by Cincinnati true crime author JT Townsend
She was an innocent blond child who got into the wind, snatched from her home in the dead of night, and carried off into oblivion. He was a handsome stranger spinning a web, hiding a wicked serial killer who raped and murdered more than 30 women.
Like the Elizabeth Smart saga, the kidnapping of 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr was a national fixation back in 1961. Below the radar of suspicion was 14-year-old paperboy Ted Bundy, the kid from the next block. Ever since Bundy died in Florida’s electric chair, detectives, writers, and armchair sleuths have debated his involvement in the Ann Marie Burr case. Was the proximity of the future monster to the missing angel an eerie coincidence become urban legend? Or a spicy twist to a cold case? And does the key lurk in Bundy’s childhood, a gothic tale of secrecy, denial, and possible incest…
Ann Marie Burr – Little Girl Lost
“I had a feeling right then that I’d never see her again,” sighed Beverly Burr, talking about the daughter who vanished over 40 years ago.
The disappearance of Ann Marie Burr from her Tacoma home would become a national news story. Her nightmare began on August 30, 1961, after the Burrs bedded down four children in their North Tacoma home. Around midnight Ann Marie brought baby sister Mary to her parent’s bedroom – Mary was crying about the cast on her broken arm. At 5 AM Beverly awoke to attend to her youngest child again but found Ann Marie gone.
The normally locked front door and the living room window were both wide open – no blood or signs of a struggle, just a lone sneaker print outside the window.
A thousand National Guardsmen and police officers combed the city. Choppers droned overhead as divers scoured sewers and creeks leading out to the bay. Yet despite the largest search and reward in Tacoma history, the little girl was lost.
Beverly and husband Donald requested and passed their polygraphs. As months unraveled into years, the Burr’s would endure unconfirmed sightings, bogus ransom demands, and an imposter claiming to be Ann Marie.
But the true outrage was the unknown fate of their firstborn daughter.
“We were always looking or always doing something. We never forgot.” says Beverly.
They stayed in their tainted home for six years in case Ann showed up, keeping their old phone number after they moved.
Four decades later closure is elusive. “I used to pray for an answer.” Beverly said at a recent memorial service for Ann Marie. “And then I wondered – do I want to know if she had a horrible death?”
Ted Bundy – The Charming Killer
In February 1989, Ted Bundy’s life was draining away. With Florida’s electric chair looming the next day, the killer was playing for time by giving up the bones of his ancient victims.
Who was Theodore Robert Bundy? After ten years of scrutiny on death row, he emerged as a chilling enigma, a charming and depraved killer who lured countless women to gruesome deaths.
Born in Philadelphia in 1946 to an unwed mother, Bundy’s father was a shadowy figure. Four years later Louise Cowell took her child to Tacoma, where she married Johnny Bundy.
Ted’s formative years revealed a shy yet crafty adolescent who attended church but resented his stepfather. He also began nocturnal jaunts of voyeurism and vandalism; a sliding spiral that lasted throughout high school.
In college he fashioned an urbane and polished persona, what Bundy would later call his “mask of sanity”. After graduation, he became a rising star in Republican state politics as the protégé of Governor Dan Evans.
In 1974, while Bundy attended law school in Seattle, young women began disappearing from the area. Some were taken from houses while others were plucked from the nearby university. Several co-eds recalled encounters with a handsome man on crutches; the stranger would solicit help carrying his books to his car.
Because the missing women were all “good girls” (not prostitutes or delinquents), local cops worked the cases hard. But with scant evidence and no bodies, the trail withered away.
When Ted Bundy transferred to a law school in Salt Lake City, co-eds and young women began vanishing from Utah and Colorado. Bundy’s all–American veneer cracked in 1975 when he was arrested while cruising a suburb at 4 AM. Within weeks a student fingered him as the “undercover cop” who abducted her from a mall – she had barely escaped with her life.
Thrust into the spotlight of a task force investigating missing women from 4 states, detectives poked into every aspect of Bundy’s existence. And as word of his legal problems drifted back to the Seattle area, friends and former co-workers expressed shock and disbelief – Ted had cloaked his dark side, even from his fiancée.
After Bundy was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to prison, skeletal remains of the Washington victims began to turn up at a remote dumpsite. Soon Colorado prosecutors extradited and charged him for the abduction/murder of a woman at a ski lodge. An eyewitness and Bundy’s gas card receipts placed him at the scene.
But before trial Bundy staged a spectacular escape from a county lockup; he was in Chicago by the time jailers realized he was missing. From there he fled south to Tallahassee, where he tried to blend in at Florida State University. Two weeks later he rampaged through a sorority in the middle of the night, killing two co-eds and bludgeoning three others while they slept. His final victim was 12 year old Kimberly Leach, grabbed from her elementary school in nearby Lake City.
Captured and convicted of the Florida killings in 1979, Bundy went to death row for the Leach murder. He maintained his innocence, and jousted with detectives from the West who came to question him about unsolved cases. Florida spun Bundy on the fast track to their electric chair. And ten years later Ted began to spill his guts as death closed in.
The Sinister Connection
A casual remark during a jailhouse interview had resonated; while speaking “hypothetically” about a serial killer, Ted suggested that “when he’s 15 (describing the moment of murder) it’d be a much more mystical, exciting, intense, overwhelming experience…than when he’s 50.”
Just before his 1989 execution, Bundy met with Robert Keppel, a Seattle detective working the missing girl’s file. Ted had been confessing for days, hoping to postpone the inevitable. Pale, haggard, and stinking of fear, he lowered his guard and said something that glimmered of Ann Marie Burr.
Keppel pounced on it and got abrupt denials – “very un-Bundy like answers” that “showed a consciousness of guilt.” But why would a dead man walking disown one murder after copping out to 30 others?
Ted confided to Keppel there were crimes a serial killer would never admit to: murder committed at a young age – against a child victim – and close to his own home. The Burr case fit all three stipulations.
Ann Rule didn’t buy her ex-friend’s denial either: “Even for a serial killer there’s a stigma to killing a helpless young girl.”
Rule has collected hearsay tips and anecdotal evidence that tie Bundy to Ann Marie. A former Burr neighbor wrote that “Ted was the morning paper boy…That little girl used to follow him around like a puppy…She would have gone with him if he asked her to crawl out that window.”
Another woman emailed Rule remembering that her ninth-grade classmate Bundy had asked if she wanted to see “where he had hidden a body”.
And Donald Burr is convinced he saw young Ted Bundy in a construction ditch on a nearby street the morning his daughter disappeared. Bob Keppel today insists “the story gets better and better over the years with him and Ann Marie Burr.”
But to others the facts have blurred with time, leaving an impression the case against Bundy is stronger than it really is. Retired detective Tony Zatkovich, the original investigating officer in 1961, states that “Bundy absolutely had nothing to do with this.” He believes the killer knew the family and was familiar with the layout of the house. Tacoma detectives currently assigned to the case are divided between Bundy and another teenage suspect.
Louise Bundy can’t accept that her son started his killing spree while living under her roof. She was pregnant that summer and frequently up at night. “There’s no way he’d have gotten out of this house with us knowing it.”
Louise contends that at 14 Ted was too small to have abducted an 8-year-old girl. She says the Burr house “was in another part of town”, and denies her brother lived next door to Ann Marie’s piano teacher.
Bundy himself wrote to the Burr’s in 1986, telling them “you have been misled by rumors about me…I had nothing to do with her disappearance…At the time I was a normal 14 year old boy…I had absolutely no desire to harm anyone.”
Did He or Didn’t He?
To judge Ted Bundy as a suspect in the murder of Ann Marie Burr, there are three points to deliberate:
• How far away did he live from the Burr’s in 1961?
• When did he start killing?
• Was he really a “normal 14 year old boy”?
Bundy’s death house disclaimer argued that “the Burrs lived all the way across town from where I hung out as a kid and had my paper route…It was a different part of the world with different schools.”
A map quest today confirms it. Bundy’s house on Sky Line Drive was 3 miles away from the Burr home on 14th Street – yet legend wants him on the next block. This distance supports Ted’s denial; Bundy had chided Keppel for “not really taking a serious look at it.” Some investigators agree with Ted’s own contention that he began killing women in January 1974.
Yet others “like him” (as a suspect) in the 1966 murder and assault on two stewardesses in their Seattle apartment – Bundy was a 19-year-old college student working part-time at a nearby grocery store. It’s rare for a serial killer to get his first notch before age 15, even though his sexual and violent impulses fuse in early childhood. Bundy denied murdering before age 27, but his night raids as a young peeping tom (a classic early route for rapists) suggest the opportunity for an earlier kill.
So how does a “normal 14-year-old boy” morph into a psychopath? Is the answer buried in Bundy’s paternity?
The obscure “salesman” who stole into prudish Louise Cowell’s life just long enough to seduce, impregnate and abandon her was never identified. Some relatives doubt her vague and conflicting stories about Ted’s father.
Unwed mothers in 1946 were cloistered. 22-year-old Louise gave birth in seclusion, returning home to raise the child as her “adopted brother.” Yes – little Ted Bundy believed his mother was his sister, and his grandparents were his parents.
Louise’s mother was a reclusive semi-invalid, while her father was a vigorous man who relatives described as “an extremely violent and frightening individual”. Louise and her two younger sisters lived in fear of him.
Writers and Criminologists who have pored over Bundy’s history to explain his brutal acts wonder: perhaps his grandfather really was, as Ted once claimed, his father. When a journalist confronted her with that recently, Louise Bundy “demurred in a matter of fact voice, with none of the indignation that one might expect.”
Yet her younger sister (Ted’s Aunt) remembers waking up one morning as a teenager to find her grinning 3-year-old nephew lifting her covers and placing three butcher knives beside her. A psychiatrist who studied Bundy labeled this “extraordinarily bizarre behavior in a toddler”, indicative of “a traumatized child who was not only unwanted but was punished for having been born.”
In an email to this writer, Ann Rule declares “my personal opinion is that Ted Bundy killed Ann Marie Burr.” And though she’s written about hundreds of murder cases, “Every time I give a talk in the Northwest, someone asks about Ann Marie Burr.”
A recent TV adaptation of her book ends with an erroneous flashback of young Ted approaching Ann Marie on her front porch in broad daylight. The final shot shows them walking off hand in hand as neighbors bustled about.
Ted is a serious suspect until you do the logistics. How could a boy not yet 15 roam a neighborhood 3 miles away, casing a house so well that he could steal a child in the night and evaporate her? It doesn’t seem plausible – but with Bundy nothing ever does.
He haunts by slithering gracefully among us – he might have been a friend of your son or dated your daughter. He was our worst nightmare – perfect evil living just around the corner.
If he could be the bad seed of an incestuous grandfather, then perhaps his virgin venture into murder became his most perfect crime. The night before his execution, Ted Bundy’s last words to his mother were “a part of me was hidden all the time.”
And more than 54 years later, Ann Marie Burr is still in the wind…
***Author’s Note: Ted Bundy was the “godfather” of serial killers – a creature too complex to fully explore in this article. Contact this writer with questions about Bundy and for more information on the Ann Marie Burr Case.
Here’s some updated information I’ve gleaned from conversations with Beverly Burr (Ann Marie’s mother) since I wrote this article. On a sad note, Beverly died several years ago, never learning the truth about what happened to Ann Marie.
- She does not believe Ted Bundy kidnapped and murdered her daughter.
- Ann Marie did not take piano lessons next door to Ted’s Uncle.
- She does not recall seeing Ted Bundy delivering their paper.
- She likes the same suspect that investigating officer Tony Zatkovich liked in 1961: a 17-year-old neighbor boy who lived three doors away.
- She described the family as “very religious” and their teenage son as “strange” but with an “unusual interest” in Ann Marie.
- She admitted to me (with embarrassment) that 3 days after Ann went missing, she went to their house on some pretext. Finding them not home and the door open, she went through their first floor looking for any sign of Ann Marie, specifically her cross pendant received a month earlier at her first communion. She became frightened and left without searching the 2nd floor or finding any trace of her daughter.
- This suspect was eventually questioned and given a polygraph (results inconclusive) before the family’s lawyer pressured the cops to charge him or release him.
- She says the suspect is still alive (age 63) and still living in Tacoma.
- She keeps tabs on him – says he has been completely estranged from his family for more than 40 years.
- She told me she sees Louise Bundy in the grocery store from time to time. Ted’s mother knows who Beverly is but avoids her and does not speak.
Beverly Burr is an amazingly courageous woman who has never gotten the closure she deserves – I wish I could give it to her. I know if my child had disappeared I would never stop looking…
Ted Bundy is a suspect in the Burr case – nothing more. Like many Bundy mavens, I wanted to link him to Ann Marie Burr when I first read about it. My heart had him guilty, but my head isn’t buying it. Like Beverly Burr, I believe it’s just a macabre coincidence.
I’m much more willing to accept Ted’s involvement in the murder/assault of the two stewardesses in 1966 Seattle – but even that case had a better suspect (landlord’s son).
If you would like more information about the Bundy/Burr conundrum, there is a recent book out called “Ted and Ann – The Mystery of a Missing Child and Her Neighbor Ted Bundy” by Rebecca Morris that explores the connection between the serial killer and the missing child. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this book…but it IS the only book-length treatment of this fascinating case… JT
About the Author: JT Townsend is a freelance writer, true crime author and lifelong resident of Cincinnati. Visit his website at www.jttownsend.com and his Facebook page: JT Townsend True Crime Detective. This article was previously published in Snitch Magazine in 2004 and on the Clews historic true crime website.