In college, I played Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest so my mother came to Tallahassee for opening night. Trussed up in a whale-bone corset that ruthlessly flattened my boobs and compressed my lungs, I was directed to perform gymnastic physical action on a multi-level stage set while speaking unerringly in Elizabethan English.
Mom was proud anyway. After saying goodnight backstage, I saw her stroll away chatting with a group of people going to on-street parking where I assumed she had left her car. The next day, over breakfast, she went on and on about how impressed she was with a friend of mine, the stage manager of the play. How in the world had she met Suzy?
“I got a little turned around. Suzy found me walking along by myself and escorted me to my car. She told me in no uncertain terms, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t ever walk on campus here alone!’ It turned out I had parked right in front of her sorority house. What a coincidence!”
That was Chi Omega, always confused with my sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, at Florida State University.
Both houses were within walking distance of a ramshackle beer joint dive called The Silver Dollar. One January night, the Dollar was smoky, loud, smelly, and stuffed with rowdy frat boys. My theater major boyfriend didn't show, so I was pouty.
My sorority sisters wouldn’t let me leave though, and badgered me to have fun and relax, annoying me even more. I sat at the bar emanating "bug off" vibes, guarding our pitcher and tab. Someone sat next to me, leaned in, and with bold familiarity, placed his hand on the back of my barstool, disallowing escape.
“Hi,” he shouted over the music.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Ted. “
One of the girls headed to the dance floor on the arm of a hooting frat boy. “Hold my purse, Linda?”
“Linda is it? Want another beer, Linda?” Persistent.
I finally looked squarely at him, hoping to burn his face off with my stare. He was older, professorial looking, in a black turtleneck and charcoal slacks and Italian slip-on shoes. Probably some grad school dude trying to score. Annoyance turned into fight or flight. Make that fight. I wanted to punch him.
I bit his name off in one crispy syllable and bared my teeth in a cold smile.
His laser beam focus clicked off. He turned and asked my friend Cayla to dance. He moved like a scarecrow, all knees and elbows, bobbing his head around until he made her look at him as he asked questions. He would put his hand to his ear so she would have to get closer to him to talk. My stomach turned.
Once the music changed, Cayla hastily disengaged, narrowly missing a slow dance, and rushed back to our group.
“He’s a creep. Don’t dance with him.”
Someone said, “Isn’t he at the Law School? Thought I saw him there…”
“Yeah, in the library and he jogs down Park in front of the house. He’s around.”
I’d had enough. “That’s it. I’m out of here. See you all back at the house.”
I walked home at midnight alone, navigating rapidly from one puddle of yellow light glazing the wet cobbles to the next. Staying in the glow of the streetlights seemed safe.
By solemn pact, the “sleeping porch” at my sorority was dedicated to sleep. Windows swathed in black out curtains, eight bunk beds decked out with girly comforters, pillows, alarm clocks, and stuffed animals made nests for serious hibernation. Big rule: Do not ever turn on the light.
That night, our sorority chapter president burst through the door and broke that rule into shards. She turned on the light. My eyes tried to focus on the clock. Three thirty in the morning. She called out our names from a list loudly, roll call style.
There was gossip at that time about some of us who would pack our blow dryers and a change of clothes to spend the night “elsewhere” (code: at boyfriend’s). There was frantic pearl clutching and wide-eyed whispering amongst the legacy belles that it reflected poorly on the morals of the sorority. Proudly saving themselves for marriage, they didn’t want to be associated with sluts. The persistent church-lady drum beat ticked off sisters who did spend the night with their boyfriends and thought it nobody’s damn business.
Indignant, I railed like a harpy from my upper bunk.
“What the hell? You’re on a witch hunt, aren’t you?”
“Shut up. I have to account for everybody.”
“Oh, so it comes to this, does it? Everybody who is not here will be kicked out? For something that’s nobody’s business?”
Pale and terrified, she pulled me into the hall where our weeping House Mother and law enforcement were waiting.
“Oh, will you shut up! Just shut up! Greek women have been murdered in their beds tonight. Help me find everybody…”
In the morning, I found a pay phone to reach my folks. The residential phone system couldn’t accommodate the crush of students calling home to say they were fine. Not murdered in their beds.
Mom opened her newspaper to a front page image of Suzy, the safety conscious stage manager, peeking out of the Chi Omega house front window at the police and the roiling press, her eyes haunted and smudged underneath. It was the money shot. Mom said it felt as though Suzy’s haunted eyes were looking right at her, reminding her not to walk alone, ever.
Opaque in her grief, Suzy had seen much. Once in a staccato conversation, our eyes awash but not weeping, our hands clenched together and pressed white hanging on, she told me about the pools and spatters of blood. Soon thereafter, she asked to be called by a different name: Brooke. She said she just liked it, but I always wondered if this was Suzy’s way to render powerless that episode in her life.
Two of Suzy's sorority sisters were dead. Two more were critically injured. A fifth woman, a dance major, was attacked in her duplex not far away. He used a piece of oak firewood to render them helpless. Cruel irony in a town so softened and canopied by those magnificent sheltering trees. Crueler still, when all was revealed, the murderer’s rooming house was called The Oak.
I had a hard time getting through sociology that semester without my classmate, Margaret. She was one of the two who perished.
Frat boys with shotguns began sleeping in sorority house living rooms. Parents came, silently packed up their daughters, and left. Some of us began to sleep “elsewhere” quite a bit more after that. Not another word was spoken about it.
They caught him a month later, the murderer, heading west in his modified yellow VW bug. The passenger seat had been removed. He was not done yet. The press photograph showed a disheveled wild-eyed lunatic version of someone we had all seen around, in the Law Library, on the street. At the Silver Dollar. Ted.
We wordlessly passed his photo among us, confirming permanently, like a bad tattoo, that we had been in the presence of something sentient but empty. We had met something inhuman that, in our blithe naiveté, we thought never could exist in our fairy tale lives.
We had been assessed, researched and catalogued. We had been the focus of a methodical hunter of humans.
Were we rejected as prey? Or next?
Or did we just get cosmically lucky?
Some months after Ted Bundy was imprisoned, we started to settle down. Our collective guard was still up, but things began ordering themselves normally as routine and classes began to blunt the terror.
My boyfriend and some buddies decided to split a cheap hotel room and watch a highly touted prize fight on the hotel TV system. We loaded up beers and food and, while the guys watched the fight, we g.f.’s just hung out making snide comments about how boxing is barbaric and how our men were Neanderthals for liking that blood sport.
When the fight was over, and the wine gone, some friends left. Others of us just fell asleep where we were. I double checked the door lock obsessively until I was told to calm down and cut it out. There was no bolt and that didn’t sit well with me. But I fell asleep.
A click, a screech and the bang of the door forced open snapped me awake. My eyes focused on the stranger in the room, surveying handbags and booze. He had a scar that ran from his hairline diagonally to his chin.
My boyfriend and his pals jumped up and rushed him, shouting, brandishing bottles as weapons.
The intruder calculated his percentages in a nanosecond. Not good. Outnumbered by big, scrappy, streetwise guys, not the frail elderly travelers he was used to robbing. He flew out of that hotel room – right into the arms of the cops. They said he had a long record and they just needed to catch him in the act, so they staked out our party and waited for him to strike. We were the unaware bait of their sting operation. We found out later he was armed.
What no one knew is that I was armed too with a .22 in my purse. I had recently started carrying.
Scar-face was a recidivist loser. Prosecutors saw no need for us to testify at a costly full-blown trial. He was caught red-handed and armed. He pled guilty. But we still had to give our statements by deposition.
I was on my own at the Leon County Courthouse when it was my turn to be deposed. The lobby echoed the hustle-bustle of police, lawyers and court drones. I waited on a cold white marble bench to be called when everything suddenly ground to a halt. People stopped scurrying and focused their attention on the door.
A slow motion processional of soberly suited and uniformed people toted boxes of documents toward the court rooms. The man in the middle of the group was cuffed and shackled, clinking with every hobbled shuffle step. Waving to some, smiling at others, he was having his day. Under other circumstances, he’d have kissed babies and signed autographs. We were his rapt and captive audience.
Ted Bundy’s teeth, set in a tightly controlled smile, glinted and shimmered like waves over asphalt on a hot summer day. His eyes turned toward me, widened a little and he nodded in greeting.
“Hi… Linda, isn’t it? How’ve you been?”
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