There is a hunt for Ted Bundy’s car at Lake Sammamish…
In my book, The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History, I include a photograph of a VW parked in the front row of cars at Lake Sammamish on Sunday, July 14, 1974. Behind the car is a line of police vehicles blocking it, as they dealt with a problem pertaining to a biker gang that was taking place close to where the car was parked. The photo appears to have been taken in the afternoon, obviously before Denise Naslund was led away by Bundy.
Years later, when Bob Keppel questioned Bundy about the photo (Keppel believed it was Bundy’s VW), Bundy recognized the scene and said “law breakers”, denoting he knew what was happening there. What follows is from the record:
Keppel: “Is that you? It’s Lake Sammamish State Park, 1974. The tree, cops roll in and take care of the –
Bundy: Law breakers
Bundy: Well, I mean, we’re in the ballpark.
By saying “law breakers” and telling Keppel he was in the ballpark, Bundy was admitting he had personal knowledge concerning what was taking place. When Keppel pressed him about the car, believing it was his and wanting him to admit it, Bundy responded “Well, I—is it?”
Bundy knew that wasn’t his car, but he was telling the investigator he was in the ballpark, meaning the car was nearby.
Now enter Melanie Englert, an expert pertaining to Ted Bundy’s car:
Bundy’s Volkswagen was a 68 Savannah Beige model with a standard transmission. There were many changes for the export model VW in 68: Larger “Europa” bumpers, shortened hood and deck lid, head rests (they were very wide on the 68’s, people called them “sarcophagus” seats), external gas filler, larger taillights, to name a few. It was the last year of the old swing axle suspension; the 69 and up model years had double jointed independent rear suspension (IRS). 1968 also introduced the semi-automatic transmission – this was equipped with IRS a year earlier than the standard models were.
Bundy’s VW had a few modifications that set it apart from other 68 models. It had, for instance, later model rims, which were painted silver from 1970 and up. Prior to this, all VW’s had two-tone rims. It also had 1970-only rear reflectors mounted to the back bumpers (they were incorporated into the larger taillights in 71) and a vented deck lid, common to the 70-71 models. I don’t know when or why these modifications occurred, but it was common to “upgrade” to a vented hood in those days as they offered far better engine cooling. The engines operated on the threshold of overheating as it was, far higher than their water-cooled counterparts.
The footage from the Rainier Brewing Company picnic at Lake Sammamish (where these stills came from) and the images of a Savannah Beige VW in the exact spot witness Janice Graham – the first girl Bundy approached and the only one who saw the VW – had placed the car, certainly was a surprise. I never thought the photo of Bundy in his car (I first saw it in Bob Keppel’s book on the Riverman) was actually Bundy or his car. Sharp eyes will see it’s a 67 and the Rainier footage proves it. There is some speculation that the SB VW is not Bundy’s car, namely because the license plate doesn’t match ones established as Bundy’s, but the location is spot on (Janice said it was in the front row under a tree) and Ted was adept at changing appearances and, above all, was smart – it’s reasonable to assume he would make a conscious effort to make his car unidentifiable despite its commonality.
I haven’t found anything that proves my theory yet, but I believe he may have updated his car around the same time he swapped out the interior. And as I’ve said before the later model deck lids were preferable in terms of cooling the engine. The rust and paint discoloration that currently adorns the car as it sits today runs across the front of the car in a straight line; it’s obvious the car was resprayed at one point. There is also some paint discoloration in certain spots that, again, indicate a respray. There is an earlier photo of Bundy with his VW just prior to his move to Utah – he has a bicycle strapped to the back of the car. In this photo, the car has stock 70s era silver rims, but in later photos, police photos, and museum photos, the rims are sporting what they used to call “beauty rings”, which covered the original rims and were held in place by the hubcaps. On the surface this doesn’t seem like much but it points to Bundy’s efforts to change the appearance of the car. Bundy also had a fascination with objects and material possessions, it’s not unreasonable that this extended to the car and that perhaps he made an effort to make it shiny and new at times.
So, the second VW just two spaces up from the previously misidentified VW may in fact be Ted Bundy’s car. Some have said that the front license plate (see more about this below) doesn’t look like Bundy’s known plate number. But Bundy, ever planning when it came to committing murder in Washington State, could have easily switched plates. And as far as the rear engine cover, just as Melanie mentioned, it was prone to overheating, and Bundy may have replaced it due to such problems after his Lake Sammamish visit and before he left for Utah that September. And while we’re on this subject, years ago, someone said to me they believed (emphases believed) Bundy’s engine had once experienced a fire. I stress that I have absolutely no idea if this is true, and at the time it meant nothing to me. However, if there was a fire, or perhaps just a problem with severe over-heating (and Bundy had lots of engine issues), then yes, I repeat, it’s quite plausible Bundy replaced the lid sometime after July 1974. Bundy upgrading his car was not unusual.
What do I think of all this? I believe Melanie Englert may, and I stress may, have identified Ted Bundy’s VW, and I say this with some reservations. Some folks rule it out because the plate on the front doesn’t match his known plate at the time. But Bundy was known to switch out plates on vehicles (Florida) and that may have been the case at the lake. Others mention there’s no ski rack on the car in the pic, and that alone rules it out. However, according to a witness at the lake, Bundy told Janice Ott he’d transport her bike in the “trunk” and did not mention a bike rack. There’s also a dent on the front of the VW, but these can be popped out rather easily. All of these mentioned issues do not rule the car out in my mind, although it might not be Bundy’s car. The real deciding factor for me is, did Bundy replace the engine lid after July 14, 1974 and before he left for Utah on September 2nd, as we have a picture of the car taken that day just before he departed, and it has the newer lid in place. So, if that newer lid was on his car at Lake Sam, then the VW in question is not Bundy’s, but Bundy’s car is nearby. However, if we ever come up with evidence he purchased the newer lid – which is quite plausible due to its over-heating problem – and in that limited time frame of about 6 weeks , then we may indeed have an actual picture of Ted Bundy’s car at Lake Sammamish. The hunt continues…