Theodore Bundy, 42, who is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the murder of a 12-year-old Florida girl, also received death sentences for the 1978 murders of two Chi Omega sorority sisters at Florida State University. In this article, the surviving members of the sorority recall the night of the killings and how the crimes have affected their lives.
Sometime around 3:15 a.m. on Jan. 15, 1978, Nita Neary said goodnight to her date at the back door of the Chi Omega house on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. She hustled inside to escape the near 20-degree cold.
Going through the living room, Nita heard hurrying footsteps coming down the stairs. As she stood in the near-darkness, she saw a man holding something that looked like a club in his right hand. His left hand was on the front door. For three seconds, in the half-light, she focused on his profile.
Then he was gone.
Nita ran upstairs to awaken her roommate, Nancy Dowdy. After telling her a man had just left the house, the pair walked down the steps to check the front door.
Finding no one downstairs, the girls wondered what to do next.
Undecided, Nita and Nancy went to wake up the sorority president, who
came out into the hall to talk.
Less than a minute later, at 3:19 a.m., Karen Chandler opened her door and staggered down the hall, away from the knot of women.
Nancy wondered if Karen were sick or drunk. She went to her.
As she passed Karen`s open door, Nancy looked in to see Kathy Kleiner sitting on her bed, legs crossed, rocking back and forth, calling for her boyfriend and her pastor. She was holding her hands under her chin. Her hands were full of blood. Another Chi Omega, Margaret Bowman, already was lying dead in her room. Lisa Levy was fatally injured.
Because the police had no idea whom they were looking for, the girls of Chi Omega were repeatedly asked about their boyfriends and acquaintances. During the 30 days before Ted Bundy was arrested for the murders of two of their sorority sisters, they were told to scratch Chi Omega stickers off their cars, not to wear Chi Omega jerseys and not to travel together.
The girls did not miss the implication that someone might be systematically killing off Chi Omegas. Six months earlier another FSU Chi Omega had been raped, severely beaten and left for dead in a field outside Tallahassee.
Suddenly you`re thinking, `Is this somebody we know?` Helen Haynes says.
I mean, the bogeyman is never someone you know. So suddenly you`re looking at people like you`ve never looked at them before. You`re even looking at girls, thinking, could they have dressed up and done this thing?
Around 6 a.m. on Jan. 15, after the body of Margaret Bowman and the dying Lisa Levy had been taken from the house, after the critically injured Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler had been taken to the hospital, the rest of the Chi Omegas were fingerprinted and interviewed, then told to call their parents.
Authorities sealed off the sorority house and asked the girls to find lodging elsewhere. A few parents came to take their daughters home. Other girls asked for their parents to join them in Tallahassee.
When they finally entered the room that held the man police believed killed their friends, they were represented by an attorney they did not know.
This attorney took the stance that we were not capable of speaking for ourselves, Susan Denton said.
That is the only time, I recall, that someone tried to make sure we knew what we were to do.
Of facing Bundy, Susan said,
I had the feeling he was just seeing the women he missed.
Hurried but not panicked, Nancy Dowdy took Karen Chandler, who was bleeding profusely from the face, into her own room, where she put Karen on the bed. Karen, holding her arm, kept sliding off the bed and Nancy kept putting her back on.
Nita ran to wake Patty Landers.
Carla Griffin, assuming the commotion was downstairs, was surprised to find no one there. She returned upstairs and found the injured girl in Nancy`s room and began trying to calm her and clean her up.
Nancy left to call the police from a phone in the hall. Patty had also called authorities from a second hall phone. Their calls were received at 3:21.
Nancy`s phone call brought Teri Murphy into the hall.
Teri and Carla tried to help Karen, who kept repeating that she was sick and needed to get to a bathroom. While Teri asked Karen what had happened, Carla gently held her sorority sister, who was bludgeoned so badly that Carla had not recognized her.
Ted Bundy had hit Karen Chandler at least twice with a log. The blows broke her jaw and knocked out several teeth. Her left arm, shattered at the elbow, led police to believe that she was the only one of the four girls who had tried to fend off their attacker.
Karen remembers nothing about the attack. She went to bed one night and woke up in a hospital.
``I remember being in the bathroom in the hospital and my mother stood in front of the mirror so I wouldn`t see myself. But when she left, I looked.
My face was real swollen and puffy, with one eye completely closed. My mouth was a wreck, but I could see I had two eyes, a nose and ears. I had a brain. I could still see me there. That was something. That was a lot.
Karen left school for the winter quarter and dropped one of her majors. But she went back.
``The house wasn
t creepy . . . They had gotten a security system that was great. Im sure the police were patrolling that house like nobody`s business. I felt super safe there.
When I first said to Mom that I wanted to go back and live at the house, she said no. I said, `Mom, other than the city jail, can you imagine any place that is safer than the Chi Omega house right now?` She thought about it and said, `Well, you`ve got a good point there.`
Karen moved into Lisa Levy`s old room. It was not evidence of a belief in her own indestructibility, it was simply that the room was available, and Karen needed a room.
`The alternative to moving out of the house was living at home, hiding, being afraid to go out at night,
Karen said.I really wanted things to be as they had been before.``
Karen did not take the attempt on her life personally.
I felt that this was somebody who didn`t know me, she said.
He wasn`t after Karen Chandler. He was after a female body.
Last month Karen gave birth to her second child. A full-time mother who lives in Georgia, she talks a lot about her children. There is a thin layer of drywall dust on the furniture in her home: She and her husband are redoing the dining room. Her living room smells of crisp burnt pine.
I`m not trying to gloss over that it happened. But too much good stuff has happened in my life to derail on something bad that happened 10 years ago.Nothing that was really important had been taken from me. The only thing he could have really gotten from me is the fun out of life. Gosh, I was 20 years old, and this was supposed to be the time of my life.``
Karen knows what separates her from the rest of the Chi Omegas. What her sorority sisters saw that night was not what she saw.
They saw death.
Karen woke up and saw life.
Diane Cossin had left her room and gone down the hallway to be with Lisa Levy. She found Lisa near death. Diane bent over her friend, holding her, talking to her, trying to keep her alive, if only by sheer force of will. Lisa
s blood soaked Dianes bathrobe.
As a policeman pulled Diane away by the shoulders, she tried to cover Lisa`s exposed breast. She wanted to protect Lisa, even if Lisa no longer needed protecting.
Diane vividly remembers Lisa`s last words to her. Around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Lisa begged Diane to join a group of sorority sisters who were going to the bar next door for a drink. Diane was tempted but declined.
I`ll never speak to you again, Lisa said.
Diane remembers laughing.
Diane had known Lisa since Lisa was in junior high. And Diane knew Lisa
s life had meant more than this, to end up as a name on Ted Bundys death warrant.
I feel I have to accomplish something, Diane said.
Make it worth not just my life but Lisa`s.
In 1980, Diane went to work for Dexter Lehtinen, a member of the Florida legislature. Together, they decided to fight for victims` rights.
She had not forgotten the months she and her sorority sisters survived without answers and, at times, without comfort.
We were all victims, Diane said.
Everyone in the house was a victim as far as I`m concerned.
Lehtinen carried a Victims Bill of Rights to the Florida legislature. With Diane as his senior legislative aide, it passed in 1984.
Two months ago Florida adopted the Victims of Crime Amendment, the first of its kind in the nation. Diane and the senator are given the lion`s share of the credit for making it happen.
Winning, though, doesn`t give her peace. In the last two years she has written letters to NBC protesting what she said was the exploitative nature of
The Deliberate Stranger, a two-part TV movie on Ted Bundy.
She also wrote letters to a university that was offering a class in
thrillers. Ted Bundy
s crimes were to be included, and Dianes letters effectively got the class canceled. The university: Florida State.
Dexter Lehtinen is now U.S. Attorney in Miami, and Diane is his press secretary.
It is as if with fresh pain she can hold the memory of Lisa that much closer. Every day Diane lives, she reminds herself that Lisa didn`t.