Podcast of this review availible here.
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Since Ted Bundy’s death by electric chair in 1989 a veritable industry has grown up around him. One I am sure he would be pretty pleased with as he was an inveterained antention-monger.
Most of what the recent Bundy circus has thrown up is the realisation (yet again) that really, really good looking people can do really, really awful things. It’s not all Blue Steel and Schools For Kids Who Can’t Read Good. It appears like this is something each generation has to learn, and sadly the visual media obsessed world means we’re still emerging blinking from the middle ages’ where we all thought the slightest difference from generic human was a sign of a rotten probably evil soul.
What makes The Phantom Prince stand out from the crowd of Bundy books and films is the fact that it was written by Bundy’s long term girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. In crime women are generally investigators, of one type or another, or dead. Liz has managed to buck this trend by being quite average, and alive, like most of us.
We rarely hear from those very close to serial killers, for the probable reason that most want to put their ordeal behind them. Also not everyone is able to stomach hearing from those so close to someone who has sown so much terror and damage, particularly when the crimes are still raw and fresh. Liz has chosen to speak out, and by the end of the book it is clear that the process of writing has itself helped her come to terms with a set of circumstances which nothing could have prepared her for. What is even more interesting is in this updated and expanded edition Liz reflects on her writing in the first. She points out bits which now make her cringe, and with humility explains why she no longer feels that way.
It is clear Liz has a tremendous story of personal growth. However more fascinating is the afterword by Molly, her daughter, who grew up with Ted as a kind of father figuer in her life. She is able to recount chilling events, that should leave no one doubting what kind of man Bundy was, no matter how good looking. The details of the brutalisation of Bundy’s victims (not detailed in this book) probably should lead most people to that conclusion at a fairly quick pace.
One wonders if Liz had grown up in a society that talked openly about the manipulation and abuse people receive in their homes, discussed what healthy relationships look like, and empowered women to prioritise personal growth over antiquated ideals of romance, if Liz and her daughter would ever have had the need to write this book.
As readers we have the privilage of hindsight. I am sure we will never be able to fully appreciate how the shy, young, vulnerable Liz bruised by divorce and a single mother, was ripe for the kind of master manipulator Bundy was. Her decent into alcoholisim, which was probably a coping mechanism, also served to further mask herself and her relationship from her own scrutiny.
Although Liz has lived an extrodinary but unenviable life take the serial killing away (which I admit is not easy) and you get a tale that is much more familure to anyone who has read about domestic abuse, intimate violence and the tactics used by it’s perpetraitors. Which lends one to wonder if Liz had grown up in a society that talked openly about the manipulation and abuse people receive in their homes, discussed what healthy relationships look like, and empower women to prioritise personal growth over antiquated ideals of romance, if Liz and her daughter would have ever had the need to write this book. Maybe instead they could have lived the quiet, unassuming lives they would have preferred. Those kind of conversations and cultures would never stop a man like Bundy, who was possibly always destined to reek havoc, but it might have spared two more women from falling victim to his spell.