Was Ted Bundy Framed?

Two weeks ago, I bought a portrait of a Chinese woman, a paint-by-numbers of a kid fishing, and a beautiful, hand-colored photograph from the turn of the century of a man dressed in a kimono. I purchased a photo taken in 1918 of a fat woman all dressed up, an ancient postcard of a parade float teeming with young girls now long dead, and a surreal oil painting of a group of pigs.

The place was a framing/print shop going out of business, one of those shabby stucco Phoenix buildings that sit in the heat and pass in a blur; what caught my eye was a Day-Glo orange sign with a Magic Marker slash through the "75%," and "80% OFF" scrawled beneath it. I'm a sucker for a lot of things, especially when they're reduced by 80 percent.

The lady in charge tallied up these treasures, and I still had money left. There was a large portrait of Raquel Welch stuck in a dusty corner that had caught my eye. Raquel, pictured from the waist up in her roller-derby outfit from the film Kansas City Bomber, jersey slightly unzipped, skates slung across her shoulder, set against a Miami-pink background. A very straightahead rendering, realistic, uninspired, but, at 12 bucks, a work not to be passed up.

And next to Raquel was a Thriller-era Michael Jackson, predominantly in shades of dark blue, obviously by the same hand. Like I said, I'm a sucker. I toted them out, the lady toted them up, then she leaned back and looked at me.

"Since you're buying those, I've got to tell you something," she said. "Now, I have no actual proof of this, but the guy we acquired those from said they were done by Ted Bundy."

Really? Sure enough, there in the corner of each piece was a swathe of cursive reading "Bundy."

"Oh, yeah," she muttered, waving me off. "Just get 'em out of here."

Ted Bundy was a good-looking, intelligent, charismatic, onetime suicide-hot-line counselor, author of an antirape manual, ex-law student. Also a convicted killer of 20 young women, and a suspected killer of up to 50. He was arrested in Utah in 1975 for raping, bludgeoning and choking numerous victims, then escaped to Florida, where he brutally murdered two sorority sisters at Florida State University at Tallahassee in 1978. Captured again, he spent the next 11 years on death row before a final sit-down in a Floridian electric chair in 1989.

It's no secret that inmates paint. The "art" of the late John Wayne Gacy--images of clowns, Bambi and the Seven Dwarfs were recurring themes--has been in demand among collectors of death-row compositions for years. I knew a guy back in Virginia who had a Gacy in his living room, but I'd never heard of any Bundys hitting the market.

Which really doesn't mean too much; I've never had any raging desire to hang the work of murderers on my walls and, consequently, never delved into that particular field of Americana.

Even at 80 percent off.
But now I owned these things, and while it seemed insanely far-fetched that a couple 30-inch by 22-inch portraits of cheesy American icons could make it from Ted Bundy's death cell to a Phoenix print shop going out of business, well, stranger things have happened.

When I carried them into the house, the cats didn't arch their backs and hiss; I leaned the portraits against a bookshelf and forgot about them for a few days. Then one night I couldn't sleep. Got up, left the lights out, and went in to read the paintings for bad juju. Stood before the grinning pair bathed in the dim glow from a streetlight.

Nothing. Just for safekeeping, I turned Jackson over to cover Welch and went back to bed.

A man needs proof before he turns a Raquel and a Michael of this ilk over to Sotheby's for the inevitable international bidding wars, so I started as close to an official source as I could: Florida State Prison at Starke, Bundy's last residence.

"At one point, Ted Bundy did do some sketches, that's about all we know at this point," said Debbie Buchanan, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections. "They were disposed of prior to his being executed; prisoners were allowed to send things out. But we do not know how he disposed of them, or if he did any painting."

Armed with that cryptic tidbit, let us now dive into the murky world of murderabilia. We are going to hear from a few people who collect, display, trade and grade the work of those who do bad things. And I don't mean just works of art.

My man Dom Salemi edits a nationally distributed, inspired little 'zine devoted to rock, film and B-grade pop culture called Brutarian. He's the guy from Virginia with the Gacy, but I soon learned it had left his possession as part of relationship-breakup settlement. He was not sorry to see it go.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap