When I was a kid I wanted my own Herbie the Love Bug from the classic Disney movie starring the recently-deceased Dean Jones. Now that I’m an adult fascinated by true crime, I would much prefer its macabre cousin, the 1968 Beetle once owned by serial killer Ted Bundy.
The killer’s car can be found on display in the lobby of the Crime & Punishment Museum, located on 7th Street in Washington, DC. If you want to see it, you’ll have to hurry. The museum is closing September 30. (The fact that it’s closing is a crime. I very much enjoyed our time spent there).
When I heard the museum had this car, I had to make the trip. Although I was excited to tour all the exhibits, the Beetle was the draw for me. It took about two hours to reach the museum, but we spent over 40 minutes of quality time taking photos of the little Volkswagen.
I am by no means an authority on Ted Bundy. I’ve listened to a few podcasts about him, and at the time of our visit I was reading Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me. Ironically, I had just finished the part where Carol DaRonch escaped from the Beetle, and became one of the few Bundy survivors.
Observing the exterior, it appears the Beetle’s best (and fortunately, worst) days are behind it. Its paint is showing a bit of rust over an undiscernible hue. I can’t be sure what color it is, it’s not exactly white, off white, tan, or yellow. It has a sunroof. The windshield is cracked, its corner adorned with an inspection sticker that indicates it was next due to be inspected in April 1976. Ted Bundy was arrested in 1975. I noticed the Beetle had a jack underneath it in the front and in the back. I had never been this close to a Volkswagen Beetle before. Ted Bundy stood nearly six feet tall, how did he fit in this thing?
If the exterior needed some work, the interior was a lost cause. The first thing that’s noticeable is the missing passenger seat. It’s chilling to say the least. Bundy would remove the seat, stowing it either in the back seat or trunk. The killer removed the seat in order to transport victims without them being seen. When he was arrested, police found the passenger seat in the back seat. The missing seat was not seen during our visit. The trunk wasn’t open, so I can’t say with certainty that the seat no longer exists.
It was in this car that police found suspicious items that pointed to burglary including a ski mask and crowbar. Later authorities would learn the horrors behind the unusual objects found in the vehicle.
While out on bail, Bundy cleaned his car and sold it. He was later put in a police lineup, the outcome of which led to him being charged with kidnapping and attempted murder. This prompted officials to further investigate the Beetle. Once they had possession of it, evidence was found linking victims to the vehicle.
As fascinating as it was to see this small, yet integral piece of sinister American history in person, I had my own moment of silence for the victims. As I stood at the passenger door, I thought about Carol DaRonch, and her struggle inside the car with the killer. She was able to escape the madman, but so many others took their last ride in this seemingly innocuous little car.
Ted Bundy died in Florida’s electric chair on January 24, 1989. My heart goes out to everyone affected by his horrible crimes.