The End of Evil by Sarah Marshall, The Believer, Feb/Mar 2018

The End of Evil by Sarah Marshall is a long essay (not a short story) chronicling the deeds and death of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. When I first started reading I did so with apprehension. Ted Bundy’s story has been written about so often and from so many different angles, I felt a foreboding, or maybe even a board deja vu elicited by the first pages of this piece.

Then, a few pages in, some new ideas were introduced. So often Ted Bundy is been labeled nothing more than a psychopath–but the word has been bastardized and blanketed over prime-time television as much as Donald Trump’s shitty hair.

This piece dives into the test for psychopathy. It’s not extensive. It’s not infallible, and it’s by no means decisive. No. It’s a list of 20 questions. Each question is worth between 0 and 2 points. After all the questions have been administered to a subject by a qualified psychologist, anything over 30 points is considered psychopathy. However, five of the 20 questions depend on any criminal history, which predisposes people of color to have a 10 point head start toward the 30 it takes to be stamped with this horrible label due to the fact that the prison system targets people who are not white far more often than those who are.

So, was Ted Bundy a psychopath? This essay says no. Through many interviews with Bundy’s lawyers and psychologists and other people who knew him, Bundy, it appears, was severely mentally ill. Furthermore, said lawyers and psychologists both agreed that the term psychopath was quite meaningless.

Marshall, growing up as a young woman and learning about Bundy hated the narrative that she could have been one of his victims. In her interest and research about the man, she began to deconstruct the myth surrounding Bundy and to see the man behind it. A man with acute social anxiety, confused social understanding, and as a man who was deeply afraid and dependant on women. A man who saw women as more capable than most men–and because of this, a man who held deep resentment toward women as well.

While resentment was not something Marshall felt toward other’s of her own gender–she did identify with other aspects of Bundy’s life. She connects with him on a human level, even though he’s been dead for years now. She sees him as a man who faced dark times and was not given the help he needed when he needed. Was not given support when support was what would have saved him. He was a man who had thought he could save himself from urges he knew was wrong, yet could not control.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and watched Apocolypse Now earlier today. It seems this story, of the end of evil, the glimpsing of an ultimate evil within ourselves can’t stop being told. This essay was a timely one to read, for me, an interesting look at a man I thought had already been revisited too many times.


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