Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile: A Madhouse True Crime Discussion with Mercedes M. Yardley
I’ve always considered myself a bit of a true crime junkie. I read, watch, and listen to true crime on a fairly regular basis (shout out to Last Podcast on the Left and My Favorite Murder), have visited Death Museums in Hollywood and New Orleans, and last semester I taught my first graduate course in it at Western Connecticut State University. However, despite knowing about Ted Bundy prior to traveling to Utah in 2008, it wasn’t until I heard Al Carlisle (Bundy’s prison psychologist) speak about his interactions with him that I got hooked on the case.
How could this man kill so many women and get away with it for so long?
How could he escape prison...twice?
Why after all these years is his story resurfacing?
I was lucky to listen to Carlisle--who was a wonderfully brilliant and kind man, god rest his soul--speak twice during his life, and both times I left feeling absolutely terrified, especially after hearing a recording of Bundy after he’d escaped and called Carlisle to brag. I became more and more interested in the dynamics of the case, particularly later on when it began to resurface in the media, perhaps due to the success of projects like My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (2012) and its film version in 2017. Nevertheless though, 2019 has seen two film projects focused strictly on Bundy: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (a documentary series) and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (a film).
Today, Mercedes M. Yardley--my fellow true crime gal pal--and I are going to talk about our initial impressions after watching Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and also speculate on why Bundy is “popular” again and what that means for our society as a whole.
SMW: Hi Mercedes! So what was your initial take on the film because my thoughts on this are a bit conflicted. I see some people (mostly men) talking about how this film is great and balanced because it shows that not all monsters look like monsters, and while I get that, the film also shows Bundy being (supposedly) railroaded for the majority of the movie, so much so that it’s like we’re supposed to sympathize with him and understand his part of the story, and then at the end when he confesses to Liz, that’s supposed to be the shocking, climatic moment for us, too. I mean, I even found myself waiting to hear him confess, and hell, I know the case. I know how this ends.
As a woman, I really didn’t like that. Personally, I felt like Liz getting gaslit throughout the entire film, and at one part, I found myself crying because I was honestly terrified. And I know some people are probably sitting there reading this going well it sounds like the film worked then, right? Why are you complaining? And it’s not so much that I think the film was bad or inaccurate--quite the opposite actually-- but I do think that if we take out all of the monstrous parts from the story that we’re playing into the it’s-not-that-bad mentality of what actually happened. This man was a murderer. He savagely killed and raped who knows how many women, and people should be afraid of him. I get that showing the “charming” side of him was a way to show the horror behind the mask, but he’s not going to be that monster if people aren’t shown just what a nice, educated, white man can really do to a woman. Now I’m not advocating for more gratuitous gore and violence in the film, necessarily, but the complete lack of it (aside from the pieces in the courtroom) was a little surprising to me.
Having said that, I think Efron totally nailed his character. He was narcissistic, charming, and over confident. Plus that reel at the end when they showed the costume shots of Efron and Bundy? Absolutely horrifying. Whoever did the set and costuming did a truly wonderful job.
MMY: I enjoyed the film, but it flipped back and forth so much that if I wasn’t familiar with the cases, I would have been completely left in the dark. They could have done much better with the timeline and adding gravity to the girls who were murdered. I understand and appreciate that the main focus of this was on Liz and Bundy’s relationship, and I very much enjoyed that aspect, but the mention of the murdered girls was almost...I won’t say “flippant,” but there could have been more horror there. Not to gore it up or be salacious, because this was one of the most respectful portrayals I’ve ever seen, but again, to add that gravity.
The acting was absolutely phenomenal. Zac Efron was chilling and such a likable guy. He nailed the mannerisms and I think really brought it home how Bundy could be an engaging guy who knew how to put on an act. Liz Collins had such a fragile look and I think she brought sympathy to Liz who is never portrayed in any sort of positive light. She’s always considered duped, weak, and wishy washy, but I think this helps demonstrate why we usually see her like that. I’m interested about whether Haley Joel Osment’s super adorable character is at all based in truth, because the scene where he talked to Bundy directly was quite powerful. Liz needed a shield between her and Ted. I’m going to look more into that, because I’m not certain if he was based in fact.
SMW: Yeah, I’m not familiar with that dynamic either, so I’ll be looking into that more as well. I did really love Lily Collins’ character portrayal of Elizabeth Koepfer’s, and I watched an interview with Collins and Efron about the scene where she slaps him at home and the two of them were laughing because I guess that particular scene took a lot of takes, ha.
Having said that, I did want to talk about the portrayal of women in general in this film (and I know some of this is fact, so I just have to accept that to some degree) but Carol’s need to please him, Liz’s waiting by the phone and her guilt at doing something wrong coupled with how she blamed herself for his escape after she stopped taking his calls and then the woman who “seduced” the police officer who was supposed to be watching Bundy in the law office...it just made it seem like women were both responsible and definite conduits for Bundy’s rage, almost like “oh well of course he acted out--look what she did!”
MMY: You’re right in that it did seem slanted against women. Ted was obviously the hero of this story, and not Liz. They tried to strengthen her at the end when she got the prison confession out of him, which was an amazing scene in the movie, but didn’t happen in real life. I don’t know if the director even realized how weakly the women were portrayed. It was obviously promoted as a story all about Liz, but she seemed to be a far distant second character.
They also left out the total incompetence of the people around Bundy. They demonstrated that with the guard in the courthouse, but they didn’t mention that a woman (I think it was a secretary?) mentioned earlier that she felt uncomfortable with the open window in the courthouse and to keep an extra eye on it. By highlighting her alone, the movie could have showed how capable women could be. Bundy made several practice runs crawling around in the ceiling of the jail and other inmates reported it, but nobody took it seriously. All of the Chi Omega murders and sweet 12-year-old Kimberly Leach would have been avoided if people were diligent about their jobs. I spent years working in a sex offender home, and while we had certain types of clients, we also had certain types of staff. The number who were meathead power-hungry dicks were absolutely overwhelming. I had a much harder time with staff than the clients. I completely understand how a woman in that environment is undervalued and considered incapable when that isn’t the case.
SMW: It’s wild to think about how much of this could have been avoided had people been working together and listening to everyone’s concerns. And I think that was a big critique that came out when The Ted Bundy Tapes premiered because the general consensus was that Bundy wasn’t really that smart, but rather a privileged white male who was operating during a time when technology wasn’t at its best or most efficient.
This kind of brings me to my next point, which is the psychology behind Bundy’s relationships. The gaslighting that happens in this case is heartbreaking and definitely another reason why I think we’re all drawn to Bundy because he was walking proof of someone who did this to everyone he knows, and its effect on Liz was proof of emotional and mental abuse by a partner--something that is still unfortunately being questioned today.
“Promise you’ll never leave me.”
“Never lose hope.”
Liz was the one who held all that guilt, who apologized when he was arrested, when he escaped. She carried all this weight on her shoulders and it absolutely gutted me to watch it. He still made her a victim, even if he didn’t kill her. And the scene at the end when she asks “did you ever want to do it to me?” Damn.
MMY: Liz wasn’t the only person who called Bundy into the police, and I don’t like that it portrayed it as her responsibility alone. I know she felt deeply guilty about calling him in, but she was one of many. I see why they portrayed it that way in the movie for dramatic content. Also, Carole Boone thought he was innocent until the very end when he admitted his guilt to her face. As soon as that happened, she packed up their daughter and left. This is another important detail that is overlooked and underscores the strength of women. I don’t know how accurate the movie’s portrayal of her is, but again, since the book was written by Liz, there would be an obvious bias against Boone.
I’m interested in why Bundy and Liz stayed together for so long. He was having constant affairs and sleeping with (but not murdering) several women while with Liz. It’s interesting that they left this out of the show. I feel like it romanticized their relationship. “Don’t leave me, I can’t live without you,” and he was thinking of her while literally impregnating Boone. Was it obsession? Was she his cover? Was she really his sense of normalcy? She appeared to be such a weak person in a way, taking him back over and over, and I wonder as to their relationship. Love? Lack of self-respect for both of them? What was that dynamic, really?
You also have to consider that, at one point, Liz understood the gravity of the situation. She realized that Bundy had not only had numerous affairs, and committed the most horrific of murders, but he had decapitated at least twelve of the corpses and then had sex with the bodies. He revisited several of them over and over, stopping only when the putrefaction forced him to. Then he went home and had sex with Liz. At some point she realized that her boyfriend was having sex with murdered corpses and then with her, but she still stood by him for much of the trial. She must have wanted to scrub herself inside out with bleach. I want to delve inside her mind and see what she saw. Why did she stay with somebody so obviously toxic? But at the same time, isn’t that so incredibly human of her? How many of us have also stayed in these relationships that slowly killed us?
This was also an amazing exhibit of Bundy’s acting ability. He was able to say what people wanted to hear and manipulate situations easily. I felt like we just watched him put on game face after game face. I saw this constantly with the sex offenders I worked with. Those who were sociopaths didn’t have the feelings and empathy that most humans do, but they knew how to mimic emotions. Some of them, anyway. Some didn’t care enough to do so. But some, especially the ones who were better at picking up social cues, would patter away and say what they needed to say in order to get what they wanted. It was easy to fall for if you weren’t looking for it, but you could literally see them arranging their features to look interested, etc, while there was nothing there behind the mask. It was chilling. In fact, I still have nightmares.
I was also struck by how many times Bundy used the same lines. “We’ll get a house on the Sound with a dog.” It worked for Liz and it worked for Carole Ann. He used similar lines on the police. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t make out your car because of the headlights and I was spooked.” It makes me think about how a good-looking white guy who has intelligent patter can pull the wool over so many eyes. “He had charisma. He was charming. He didn’t seem like a guy who could hurt anybody.” Looks are so deceiving. I was also angry that this worked so well for him, as it does for others.
SMW: I agree--it’s absolutely terrifying, and after watching this movie, a lot of personal experiences and memories started to surface for me. For instance, that moment in the film when she wakes up after spending the night with him to see her child gone? It makes me think of the dangers of one-night stands with strangers and how we all tend to trust too easy. I remember one time laying next to a guy who I barely knew and thinking oh my god, how stupid am I? If I fall asleep, what’s to prevent this guy from killing me? Am I actually asking for it right now? Am I dumb enough to take this chance?
I actually used to hide switchblades in every room in my apartment when I lived alone because I was terrified of dating and I even kept a bat near my door in case I got attacked or someone broke in during the night.
MMY: But isn’t that what you deserve if it happens? Didn’t you consciously let a guy you don’t know into your proximity? I hope whoever reads this is taken back by those words. “Isn’t that what you deserved?” No, it isn’t. You don’t deserve it. There’s nothing you nor anybody else can do that makes you deserve this treatment, but this thought is SO CHILLING and SO INGRAINED IN US. My first #metoo was a boy I knew. He slid something into the window of my dorm so it didn’t close all of the way and lock correctly. I came home to find him lying in my bed, under my covers. I felt like it was my fault for befriending him in the first place, for not checking that the windows were truly locked, that I must have led him on somehow, etc. I felt I deserved what happened. That’s still ingrained in our society, although people seem to be just now getting a clue about victim shaming. The “What Were You Wearing” exhibits are wonderful at taking a cold, hard look at this. I’m so glad that we’re finally beginning to change the conversation about this.
SMW: You’re spot on and this is something else I’ve been thinking about, too: why is Ted Bundy getting popular again? Honestly, the more I think about it, I think it’s because of the #MeToo Movement, i.e. here we have a charming, white, educated male who committed horrible atrocities...and got put away for it (and got the death penalty, no less). He’s the unfortunate silver-lining story in all of this--proof that men who look and act like gentleman can actually be monsters--and this case is proof that yes, there is evil out there but we have the power to do something and put an end to it. Furthermore, it was women who gave the authorities his name, so again, it’s heralding that call that if we believe women, even one woman, we can save so many more.
Also, the fake news element? The blame on the media? It’s hard to argue that this doesn’t have relevance to our current climate.
MMY: I went to school for journalism and the current media climate makes me want to bite my tail in half. The entire concept of journalism is that you report the fact, and only the facts, without bias. Report the facts and let the citizen educate themselves and make their own decisions. Members of the media don’t become gods simply because they have a platform. They don’t have the right to spin information and mislead facts because it whips up excitement. People didn’t know what to believe about Ted Bundy because so many different opinions were coming out disguised as fact. The media uproar at the time, as well as now, only muddies the water. It’s shameful.
SMW: It was interesting to see this in the film, especially when him and Carol were discussing how to specifically handle the media, and then the fact that so many women were enthralled with the case and coming to witness him, crushing on him, questioning his innocence… I think that’s why the movie bothered me a bit because it felt like collectively, that’s what we as an audience were doing, too.
MMY: I grew up in Utah and have several unique ties to the victims, so I’m coming at it from a different point of view. So many people are saying, “Oh, Ted Bundy was cute. He was so handsome and charming. I doubt he really did it.” These people are taken in by Zac Efron’s affability and wonderful acting skills. There is undeniable proof that Bundy committed these murders. He was found guilty in a court of law. Examine the evidence yourself and come to your conclusion.
Bundy’s scars still last where I’m from. I had a teacher whose best friend was one of his victims. She mentioned it to me once and then refused to talk about it ever again. But I saw her face change when she said his name. She literally spit his name out. She hated that man and what he had done to somebody she loved dearly. That made such an impression on me.
My father’s friends discovered one of his victim while hiking in the canyon. He won’t talk about it. My husband bought my engagement ring in the same mall where Carol DaRonch was abducted. Ted Bundy’s initials are carved into a tree near my father’s work. His initials were cut down and taken away.
When we moved to Seattle, it was the same thing. We lived in his old neighborhood and in his old hunting grounds. My husband attended his old school. We walked the same mall. We frequented the same areas. My best friend’s mother told how she was terrified of this serial killer while she was in college. She and her friends changed their hair because he seemed to target brunettes with their hair parted in the middle.
There is no adoration for him where I’m from. There’s sickness and hate and seeing him for the monster he is. There’s a fascination about the case because it’s such an inhuman thing and we like to stare at monsters. But I come from a place firmly rooted in that disgust. I’m from a land where loved ones were forced to attend closed-casket funerals because this predator destroyed beauty and innocence and only left ravaged parts.
We learn about the case in self-defense, in a way. One of the most striking things about Bundy’s victims is that they didn’t fall into what you would generally consider high-risk groups. They weren’t sex workers, drifters, or victims who had fallen out of contact with their families. They were school girls. They were abducted from libraries and close to their homes. They were murdered inside of their beds. How horrific is that? He didn’t choose to prey on victims who wouldn’t be missed for a while. And Kimberly Leach? What he did to her was so horrific and depraved. She was a baby. He was also accused of murdering an eight-year-old neighbor when he was a young teenager, but he refused to talk about it. Prey is prey to a predator.
SMW: And a predator he most definitely was, and again, I think that’s why the movie surprised me because we didn’t get to see the predator as much. We got to see Liz’s grief and Bundy’s charm, which sure, showed a different type of evil than previous examinations of him had, but I’m not sure if this one was better or worse for it. Overall, I think the movie is definitely worth a watch, and like I previously said, the acting, costuming, and set design is beautiful, but I think the message might have gotten a bit lost in the process.
MMY: This is a movie for those already familiar with the cases because if you come in cold, you’ll have no idea what’s going on. I would in no way suggest this to somebody who wants to learn about the murders committed by Ted Bundy, because it very much glossed over them. There are solid documentaries that cover the cases and the women involved. I did love how they put the names of the victims up at the end, and left them there long enough to really be read. It was a strong statement. Crime reporter Billy Jensen did a wonderful job saying a few words about each of Bundy’s victims, reminding us that they were people with lives and dreams. It’s a shame that one encounter with a psychopath defined how they are remembered.
SMW: I, too, really loved that they showed the names at the end because I think so often with true crime, we as readers or viewers, get so caught up in understanding the monster that we sometimes forget the bigger picture. Those girls were someone’s daughters, girlfriends, classmates, etc. Seeing their names there and leaving them up long enough to read made a powerful statement for sure.
For those looking for more information on the case, we recommend the following books:
- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
- Violent Mind: The 1976 Psychological Assessment of Ted Bundy by Al Carlisle
- I’m Not Guilty: The Case of Ted Bundy by Al Carlisle
- The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth
For a brief Liz/Ted timeline breakdown, we recommend:
- A Timeline of Elizabeth Kloepfer & Ted Bundy's Relationship Includes what Extremely Wicked missed
- For Billy Jensen’s remembrance of the victims, look here.