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Penn State Professor Had Close Encounters With Ted Bundy

While pursuing her Ph.D. at Florida State in the late 1970s, Penn State human development and family studies professor Diana Fishbein was eager to embark on a career as a behavioral neuroscientist.

Fishbein found a coffee shop along one of the main off-campus roads that students at Florida State frequented. Her morning routine was simple: She’d walk in, get a coffee, and start her day by reading over lecture notes or a book.

One particular day was different. She noticed a man at the other end of the coffee shop sitting at a table alone, with no coffee, no belongings, just sitting, staring at her.

“The intensity of his eyes staring at me was just so disturbing,” Fishbein recalled.

The man was staring at her again when she returned to the coffee shop the next day. After a few days, his intense stare and the eerie feeling of being watched was too much for Fishbein. She stopped spending her mornings in that coffee shop.

Unbeknownst to Fishbein at the time, the man who spent his mornings staring at her was Ted Bundy, the later-convicted serial killer. Bundy confessed to 30 murders on death row, but no one knows for sure how many young women he assaulted and killed.

His story has recently re-entered the spotlight, largely due to Netflix’s upcoming film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, which stars Zac Efron as Bundy. Netflix also released the documentary-style series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes last month.

Bundy broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State, where he sexually assaulted and murdered Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy on January 15, 1978.

That same night, Bundy brutally assaulted two more sorority members in the house — Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler. He then broke into the apartment of Cheryl Thomas. All three women suffered gruesome injuries, but survived the attacks.

Meanwhile, Fishbein was at home less than a block away from the sorority house, innocently studying alone in her “shack-like” college place with the door unlocked and the windows open.

It wasn’t until the following week — after that fateful night in January 1978 — when Fishbein would learn the true identity of the man she had grown suspicious of in the coffee shop.

“The entire college shut down,” Fishbein said. “Everybody was traumatized. It was so horrendous.”

One of the arresting officers quoted Bundy as saying, “I have an uncontrollable [desire] to rape, mutilate, and kill young girls. Somebody should study me,” as he was apprehended in Florida.

Flyers were posted telling people (women especially) to walk in pairs and keep their doors locked at all times. Some students even opted to leave the university or take the semester off during this dark time.

As a young brunette, Fishbein fit the description of Bundy’s primary targets during her time at Florida State. Although she was frightened and terribly distraught after learning of the attacker’s identity, the neuroscientist in her was intrigued with him. She used her legal and judicial connections around Tallahassee as a criminology student to try to get time to interview or study Bundy in some way. She ultimately couldn’t get the clearance.

Fishbein’s research at Penn State uses trans-disciplinary methods and a developmental approach to understand interactions between neurobiological processes and environmental factors, and ways in which they influence intervention outcomes.

In other words, her work involves studying and researching the brains of children, teens, and adults with behavioral and mental health problems, and using her findings to try and prevent more of these cases.

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About the Author

Patrick Arnold

Patrick Arnold is a freshman studying broadcast journalism. He's oddly obsessed with comedy, music, and high school recruiting, among other things. He can usually be found watching sports or miscellaneous things on YouTube. Feel free to contact Patrick on Twitter: @parnold10, or via Email: [email protected]

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