In 1974, Elizabeth Kloepfer spotted a composite drawing of a primary suspect named Ted, similar to her boyfriend, who was connected to a string of unsolved kidnappings and murders. It would be years later when the young mother realized her beau was the “Jack the Ripper of the United States.”
Kloepfer detailed her life with Ted Bundy using the pseudonym Elizabeth Kendall in a 1981 memoir now out of print titled “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy,” years before he was executed in 1989 at age 42. Decades later, that book is now the inspiration for a new Netflix film titled “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zac Efron as Bundy and Lily Collins as Kloepfer.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who previously launched the Netflix docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” directed the biopic. That show detailed how journalists Stephan Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth spent 100 hours interviewing Bundy on death row in 1980.
Bundy was later sentenced to death after being convicted of killing two Florida State University sorority members and a 12-year-old girl.
Berlinger told Fox News that while Kloepfer was willing to provide insight into her relationship with Bundy, which lasted approximately five years, she has no desire to revisit those memories on the big screen. In fact, Kloepfer, who has reportedly changed her name, has remained fiercely protective of her anonymity, along with her daughter’s.
“[She] has not seen the film,” said Berlinger, 57. “She does not want to see it. But we had a lot of conversations in pre-production. In fact, Lily Collins and I went to visit Elizabeth at her home with her daughter… She gave us all sorts of insights that the public doesn’t know. Some of those insights she allowed us to put in the film. Some were just for us to hear.”
Berlinger said there was one moment from his time with Kloepfer that still sticks out to him.
“We were thumbing through some photo albums that she decided to share with us,” he recalled. “Photos that most people haven’t seen. The photos were this classic 1970s photos album with these square Instamatic photos with the date at the bottom. It was just a bunch of very nice family photos. A father figure, a mother, a daughter. Camping trips, birthday parties, pony rides, ski trips. One photo after the other of his really happy family unit.”
However, those photos held a dark secret.
“That man was America’s most notorious serial killer Ted Bundy,” said Berlinger. “And so, looking at those photos, I think both Lily and I realized that we were on the right track to tell the story this way through her perspective, because to her for so long, it was not clear. Just the opposite, it was just unthinkable that he could be such a horrible, malicious killer while also presenting this other side. This positive side.”
Vanity Fair reported Kloepfer was a single mother working as a secretary when she started dating Bundy in 1969, five years before he embarked on his murder spree. At the time, he was a University of Washington student who was eager to become a father figure to her daughter Molly. The relationship became serious quickly and there were even talks of marriage.
“The chemistry between us was incredible,” wrote Kloepfer, as reported by Esquire. “I was already planning the wedding and naming the kids. He was telling me that he missed having a kitchen because he loved to cook. Perfect. My Prince.”
Oxygen.com, which obtained a copy of the book, revealed that in 1972, Kloepfer was pregnant. With Bundy starting law school that fall, the pair decided she’d get an abortion.
“It was awful, she wrote. “Ted took me home and put me to bed. He lay down beside me and talked about the day when I wouldn’t have to work and we would have lots of kids. He fixed me food which I couldn’t eat and did all he could to comfort me.”
As the relationship continued, women around Kloepfer’s age began disappearing in and around Seattle. After seeing the sketch of the killer and reading reports the suspect drove a Volkswagen, similar to her beau, Kloepfer became suspicious of Bundy and offered his name to authorities.
Esquire reported that after Kloepfer called the Seattle Police Department to tell them her boyfriend matched the description of the suspect, she was reportedly told, “You need to come in and fill in a report. We’re too busy to talk to girlfriends over the phone.” A frustrated Kloepfer hung up. After Bundy later moved to Utah and the kidnappings began happening there, the outlet noted she called the King County Police but was told they’d already look into Bundy and cleared him.
Despite her suspicions, Bundy insisted he was innocent. She believed him. Esquire shared she even sat with Bundy’s parents in the courthouse when he was on trial for the attempted kidnapping of Carol DeRonch in 1976.
“By the end of the film, I want the audience to feel that same level of disgust and betrayal Liz, our main character, feels,” said Berlinger. “Because I literally want the audience to have kind of rooted for their relationship in the first half of the film, so by the end, they say to themselves, ‘Oh my God, I was actually like that character in the first part of the film, and now I realize he’s an awful human being who did horrible things. I can’t believe I actually fell for it.’ That’s the feeling I want to create in the audience because that’s what Bundy was so good at. He was a master manipulator who deceived everyone around him, and that’s the true nature of evil. It’s the people you least expect who do terrible things.”
But was Bundy, who ultimately confessed to murdering more than two dozen women, capable of love? Berlinger said that question still remains unanswerable.
“The experts will tell you that a psychopath like Bundy lacks empathy and has no ability to love,” he explained. “If you define love by the classic definition of this selfless caring of another person’s well being, then obviously he didn’t love her. But love can be defined in many ways, and love can be extremely selfish. I do think Bundy had a need for normalcy in his life, so he could compartmentalize his evil. So, I do think he cared for her, in a selfish way. And the fact that he didn’t kill her is reflective of that.”
Before Kloepfer later learned the depravity of Bundy’s crimes, she did love him. And Bundy was all too willing to keep up his facade.
“For the longest time, Bundy was utterly convincing in his deception,” said Berlinger. “And that’s what's scarier to me… these people fit into society often… Bundy himself said ‘killers don’t come out of the shadows with long fangs and saliva dripping off their chin.’ Meaning true killers in this world aren't obvious or easily identifiable. They’re your brother, your father, your good friend, somebody you work with. That is the nature of evil… It’s the people you least expect.”
Berlinger said that while there is hardly any violence in “Extremely Wicked” – a deliberate choice on his part – he had zero interest in romanticizing Bundy.
“To say that we are glamorizing Ted Bundy because we don’t show the victims’ worst moment in their existence, which is when they’re being brutally murdered by a serial killer… I literally don’t understand it because to me, what’s more disrespectful to a victim, is to show that horrible moment,” explained Berlinger. “We don’t avoid in the movie that there is somebody killing people. We don’t avoid holding Bundy accountable by the end of the film. The design of the film is to show you how he manipulates and how people believed him.”
While Kloepfer and her daughter have moved on, she was willing to meet and spend time with Collins. And Berlinger was pleased with the story he was eager to share.
“She did a fantastic job,” he said about the actress. “It’s not an easy role to play… But I think Lily just really nailed it and really captured the essence of what it’s like to be a smart, intelligent, caring human being who is deeply deceived by the person closest to her.”
"Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" is available for streaming on Netflix.