Reading Matters

John Henry Browne: The man who defended Bundy

When the publisher emailed me about this book, I said, “Send a review copy.” I admit I was both fascinated and repelled.

I couldn’t imagine that anyone would write such a book. It’s John Henry Browne’s “The Devil’s Defender: My Odyssey through American Criminal Justice from Ted Bundy to the Kandahar Massacre.” I think it was the first it had occurred to me that Bundy even had had a defense lawyer.

As it notes on the book jacket: “For the last four decades, the Seattle-based criminal defense lawyer has defended the indefensible.”

But Bundy?

He was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, when he escaped jail and hit Florida State in Tallahassee in early 1978. Even so, he blended into campus life without attracting attention. Within days, he had killed two students and severely injured three others.

I was long gone from that campus in 1978, but hearing about the events chilled me to the bone.

And, I’ll admit: Once I opened Browne’s book, I could not stop reading.

What I learned about Bundy did not come as a great surprise. Bundy confessed to Browne that he liked to control people, that it gave him sexual pleasure. As a youngster, Browne wrote, Bundy would go to a pet store and buy five to 10 mice and take them to the woods in a cardboard box.

“He’d stare into the box and hold a hand over each one, deciding if that particular mouse would go free or die. If the mouse was lucky, he would reach in, rescue it from its cardboard prison, and set it loose in the forest. He would pick the unlucky mice up by the tails, grip their bodies with his other hand, and pull the tails and bodies apart as hard as he could, ripping out their spines, then dispose of the bodies with a toss into the bushes.”

It was the same with women, according to what Bundy told Browne.

“He would watch them and determine whether he would go further, basically on a whim. There were many times he chose a victim, stalked her for hours, and then determined that he would not assault or kidnap her. This, to him, was a form of ‘playing God,’ and he would feel good about exercising his ‘mercy’ when he didn’t follow through with his violent impulse.”

Bundy was executed in 1989 in Florida.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, if you have the stomach.