Bundy execution anniversary revisits dark piece of Roaring Fork Valley history

Alex Zorn

Notorious killer Ted Bundy is escorted to a court hearing in the Pitkin County Courthouse following his recapture in Aspen in June 1977.
Post Independent file
WATCH: "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" The new Netflix documentary features present-day interviews, archival footage and exclusive audio recordings of Ted Bundy made on death row. The four-episode series revisits his infamous escapes from the Pitkin County Courthouse and Garfield County Jail in 1977.

Thirty years ago today, one of the most notorious criminals to ever make his way through western Colorado was put to death by the state of Florida.

Ted Bundy will forever be remembered for the murders and other heinous crimes he committed against women across the United States. But, for Garfield and Pitkin counties, his fame comes as much from a pair of jail breaks than what he did to get into jail in the first place.

In 1977, the eventual convicted killer escaped from the Pitkin County Courthouse, sending the entire Roaring Fork Valley into panic for nearly a week.

It would not be his only escape from local law enforcement.

On Monday, June 6, 1977, the Glenwood Post carried stories about a wildfire in Rifle and the Class of 1977 Glenwood Springs High School graduation – a typical summer front page of the Glenwood paper.

The next day, “Bundy Escapes” ran across the banner.

“Accused murderer Theodore R. Bundy escaped from Pitkin County law enforcement authorities at 10:48 a.m. today,” a dateline Aspen story in the cover of the Tuesday, June 7, Glenwood Post, then an evening publication, read. “Bundy remained at large as of early this afternoon.”

According to the story, Bundy was last seen running toward the Roaring Fork River behind the courthouse. After a quick investigation, it became clear he was able to escape after leaping from a second-story window in the law library in the back of the Pitkin County District Courtroom.

Road blocks were set up by authorities along Highway 82 in what resulted in one of the largest manhunts the West Slope has ever seen.

“Since Bundy’s escape, parents have been asked to pick up their children at schools; the sale of guns and ammunition has been banned; people have been asked to travel in pairs and not to go camping alone,” a front-page story in the Thursday, June 9, 1977 Glenwood Post read.

The ongoing story would remain on the front page until his recapture in Aspen, after he had been wandering in the back country for several days.

“With a ‘Welcome Home, Teddy’ sign hanging downstairs in the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department, accused murdered Theodore R. Bundy is led from today’s court appearance in Aspen,” the Monday story read.

Authorities said Bundy was traveling on Highway 82 heading back to Aspen in a stolen Cadillac when he was recaptured, according to the story. During his escape, he reportedly broke into a cabin in the Castle Creek area.

The story featured the now iconic photo of Bundy in custody, casting an evil grin toward the photographer. The negatives that contained that photo were unearthed two years ago by the Post Independent. They were found in an old safe that had to be cracked, as the combination had been lost.

It would not be the last time he put local law enforcement on the chase.

Around six months later, the Glenwood Post on Monday, Jan. 2, 1978 blasted “Bundy still at large after second escape” on the front page. This time, the story didn’t come out of Aspen.

Bundy escaped the former Garfield County Jail that Friday just before the new year in 1978. The Post in those days only came out Monday through Friday.

Bundy had escaped by slipping through a one-foot-square light fixture hole in the ceiling of his cell, authorities discovered, crawling through a plumbing and wiring passageway above the jail ceiling and exiting through a closet in the jailer’s adjacent apartment.

That Monday, Garfield County Undersheriff Bob Hart said he planned to have all the light fixtures in the jail remodeled.

The Hotel Colorado was searched after a maintenance man reported giving directions to a man who looked like Bundy, according to a story by Tom Oxley.

By Tuesday, local roadblocks and tracking dogs that were initially part of the search were called off as authorities began checking leads in Utah and Washington. Unlike his June escape, authorities suspected he had fled the area.

He was off the front page by Thursday, Jan. 5, 1978. He was then found Feb. 15, 1978 in Florida.

It wasn’t until Friday, Feb. 17 that news of his latest capture reached Garfield County, as “Garfield escapee faces Florida charges” ran across the front page.

It wouldn’t be until over a decade later that the story of Ted Bundy ended as he was executed in the electric chair in Florida on Jan. 24, 1989.

“Bundy’s gone” ran across the Glenwood Post that day.

Before his death, he would confess to dozens of murders, including the killing of a nurse in Aspen.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.