TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Thirty years ago today, Florida executed one of America's most horrific villains. Serial killer Ted Bundy died in Florida's electric chair on Jan. 24, 1989.
His murders inspired a flood of books and films, but journalists who covered the trial and witnessed his death remember details often omitted from dramatized versions of the case.
Former FOX 13 primary anchor John Wilson was one of two Tampa Bay area journalists assigned to witness Bundy’s execution at Florida State Prison near Starke. The other was former Clearwater Sun reporter Tony Panaccio.
Both had extensively covered the case. They now work together at Wilson Media, and are currently working on a new Bundy documentary.
They say he did not appear to be in a state of panic or stress as he approached the electric chair and was strapped in by staff.
“I don’t remember any moment like this in my life," Wilson said. "This was a serial killer in front of you unlike any we’ve known in our time... He was confident. His demeanor was puzzling to all of us and I’m sure what was going through everybody's head in there was, 'Why is he smiling at us?'”
"The best way I could describe his demeanor in the room was almost like a performer on closing night,” Panaccio noted.
Bob Dekle was the state attorney who prosecuted Ted Bundy. He saw the same demeanor from Bundy at his trial.
“It was all about him. He wanted as much attention as he could possibly have,” Dekle said. “He wasn't right, but he wasn’t mentally ill. He knew the difference between right and wrong; he just didn’t care.”
Bundy’s trail of murder led from the West Coast to north Florida in 1978. He attacked four young women in a Florida State University sorority house, killing two from St. Petersburg -- Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy. Students Kathy Kliner and Karen Chandler survived the attack.
Bundy fled the sorority house and then attacked a fifth victim, Cheryl Thomas, nearby. Days later, Bundy murdered 12-year-old Kimberly Leach of Lake City.
Just days before his scheduled execution, Bundy confessed to murdering many others. Wilson and Panaccio remember how he dragged out those confessions in an attempt to delay his execution date, suggesting he was more frightened about his impending death than his demeanor in the electric chair implied.
They also remember the public celebrations outside the death chamber and an atmosphere they liken to a circus, which stood in stark contrast to the somber mood within the witness room.
"The scene outside, it was like a carnival. People were jumping up and down, people were yelling, people were applauding -- especially when his hearse went by. We were all glad to get rid of him… but it was a different tone for those of us who were inside," said Wilson.
"There are others who did this, who have been serial killers and mass killers. Very few like Ted Bundy, but there are others who have killed many people," Wilson continued. "I think we need to know more about our society and who we are and what makes us what we have become. We don’t know nearly enough about that.”