was a child and he'd enjoyed the Amtrak journey to Ann Arbor, having his first drinks in two years in the club car as he thought of his captors searching the snowbanks farther and farther behind him.
In Ann Arbor, he'd counted his money and realized that he would have to conserve it. He'd been straight since leaving Colorado, but he decided one more car theft didn't matter. He left this one in the middle of a black ghetto in Atlanta with the keys in it. Nobody could ever tie it to Ted Bundy -- not even the FBI (an organization that he privately considered vastly overrated), who had just placed him on their Ten-Most-Wanted List.
The Trailways bus had delivered him right into the center of downtown Tallahassee. He'd had a bit of a scare as he got off the bus. He thought he'd seen a man he'd known in prison in Utah, but the man had looked right through him, and he realized he was slightly paranoid. Besides, he didn't have enough money to travel any farther and still afford a room to rent.
He loved Tallahassee. It was perfect: dead, quiet -- a hick town on Sunday morning. He walked out onto Duval Street, and it was glorious. Warm. The air smelled good and it seemed right that it was the fresh dawn of a new day. Like a homing pigeon, he headed for the Florida State University campus. It wasn't that hard to find. Duval cut across College and he turned right. He could see the old and new capitol buildings ahead, and, beyond that, the campus itself.
The parking strips were planted with dogwood trees -- reminiscent of home -- but the rest of the vegetation was strange, unlike that in the places from which he'd come. Live oak, water oak, slash pine, date palms, and towering sweet gums. The whole city seemed to be sheltered by trees. The sweet gum branches were stark and bare in January, making the vista a bit like a northern winter's, but the temperature was nearing 70 already. The very strangeness of the landscape made him feel safer, as if all the bad times were behind him, so far away that everything in the previous four years could be forgotten, forgotten so completely that it would be as if it had never happened at all. He was good at that; there was a place he could go to in his mind where he truly could forget. Not erase; forget.
As he neared the Florida State campus proper, his euphoria lessened; perhaps he'd made a mistake. He'd expected a much bigger operation in which to lose himself, and a proliferation of For Rent signs. There seemed to be very few rentals, and he knew the classifieds wouldn't help him much; he wouldn't be able to tell which addresses were near the university.
The clothing that had been too light in Michigan and Colorado was beginning to feel too heavy, and he went to the campus bookstore, where he found lockers to stow his sweaters and hat.
He had $160 left, not that much money when he figured he had to rent a room, pay a deposit, and buy food until he found a job. He found that most of the students lived in dormitories, in fraternal houses, and in a hodgepodge of older apartment and rooming houses bordering the campus. But he was late in arriving; the term had started, and almost everything was already rented.
Ted Bundy had lived in nice apartments, airy rooms in the upper stories of comfortable older homes near the University of Washington and the University of Utah campuses, and he was less than enchanted with the pseudo-Southern-mansion facade of "The Oak'' on West College Avenue. It drew its name from the single tree in its front yard, a tree as disheveled as the aging house behind it. The paint was fading, and the balcony listed a bit, but there was a For Rent sign in the window.
He smiled ingratiatingly at the landlord and quickly talked his way into the one vacancy with only a $100 deposit. As Chris Hagen, he promised to pay two months' rent -- $320 -- within a month. The room itself was as dispirited as the building, but it meant he was off the streets. He had a place to live, a place where he could begin to carry out the rest of his plans.
Ted Bundy is a man who learns from experience -- his own and others'. Over the past four years, his life had changed full circle from the world of a bright young man on his way up, a man who might well have been governor of Washington in the foreseeable future, to the life of a con and a fugitive. And he had, indeed, become con-wise, gleaning whatever bits of information he needed from the men who shared his cell blocks. He was smarter by far than any of them, smarter than most of his jailers, and the drive that had once spurred him on to be a success in the straight world had gradually redirected itself until it focused on only one thing: escape -- permanent and lasting freedom, even though he would be, perhaps, the most hunted man in the United States.
He had seen what happened to escapees who weren't clever enough to plan. He knew that his first priority would have to be identification papers. Not one set, but many. He had watched the less astute escapees led back to their prisons, and had deduced that their biggest mistake had been that they were stopped by the law and had been unable to produce I.D. that would draw no hits on the "big-daddy'' computers of the National Crime Information Center in Washington, D.C.
He would not make that fatal error; his first chore would be to research student files and find records of several graduates, records without the slightest shadows on them. Although he was thirty-one, he decided that in his new lives, he would be about twenty-three, a graduate student. Once he had that secure cover, he would find two other identities that he could switch to if his antennae told him he was being observed too closely.
He also had to find work -- not the kind of job for which he was infinitely qualified: social service, mental health counselor, political aide, legal assistant -- but a blue-collar job. He would have to have a Social Security number, a driver's license, and a permanent address. The latter, he had; the rest he would obtain. After the rental deposit, he had only $60 left, and he'd been shocked already to see the inroads inflation had made into the economy while he'd been incarcerated. He'd been sure that the several hundred dollars he'd begun his escape with would last him a month or two, but now it was almost gone.
He would rectify that. The program was simple. First the I.D., next the job, and last, but most important, he would be the most law-abiding citizen who ever walked a Florida street. He promised himself that he would never get so much as a jaywalking ticket, nothing whatever that would cause law enforcement officers to ever glance his way.
He was now a man without any past at all. Ted Bundy was dead.
As all of his plans had been, it was a good plan. Had he been able to carry it out to the letter, it is doubtful that he would ever have been apprehended. Florida lawmen had homicide suspects of their own to keep tabs on, and crimes as far afield as Utah or Colorado held little interest for them.
Most young men, among strangers, in a strange land, with only $60 to their names, jobless, and in need of $320 within the month, might be expected to feel a stirring of panic at the unknown quality of the days ahead.
"Chris Hagen'' felt no panic. He felt only a bubbling elation and a vast sense of relief. He had done it. He was free, and he no longer had to run. Whatever lay ahead paled in comparison with what the morning of January 9th had meant to him as 1977 drew to a close. He was relaxed and happy as he fell asleep in his narrow bed in The Oak in Tallahassee.
He had good reason to be. For Theodore Robert Bundy -- the man who was no more -- had been scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at 9 A.M. on January 9. Now that courtroom would be empty.
The defendant was gone.
Copyright © 2009 by Ann Rule
Excerpted from The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.