Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert D. Keppel, Ph.D. an Interview


Q. In January, 1989, just days before Ted Bundy's execution, you were contacted by his lawyer because Bundy had asked you to participate in a "debriefing" which was to become a confession. Why do you think Bundy chose you to be his confessor?

I think he had been conditioning me over time, through letters and through the initial interview. I think he deeply respected the work that I did, he knew that I was a credible detective and that I only dealt with the truth. I never did anything in his investigation that he could construe as me having deceived him or anything like that. I think that he respected that and he respected my knowledge of his problem. That was one of the things he really wanted to get in close to me with was helping him understand his problem. But, we never got to that point where we could get that close to each other, we ran out of time.

Q. You describe in Riverman how, at the time of Bundy's confession, it would have been impossible to verify the details he gave you about the gravesites because of adverse weather conditions and land slippage. Even though his claims weren't verified do you still believe him and if so why?

There were things that I could verify about Georgeann Hawkins that I believe him about. He was pretty reserved in what he would tell you because he wanted to make sure that he never told you anything that dealt with anything that would classify him as a pervert, like the sexual things. His original mission was to tell you only things to do with missing people and not anything to do with those that had already been identified and found. That was part of the way he planned to save his life, to have you find remains that would make him look more credible which would allow him to have his execution stayed. So, the details he gave me about Georgeann Hawkins were the ones I believed because I verified them later and they turned out to be true.

Q. Several times during the confessional interview, Bundy talks about being drunk prior to picking up victims and drinking wine when he returned to some of the crime scenes. What was the significance of his drinking and was it a contributing factor in the commission of his crimes?

I think he probably did. He used it as a way to take the edge off but that's it. He wasn't so blown out of his mind that he was incapable of knowing what he was doing; it had more to do with taking the edge off. He was also using marijuana the same way.

Q. Although the interview was marred by Bundy trying to play games in a last feeble attempt to stay his execution, was it a productive experience for you?

Oh yeah! When you look at something that you've been around for fifteen years and finally get the chance to talk to the man about what you've been looking at for that time that alone saved my psyche because, even though I was convinced that he was the suspect, there were always people who had doubts. One of the things that I remember the most was his mother. I didn't see it at the time but I was given copies of some of the interviews that were done on television at the time when he was going through these confessions. On one of these his mother was asked the question, "How do you feel now having protected him all these years believing he was innocent? In answer she said "If Bob Keppel said that he confessed to those murders then I believe him." I thought that was pretty heavy. It was one of those things where she thought that I was a credible investigator all those years even though she wouldn't tell me a thing. She knew that I had not violated a lot of the things that investigators some times do by making flippant remarks and being judgmental or whatever. That alone helped me because since that time I've been able to use that as a stepping-stone to inform others of what to do or not to do in serial murder investigations. I've been involved in over fifty different serial killer investigations with well over a thousand victims but I haven't been able to help people get through, either the psychological trauma of having to investigate one of these assholes, or to figure out how to proceed to catch him. The fact that I had investigated Bundy all those years then having been present for his confession and having everything that I'd said about him come true, was like getting my Ph.D. People started to believe that I really knew what I was talking about. That changed a lot for me although it changed a lot of what other people thought about what I said. It didn't change what I'd said because I'd always said it. All of a sudden, I had the mortarboard to go along with it.

Q. You have described Bundy's personality as being a "black hole." Could you please expand on that description?

I've always believed that these guys' personalities were lower than dirt. If you could believe that there was something to them and looked inside their brain, what you would see about their lifestyle would be nothing more than a black hole. There would be pieces meandering about with this killer's mind trying to grab on to these pieces but there would never be a structure there, there would never be a method by which they would survive. They're untreatable. They cannot undergo any reclamation whatsoever because of this scattered black hole that I see them in. They grab onto a piece then they go off and kill somebody and they kill that piece. Then they grab for another one and kill again until there are not enough pieces to put together in their psyche at all. It's just not there for them to survive. That's why I came up with that black hole theory.

Q. In Riverman, you talk about there being "four Teds," can you tell us more about this?

I didn't want to give the impression that this guy was a multiple personality because he's not. I know that there are some psychiatrists out there who have construed it as that but that's not what it is at all. It just saw it as four different people operating, four different types of people and that just stuck with me. On one hand I saw this grandiose, proud guy who was willing to deal with governors and attorney generals for his life. On the other end of the continuum, I saw a guy who was the most pitiful, low-grade piece of junk you'd ever want who couldn't handle anything in life as far as being around a woman. He was defeated and defiled, just like he had defiled and denigrated his victims. He was just as defeated. Then, I saw a guy who was terrified of what he'd done. He described his actions with his victims as if he was terrified. He was confused and upset and didn't know what to do. He was throwing stuff out of his vehicle on the way out of the crime scene and would have to go back later and pick it all up again. Lastly, I saw a conniving and cunning psychopath. A guy who was able to be as invisible as he wanted to be, with all the control that he could possibly have over everything around him. He could control us, he could control the guards, the prison ministry people, his attorneys and it was just incredible what I saw, but it was all the same person. Some of the more perceptive psychologists and psychiatrists have taken that to mean that he has a disassociative personality so that's why there were different things that I saw there. Of course I wasn't thinking about disassociative personalities at the time, I was just coming up with my own observations about what I saw but I did not see any multiple personalities. He knew where he was every time, in all of those four people. He knew who he was.

Q. You make mention of Bundy's need to "possess" and "control" his victims. Was this the basis of his need to kill or was it just part of his psychological makeup?

I think it was both. I think he needed it to survive and it made him feel good.

Q. In your opinion, is it better to execute killers like Bundy or keep them alive in the hope that we can study them and perhaps learn something that may be used to prevent similar crimes in the future?

If all I do is look at Ted Bundy, I think to myself I'm glad he's dead because I'm not so sure what we would have learned from him if he was alive. I'm not so sure he would have cooperated that much and "told us all," like he said he would if we'd have kept him alive. I know one thing, he had a history of always being in escape mode in prison. He had already escaped twice and on two other occasions, he was found with escape implements in his cell, once in Utah and once in Florida. His whole life was pointed towards escape and once he escaped, he'd kill again. Now he can't do that.

For that part of it, I'm glad he's gone but another part of me says that we do not know anything about this type of people because, number one, it is not in their best interests to help us to understand them because they are either appealing their sentence or their case or whatever so it's not in their best interest to even begin talking about themselves. I think that we do need to study these people but I don't know how you do it. There are countries that don't have the death penalty but they still have a number of these people in prison, but how do you make them cooperate? These people are liars. They've been lying their whole life and they have a different mask because they are liars. If you ever get them into a position where you are studying them, how do you know when they are telling the truth? You can't give them a polygraph they're not capable. That's why I've always criticized the F.B.I study of their thirty-six sexual murderers. What they did was study thirty-six liars. How can you prove that anything any of those guys had to say was true? That especially applied to their backgrounds because the people that could corroborate that information were either dead or gone. So here you have a bunch of guys talking about their background and the F.B.I. is believing them.

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