Elizabeth Kendall was shocked to learn, in 2017, that Zac Efron was playing Ted Bundy in a movie told from the perspective of the serial killer’蝉 longtime girlfriend. Kendall was that longtime girlfriend; she had dated Bundy for about five years beginning in 1969.
“They were telling my story about Ted Bundy, and they had never contacted me,” Kendall told Vanity Fair on Thursday morning in a rare interview. Kendall turned the matter over to her attorneys, then tried to steel herself—as she had multiple times before, whenever pop culture turned its obsessive eye back to Bundy. She thought, Oh, no, here we go again, and returned to counseling. “I knew it was going to be hard,” she said. “I was just appalled that this was going to start up again.”
Kendall’蝉 attorneys ended up brokering a collaboration between her and the Efron film, Joe Berlinger’蝉 Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which was based on a script by Michael Werwie. Kendall spoke to Berlinger and Lily Collins, who played her in the movie—and shared her memories and photo albums of Ted. She was happy with the way that Berlinger and Collins incorporated her input, and ultimately satisfied with the finished product.
But when writer-producer Trish Wood later contacted Kendall’蝉 lawyers about a project in which she could finally tell her Bundy story using her own voice, Kendall felt ready.
“It gave me the opportunity to tell the story from the beginning to the end in my own words,” Kendall said of the resulting Amazon docuseries, Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer—which premieres Friday. Kendall said that the present cultural moment—seeing so many survivors reclaim their narratives by sharing their stories as part of the #MeToo movement—helped empower her to speak up on camera for the first time.
She was also fascinated by Wood’蝉 vision for the project: reexamining the Bundy murders against the cultural backdrop of women’蝉 roles and societal expectations in the ’70s, much as O.J.: Made in America reexamined the O.J. Simpson murder case in the context of race, celebrity, and class in America in the ’90s. She is joined in the docuseries by fellow Bundy survivors and her daughter, Molly, who was introduced to Bundy when she was three years old—and has struggled to grapple with her relationship with the man she once viewed as a father figure.
Said Kendall, “I just feel like the timing was right because we were seeing and hearing women take back their lives by telling the truth about what had happened to them. I mean, I have a hard time and still carry a lot of shame about having even loved the guy. I can’t seem to get rid of it totally. But it helped to watch other women talk about things that had happened to them.”
For the first time on camera, Kendall describes how she met Bundy. She was a divorced single mother and secretary, struggling with self-esteem issues and an increasing dependency on alcohol. Bundy was a charming University of Washington student. Her fantasy about forming a stable household with a handsome lawyer husband captivated her, even as a frightening murder spree began in 1974. Though she became increasingly suspicious of Bundy, she stayed with him after Salt Lake City resident Carol DaRonch managed to escape from Bundy’蝉 clutches after a 1974 assault—and later positively identified Bundy as her attacker.
But Kendall was not the only figure in Bundy’蝉 orbit who believed, at the time, that he was innocent. “There were a lot of people saying, ‘This guy has been railroaded,’” Wood pointed out. “Her going back to Ted after his [arrest in the DaRonch kidnapping] always tormented her—and I think she might feel somewhat better about that now, given that she now realizes she was not the only person who was clinging to the notion that he could not have done it. I think that she was trying to figure out what the mechanism was that made her stick in it as long as she did.”
Kendall said that participating in the docuseries “gave me a perspective on the decisions I made, some of which are really hard to explain to other people because it was such an emotional time. I was just struggling with what was real and what wasn’t, as far as my relationship with Ted. Through this process, and I mean, it’蝉 been a couple of years—it’蝉 been a lot of thinking, thinking, thinking. I have just really reexamined everything.”
Kendall also recently revisited her 1981 memoir, The Phantom Prince, to make amendments for its rerelease this year. “Some of it just made me want to rip the page right out of the book,” she said. Kendall was sickened by the palpable affection she clearly still had for Bundy when she wrote the book.
“Doing the reissue gave me the chance to clarify things that are much clearer to me now,” she said. When writing the book, “I still viewed him as the Ted that I thought I knew, because I just couldn’t wrap my head around what they were saying he had done. And so many years later, after much counseling, praying, and growing, I’ve accepted that he is who he was accused of being. He’蝉 a violent, rageful sexual deviant. I just could not wrap my head around that in the beginning.”
That said, she confessed, “I still have moments where I get confused. In the book there are a lot of pictures of me and Molly and Ted. I look at those and I remember how in love I was, and how I thought this was it—my life with my [future] husband and all this fantasy that I’d whipped up. It does come back in little, tiny slivers from time to time—but I just put the kibosh on that. In fact, it’蝉 been one of the best things about participating in this docuseries and doing the book. It gives me perspective about how much I’ve changed. It also gives me perspective about how hard it was to make those changes, because to admit that he wasn’t who I thought he was was just devastating.”
It has been over 30 years since Bundy confessed to killing 30 women, shortly before his 1989 death by electrocution. But Kendall said she has no idea why the public is still so fascinated by him and his crimes. “I don’t understand this renewed issue in true crime either,” she said. She and her daughter have had long conversations about what to do with their Bundy artifacts—letters Bundy wrote Kendall and family photos featuring the murderer. The decision they’ve arrived at, though, is to do nothing. “Why would we want to put out into the universe more Ted Bundy,” she reasoned, “when he was just this horrible man who caused so much pain for so many families?”
Kendall hopes that viewers can move past Bundy like she did, and hopefully see her narrative as one of recovery. “No matter how messed up life gets, there are still ways to rebuild your life and make it meaningful,” she said. “I hope that that comes through in the docuseries, and in the book.”
Falling for a Killer did bring Kendall closer to closure. And she hopes that her story might even feel a little universal to audience members watching.
“This is kind of hard to even think about, but if you could put aside the fact that Ted Bundy was a terrible, murderous man, he was [also] a bad boyfriend,” Kendall said. “I hope that people—women—realize that they don’t need to settle. Some of the things were just plain, flat-out codependence on my part—accepting when things were going badly, thinking that it was something about me and that I needed to change. I hope that women don’t do what I did, which was just settle for being treated not 100% truthfully.”