Elizabeth Kendall’s The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy recounts her long-lived romance with one of America’s most prolific serial killers, Ted Bundy. The firsthand account is terrifying, but not for the reasons you might think. Elizabeth doesn’t spend time detailing the killings themselves, but instead tells the story of Ted Bundy from her perspective: that of a lover. Haunting is the tale, as she slowly realizes that a person she loved and trusted was capable of such horrendous crimes.
However, upon reading this novel, there was a component I found to be far more chilling: the power that Bundy held as a man in the 1960s and ‘70s, that allowed him to more easily manipulate his relationship with Kendall. In turn, she was led to believe her instinct was wrong, which manifested in her strong feelings of guilt for suspecting him of murder.
First, Bundy was able to begin to manipulate Kendall by agreeing to marry her, only to break off the engagement numerous times. Even as he began to betray her trust and pursue affairs with other women, she was coerced into believing he was going to marry her. This was especially important given the context of the times, because she was pressured into marriage by both her peers and parents. This allowed Bundy to wrap her around his finger and keep her looped in for years, even after she had reason to end the relationship beyond reasonable doubt.
In addition, Bundy used her naivete and lack of self confidence to feed her sense of self-doubt. In her novel, Elizabeth often expressed that she felt ugly—especially in comparison to other women with whom Bundy was involved. These ideas were enforced often throughout the relationship, as Bundy would often tell her she was the love of his life, only to tell her she was clingy and desperate days later. This vicious cycle continued to instill doubt into Elizabeth, and contributed to her beliefs that she was inferior to her male counterpart.
Perhaps the most crucial example of misogyny in the novel occurred outside of Elizabeth’s personal relationship with Ted Bundy. Instead, it took place when she initially attempted to speak with detectives about her concerns regarding Bundy’s involvement in local murders and kidnappings. Despite the evidence Elizabeth provided, she was often written off by male detectives as a ‘crazy’ girlfriend who was accusing her partner of a crime without any form of evidence. This, however, proved to be wildly untrue, as Bundy was eventually convicted of all the crimes Elizabeth tipped off detectives about. Even more disturbing is the fact that the male detectives seemed more concerned with Kendall’s sex life with Bundy than they were about her thoughts on his involvement in the crimes themselves. This was, without a doubt, one of the most striking examples of misogyny in the novel.
In conclusion, I feel that Kendall’s novel was very important, even in today’s political climate. Although her suspicions may have been taken more seriously in the present day, there are still parallels due to the leverage Bundy took advantage of by being the male in the relationship, and the lack of influence Elizabeth had over detectives because she was perceived as a woman with little self-confidence. The Phantom Prince is a worthwhile read for those who are seeking to reflect on gender roles and their unfair impact both within personal relationships and outside them.