In the familiar recounting of the Ted Bundy saga, his wife Carole Boone is often depicted as a vacuous woman, who married the killer because she was besotted with his good looks. Or perhaps more insidiously, a “serial killer groupie,” infatuated with his crimes. Neither is an accurate description of the woman who sacrificed over a decade of her life defending her husband’s innocence, only to ultimately find herself manipulated and betrayed. The truth of Carole Boone’s story is far more complex, strange, and tragic than the common narrative.
To write this article, I contacted investigative journalist Stephen Michaud, who once spent a lot of time with the couple in Florida. In 1980, he spent hours every day interviewing the handcuffed serial killer in a stagnant, windowless prison room for what would later become his bestselling book The Only Living Witness. He proved to be a rich source of insight into their bizarre relationship, as he’d been in especially close contact with Carole during Bundy’s murder trials in 1979 and 1980. When asked to summarize his memories of her, Michaud told me, “Carole was an interesting person. She was an idealist. And she was idealistic in a way I’d like to see more of in this cynical day and age. But she also left herself open to being manipulated, and made fun of, because she couldn’t see what everybody else saw.”
Carole Ann Carson was born April 12, 1947 to Walter and Margot (Strosahl) Carson in Seattle, Washington. Carole was the middle child, with an older and younger brother. In July of 1960, her 15-year-old brother Jon Franklin drowned, apparently exhausted after spending the day swimming in a neighbor’s pool. 13-year-old Carole had been charged with her older brother’s supervision, perhaps due to a disability, and missed seeing his still body floating in the water until it was too late. This tragedy caused continuing anguish and guilt throughout her life. Michaud recalled, “Carole told me about her brother, and it was clear to me that having him drown only thirty feet away from where she was sitting one night was a very traumatic thing for her.”
The tall brunette attended Lincoln High School in Seattle, earning good grades, and dated the football team’s handsome tight end James Boone, until an unplanned pregnancy forced her to drop out at only 17. Carole was already four months along in June of 1964 when she eloped with her 16-year-old boyfriend to Idaho, a state with a lower legal marriage age than Washington. On November 10, Carole gave birth to the couple’s only child, James Boone Jr., whom they nicknamed “Jamey.” The young family moved to Yakima, Washington, where James Boone found work as a laborer, but the teenage marriage quickly became strained. The Boones separated within a few years, leaving Carole a very young single mother. Despite the divorce, Carole and James Boone’s relationship remained amicable, and she would retain his surname for decades. She wed again in 1973, but that union also proved short-lived.
In May of 1974, the now 27-year-old woman met Ted Bundy while they were both working at the Department of Emergency Services in Olympia, Washington. Carole’s second marriage was by then quickly falling apart, and the handsome new summer intern on the team immediately caught her attention. She would later say, “We hit it off well. He struck me as being a rather shy person with a lot more going on than what was on the surface. He certainly was more dignified and restrained than the more certifiable types around the office. He would participate in the silliness partway. But remember, he was a Republican.” Her coworkers saw her as a motherly figure who did her work well, with some later remembering her as the most capable person in the office. At the same time, Carole could also be quite playful, starting office-wide rubber band fights and drinking everyone under the table at post-work happy hours.
Ted and Carole became good friends that summer, and according to Ted’s younger brother Richard, she even met his parents for dinner at their home in Tacoma. Rich recalled in our 2022 interview: “I remember Ted and Carole coming to Mom and Dad’s house and meeting them there. When she came over, I could tell she was very intelligent. And I liked her. When I meet someone who’s very intelligent, I keep an eye out for how humble they are. Because sometimes, when people are smart, they’re also arrogant. But I felt she was really nice.”
Carole and Ted maintained their friendship even after his move to Utah that September. In May of 1975, Carole and two other former co-workers from the DES flew to Salt Lake City to ski and explore the town, crashing on the floor of Ted’s apartment at night. Bundy and a girlfriend, Pandora Thompson, took his guests to the city’s first and only gay bar, The Sun Tavern, during their visit— a risqué locale for a conservative town in the 1970s. Free-spirited Carole seemed to enjoy the experience, though Ted reportedly acted uncomfortable and uptight.
By the fall of 1975, Carole was freshly divorced from her second husband, and working at a humanitarian camp for Vietnamese refugees in California. In October she got a call from an old friend in Seattle, who relayed the news: “He told me Ted had been arrested and was suspected of murdering all these women in Washington and Utah,” she recalled. “Things kind of went blank. I remember sitting there after we hung up. I remember people coming in and trying to talk to me. I don’t remember driving home from work that night. I sat practically until dawn in the living room with my little Vietnamese roommates around me, bringing me cups of tea. And a lot of cigarettes. I drank a lot of scotch. I do not recall anything else until the next day when I was walking around the camp and feeling the same sort of shock you feel when somebody close to you has died. It’s an event so large you can’t get hold of it. You can’t assimilate it.”
The King County police soon contacted Carole as part of their investigation into Ted’s background, and she spoke of him in glowing terms. “Ted is a very good friend to me,” she said. “He helped me get through my separation from my ex-husband and was very supportive when my uncle passed away.” Carole seemed particularly touched by how sensitively he had treated her throughout their relationship. How could a man such a thoughtful and kind man possibly be a ruthless killer of women?
At some point after Ted’s imprisonment for Carol DaRonch’s kidnapping in early 1976, Ted and Carole began an increasingly intimate correspondence, her letters to him encouraging, affectionate, and optimistic. She visited him at the Utah State Prison for the first time that May. “I was shocked,” she said later, “to see him in a cell, to see that loss of movement, of freedom. It is hard to describe except that in some strange way, he was as far away, as far removed, as a person can be.” She noticed how well-liked he seemed at the prison and was touched to see the compassion he showed his fellow inmates. She recognized the same Ted she had known at the Department of Emergency Services in Olympia, which eliminated any doubt in her mind about his innocence. Carole mourned seeing her “warm, intelligent” friend locked away for crimes she knew in her heart he could not have committed and the unfairness of it all. “It wasn’t so much the goodness of his character,” she told Michaud in 1980, “although I’ve always felt Ted was a good person. One of the reasons that I felt so confident about my conclusions is that they’re strictly mine. I’ve always broken this down case by case, and formed opinions on each one individually. Not on the basis of Ted’s character, sweet nature, or cute ways.” The idealistic young woman quickly became an unwavering believer in Ted’s innocence. She seemed magnetically drawn to fighting his predicament, driven to help him however she could.
In January 1977, Ted was extradited from Utah to Aspen, Colorado, where he was to stand trial for the 1975 murder of Caryn Campbell. Ted wrote Carole to complain about the food and conditions– “They are really starving me down here!”– and she enthusiastically began sending care packages of health food and supplies to the Garfield County Jail along with her frequent letters and phone calls. Parcels filled with protein powder, dried fruit, vitamins, and even niceties like cologne became expected in their regularity. Indeed, the more he asked for her help, the more she seemed happy to oblige. Their letters became longer and increasingly romantic, and they exchanged pet names— “My beloved Boone” for her, “Bunny” for him.
A late 1977 letter from Carole to Ted in the Garfield County Jail read: “I’ve come to such a caring and commitment to you… I want to be close enough to at least make phone calls, and visit… be there if I can help. And be in the same part of the world as you, for me. It’s hard to explain, but I need you… the affection that I get, and that which I feel. I’ve been around enough to know that such affection, such caring is a blessed, treasurable thing. Dearest Bunny, I know you are innocent, and I know there’s a way for you to be free…” Even at this early stage in their relationship, Carole was clearly already thinking about uprooting her life in Seattle to be near him.
When Ted escaped from his jail cell by crawling through the ceiling on New Year’s Eve 1977, investigators immediately viewed Carole Boone as a potential accessory. She was already on law enforcement’s radar because of her constant deluge of letters, phone calls, and packages. One December parcel included a silver flashlight, found abandoned in the ceiling crawl space after Bundy had wriggled through it to freedom.
The day his escape became known, Colorado investigator Mike Fisher reported: “I contacted Detective Keppel of the King County Sheriff and requested he contact Carole Boone to establish her whereabouts and contact with Bundy, and specifically to determine if Boone was at home. Information received from the Garfield County Sheriff was that Boone may be enroute to the Bahama Islands at this time with a change over of planes at Denver.” But later that day he added, “Det. Keppel called and informed me that Carol Boone was still in Seattle and would not be leaving until later in January for her vacation.”
But Bundy wasn’t with her. Carole had visited the jail the first week of December, and whether she gave Ted cash and supplies intended for an escape has long been speculated but never verified. She, of course, claimed no knowledge of his plans. However, a letter left behind in his cell indicates that she had at least some inkling as to his “solution” to his lack of freedom. Carole wrote, “I understand the solutions you see to your problems, especially the (your) preferred one. But I keep feeling so very strongly that there is something else. Another way… An extremely unfortunate set of events and people have put you, most unjustly, into your cell in Garfield County, Colorado. There is a way (one at least) to get you back out of that maze. Finding it, making it happen, hasn’t taken place. Yet. But I am dead certain it is there. And am dead certain that it will happen. That, barring your solution, you and I will be able to go out and have a beer like normal people. Love, I am so positive that even though I have no idea of when or where or how, I am looking forward to it.”
By the time Ted was recaptured in Florida in February 1978, Carole Boone had become (or molded herself into) a significant person in his life. But perhaps tellingly, she was not the first woman he called from a Pensacola jail, distraught on the night of his final arrest. Instead, he reached out to his ex-girlfriend Liz Kloepfer, who by then was in a new relationship but still struggling to move on. Carole was, in fact, only his fifth contact, after other calls to his mother, his friend Marlin Vortman, and Seattle public defender John Henry Browne. In the 2020 Amazon documentary Falling for a Killer, Liz reflected on Ted’s relationship with Carole Boone: “I felt like she was going to be roped in just like I was. She was going to be used, just like I was. This isn’t going to end well for her. He’d spent a lifetime observing women, and deciding who was going to become a victim. I think he could tell when women had the codependence issue, where they wanted to help him in any way they could.”
After his Florida arrest, the couple quickly picked up their cross-country jailhouse romance, and only a couple of weeks later the press began referring to Carole as Bundy’s “girlfriend.” A Deputy Sheriff seized her March 7, 1978 letter to him (illegally, a judge later ruled), and portions were leaked in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper: “Oh, dearest Theodore, your letter is sad and alone… Nice to know you care, you love and need me. I wish life weren’t such right now— it’s dumb to be so far away from something so loved and missed. I wish it weren’t so hard for you.”
She wouldn’t be far away for long. By the summer of 1979, Carole had quit her job in Washington to join Ted full-time in Florida, living in motels near the jail and reportedly working 18 hours a day on his defense. “She basically became his legal secretary. I could tell that she had clerical abilities, somebody who could keep files and keep organized,” remembered Rich Bundy. When the Orlando Sentinel asked her for comment during the Chi Omega murder trial in Miami, she claimed that Bundy’s problems began in 1975, when “a bitter and angry ex-girlfriend [referring to Liz Kloepfer] phoned authorities in Washington state, establishing a tenuous thread between Ted and the murders of two women [at Lake Sammamish] there. The rest is history.” To CBS News, she bluntly stated, “I don’t think Ted belongs in jail. The things in Florida don’t concern me, any more than the things out west do. I’m a feminist. I wouldn’t hang around a man who goes around killing my own kind.”
When prosecutors offered Ted a plea deal for both the Chi Omega and Kimberly Leach murders, his defense attorneys flew to Seattle to convince Ted’s mother Louise that he should take it. She didn’t need much persuasion. Despite her unwavering faith in his innocence, Carole also begged Ted to take the deal– a guilty plea in exchange for three consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole in lieu of the death penalty. She must have known his chances of acquittal were slim. Both women were now in Florida, trying to convince him to plea out. In a confidential defense memo, attorney Ed Harvey wrote: “They seem confident they could convince Ted to go through with the plea. Carole is the key– Ted’s mother’s presence would be unwise. Carole Boone is the only one convinced that he will accept the plea. Mrs. Bundy says she has a ‘stubborn son’ and he probably won’t.”
Louise’s judgement would prove correct. Although he did initially sign the plea agreements, when it came time to present the deal to the judge in May of 1979, Bundy changed his mind at the last moment. The sticking point was the requirement that he admit his guilt, out loud, in open court. In our interview, Michaud recalled, “During the trial, Carole told me this impossible wish, that they could just put Ted on an island, away from society. She said Ted had actually approved of this. He would accept spending the rest of his life behind bars as long as he didn’t have to say he did it.”
Harvey wrote that as they were about to enter the courtroom, “I overheard one exchange that resulted in Carole saying ‘this makes me sick’. I was more pessimistic as to our chances that Ted was rational at that point… when he got into it, Ted took over, and took the absolute worst tactic he could have in terms of his defense.” Ignoring Carole, his mother, and all of his counsel, and without any notice, he began handing out motions to fire his attorneys, saying they didn’t believe in his innocence and wanted to force him into accepting a plea deal.” After Ted made these attacks,” Harvey wrote, “he sat down and seemed ready to proceed on the plea… but the State cut it off by telling us they would no longer take the plea offer. We are now in the position of being ethically and professionally unable to zealously defend him further.” The case went to trial, with Ted now at odds with his attorneys and insisting on self-representation.
The press immediately noticed Carole’s constant presence in the Miami courtroom. “One woman who has been at the trial for the past four days and who frequently confers with Bundy believes that he is completely innocent. She believes Bundy has been tried by the media, not by the courts,” reported CBS News. Steven Winn, who co-authored the book The Killer Next Door in 1979, recalled his first meeting with Carole in the documentary Falling for a Killer: “We went out to lunch, and Carole explained her relationship to Bundy, that she was working on his behalf and advocating for him. I thought she was very smart, I was very impressed with her. I was of course skeptical. But she was all in. She had committed her life to this in ways that were difficult to witness.” New York Times journalist Mark Pinsky covered the Bundy case in Florida and elaborated, “She was in the courtroom I think pretty much every day. She was not expressive, except for this weird smile she had when she would talk about stuff. She was just a little strange, and no matter what happened, no matter what the day’s testimony was, she would have an explanation for why it was wrong, or not incriminating.”
Another journalist, Mark Potter of NBC News explained, “Carole would come up and just talk to individual reporters, and my memory is that she would be spinning for Ted. She was definitely talking on his behalf, and she seemed absolutely sincere.”
Stephen Michaud became especially close to Carole in the summer of 1979– because she had forcibly moved in with him. Since relocating from Washington to be near Ted, and now living in abject poverty, she and her 13-year-old son had nowhere else to go. The author recalled with much chagrin, “I spent six solid weeks sharing a 2-bed motel room with Carole and Jamey at the Holiday Inn in Miami, during the Chi Omega trial. They just showed up at my door about an hour after I checked in that first day and said, ‘We’re staying with you now.’ In the evenings, Ted would call me from his jail cell, and we would talk sometimes until 11 o’clock at night. All the while, Carole and Jamey would be sitting in the room, staring at me while I tried to interview him, so you can imagine how difficult that was. I was rarely away from her for more than an hour a day.” Carole knew he couldn’t turn her away, because if he did, she had the power to call off the book deal. “I had no choice; she was the key to keeping Ted talking,” sighed Michaud. “I shudder when I think about it. That was one of my least favorite times in my life, I’ll tell you that.”
In July of 1979, Carole Boone filed the articles of incorporation for a Washington nonprofit called the “Would-Be Foundation.” Louise Bundy and Ted’s best friend Marlin Vortman served as its board. The Would-Be Foundation registered with the stated purpose of providing “a fund of money to be used for the benefit of indigent individuals who are charged with the commission of a crime.” The true reason for this was that a book was in the works. According to Michaud, the organization was a backhanded way for the publisher to pay Ted’s family in exchange for participating in their interviews. Since newly enacted “Son of Sam” laws prevented Ted from directly capitalizing on his notoriety, the money would go through the nonprofit organization before distribution. This strategy failed when Bundy broke his publishing contract by refusing to be forthright with the writers in their interviews. In fact, Carole never received a dime from the book, which eventually became a New York Times bestseller in 1983. “Would-Be” was not to be, and dissolved automatically when Vortman failed to renew its registration with the state a few years later.
In early 1980, as Ted prepared to stand trial in Orlando for the Kimberly Leach murder, both he and Carole wrote to the Orange County Jail chaplain, requesting authorization to perform a wedding ceremony. “We are approaching marriage only after obtaining a profound knowledge of each other,” Ted wrote. “For my part, I find her devotion to me awesome, and her love for me soothing and inspiring.” Carole’s reasoning was less self-centered and more practical: “Ted is a major figure in my son’s life; he takes a great deal of interest in Jamey and provides him with guidance and advice that a boy needs.” To inquiring journalists, she commented more brusquely: “Formalizing our relationship will be comforting to the three of us and is something that Ted and I have wanted for a long time. I know what I’m all about and I know what’s Ted’s all about. It’s a very private thing and I don’t care what people external to our lives think.” Reporters noted that Carole was already wearing a gold signet ring on her left ring finger, etched with the letter “T.”
Their request was swiftly denied, with the official reason given that marriage was “not in the inmate’s best interest.” It’s likely that the authorities did not want a little girl’s murder trial to become even more of a media circus than it was already likely to be. The trial judge even issued an order prohibiting counsel and court staff from “any participation or involvement in any marriage ceremony.” Ted was content to drop the idea at that point, but Carole insisted that she had “torn up her life for him” and needed marriage to make it all worthwhile. She threatened to leave Florida and move back to Seattle if he would not agree to the commitment.
“Carole kept pushing, doing all she could to make all of it go away so that she and Ted could be together as a family, have children, just like other people. It sounds a little weird, but that’s what she kept pushing, that they were a family. Amid all this horror, she was gamely fighting to put some kind of Donna Reed family together. She was, in the end, a wholly conventional person, and she wanted to have a conventional relationship with her ‘Bunny,’” Michaud told me grimly. “Carole essentially blackmailed him into marriage. She pushed and pushed and pushed for that wedding. But I can testify as a direct witness that Ted didn’t want anything more to do with it.” However, since Carole was Ted’s staunchest, most competent advocate, and as he was now permanently behind bars, she was essentially his only lifeline to the outside world. Faced with that choice, he agreed to the marriage.
So Carole and Ted hatched a plan. All that was required for a legal marriage in the state of Florida was an exchange of vows in front of a court official– and what better place for that than at his own trial? Carole filed for a marriage license less than a week later. While perhaps unhappy at the thought of being tied down, Ted seemed excited to defy authorities yet again with a forbidden, loophole wedding.
Reporters assigned to the Leach trial that winter often described Bundy’s behavior as ‘bizarre’ and ‘bombastic.’ This was likely because Carole Boone had been supplying him with juice spiked with alcohol and lunches laced with drugs. Years later, the investigator for Bundy’s defense Don Kennedy recalled: “There were a couple occasions when Ted became intoxicated. I observed Ted thick-tongued, with slurred speech and unusual behavior. I suspected that the juice in the large sixteen-ounce resealable can had been doctored up. I tasted it myself. There was other food she brought in, sandwiches, cookies, snacks. We found pills in his bags of goodies. I flushed them down the toilet. I think Ted was disappointed that I’d done that.”
Stephen Michaud explained in our interview, “By the time Ted went to trial in Orlando he had been on Death Row for about six months, and he was really worried about what kind of credibility he had with the other guys in prison. So a lot of what he pulled in court in the Kimberly Leach case, which was a televised case, was for the guys back on the row. He was showing them he could ‘give it to the man,’ all that sort of stuff. He got obstreperous. Carole was concerned about this, and thought he basically needed to be sedated. Every day she was sending in Valium and vodka, so by the afternoon he was just smashed in the courtroom. And he liked it.” Carole’s strategy essentially backfired.
Ted Bundy was convicted of the murder of Kimberly Leach on February 7, 1980. During the trial’s penalty phase, Bundy called Carole to the stand, who begged the jury for a life sentence rather than the death penalty, saying “Ted is a large part of my life… a vital part of me.” She testified to his “warm, kind, and patient” character: “I’ve been associated with Ted in virtually every imaginable circumstance… he’s been involved with my family. I’ve never seen anything in Ted that indicates any kind of destructiveness or hostility towards any other people.”
Then on February 9, the day which happened to be the second anniversary of little Kimberly’s abduction, Ted popped the question while direct examining her as a character witness in open court. Years later, the defense investigator Don Kennedy recalled, “He was real uptight, real nervous for his big wedding day. He was really concerned how he was dressed with his cute little bowtie. You could tell he was really nervous to have Carole take the stand, saying the proper thing to complete the ceremony.” Curiously, Ted’s chief concern was not the horrific murder of a child, or his own impending sentence of death, but for the decorum of his bizarre wedding.
The prosecution sardonically labeled the gruesome coincidence in timing as a “Valentine’s Day charade”– implying that the defense wished to sway the jury with the fact that a woman would marry a man convicted of such terrible crimes. Perhaps, they argued, it was even a ploy for sympathy, for who could sentence a man to death on his wedding day? Unphased and likely disgusted by the romantic display, after 45 minutes of deliberation the jury recommended a sentence of death. Ted Bundy was then remanded to the Florida State Prison in Starke, to file appeals and await his execution.
Although prosecutors had presented substantial circumstantial evidence linking Ted to the Florida murders, Carole refused to accept any possibility of his guilt. As all hope of an acquittal evaporated, she blamed his attorneys and the sensationalist press, insisting that her husband had been railroaded. “The people who covered Ted were a bunch of drunkards and people who’d rather do crossword puzzles than watch what was going on,” she said. “I was really shocked to learn how a story works. I always assumed that reporters did their own work. But a mistake made early on about Ted or one of the victims kept getting repeated over and over again. I didn’t realize that once a story gets written, other reporters rip it off and embellish it with new errors as events occur… I feel that Ted’s story has been grossly misreported and misinvestigated. If you start to look hard, look hard at the evidence instead of what police want you to believe, this spectacular chain begins to fall apart.” She demanded “irrefutable physical evidence” of guilt before she’d abandon her trust in him. “And unless (not until) such a thing happens or unless Ted tells me that he has killed, I stand on my rock.”
Michaud told me that Ted had actively encouraged him and his co-author Hugh Aynesworth to reinvestigate the cases on the West Coast, likely only because he was playing the game with Carole that he was innocent, and had no other choice. “You know, Ted’s standard of guilt was really interesting,” he said. “He had this narrow, legalistic definition. He strongly felt that his guilt was never established in a court of law to the standard that you should have if you’re trying someone for first-degree murder. And admittedly, there were parts of it that were compelling if you didn’t look at it from a holistic viewpoint. There was no incontrovertible physical evidence. He stood on that, and that’s the kind of thing that Carole went along with as well. When I finally wrote to her and told her that the book was going to say that Ted was guilty, she sent me a note back saying something like, ‘Well, you’re just a fool like all the others.’”
At this point, Carole Boone was actively trying to get pregnant, according to Michaud’s recollection. “She pushed and pushed to have a child. That was her big idea. She told me that she was doing her damnedest to get pregnant.” It didn’t take long. By February 1981 a prison tryst had resulted in a pregnancy, much to the chagrin of officials, who denied the possibility of conjugal visits. While sexual activity between visitors and inmates was indeed against the rules, the practice of bribing the guards to look the other way for a few minutes of privacy was an open secret in the visiting room at the Florida State Prison. Carole later laughed as she confided to Michaud, “We kept looking out the window… there was a Black guard who was real nice. And after the first day, they just didn’t care. They even walked in on us a couple of times.” Ted and Carole’s only child was reportedly conceived behind a water cooler.
On August 24, Ted wrote to a longtime friend: “We are all happy folk, except Jamey broke his thumb last week during football practice. Only a temporary setback. But it will give him some time to compile a list of names for the baby, a project which I don’t envy anyone. After all, what is in a name? It’s just another label. Now I ask you, what kind of a way is it to start out life with someone else’s label boldly identifying you?…
Carole is radiant and strong as ever. She went to the clinic last week, and all is well. To say that I share your excitement would be an understatement. Carole and Jamey have moved to a two-bedroom flat; a far better arrangement than their previous location. They have more privacy, their own kitchen, and as Carole happily proclaims, ‘the hot water comes with the place.’
As for me, I do my best to live a simple, open, quiet and conscious existence, and am happier, more content, and more full of love than I ever imagined I could be…”
Carole and Ted’s only child, a daughter named Rosa, was born on October 24, 1981. Again, a jubilant Ted wrote his friend to tell her the news:
“…You must have heard by now but I can’t resist telling it again. I’m a papa. Lord, I’m in a daze. I still don’t believe it. It’s like the Christmas of Christmas. It’s a lovely dream that’s become real. Rosa is so perfectly beautiful. Lord, this is sweet. I’ve been smiling for over 24 hours straight, or so it seems, ever since I first saw my new daughter yesterday. She was less than 24 hours old when I saw her and the images in my mind of her, then, as I first saw and held her, have been appearing all day and making me blink in disbelief each time I recall her. It’s so unreal. There is something to be said for becoming a father in one’s thirties. It is so much more special for me now.
I’m making it sound like I’m the only one involved here. Carole did all the work, and, like a man, I get to sit back and enjoy the fruit of her labor. Carole is wonderful beyond words. In fact, my joy that Carole made it through the birth stay equal to that which I feel toward our new child.
Saturday afternoon Carole’s mother Margot came to visit me and told me that Carole had gone into labor in the morning. However, at the time of our visit, she didn’t know if the baby had been born or not. She said she’d come back Sunday and bring some news. Saturday night and Sunday morning were long and suspenseful. I had no way of knowing what was happening. I walked many miles. Visiting hours were just about over Sunday and I had just about given up hope– I was desperate– when I received word that I had a visit. I only expected to see [Margot] so you can’t imagine what a thrill it was to see Carole, the baby– most of all the baby– and Jamey. Well, I acted like the typical first time father. I loved it.
The baby was born Saturday around 6pm. Her name is Rosa and she came into the world at 8 1/2 lbs. The whole birth process took a lot out of Carole, but there was my dear, dear wife less than 24 hours after the birth visiting me when most hospitals won’t allow husbands to visit with their wives and their newborn infants. Carole is the greatest.
Jamey did an outstanding job too. He stayed close to Carole and was present through the entire labor/birth process and took pictures before, during and after Rosa’s birth. He’s an incredible person.”
While Ted languished at the Florida State Prison, Carole took a secretarial job at the University of Florida in Gainesville, about an hour’s drive away. Now a teenager, her son enrolled at Gainesville High School, where, like his father, he was a star player on the football and wrestling teams. Despite his jock status and towering stature, classmates thought of him as a quiet, serious young man who kept to himself, no doubt seeking refuge from years of intense media scrutiny. He too remained absolutely convinced of his stepfather’s innocence. “Jamey was all in from the beginning,” Michaud recalled. “During the trials he even told me, ‘When this is all over, we’re moving to Montana.’ She always allowed him to believe that it was all going to be okay.”
The mother and son became vocal critics of the death penalty, constant fixtures at marches, demonstrations, and meetings. It was there that she met Diana Smith, another activist, and the two women became close friends. “She talked about the circus that was at his trials, and Ted’s side of it, and how she could believe he could be innocent. Carole was very much protected and surrounded by people who did not question whether he was innocent or guilty because they were attached to the death penalty project,” remembered Smith in the 2020 documentary Falling for a Killer. “They were going to build a life together, where she would get him off death row, and they would have a family. She was going to save him, and that goes back to her history of her brother who drowned in her neighbor’s pool. She definitely felt responsible and very guilty about Frank’s drowning while she was supposed to be watching him. So that was one piece of the puzzle. ‘I need to save, I need to redeem, and I will save this man.’ They were trying to be normal. ‘Normal’ was a big word.” And at the time, she related, “There wasn’t a lot of really good evidence against him in any of the cases. So Carole was surrounded by people who fed her the idea that he was innocent, and you know, when you’re in love, you want to be fed that.”
As the decade wore on, the public’s morbid fascination with Ted Bundy and his impossibly dedicated wife continued unabated. For a 1983 article exploring the oddity of the Bundy marriage, the Chicago Tribune interviewed a former coworker of Carole’s from the Department of Emergency Services in Olympia. “If you knew Carole, you’d understand,” said Larry Diamond. “Carole is issue-oriented, and she has been able to find one that suits her. It’s beyond the emotionalism of a crusade. Whatever Carole gets into, whether cooking or macrame or Death Row or revolution, she is in the vanguard. Period. She is accustomed to taking the initial heat and thriving on that and moving forward. She is not afraid of the fray.” Michaud agreed with Diamond’s impression: “She certainly had a contrary streak.”
A defense attorney named Polly Nelson would soon discover this aspect of Carole Boone’s personality firsthand. Young and idealistic, Nelson began handling Ted’s death sentence appeals, which by the summer of 1986 were quickly becoming exhausted. In Falling for a Killer, Nelson recalled, “I went to the prison for the first time to meet him, and they put us in the lunchroom where the families met. He showed me pictures of his daughter and his wife. Polaroids that the guards would take for a fee on visiting day… So I looked at him and I thought, what can I see in this man that would alert me? But I saw nothing. He was humble and quiet. I couldn’t recognize danger. No sense of it whatsoever. I felt like I held his life in my hands.” The attorney felt strongly that her client had a mental disorder that rendered him legally incompetent at the time of his trials, along with the effects of the booze and drugs his wife had slipped him during court recess. She became convinced that the question of his mental competency was the best, and possibly only, chance at saving his life. Ted often looked to Carole for guidance in his legal matters, and Nelson knew she’d need to win his wife’s approval before embarking on the desperate last defense strategy. She wrote of her first meeting with Carole Boone in her memoir, Defending the Devil:
“…This was a woman who had come to the aid of an accused murderer she’d known only casually several years before, when they’d worked in the same office. She had married him after he’d been sentenced to death and convicted of murder a second time. Her life apparently revolved around his needs; she moved from Seattle to be close by and visit as often as the prison allowed. I had a picture in my mind of what such a woman would be like. I imagined her as young, flighty, mindless, dependent, totally vulnerable to manipulation. I pictured her all dolled up for a prison visit. But that’s not what Carole Boone was like.
At the McDonald’s where Carole had suggested we meet, a woman approached me with a child and a young man in tow. She was tall and big-boned, with long auburn hair hanging straight and unattended to. She wore eyeglasses. The child hopping up and down beside Carole was a girl about four years old, her own brown hair hanging in her eyes. The young man was about nineteen, with thick black hair and a strong, compact build. Carole was very businesslike. After a firm handshake she identified the child as her daughter, Rosa, the young man her son, Jamey. The warmth and strong bond among the three was apparent. Jamey was silent but extremely vigilant. His protective stance was heightened by his imposing body-builder’s physique.
We had lunch inside and tried to make small talk. Carole asked politely about my trip and thanked me for all my efforts, telling me how pleased Ted was with all my work. She asked how we expected the case to go for Ted over the next few days. She reminded me to keep in close contact with Ted; he was entitled to that. She asked nothing for herself. I was impressed with how caring and confident a mother she was. She treated both her children with great respect and handled Rosa’s growing impatience with ease. Nonetheless, it was difficult to continue talking in code words to avoid tipping off Rosa that Ted was in trouble, although she seemed to sense the tension enough to want to stay close to her mother. Carole and I tried to talk more frankly in the play yard, while Jamey entertained his sister, but Rosa would not leave Carole alone. Finally, reluctantly, Carole agreed to take a walk with me.
At the edge of the highway, on a little piece of dirt under a scrawny tree, I explained the competency claim to Carole. I told her why it was such a strong issue, how well it was supported by the facts. It was the best issue we had for stopping this execution and maybe, eventually, removing his death sentence altogether. After a while, I noticed Carole was not responding. She stood stiffly, staring grimly ahead. Carole did not turn to face me as she spoke.
‘Ted was not incompetent. I was there at the trial; he was anything but incompetent. There is nothing mentally wrong with him.’
I switched tactics, telling her I could understand if she didn’t agree with the facts of of the claim, but wouldn’t she at least help impress Ted with how necessary it was to save his life. Through her clenched jaw, I got her answer.
‘Ted will never go for it. He’ll never let you claim he was incompetent.’
Our conversation was over. The issue was obviously not negotiable; it was extremely important to her, maybe because Ted had been so vehement about it at trial, or maybe for some reason of her own. In any case, it surprised me. I thought a woman we had dedicated her life to a man on death row would support anything to save his life. Apparently not. It seemed as though there was something more complex at stake here for Carole than I had imagined, perhaps some image of Ted even more important to keep alive than Ted himself.”
Or perhaps Carole was experiencing the phenomena of cognitive dissonance: the discomfort of holding a belief in contradiction with reality, and the psychological need to mold the facts to fit that belief. When faced with a growing mountain of evidence pointing to Ted’s guilt, and his inherent insanity, Carole needed to double down on her faith in his rationality as proof of innocence. She needed him to be innocent, because if he was not, the cause to which she had devoted over a decade of her life was meaningless, and she had been profoundly manipulated, played for a fool. Rather than experiencing the pain of acknowledging any possibility of guilt, Carole decided that his innocence was infallible, and everyone was out to get him.
Polly Nelson’s strategic appeals allowed Bundy to narrowly survive the three death warrants signed in 1986. As she got to know him better, Nelson saw another side of her dangerous client when he spoke of his daughter. Later, she wrote in her memoir:
“…Ted had a real soft spot for Rosa, who was born after he had been on death row for almost two years. I think Rosa was the key to Ted’s transformation, of sorts, in prison. It wasn’t that he became remorseful (he believed that he had done all he could have to lead a good life and had been victimized by his compulsion as much as anyone else had) or was born again as a Christian (although I think that, with the help of Carole, he had developed a faith—or at least an eager hope—in the abiding presence of some sort of benevolent spiritual force), but the effect of Rosa in Ted’s life was to give him his first glimmer of heartfelt love. Until then I think he had believed that no such emotion truly existed, that the rest of us had been faking it, too. Rosa’s unconditional, unguarded, uncomplicated, real love for him touched him very deeply and elicited a strange new feeling that opened his mind to the possibility of the existence of love. It was then, too, I think, that he began to grieve for his own lost life…
At our first meeting, Ted told me that Rosa had travelled with Carole to the prison every Saturday since she was born. When his execution was scheduled in February, Carole shielded Rosa from the news. Nonetheless, she was deeply disturbed by the change it had created in her routine.
‘When I was put on death watch in February,’ Ted explained, ‘I wasn’t allowed contact visits anymore; I could only see Carole and Rosa through the glass. Rosa freaked out. She threw herself on the floor in a tantrum; we couldn’t calm her down. We were really concerned. So, even though we weren’t totally certain how things would turn out, ‘cause there was always the possibility that…’ Ted’s low voice trailed off for a moment. Then he continued.
‘Anyway, we decided that Carole would stop bringing her along as long as I was on death watch. Rosa was really upset about that, too. She kept asking Carole, ‘When’s Daddy coming home?”
Rosa didn’t mean when was he coming home to live with her and Carole. She’d never known that kind of family life. All she wanted was for the man that she knew as Daddy to be back in the visiting room in Florida State Prison.”
After the intense stress of two desperate appeals for Ted’s life, and a car accident that severely injured her elderly mother, Carole Boone and Rosa moved back to Seattle in August of 1986. In letters to pen pals, Ted seemed to accept his wife and daughter’s new lives back home. In September he wrote, “I couldn’t have agreed more with Carole’s decision to go. She went with my blessing. Even so, I miss them very much. Our weekly visits were the highlight of my time here. The departure of my family and loss of our visits was a real blow. For a variety of reasons, the primary one being financial, Carole and my daughter, Rosa, will probably not be able to return to Florida, even if her mom does fully recover.”
In reality, their marriage had become strained. Bundy’s constant need for attention exhausted his wife. “He was obsessive, demanding, moody. Always needing. As if she didn’t have enough to do. She was just tired of him. The letters became more and more infrequent. The stays of execution were becoming less and less probable,” recalled her friend Diana Smith. Carole’s prison visits dwindled with the distance.
Carole and Jamey did visit before his third aborted execution date in November 1986, and well-known news footage captures them attempting to leave the prison clandestinely. In the video, Carole holds a plastic bag in front of her face and remains completely silent. Her hulking son protectively puts an arm around his mother, shouting at reporters, “Shut up! You shut up too! SHUT UP!” before peeling away in a late model car.
Carole also flew to Florida with 5-year-old Rosa to visit Ted in May 1987. Her last visit to the Florida State Prison occurred on Thanksgiving in 1987. She did not visit at all in 1988, the year before his execution, but contrary to popular belief, the couple never legally divorced.
Looking back, remembered Smith, “Ted had never admitted to Carole anything but that he was innocent. But just before it looked like there were no more stay of executions, he had run it out, he called her and asked if he should tell them where the bodies were buried. They called it ‘bones for time.’ She was like, ‘How are you gonna do bones for time if you didn’t do it?’ So that was her moment. That was his way of telling her that there were bodies that he knew about, and that he had actually killed all those people. And that call was just devastating to her.” Bundy’s painful phone call to explain the “bones for time” strategy, and indirectly confess for the very first time to his wife, occurred on January 19, 1989– five days before his execution. Until that day, Carole had fervently believed in Ted’s innocence. “She was really angry. And he wanted to talk to Rosa, and she said no. So there was no goodbye for Rosa,” Smith recalled.
While Bundy broke the news of his guilt to his wife over the telephone that evening, he told his stepson the same thing in person during a Death Watch “no contact” visit, separated by a pane of glass. Here Ted describes that painful meeting with Jamey to Washington investigator Bob Keppel on January 20:
“I am looking for an opportunity to tell the story as best I can in the way that makes sense to me and the way it will help not just you or the [victims’] families, though that’s very important, but also help my own family. You see, I saw the look in my stepson’s eyes yesterday, after he had been told for the first time that… you see, he’s always believed in his heart— I mean, he’s always wanted to believe that I had never done anything like this. As hard as it may be for you to believe that, there are people who do believe that. And there are people close to me who believe that. And to see the look in his eyes confirmed my worst fears. He was just absolutely astounded. He couldn’t understand. He was writing me questions, just furiously writing questions. I could see how really bewildered he was. And I need to give him and others a chance to know what was really going on. What it was really like, from me…”
Later, FBI Agent Bill Hagmaier, who had become Bundy’s close confidant in his final days, shared that “Jamey gave him a really hard time about cooperating with law enforcement. He’d had that press conference scheduled for Monday, and Jamey begged him not to. He said ‘you’ve hurt Mom enough’. At least from what Ted told me, Carole and Jamey did not know he was a serial killer, they wanted to believe and he did not let them know until last week… so he buckled to Jamey’s request and cancelled the press conference… One night he cried and they were real tears. He said ‘my mother won’t talk to me, my stepson walked out on me, and my wife won’t take any of my messages.'”
Jamey was not the only one who wished for Ted’s silence: his legal team warned that confessing to police investigators would only hurt his appeals and wouldn’t buy him any more time. Legal advisor named Michael Mello later wrote, “I received an unexpected telephone call from Michael Radelet, a pro bono paralegal working with Coleman [senior attorney on the case with Polly Nelson]. Bundy had asked for my thoughts or advice about his case and its likely course over the next few days. Bundy had been meeting with detectives, and he apparently had told them that he had murdered many women since the mid-1970’s. My messages to Bundy were blunt and threefold: ‘shut up; shut the fuck up; and shut the fuck up right now.’ Bundy’s confessions were devastating to his case.” Reportedly, Carole later told Mello that when she heard the message, it was one of the few times she’d smiled during the final week of her husband’s life.
Bundy famously ignored that advice and confessed to law enforcement in every state he’d murdered someone. He clearly held the bleak hope of a last-minute reprieve, but also perhaps even some sort of spiritual redemption. Despite these devastating revelations, 22-year-old James Boone came back to the prison one more time. He was one of three people granted permission to hug the condemned man in the hours before his execution. After their phone call on January 19, Carole never spoke to Ted again. In the early morning hours of his execution, Ted planned another attempt to reach his wife by telephone. Many sources state that Carole refused to answer, but according to prison records, it was his idea to voluntarily cancel the call. He called his mother twice instead, and then went to meet his death. “I think Liz, not Carole, was the woman on his mind until the day he died, I really do,” mused Michaud. “He was just using Carole. Liz was probably the closest thing he ever had to real feelings for somebody.”
After Ted’s execution on January 24, 1989, Carole went into hiding, likely to escape the shame and humiliation of being duped by one of history’s most notorious serial killers for over a decade. She severed all contacts with the Bundy family. Rich recalled in our interview: “I remember meeting [Rosa], when she was maybe five or so, or maybe a little older. But then only half a dozen times, and then never again. She completely blocked her daughter out of our lives. Cut off all contact without any explanation. It was kind of sudden. I recall my mom saying something to the effect of ‘Carole is unreachable,’ you know, they don’t know where she is. And then my mom found out indirectly, I think she found out from other sources that that we wouldn’t have contact with them again.”
Carole and her daughter started life over in Washington under new names, and purposefully dropped out of the public eye. Carole’s father died in August 1989, undoubtedly adding to a very painful year. The mother and daughter remained in the Seattle area for another 30 years, while Jamey stayed behind in Florida and married a Gainesville woman in 1991. He later moved to Alabama, and then back to his home state, where he and his wife settled and adopted two children from Vietnam.
In the early 1990s Carole resurfaced briefly to send Dr. Dorothy Lewis a collection of Ted’s letters from death row– ostensibly in hopes of lending some deeper psychological insight into his warped mind. Dr. Lewis had been one of Bundy’s psychiatrists, and the last to hear his deepest confessions. From the letters, Dr. Lewis surmised that Ted had been suffering from dissociative identity disorder (commonly known as “multiple personality disorder”), due to the varying names he used as signatures. However, Carole and Ted (and Liz, when they were still together and writing to each other) commonly used silly faux names to end letters.
Carole Boone, living under her new name, passed away at the age of 70 in a nursing home in Seattle on January 13, 2018. According to the tabloid magazine National Enquirer, Carole died of septic shock in a nursing home, after suffering from multiple scleroris. I cannot confirm the accuracy of the circumstances of her death, but I can confirm that she died on that date, and resided in a nursing home at the time of her death. Today her daughter Rosa lives in anonymity, and clearly wants no association with her biological father.
Michaud reflected, “I don’t know if Carole ever loved Ted in any kind of normal way. She had a hyper sense of right and wrong, a misplaced mothering instinct, and a very idealistic idea of what the criminal justice system should do. And she got disappointed and got lied to. But I don’t know, even if he’d told her, I don’t know that she ever would have really abandoned him. The break that she made with the world was really phenomenal. She was all alone out there, and all she got was kicked in the teeth for it.”
“So many women were drawn to Ted, and it was amazing, the sacrifices they said that they would make if they could only get alone with him,” Michaud told me exasperatedly. “I’d seen it before; he really drew in a lot of them. He told me that during the brief time he worked at the suicide crisis hotline in Seattle, he had the best results from women, particularly young women. He was able to talk them out of their suicidal thoughts. The implication was that he was really, really empathetic with them. And right there I knew that Ted was a sociopath; he wasn’t empathetic with anybody. But I think he really got off on the fact that he felt he could manipulate them, because that was part of the thrill. It’s not too different from that perspective—if he could talk a girl out of killing herself, he could also talk her into killing her himself.”
Two years after Carole’s death, the director of Falling for a Killer Trish Wood succinctly summarized the tragedy: “I think Ted probably spotted a vulnerability in Carole Boone that he could exploit. She was a woman of great depth and intelligence and seemed to be really irretrievably broken, which made her vulnerable to a guy like that.”
Carol Ann Carson Boone
Rest in Peace
- Interview with Trish Wood in Women’s Health magazine, Jan. 30, 2020
- Interviews with Diana Smith, Mark Pinsky, Steve Winn, and Liz Kloepfer (Falling for a Killer documentary on Amazon Prime, 2020)
- Interview with Dr. Dorothy Lewis (Crazy Not Insane documentary on HBO, 2021)
- Florida Dept. of Corrections Archives
- King County Archives
- Florida State Archives
- Mary DeLong correspondence via Supernaught.com
- The Seattle Times
- The National Enquirer
- Personal interview with Stephen Michaud (2021)
- Personal interview with Rich Bundy (2022)
- The Only Living Witness (Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, 1983)
- Defending the Devil (Polly Nelson, 1994)
- On Mirrors, Metaphors, and Murder (Michael Mello, 1991)