Fact Check

Was Blondie's Deborah Harry Nearly Abducted by Ted Bundy?

Details of the Blondie singer's claim of a close encounter with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy in New York don't check out.

Published Feb. 2, 2000

Deborah Harry was nearly abducted by serial killer Ted Bundy in New York and narrowly escaped with her life.

Deborah Harry, the lead singer of the 1970s new wave band Blondie, has maintained many times over the last three decades that she once had a close encounter with Ted Bundy, narrowly escaping abduction (and presumably worse) at the hands of that notorious serial killer in the streets of New York in the early 1970s. Here's how the story was related by her early on, in a 1989 newspaper account:

The way Deborah Harry recounts the story is absolutely frightening. The rock singer, best known for her work in the post-disco, New-wave band Blondie, was just trying to hail a cab. It nearly ended in disaster.

"I was trying to get a cab on the lower east side of the Village in New York, and it was kind of late," Harry said. "This was back in the early '70s. I wasn't even in a band then ... I was trying to get across town to an after-hours club ...

"A little white car pulls up, and the guy offers me a ride. So I just continued to try to flag a cab down. But he was very persistent, and he asked where I was going. It was only a couple of blocks away, and he said, 'Well I'll give you a ride.'

"I got in the car, and it was summertime and the windows were all rolled up except about an inch and a half at the top. So I was sitting there and he wasn't really talking to me. Automatically, I sort of reached to roll down the window and I realized there was no door handle, no window crank, no nothing. The inside of the car was totally stripped out.

" ... I got very nervous. I reached my arm out through the little crack and stretched down and opened the car from the outside. As soon as he saw that, he tried to turn the corner really fast, and I spun out of the car and landed in the middle of the street."

The driver, Harry concluded more than 15 years later, was serial killer Ted Bundy, who was executed last January [1989] in Florida's electric chair.

"It was right after his execution that I read about him," she said. "I hadn't thought about that incident in years. The whole description of how he operated and what he looked like and the kind of car he drove and the time frame he was doing that in that area of the country fit exactly. I said, 'My God, it was him.'"

Harry said it frightens her more now than ever.

"Very scary," she said. "Truthfully, I hadn't thought of the incident in 15 years. I'm one of the lucky ones."

Between the incident and the time she fully digested what had happened, Harry had come and gone as a music superstar.

However, Debbie Harry's recollections (related many years after the fact) don't fit the details of what is known about Ted Bundy's life and criminal activities. For example, her 1989 account opened as follows:

"I was trying to get a cab on the lower east side of the Village in New York, and it was kind of late," Harry said. "This was back in the early '70s. I wasn't even in a band then ... I was trying to get across town to an after-hours club ...

Ted Bundy was born to an unwed mother on 24 November 1946 in Burlington, Vermont, he lived in his grandparents' Philadelphia home for the first three years of his life, and then moved with his mother to Tacoma, Washington. After graduating high school in 1965, he spent the summer working for the Tacoma City Light utility company to save money for college, attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma during the 1965-66 academic year. The next summer he worked at a Washington sawmill, then transferred to the University of Washington (UW) to study Chinese before dropping out of that school in early 1968.

After leaving UW, Bundy worked at various minimum wage jobs in Washington state, served as a volunteer in the Seattle office of Nelson Rockefeller's presidential campaign, traveled to Colorado, visited relatives in Arkansas and Philadelphia (enrolling for one semester at Temple University), and possibly undertook a trek to Burlington to obtain a copy of his birth certificate, before returning to Washington by the fall of 1969 to re-enroll at UW as a psychology major. He remained in the Pacific Northwest, attending school and/or working in the area (committing his first documented assaults and murders in Washington and Oregon in early 1974), until relocating to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah Law School around August 1974.

In January 1975 Bundy visited Seattle briefly during a school break before returning to the Utah-Colorado area. He was finally arrested (for the first time) in a Salt Lake City suburb in August 1975 and convicted of kidnapping and assault (for the first time) in Colorado in March 1976.

So here we come to the first problem with Harry's tale: the chronology just doesn't work. Ted Bundy is not known to have been in New York City in the early 1970s (or at any other time in his life), nor to have begun abducting and killing women prior to early 1974 (and then only in the Washington-Oregon and Utah-Colorado-Idaho areas until after he escaped from a Colorado jail at the end of 1977 and fled to Florida, where he attacked and killed more women before his re-arrest in February 1978).

Given that Harry maintains her encounter with the mystery man who offered her a ride took place in the "lower east side of the Village" in the "early '70s" when she "wasn't even in a band," that incident must have occurred prior to the end of 1973, as Harry was definitely in a band (the Stillettos) by then. But there's no evidence that Ted Bundy was either in New York or attempting to abduct women at that time.

The other problem with Harry's account is that Bundy was never known to have driven or used a "totally stripped out" MurderMobile of the type she described, one devoid even of door handles and window cranks. During his Seattle and Salt Lake City murder sprees, he drove a normal-appearing vehicle, a light brown Volkswagen Beetle. The only modification he made to this car was to occasionally remove the passenger seat and place it across the back seat in order to facilitate the carrying of "cargo."

As Ann Rule, author of the Ted Bundy study The Stranger Beside Me noted, young women who later (erroneously) claimed to have narrowly escaped the clutches of Ted Bundy are a not uncommon phenomenon:

A dozen or more young women have called me since 1980, absolutely convinced that they had escaped from Ted Bundy. In San Francisco. In Georgia. In Idaho. In Aspen. In Ann Arbor. In Utah ... He could not have been everywhere, but, for these women, there are terrified memories of a handsome man in a tan Volkswagen — a man who gave them a ride, and who wanted more. They are sure that it was Ted who reached for them, and declare that they never hitchhiked again. For other women, there is a man with a brilliant smile who came to their door, ingratiating, and then angry when they would not let him in. "It was him. I've seen his picture, and I recognized him."

With the advent of computer communication, I have heard from more women who encountered Ted Bundy — and lived to tell about it — than ever before. When I lecture, I recognize the haunted look in the eyes of the women who approach me to tell of remembered terror. Just as in the past, I realize they cannot all have met Ted Bundy.

That said, we can't claim it's absolutely impossible Deborah Harry could have encountered Ted Bundy in New York in the early 1970s, as his every movement and activity wasn't thoroughly tracked and documented, and he told conflicting stories to different people about when and where he began assaulting and killing women, as noted by Wikipedia:

There is no consensus on when or where Bundy began killing women. He told different stories to different people, and refused to divulge the specifics of his earliest crimes, even as he confessed in graphic detail to dozens of later murders in the days preceding his execution. He told Nelson that he attempted his first kidnapping in 1969 in Ocean City, New Jersey, but did not kill anyone until sometime in 1971 in Seattle. He told psychologist Art Norman that he killed two women in Atlantic City in 1969 while visiting family in Philadelphia. To homicide detective Robert D. Keppel, he hinted at a murder in Seattle in 1972, and another in 1973 involving a hitchhiker near Tumwater, Washington, but refused to elaborate. Circumstantial evidence suggests that he abducted and killed 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr of Tacoma in 1961 when he was 14, an allegation he denied repeatedly.

Also, during his time in Philadelphia and (his claimed time in) Ocean City, Bundy would theoretically have been just a few hours' drive away from New York City, but still no reliable account — not even his own — ever put him in that metropolis or in possession of the type of stripped-out, death-trap automobile described by Harry.

Deborah Harry's later retellings of the story introduced even more anomalies, such as this account from the 2012 Blondie biography Parallel Lives:

"It was late at night and I was trying to get across Houston Street from the Lower East Side to 7th Avenue. For some reason there were no cabs and I was wearing these big platform shoes. This car kept circling round and round, this guy was calling out, 'Come on, I'll give you a ride.' Finally, I gave in and got in the car. I realised I'd made a big mistake. For one, it was very hot in the car, and the windows rolled up nearly to the top. The guy had a white shirt and he was very good looking. Then I realised this guy had the worst BO I have ever smelt. Then I looked over at the door to crank down the window and saw there was no door handle, no crank. I cast my eyes around and saw that the car had been gutted. There was nothing in there. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, so I stuck my arm out through the crack in the window and managed to open the door from the outside. I was so lucky."

"At the time I didn't know anything about Ted Bundy," Deborah later reflected. "I just thought, 'Thank God I got away from that asshole,' and I just carried on — and years later, after he was executed, I got on a flight and picked up a Newsweek, and I'm reading this story, and it says 'Modus Operandi', and it describes how he looked, the inside of his cars, and the hair on the back of my neck once again went out, and I said, 'Oh my God, that was Ted Bundy.'"

Harry's remains the sole personal account that ever put Ted Bundy in New York City, pegged him as possessing terrible body odor, or represented him as driving a car with an interior stripped completely bare — which makes it all the more puzzling how she might have read a magazine article describing a detail (e.g., "the [stripped down] inside of his cars") that no one but she ever reported.

Harry summed up the predominant reaction to her tale as follows:

"I've been debunked, actually, by those people that debunk you, or whatever," adds Debbie, speaking nearly 40 years after the encounter. "They say he wasn't in New York at that time, but I think they're really wrong, because he had escaped and was travelling down the East Coast. I think that nobody has ever really investigated that. I didn't know until later who it was. It was pretty scary."

Of course, what's "really wrong" here is that Ted Bundy couldn't have "escaped" before Deborah Harry claims to have encountered him, because at that time he hadn't yet ever been jailed, or arrested, or even suspected of a crime.

Quite possibly something like Harry's tale did happen, but it probably didn't involve the most famous serial killer of the time.

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