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Remembering Ted Bundy and the Chi Omega Murders

May 15, 2024

By David Brand 
Law Enforcement Coordinator, Florida Sheriffs Association

In January 1978, evil visited Tallahassee in the form of a psychopathic stalker who was later identified as one of the most vicious serial killers in modern history.

On January 15, 1978, around 4:00 am, a phone call awakened me at home. As a young Tallahassee Police detective, I was used to receiving calls in the middle of the night. However, this call was different. My lieutenant was calling to tell me there had been multiple homicides at the Chi Omega sorority house at FSU and to respond there immediately. This was the beginning of the saga of serial killer Ted Bundy’s reign of horror in Tallahassee.

Before Tallahassee

Ted Bundy kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered what is believed to be dozens of young women during the 1970s. While it is unknown how many he killed, he eventually confessed to murdering 30 women in seven states in the mid-1970s. No one really knows when Bundy began killing as he later described to law enforcement officers and psychologists events that began in 1969.

To prey upon the empathy of young women, he would sometimes simulate some sort of physical injury or disability asking for assistance to get close to potential victims. He would then kidnap them. This same method was depicted by the Jame Gumb character in the movie “Silence of the Lambs.

On January 4, 1974, Bundy entered the apartment of 18-year-old Karen Sparks, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle. He bludgeoned her with a metal rod from her bed frame and sexually assaulted her with the same rod. She survived but was left with permanent brain damage. On February 1st, he broke into the apartment of Lynda Ann Healy, beat her unconscious, dressed her, and carried her away. Bundy later confessed that he drove her to a secluded area where he raped and murdered her before dumping her body.

Items found in Bundy’s car

During 1974, women college students in the Washington – Oregon areas disappeared at the rate of about one per month. In August 1974, Bundy was accepted to attend the University of Utah Law School and moved to Salt Lake City. Homicides and missing persons began in that area including two that remained undiscovered until he confessed to them shortly before his execution in Florida. 

Wanted poster 

After two jail escapes in Colorado, where he was awaiting trials for kidnapping and murder, he eventually arrived in Tallahassee on January 8, 1978. After one night in a hotel, he rented a room in a boarding house on West College Avenue near Florida State University. 

Chi Omega 

The Chi Omega sorority house is located just outside of the Florida State University campus. With its close proximity to dormitories and the Sweet Shop that had evolved from a 1940s soda fountain when FSU was the Florida State College for Women, and the Red Garter nightspot, it was the epicenter of campus social life. Burt “Buddy” Reynolds frequented the area when he attended FSU in the mid-1950s. There’s no doubt that Jim Morrison, who later reached fame as the lead singer and songwriter for The Doors, strolled through when he was a student in the early 1960s. In January 1978, evil incarnate in the form of Ted Bundy prowled looking for young white females with long dark hair parted in the middle to become his next victims. 

On January 15th, only a few days after arriving in Tallahassee, Bundy entered the Chi Omega sorority house located at 661 West Jefferson Street through a back door with a faulty lock. He beat Margaret Elizabeth Bowman with a piece of wood as she slept and choked her with a nylon stocking. Next, he entered the room of Lisa Janet Levy, beat her unconscious, bit her on the buttock, and sexually assaulted her with a hairspray bottle. He also attacked two other victims, Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner, who survived. 

Lisa Levy & Margaret Bowman

After fleeing the sorority house, he ran west to Dunwoody Street, in some sort of psychopathic frenzy, where he broke into the apartment of Cheryl Thomas, another FSU student, and beat her. She survived but was left with permanent disabilities. Bundy then, like the vampire he was, slinked off into the night before the sun came up.

On February 8th, driving a van stolen from FSU, he approached a 14-year-old girl in Jacksonville but was frightened away. While driving back to Tallahassee he kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Kimberly Dianne Leach, who had long dark hair parted in the middle, in Lake City. Her body was found weeks later near the Suwannee River State Park. Bundy then returned to Tallahassee. On February 12th, Bundy stole a pastel-colored Volkswagen beetle, a car he preferred since they were so ubiquitous. A few days later, he was stopped by Pensacola Police Officer David Lee after a check revealed the Volkswagen he was driving was stolen. After a foot chase and fight, he was taken into custody.  A search of the vehicle resulted in identification credentials of female FSU students and stolen credit cards. The officer reported that Bundy said, “I wish you had killed me.”

Kimberly Kianne Leach

The Scene 

FSU police officer Ray Crew was patrolling on Woodward Avenue, only a few blocks away, when he received a call to go to the Chi Omega house. The reporting person apparently described the incident as a boyfriend-girlfriend fight after only seeing one of the injured women. Tallahassee police officer Oscar Brannon, who later retired as a sergeant, was patrolling on West Tennessee St. when he was dispatched to what was described as a domestic disturbance. He arrived about the same time Officer Crew did. Brannon, along with FSU police officer Bill Taylor, began interviewing one of the residents who had seen the suspect fleeing the sorority house. Officer Crew went upstairs and shortly thereafter called for Brannon to come upstairs with him.

Officer Crew found the first victim upstairs. She was injured and crying but coherent. He then located the next victim in another room. Her jaw was injured, she was crying, and completely incoherent. Officer Crew realized that this was not a simple domestic assault. By this time, the sorority members were gathering in the hallway. Someone said that Margaret Bowman had not come out of her room. After knocking, he opened the door and saw blood on the walls and Bowman in her disheveled bed. He next entered Lisa Levy’s room, pulled back the covers on her bed, and observed her extensive injuries. Responding paramedics thought they detected a heartbeat and transported her to the hospital. Ray Crew later retired as a sergeant with the Tallahassee Police Department. Officer Brannon was conducting an initial interview with Karen Chandler, one of the surviving victims, when he realized her family lived in Tallahassee. He had dispatch call her family to meet her at the hospital. 

Sergeant Howard Winkler, Tallahassee Police crime scene investigation supervisor, arrived to begin the scene investigation with Officer Brannon assisting. A limb, that had been used in the murders, was left at the scene. Brannon measured and drew a scale diagram of bark chips found on the floor and the probable entry point where the limb was brought into the sorority house. His drawing was later introduced at the trial. A bite mark on the buttocks of Lisa Levy was also photographed to scale by Sergeant Winkler. This evidence became critical in the later trial.

Teeth mold being taken by Dr. Richard Souviron, Forensic Odontologist

Controlled pandemonium was breaking out. About the time that I was called out to report to the scene, Leon County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigator Maryann Frisby received a similar call to respond to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Lisa Levy had been transported there by ambulance where she died. Investigator Frisby was then sent to the scene on Dunwoody Street. Cheryl Thomas, the victim, was being transported to the hospital as well. She called for additional officers to protect the scene and several Tallahassee Police officers responded. Among other items of evidence, she located a ski mask that Bundy had worn. It was later determined that it contained Bundy’s hair. This evidence was critical later in the trial.

Back at the Chi Omega house, as it was reaching daylight, I was part of a team that was organized to grid out and search the outside perimeter of the building along with other contiguous areas. At this point, we didn’t know what to search for so many insignificant items were collected. My older brother, George, was the Leon County Sheriff’s Office homicide sergeant and was organizing the investigation of the inside scene.  

Sergeant Jim Sewell’s phone rang at 3:26 am. As the FSU police department’s assistant to the chief and public information officer, he was being alerted of the slayings. He had been up late that night in the library researching for his doctoral dissertation in criminology but quickly understood the situation, shook out the cobwebs, and went to work. Their first concern was ensuring the campus was secure. A meeting was organized of all the dormitory, fraternity and sorority advisors and administrators later in the day to advise them of the facts of what had occurred and to begin hardening up the security both on and off campus. Jerry Demings, a Kellam Hall residential advisor, attended the meeting. Demings later had a long, distinguished law enforcement career as the Orlando police chief, Orange County sheriff, and as the Orange County mayor. Another notable student at the meeting was fraternity president Rick Baker who is the former mayor of St. Petersburg and a prominent attorney in Pinellas County. Leon County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jim Murdaugh was assigned to assist the FSU Crime Prevention Unit. Dr. Murdaugh is now the president of Tallahassee State College. 

According to Dr. Sewell, whose later career included being Florida Department of Law Enforcement Assistant Commissioner, police chief, author, Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commissioner, and Florida Sheriffs Association Consultant, fear and panic gripped the student population in the following weeks. Many students simply went home and never returned. Another problem developed when curiosity seekers repeatedly drove through the campus, some of which were from out-of-town. While the university administrators had given the FSU police Carte Blanche for funding, valuable resources had to be expended to identify and document these non-students. 
And then there were the self-proclaimed psychics, nuts, and kooks who always seem to come out of the woodwork to offer their perspective on who was responsible taking up more valuable time.    

The Investigation 

Ken Katsaris, Leon County sheriff at the time and now a highly sought after criminal justice consultant, quickly responded to the scene and began coordinating the multi-agency response. He assigned Jack Poitinger, detective captain and legal advisor, to manage the scene, that included the entire house and curtilage. With many Tallahassee residents still shocked by the notorious unsolved Sims family murders 12 years earlier, preparations had to be made for receiving hundreds of tips and suggestions on who might have been responsible. Syde Deeb, a prominent Tallahassee building contractor, donated office space in a building he owned on East 7th Avenue across the street from the Tallahassee Police Department. The Task Force created a sense of ownership in all the partners and ensured that there would be no individual efforts to keep investigative information proprietary within any one agency. 

Bundy being read his indictment by Sheriff Ken Katsaris

The End of Ted

Ted Bundy was indicted and convicted in a trial that was held in Miami due to a change of venue attributed to the potential Tallahassee jury pool possibly being influenced by the extensive publicity surrounding the investigation and trial. On January 24, 1989, he was electrocuted in Raiford prison.

A radio disk jockey played bacon frying on the air.