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  1. Florida

Remembering Ted Bundy’s St. Petersburg victims

Times archives and new interviews provide details on the serial killer’s Florida victims and his execution at Florida State Prison.

On Jan. 15, 1978, Ted Bundy slipped through an unlocked side door of Florida State University’s Chi Omega house in the middle of the night and started attacking sleeping women.

He killed two of the sorority sisters: Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy. Both were from St. Petersburg.

The FBI wanted poster for Theodore Robert Bundy, aka Ted Bundy. [1978 photo from Times files.] [HANDOUT | FBI]

He also attacked two other women in the house — Karen Chandler, a 21-year-old Tallahassee woman who had lived in St. Petersburg until 1972, and Kathy Kleiner, 21, of Miami. A fifth victim, ballet dancer Cheryl Ann Thomas, was attacked six blocks away, several hours after the first series of attacks .

Three weeks later, Kimberly Leach vanished. The 12-year-old Lake City girl’s body was found in April 1978 — 32 miles away.

Kimberly Diane Leach was kidnapped and murdered Feb. 9, 1978. [Times archives]

On Jan. 24, 1989, Bundy was executed for those crimes. He is one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history and bragged of having killed dozens of people. He’s also remained a cult figure decades after his death, starring as the focal point of numerous true crime books, films and podcasts. Just this year Netflix released a documentary called “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes," as well as a new Bundy biopic starring Zac Efron.

What some may not remember is that Bundy’s long spree of violence ended in Florida. Some of his last documented crimes occurred here, as well as the trials that eventually led to his execution at the Florida State Prison near Starke.

About the victims

Margaret Bowman

Margaret Elizabeth Bowman was a student at Florida State University in 1978 when she was murdered as she slept. Ted Bundy was arrested for the murder a month later. This photograph of Margaret was taken in the fall of 1977 when she was 20. [Jonathan Newton | Times] [NEWTON, JONATHAN | St. Petersburg Times]

Margaret was born in Honolulu and moved to St. Pete as a teenager in 1973 after her father retired from the U. S . Air Force. She graduated from St. Petersburg High, where she was president of the French National Honor Society and a member of the drama club, scuba club, tennis team and the Civinettes service club.

When she died, she was studying art history and classical civilizations. She had just turned 21. Her brother, Jackson, was still in high school.

Margaret had traveled back to St. Petersburg the weekend prior to her death to celebrate her birthday with her family. The last time her father heard from her was when she called him upon returning to Tallahassee to say that she had arrived safely. She was buried in St Petersburg two days after she died.

More than 20 years after her death, Margaret Bowman was remembered in an obituary by Tom French. He described how she loved reading, and how she went by Margaret, never Peggy or Maggie, since she was in the first grade. She prayed at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg. Her parents, Jack and Runelle Bowman, donated a cross in her name.

“Books have been written about him. Movies have been made about him or based on him. TV shows documenting evil still trumpet his name.

He is not the one whose name should be remembered. Remember, instead, the names he tried to erase.

Remember Margaret.” — Tom French

Lisa Levy

Lisa Levy [Times archives]

Not as much information was available in the Times archives on Lisa, but here’s what we know about her. Lisa was born in St Petersburg and attended Dixie Hollins High, where she played flute in the band for two years. She was also a majorette, a member of the Civinettes service club, and a staffer of the Dixie Legend yearbook. Lisa was studying fashion merchandising at FSU and worked at the Colony Shop in Tallahassee.

She had been a member of Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg. When she wasn’t in school, she lived with her mother, Henny, and worked at the Colony Shop at Tyrone Square Mall during summers and holidays.

She was just 20 years old when she died.

Lisa Levy, in background, is shown with her twirling group in 1970. [Times archives]

Karen Chandler

Karen is one of the survivors from the night of the attacks. She lived in St. Petersburg with her parents until 1972 and attended Northshore Elementary and Riviera Junior High School. Her grandparents lived in St. Petersburg as well.

She moved to Tallahassee with her parents, where she was editor of her high school’s yearbook. She was studying fashion merchandising at FSU at the time of the attacks.

Bundy’s Florida trials

On June 1979, Bundy stood trial in Miami for the FSU killings and assaults. It was the first nationally televised trial in United States history.

Karl Vick, who reported on the event for the then-St. Petersburg Times, wrote “Not even the pope’s 1987 visit to Miami drew the 42 television cameras that were on hand for Ted Bundy’s execution…In Florida, only the most historic space shuttle lift-off has attracted more.”

Bundy, then a second year law student, opted to help with much of his own defense. He was sentenced to death for the murders of Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, as well as three counts of attempted first degree murder for the other girls he assaulted.

Six months later, Bundy was found guilty of the abduction and murder of Kimberly Leach. During the trial in Orlando, the jury deliberated for over 6 hours.

Here are some photographs of the Miami trial from Times archives.

On July 9, 1979, ‘Ted’ Bundy gestures as he cross examines witnesses for the prosecution while members of the jury look on in the Miami courtroom. Then a second year law student, Bundy opted to assist in his own defense during the trial for the murders of two Chi Omega sorority sisters. [Times archives] [Tampa Tribune]
Dr. Norman Sperber points to a photograph of Theodore Bundy's teeth during a pre-trial hearing that took place on May 22nd in the Leon County Courthouse. He was trying to explain a chart he has prepared that showed similarities between photographs of bite marks left on murder victim Lisa Levy and tracings of a model of Bundy's teeth. [Times archives]
Forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Souviron points to a blown-up photograph of accused murderer Theodore Bundy's teeth during Bundy's murder trial in Miami. Souviron was one of the prosecution's key witnesses. [Times archives] [UNKNOWN | Associated Press]
Nita Jane Neary looks at drawings in court while prosecution attorney Larry Simpson holds more during the Miami trial. Neary was considered a key witness, as she is the only eye witness in the trial. She pointed out Bundy when asked if she could identify the man she saw fleeing the sorority house the night two women were murdered. [Times archives] [UNKNOWN | Associated Press]
Nita Jane Neary goes over a diagram of the Chi Omega sorority house during her testimony. [Times archives]
Judge Edward Cowart presided over the Bundy murder trial in Miami. [Times archives]
Richard L. Stephens, a technician for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, shows the jury a pair of pantyhose made into mask and found at the house of Tallahassee ballet dancer Cheryl Thomas. Thomas was beaten the same night of the Chi Omega murders. [Times archives] [UNKNOWN | Associated Press]
The parents of convicted murderer Theodore ‘Ted’ Bundy, Mr. and Mrs. John Bundy (center), Carole Boone (left) and Jaime Boone (right) leave the Metropolitan Justice Building on July 30, 1979 after a 12-member jury recommended the electric chair for the former law student. [Times archives] [Tampa Tribune]

The execution

Over a decade after the January 1978 Chi Omega attacks, Bundy’s execution day finally arrived on January 24, 1989.

In the days leading up to his execution, Bundy admitted to killing dozens of women. Though officials were not able to list all of the individuals, they suspected that Bundy could have been responsible for the deaths of over 100.

The execution was held early on a cold Tuesday morning. Across the street from Florida State Prison, a vacant lot the size of two football fields was filled with media trucks. More than 200 reporters and technicians were on site from all over the world, coming from as far as Japan and Australia.

But only 12 members of the media were permitted to witness the execution firsthand. More than 110 media requests came in from around the country, but the Florida Press Association only considered newspapers from around the state to cover the execution along with the Associated Press and United Press International. Five Florida newspapers were drawn out of a hat.

Two Tampa Bay journalists witnessed the execution firsthand: Tony Panaccio, a then-23-year-old police beat reporter for the Clearwater Sun, and John Wilson, the former Channel 13 anchor who was at the time working for Channel 10. Today, the pair works together at Wilson Media & Advertising.

About 30 official witnesses were the only ones to see Bundy die, the St. Petersburg Times reported. Aside from the media pool, the room was filled with detectives, attorneys and others who had been involved in the Bundy cases.

Panaccio’s editors at the Sun had witnessed an execution before, and advised him to get there early, take everything in, and get as many local perspectives as he could.

“I could process it later, but I needed to get the detail on the page,” he said.

Around 7 a.m.,Bundy was led into the execution chamber, his ankles and wrists shackled. A decade in prison had changed his appearance, and his head was shaven so that he could wear a headpiece at the electric chair.

He wore light blue pants and a blue button-down shirt. He made eye contact with everyone in the room. He was smiling.

“These were people who hunted him down, these were people who arrested him,” Panaccio said. "And he was looking at them like they were colleagues.”

Panaccio and Wilson both described Bundy as acting like he was a movie star. He was putting a show on right until the end, Wilson said.

"When I watched him walk into the chamber where Old Sparky was…I saw an actor on the closing night of the show thanking the audience,” Panaccio said. “It wasn’t a man’s journey down to Death Row, this was the Ted Bundy show and we were just his audience.”

They shut the power off before the execution to switch from using public electricity to a generator. At 7:07 a.m., they flipped the circuit.

“Whatever you’ve read on the internet about it is probably wrong,” Panaccio said. “There are tons of reports — there was smoke, there was fire...this fantasy of violence. And it was nothing.”

Two thousand volts and 17 amps pulsed right through his body, starting at his head and ending at the electrode on his right leg.

“You hear that charge like it’s the biggest hum you’ve ever heard in your life," Wilson said.

Wilson remembers that the first jolt was short. At exactly 7:08 they turned it off. A doctor checked to see if he was still alive, and then they turned on the circuit again. Bundy was officially pronounced dead at 7:16 a.m.

The image will be in Wilson’s head forever. Seeing an execution put things in a different perspective.

“It made me focus on all the things that are beautiful," he said.

The atmosphere inside the chamber was somber.

“I got a feeling from the law enforcement officers that they were ready to go out and have a beer…to them it was the end of a horrible, complicated journey and I think they were ready to feel like they’d finally got their job done," Panaccio said.

Wilson is glad justice is served, and he had no doubt that Bundy was guilty. But the celebratory environment outside the prison shocked him and Panaccio.

A crowd had gathered to celebrate the death of the killer. According to Times archives, vendors sold Ted Bundy pins with small electric chairs on them for $5. Spectators had coffee and donuts in the field across from the prison. Cars streamed by, holding passengers that touted signs reading “Burn Bundy burn,” “Bundy BBQ,” and “Roast in peace.”

“If any of those people had been where I had been, they wouldn’t have been jumping up and down," Wilson said.

He saw two people in the execution room that day — the serial killer and the human being.

“It was the human being part that troubled me.”

Correction: The initial report incorrectly spelled Kathy Kleiner’s last name. The spelling has been corrected.

Some information from this report was gathered from Times archives. Contact Gabrielle Calise at Follow @gabriellecalise on Twitter.