What was Ted Bundy's childhood really like?

Trying to understand things comes part and parcel with the human experience. It's simple, but it's important. Early man didn't just look at fire and go, "That hurts." He observed, "That hurts because it's hot, and if we got enough of it, it'd probably be great for shooting rockets into space and punctuating the third acts of action movies."

And maybe it's that compulsion to quantify danger that pushes some people to define serial killers, understanding not just the "what" of the matter but also the "why" and the "no, seriously, why?" Perhaps if we're able to fit the jigsaw pieces of a monster's genesis into place, we can better comprehend what makes a psychopath ... or at the very least, add a vital new chapter of "don'ts" into the pages of our parenting guides.

Not that Ted Bundy ever gave anyone much to go on. Still, we know his childhood wasn't super great, and while it wasn't as bad as Ed Kemper's backstory, it's fascinating to look at his past and see where the monster came from.

A bad beginning for Ted Bundy

Theodore Robert Bundy is a poster child for that age-old question still being applied to the Vanderpump family and Paul W.S. Anderson: "If all they did was make the world worse, why are we paying so much attention to them?" Still, he continues to fascinate historians and true crime enthusiasts, having confessed to a series of 30 murders with the ever-present possibility of having committed many more. He was famously cagey about what acts he had and hadn't perpetrated, offering investigators a bevy of misinformation. Psychologists have speculated that this was due to Bundy's obsession with "owning" his crimes, never wanting to share facts that were, to him, his property.

The same could apply to the man's life story. Elements of Bundy's biography presented to interviewers and law enforcement officials often directly contradicted later retellings. In essence, the closest thing we have to a picture of his upbringing is, at best, well-informed speculative fiction.

We know that Bundy was born on November 24, 1948 in Burlington, Vermont, at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers. His mother, Eleanor, claimed that she had considered putting her son up for adoption, but she was talked out of it by her father, who convinced her to move back to Philadelphia. Ted's biological father remains a mystery. Biography states that some experts speculate as to whether or not he was the product of an incestuous assault by his grandfather. Whether or not that's true, life was already starting out pretty rough for young Bundy.

Ted Bundy was showing serious red flags as a child

From then on, the facts all seem to be anyone's game. Ted stated that he was raised believing that his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister. He also said that he knew all along that it was a ruse. He claimed that he was a loner without a friend in the world, but people who grew up with Bundy described him as "well-known" and "popular." He claimed that he was never hurt or abused as a child, but his grandfather's passion for physical and verbal harassment was well-documented.

Early in his childhood, Ted and his mother took up residence in Tacoma, Washington, where he was adopted by his mother's new husband and took the last name Bundy. He was never shy about his disdain for his stepfather, and in Tacoma, Bundy's troubling behavior escalated. He was arrested twice for car theft and burglary before having his record expunged when he turned 18. He claimed to have been a big fan of spying on women during his adolescence.

It's also possible that Bundy committed his first murder during his childhood. When he was 14, an 11-year-old girl went missing, apparently snatched from the window of her house while her family was in the other room. It fits a rough approximation of the serial killer's later M.O., but Bundy claimed to his last breath that he had nothing to do with the disappearance, which occurred a few miles from his home.

And if you can't take Ted Bundy at his word, what's this crazy world coming to?