What is it like to raise one of the most notorious serial killers in the world? Is it normal to believe your son is innocent despite an overwhelming amount of damning evidence? To answer these questions we look to Louise Cowell, better known as Ted Bundy‘s mother. Defined by lies, resentment and denial, this mother and son’s bizarre relationship helps explain how the “Angel of Decay” came to terrorize America.
A Childhood Full Of Dark Secrets
Ted Bundy was actually born Theodore Robert Cowell in November 24, 1946. His mother, Eleanor Louise Cowell, gave birth to her first child at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. As a single young woman in the 1940s, Cowell’s first child was a scandal. The young mother listed Air Force veteran and salesman llyod Marshal as Ted’s father on the birth certificate, but later claimed that a sailor, named Jack Worthington seduced her. Neither Marhsal nor Worthington, who authorities claim never existed, were part of Ted’s life.
Instead of raising the child alone as a single mother, Cowell moved to her parent’s house in Philadelphia — where Ted was brought up believing that his mother was his sister. With Cowell as his supposed sibling, Ted was led to believe that his grandparents were his birth parents.
Much like the identity of his father, accounts of how Bundy discovered his real birth certificate remain conflicting. Bundy biographers assert that Ted’s cousin relentlessly teased him as a teenager, calling him a bastard and cruelly showing him his birth certificate. Bundy was reportedly devastated and full of resentment towards his mother. In an interview with the notorious killer, he explained his mother’s intensely private and distant nature:
“We didn’t talk a lot about real personal matters. Certainly never about sex or any of those things. My mom has trouble talking on inmate, personal terms. There’s this logjam of feelings in her that she doesn’t open up and explain.”
Not exactly the basis for a healthy adult relationship.
A Family History Of Abuse And Depression
Perhaps the most chilling rumor about Bundy’s early years is the allegation that his grandfather truly was his father. Although there is no concrete evidence, some have questioned if Bundy’s abusive grandfather raped his mother, and inadvertently fathered the notorious killer.Aside from the debated status of his paternity, Samuel Cowell was considered by many to be a tyrannical bully and a bigot. When describing his violent nature, historians point to a story about Samuel throwing his daughter, Ted’s aunt, down a flight of stairs because she overslept. Samuel was also rumored to beat dogs, and even tossed a neighbor’s cat by the tail. Despite his grandfather’s rage, Ted Bundy told his close friend and author, Ann Rule, that he looked up to his grandfather and “identified with him.” What a role model….
Adding to his troubled home life, Ted’s grandmother received controversial electroshock treatment for severe depression. Between his mentally unstable grandmother, abusive grandfather, and intensely secretive mother, the Cowell/Bundy family tree was uniquely disturbing.
Violent & Materialistic From The Beginning
From an extremely early age, Ted gravitated toward the macabre. One particularly chilling childhood story includes three-year-old Ted assembling a collection of kitchen knives around his sleeping aunt. When his aunt awoke to the disturbing display, she looked up to see tiny Ted staring at her next from the end of the bed.
Along with an interest in death, Ted was known to obsess over material objects. When Ted’s mother married John Bundy in 1951, Ted was reportedly ashamed of his stepfather’s modest earnings as a military chef and was mortified that John drove a “sensible” Rambler. Even as a young small child, Ted would drag his mother to the most expensive clothing displays at the department store, asserting his penchant for materialistic goods. In an attempt to distance himself from stepfather, Ted began calling him John instead of father and refused to become close with his four half-siblings.
Mother Knows Denial BestDespite her son’s early attraction to violence and history of burglary, Louise was her son’s biggest defender. For years and in the face of seemingly irrefutable evidence, Louise stood by her son.
Louise’ was especially vocal about her son’s innocence before his 1989 Death Row confession. Prior to and at the onset of Ted’s trial, his mother affirmed that her child was incapable of such gruesome acts, stating:
“Ted Bundy does not go around killing women and little children! And I know this, too, that our never-ending faith in Ted — our faith that he is innocent — has never wavered. And it never will.”
Unfortunately, Louise was wrong. Her son was more than capable of killing women and children. After her son finally confessed to dozens of murders, Louise’s love for Ted never faltered. Ted and Louise spoke twice on the day of his execution — her final words to her son illustrate her undying love:
“You will always be my precious son.”
“I resent the fact that everybody in Tacoma thinks just because he lived in Tacoma he did that one, too, way back when he was 14. I’m sure he didn’t.”
If only Ted had been capable of such compassion, perhaps dozens of his victims would still be alive today.
To learn more about Ted Bundy, watch the “Angel of Decay” episodes of Investigation Discovery’s Serial Thriller on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Young Ted Bundy [Wikimedia Commons; Louise Cowell [AP Photo/Kathy Willens]