There are few names in American history that evoke as much vitriol as the name Ted Bundy. Over the course of the 1970s, Bundy terrorised several states in the United States, carrying out at least 30 murders. He was apprehended once and for all after a gruesome murder that stunned the state of Florida, a murder that would lead him directly to the electric chair.
Kimberly Leach was born in Lake City, Florida, on the 28th of October, 1965. In 1978, Kimberly was a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Lake City Junior High School, where she was a straight-A student and the runner-up Valentine Queen. Kimberly was in an exciting period of her life; she had just gotten her very first boyfriend, and had just picked out a brand new dress that her mother was going to purchase her for an upcoming school dance.1
On the morning of 9 February, 1978, Kimberly arrived at Lake City Junior high School on time. Just before 9AM, she left her first period class to go and pick up her purse that she had accidentally left behind in her homeroom. Kimberly recovered the purse, and headed back towards her classroom in the pouring rain. Kimberly, however, never arrived back at class.2
That afternoon, Kimberly’s parents, Thomas and Freda Leach, became concerned when she failed to come home after school. They called everybody they knew, but nobody could account for Kimberly. When they learned that Kimberly had been at her first period class but then never returned, their concern escalated to fear. They immediately called police to report their daughter missing.
Lake City Police Chief Paul Philpot commented in the media that he wasn’t convinced that Kimberly wasn’t a runaway, but this was refuted by Thomas and Freda, who were adamant that Kimberly would not have run away. Kimberly’s friend, Sheri Roberts McKinley, agreed. She stated: “We knew something was wrong. She, Kim, was not a student to skip class, to leave campus. I mean, we were 12. And she was very shy.”3
Their contentions were bolstered when an eyewitness came forward that afternoon to report that they had seen Kimberly being called over to a white car outside the school shortly after 9AM. Moments later, Kimberly was gone and the car was screeching off down the street.
At the time of Kimberly’s disappearance, investigators in Tallahassee were already investigating an attack on the Chi Omega sorority that happened just three weeks earlier. The senseless attack had left two women dead and three seriously injured. Before investigators in Tallahassee had even learned of Kimberly’s disappearance, they had learned of an attempted abduction in Jacksonville, around sixty miles east of Lake City.
On 8 February, the day before Kimberly vanished, 14-year-old Leslie Ann Parmenter was approached by a nervous looking man in a white Dodge van outside her school. He claimed he was a fire department official, and tried to strike up a conversation with Leslie. Moments later, Leslie’s brother, Danny, pulled up to pick her up, and the man quickly sped off. Leslie was suspicious, as was her brother, and they wrote down the license plate number of the white Dodge: 13-D-11300.
Leslie and Danny provided a detailed description of the man, and a composite sketch was drawn up. This composite sketch was then sent to investigators in Tallahassee working on the Chi Omega sorority attack. They recognised the sketch immediately as the main suspect in the murders: Ted Bundy. At the time, Bundy was a fugitive from Colorado, where he had been facing trial for the murder of Caryn Campbell. He had already been convicted of kidnapping a woman named Carol DaRonch in Salt Lake City.
Investigators began to speculate that Bundy had abducted Kimberly and attempted to abduct Leslie. A state-wide alert went out for his apprehension and he was featured on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. He was already a suspect in more the a dozen murders in Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and California, showing that time was of the essence if Kimberly were to be found alive.
Six days later, Ted Bundy was apprehended while driving a stolen vehicle in Pensacola. Inside his vehicle, investigators came across a number of credit cards, and when these were analyzed, they showed that Bundy had purchased gasoline in Jacksonville on 8 February, and that the gasoline was delivered to a vehicle with the license plate number: 13-D-11300.4
More credit cards found inside the vehicle revealed that Bundy had paid for food and a room at the Lake City Holiday Inn, just three miles away from Kimberly’s school the night before she disappeared. According to employees, they had seen Bundy drinking in the hotel bar on the night of the 8th. By 8AM the next morning, he was gone, and by 9AM the next morning, Kimberly was gone.
Even more damning to Bundy’s case, another vehicle linked to him was discovered: the white Dodge. Inside, forensic experts found two large spots of human blood that came back at a match to Kimberly as well as fiber traces that matched her purse. Expert analysis of soil and leaves found outside and inside the vehicle suggested they came from a moist river-bottom land, the same kind found along the Suwannee River.5
For weeks, police officers and volunteers alike combed through the flat north Florida woods and fields, towns and crossroads. In fact, it was the largest search of its kind in Florida’s history. Searchers had fanned out to four separate counties, which was an area of almost 2000 square miles. They were laser focused on the Suwannee River State Park, just north of Interstate 10.
Meanwhile, Bundy was behind bars. He spoke with Pensacola Police Detective Norman Chapman, who said to Bundy: “Ted, if you will tell me where the body of Kimberly Leach is, I’ll go get it and let the parents know that the child is dead.” Bundy chillingly replied: “I can’t do that, because the site is too horrible to look at.”
The searchers had been searching at Suwannee River State Park for weeks. They were on foot, on horseback, on four-wheel drives, and in helicopters and airplanes. Divers were called in to scour the river, and even used sophisticated infrared and stereo photography.
On the 7th of April, the search at Suwannee River State Park continued. Just after lunch time, Florida Highway Patrol trooper Kenneth Woodrew Robinson formed a search party that began at a sink hole and fanned out, deeper into the woodland. The searchers had been scanning inch by inch for around 15 minutes when Trooper Robinson observed a sheet metal shed that was encircled by a wire fence. It looked to him like it was an abandoned hog pen with a small metal lead-to.
Trooper Robinson approached the structure and peered inside. The first thing he saw was a tennis shoe, then a pullover jumper. He then observed an exposed bone. Trooper Robinson stepped back, and called for backup. The area was enveloped in crime scene tape, as Dr. Paul Lipkovic, the medical examiner at Jacksonville, embarked on the grim scene.
Inside the hog pen, he found the lifeless body of Kimberly. She was nude other than for a pullover jumper. Her blue jeans and other items of clothing were piled up beside her body. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition, but she was identified as Kimberly via dental records. She had suffered “homicidal violence about the neck region.”
Kimberly’s funeral was held on the 12th of April. Hundreds of mourners, including Kimberly’s classmates, shuffled into Parkview Baptist Church; Kimberly’s flower-adorned casket sat at the front.6 The service was led by Rev. J. R. Hite, who said: “Jesus will wipe away your tears and God will give you strength.”
He continued, telling Kimberly’s friends and family: “Kim knew Jesus in a personal way, and she in His presence.” Around 35 Florida Highway Patrol troopers attended the funeral; they had searched in vain for Kimberly, and were distraught by the fact they couldn’t save her. Kimberly was then buried at Memorial Cemetery.7
Before Bundy stood trial for Kimberly’s murder, he stood trial for the Chi Omega sorority murders of Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy and the attempted murders of Kathy Kleiner, Karen Chandler, and Cheryl Thomas. He was convicted and was sentenced to death. Six months later, he stood trial for the murder of Kimberly Leach. The trial was moved from Lake City to Live Oak at the request of the defence, who maintained that Bundy could not get a fair trial. Once again, he was found guilty and was handed another death sentence.
Following the convictions, Bundy confessed to at least 35 murders committed from 1974 to 1978. When asked whether the figure was accurate, he cryptically said: “Add another digit.” One of the victims Bundy confessed to killing was Kimberly Leach. He told FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier that he had been searching for a teacher or mother dropping their child off at school to abduct and kill, but then saw Kimberly alone. He provided no further details.
In Janaury of 1989, Bundy’s execution date was fast approaching. Mayor General Witt commented to the Tampa Bay Times: “We’ve never forgotten. When he’s gone, there’ll be a lot of people shaking hands, exchanging high-fives and all that because they finally killed the bastard. Life at Lake City changed after the abduction and murder of Kimberly Leach. Students who never knew Kimberly are educated about safety, and are organized into buddy systems to walk to and from school.8
On 24 January, 1989, time was finally out for Ted Bundy. He had successfully put off his execution by divulging more details about his murder spree. He was led to the electric chair shortly before 7AM. His last words were directed at his attorneys. He stated: “Jim and Fred, I’d like you to give my love to my family and friends.” Moments later, the switch was flicked by the executioner, sending 2,5000 volts into Bundy’s body. He was pronounced dead at 7:16AM.
- The Tampa Tribune, 22 February, 1978 – “Bundy’s Arrest Raises Fear for Missing Girl”
- The Boston Globe, 7 November, 1979 – “Theodore Bundy Returns to Courtroom”
- ABC News, 16 February, 2019 – “Remembering Kimberly Leach”
- The Orlando Sentinel, 24 December, 1978 – “Bundy”
- The News Tribune, 12 August, 1979 – “Bundy Focus Swings to Kimberly Leach Case”
- Tallahassee Democrat, 12 April, 1978 – “Services for Leach Set Today”
- The News Tribune, 12 April, 1978 – “Classmates in Tears as Leach Girl Buried”
- Tampa Bay Times, 24 Janaury, 1989 – “Murder Victim’s Hometown”