Twenty-two years ago notorious serial killer Ted Bundy took his last breath in a Florida electric chair. Now his DNA may play a pivotal role in cracking some unsolved murders.
Bundy's full DNA profile will be uploaded to the national CODIS (Combined DNA Index system) database today, where it will exist along with the DNA profiles of 10 million other convicted offenders.
"We have been trying to get a complete profile since early 2000 but we have never been successful until now," said David Coffman, Chief of Forensic Services for the Tallahassee Regional Crime Lab.
Bundy committed at least 30 murders, but he was always coy about how many women he actually killed and is suspected in dozens, even hundreds more murders. That's why cold case investigators across the country have been so anxious to be able to match their evidence against Bundy's DNA.
Tacoma, Wash., Det. Gene Miller and his partner, homicide Det. Lindsey Wade, have waited for this moment for years with a particular case in mind -- the mysterious 1961 disappearance of an 8-year-old girl.
Ann Marie Burr was about to head off to her first day of third grade when she vanished from her Tacoma home.
"Her mother got up at 5:30 in the morning and noticed the front door was opened, and she realized Ann Marie was gone," said Miller. More than 500 people joined the search. "They looked in every yard and every garbage can in every direction… but nothing was ever found," Miller said.
Still, Miller and Wade have "biological material" left over from the crime scene that they hope to compare to Bundy's DNA.
Bundy lived in the north end of Tacoma at the time of her disappearance and had previously lived in the Burr family's neighborhood. Although he was just 15 years old at the time, he has long been a suspect in Ann Marie's disappearance. It would have been one of his first murders.
For his part, Bundy always denied being responsible for the girl's disappearance, even going so far as to put his denials in writing to Ann Marie's mother, Beverly. But Miller said the resolution to any successful cold case requires following every lead -- no matter how unlikely.
"I look at this as an extremely big step and our hope is that it will provide some resolution to the case," he said.
Miller's inquiries initially got things rolling down at David Coffman's lab in Florida.
"When we got a phone call from Washington State we started brainstorming -- who could we call? Who haven't we spoken to?" said Coffman.
The lab been using a partial DNA profile of Bundy's for years, but that proved more frustrating than anything else. They were never able to match Bundy with any unresolved case and it generally raised more questions than answers.
But then Coffman discovered a long-lost vial of Bundy's blood stashed away in a Florida lab.
"The original blood sample was drawn on March 17, 1978 at 1650 hours," said Coffman.
But for the blood to yield a DNA profile it has to be in good condition. "We were skeptical…that's an awful long time for liquid blood to be around," he said.
It turned out the blood sample was bad, but it didn't matter because a few tiny flakes of blood near the top of the tube were in perfect condition, and analysts were able to get a full DNA profile. Bingo. The profile that Coffman had been searching for all these years was finally a reality.
Ted Bundy DNA Could Crack Cold Cases
It is hard to overestimate the fear and revulsion Bundy inspired in the early 1970s. In 1974, a string of beautiful young co-eds began disappearing in the Pacific Northwest, gripping the region in panic. A short time later, women began disappearing in Utah and Idaho as well. But it wasn't until a string of murders at a sorority house at Florida State University that Bundy's crime spree came to an end.
"Ted was one of the first attractive, charismatic seemingly successful serial killers. He tended to gravitate towards pretty women with long hair parted in the middle," said crime author Ann Rule, who wrote a national bestseller about Bundy called "The Stranger Beside Me" and called him the "poster boy" for serial murder.
According to Rule, Bundy's preferred method of killing was to bludgeon his victims.
"He was left-handed. Most of his victims had severe damage to the left side of their heads. He would take a log or a tire iron and hit them from behind and then strangle them…there were no stabbings or shootings, but there were gruesome sexual assaults and worse," said Rule.
Rule said that just before Bundy's execution, officials asked him how many women he killed. "They said 36. And he said, 'add one digit.' We'll never know if that 136 or 361, or if he was telling the truth at all," said Rule.
Rule believes Bundy's DNA will be useful in solving some cold cases. "I think it will probably be a domino effect. There's a case in Vermont, they just came up with a possible case in California. I think it will solve a lot of crimes," she said.
But it could take some time. In the case of Ann Marie Burr, it might take a few months for the state crime lab in Washington to develop a forensic profile from the 50-year-old evidence. State crime labs tend to be overwhelmed with processing evidence from current crimes, never mind cold cases.
Miller said he gets asks all the time, why all the fuss over some decades old case and long-dead killer.
"I'm never going to put bracelets on anybody, but we look at it from the standpoint that there is good to be done. We can give the family some closure and try to answer some questions for them and for the community."
And that's why his office has applied for a National Institute of Justice grant to be able to devote more resources to solving cold cases through DNA -- like that of Ann Marie Burr.
Bundy's full DNA profile will be available for matching this weekend.