Ted Bundy and the history behind his obsessive “stans”

In 1974, a young woman named Carole Ann Boone met Ted Bundy at the Department of Emergency Services in Olympia, Washington. She instantly became infatuated with him, a fondness that would last up to a few years before the killer’s death in 1989. However, she wasn’t the first nor the last to develop a love for The Campus Killer.

Last week saw the rise of “Tednation” on twitter, a collective of young women that have proclaimed themselves as “stans” of the infamous killer. Stanning, the name originating from the popular Eminem song, involves the obsessive idolization of a famous figure. Internet stan culture is not anything new. The past few years on multiple social media websites have seen the increase of obsessive fan culture, usually surrounding popular musicians or actors. Fans of KPOP have practically taken over twitter, promoting their “bias,” or favorite group member, any chance that they get. In fact, KPOP stan culture has become so mainstream that even those outside of the fandom are able to recognize “stan LOONA” as a popular phrase without even being aware of LOONA and their music. But when did this harmless love for famous singers turn into an obsessive adoration for one of the world’s most notoriously evil men?

“Tednation” did not start last week. Female fans of the serial killer have been prevalent throughout society since he was even on trial. Hybristophilia is the act of gaining sexual arousal from knowing that a partner has committed an “outrage,” such as a violent crime. Katherine Ramsland, a PhD professor of forensic psychology, explains that “the idea is that [women] want to get close to a violent person so that they can either participate in a fantasy life that involves them or actually become partners with them.” In this scenario, the women become separate from the victim. The killer would not harm them, as they are “different” than other women he may come into contact with.

“He just doesn’t look like the type to kill somebody,” a young woman said to a reporter outside of the courthouse where Bundy was being held. While on trial, Bundy was supported by a number of female admirers who came to his hearings everyday, desperate to catch a glimpse of his enthralling charm.

Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, describes the idea that there are two types of women who fall in love with convicted killers. The first is the type to love the “ordinary” killer, believing there to be a good in them that others may not see. The other type is the one to love the “notorious” killer, drawn to them because they are drawn to the spotlight.

In 1980, while still on trial, Bundy married Carol Anne Boone (due to a strange law in the Florida Justice System, which stated that if an accepted proposal were to occur in the presence of a judge then the couple would be legally married). Nonetheless, Bundy proposed to Boone and after she gleefully accepted, the two were married in the eyes of the state. Two years later, their daughter Rose was born. Boone described Bundy as “kind, warm and patient,” always maintaining that her husband was innocent, despite the substantial amount of evidence against him.

“There’s the notion of the “perfect boyfriend.” She knows where he is at all times and she knows he’s thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time,”

Ramsland writes in Psychology Today. The women who fall in love with killers are stuck in a fantasy. There is a veil blocking them from the reality of a real relationship. They do not have any relationship responsibilities except to love their “partner” and believe that there is a good inside of him.

A relationship with a convicted killer becomes a type of a fiction, as the women are unable to participate in the actions of everyday life with their partner but an idea “love” is still maintained. Compare this idea to the idea of stan culture. The young women who fall in love with unattainable celebrities live in a world of fantasy. Harry Styles will not leave his life of luxury to attend a random college in middle America and begin a relationship with the first girl he meets (i.e. After). The fantasy of having a celebrity lover, who is always there for them no matter the circumstances, becomes a relationship that is ideal. Why invest in a real relationship, that can end in pain or distress, when the comfort of a fantasy is harmless? Loving a celebrity is contained. Harry Styles will not harm you nor will he break up with you. The fantasy is in the control of whoever fantasizes it. The same fantasy works when falling in love with a killer. A woman who marries a convicted felon is in charge. “There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him.” To marry an imprisoned man is to have total control of the situation. It is a contained fantasy, where one is able to achieve a sense of power that would not be there without the prison walls.

When word came out that Zac Efron was cast as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, reactions were mixed. Some lauded the casting, noting that Efron shared some resemblance to Bundy and could show why women were so drawn to the “charismatic” killer. Others were against the casting, believing that the once teen heartthrob Efron’s appearance in the film would further romanticize Bundy. This feeling was bolstered when the trailer came out, painting the film as a fun look into Bundy’s relationship with Elizabeth Kloepfer. While the film claimed it was showing Bundy’s “wicked” side, the trailer had a completely different tone. Showing Bundy in a positive, adventurous light was further romanticizing him to the viewer, some of whom were already enthralled by Efron’s good looks.

However, the film’s only fault was that it was, in plain terms, boring. The pacing was all over the place and it could never find a tone that was worth sticking with. Nonetheless, unlike its trailer, the film effectively explored the horrors that Bundy committed in a negative light. Unfortunately, it was just another stop on the Ted Bundy hype train. Along with the film was the Netflix documentary, The Ted Bundy Tapes, and the media attention was enough to bring the serial killer back into the spotlight. With publicity, comes fans and as Isenberg explained, people are drawn to notoriety. In just a few months, Bundy had was all over media again and had all the publicity he needed to draw in a collective of obsessive fans once again.

On paper, stanning Ted Bundy is inherently harmless. The man has been dead for 30 years now and won’t receive any profit from the attention. His stans are not committing any crimes either by tweeting about how “innocent” and “unproblematic” he was. However, after all of these years, after all of the gruesome information that came out from Bundy himself, isn’t it time that the romanticization ends? What about Kimberly Leach? Georgeann Hawkins? Melissa Smith? Donna Manson? Lynda Ann Healy? Lisa Leavy? And the 24 other innocent women who were brutally murdered during Bundy’s reign of terror? What about their parents, who have to endure the spotlight around the man who cut their daughters’ lives short?

16 of Bundy’s victims (Bundy was said to have killed 30, with even more confirmed)

Three years before Ted Bundy was executed, Carole Ann Boone divorced him and was never heard from again. Was it that she finally realized that the man she loved was not the innocent victim that he claimed to be? Or was it that she wanted something real, the opposite of the contained fantasy relationship she once had? While her reasoning is unknown, the truth of the divorce remains; Boone had left the world of her fantasy, and Bundy, behind.

The Tednation fans are not the first to romanticize a vicious killer, nor will they be the last. During his televised trail, admirers of Bundy would come to court to support him. This continued to his imprisonment, where fans would send him love letters constantly while he rotted in his cell. Bundy’s good looks and charisma formulated a desire for excuses. His stans believed that he could not have done the horrors that he was imprisoned for, as he was too charming to do so.

According to Dr. Ramsland, “lots of people are drawn to ‘celebrities’, no matter what they’ve done” and as long as Bundy remains in the spotlight, he will always have stans.

New York University Class of 2020

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store