Serial Killers in the Media and in Real Life: Dexter and Ted Bundy

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Each of us has some sort of guilty pleasure, whether it be chocolate, romance movies, or like myself and many others, murder related television. Our society tends to entrance themselves with things they cannot understand, which is exactly the case with serial murderers. Perhaps it’s the idea that someone could use their own volition to end the life of another that captivates the masses, or perhaps it’s our lack of knowledge regarding these prolific serial murderers that leads us to become hypnotized. The media has contorted and construed a particular genre for serial murderers that is both factually inaccurate and incredibly dramatized. There are many shows in which the main character or general show basis is murder.

For example, Dexter focuses on a blood splatter analyst for Miami Homicide who moonlights as the “Bay Harbor Butcher”, a serial murderer who rids the streets of undesirable criminals who have slipped through the criminal justice system. Shows like Dexter are interesting and give viewers an inside look into the “mind” of fictional serial murderer Dexter Morgan. While these shows make for interesting TV and are meant to be fiction, the portrayals are not even close to being completely accurate depictions of actual serial killers such as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, and have equally inaccurate portrayals of murder investigations and trials. Serial killers in television are much different than actual real life serial killers.

Analyzing the “Bay Harbor Butcher”

Dexter is based entirely on following the life of Dexter Morgan, a very active and prolific serial murderer by night, loving husband, father, and crime stopper by day. His is coined as the “Bay Hardbor Butcher” once the bodies of his victims are found. According to Alex Moaba, Dexter may be loosely based on an actual serial killer from Miami, Manuel Pardo, who was a police officer for Miami Metro who went on a three week robbery and murder spree in 1986. Manuel Pardo was nothing like the dashing, intelligent, and sexy Dexter Morgan who kept using on the edge of our seats as he dodged authorities time and time again. Dexter is a perfect example of how the media creates a persona for serial killers that includes intelligence, wit, education, and attractiveness. On Page 270, Hickey points out that typically serial killers are not highly educated and do not hold skilled or professional careers. This fact is entirely against the grain with Dexter since he is a well educated and highly intelligent blood splatter analyst, which is a skilled professional career. Further, in the show, the concept of idealization of serial killers is shown in several ways including a psychiatrist telling Dexter that he is “perfect” the way he is, and when the bodies of his victims are found and the public realizes that those murdered were “undesirables” there are comments that they didn’t mind his actions, treating him as an apex predator in the serial killer world since he was only killing criminals. The media in the show even portrayed Dexter as a vigilante ridding the streets of the real criminals in the tabloids, as if that exonerated him from the fact that he was still a serial killer. According to Berryessa and Goodspeed in The Brain of Dexter Morgan: the Science of Psychopathy in Showtime’s Season 8 of Dexter, Dexter became who he is because of seeing his mother get slaughtered with a chainsaw when he was a small child. This bit of fiction actually has a backbone of fact: many serial killers do experience childhood trauma. In the show, Dexter is deemed a “psychopath” by long time psychiatrist Dr. Vogel. Throughout the show he is shown as cold and disconnected from his friends and family most of the time, citing his actions as being “just the way he is.” According to Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D, childhood abuse and trauma cannot be excluded from factors that may cause psychopaths to commit crimes, although she also mentions that a large majority of gruesome crimes are committed by psychotics, not psychopaths, however some of their traits overlap. She goes on to explain that studies suggest that psychopathy is 60% inheritable. This last fact supports the plot twist found in Dexter which shows his biological brother, Brian Moser, as a serial killer also. This plot twist may allude to the fact that there is some evidence to suggest psychopathy may be inheritable, but it also reinforces the myth that all serial killers are psychopaths. Although Dexter may have not been factually correct, it is a perfect example of how the media idealizes, sexualizes, and manipulates the “serial killer” to be a softer, more digestible, and sometimes vigalante that the common viewer can handle, and maybe even love, although the show is riddled with murder and violence.

Sexy Serial Killers

It isn’t uncommon to see a serial killer portrayed as a super sexed up version of an actual human, complete with wit, charm, humor, and intelligence. Some serial killers even manage to garner fan clubs, groupies, and even wives while incarcerated for vicious murders. Ted Bundy, convicted of the murders of at least 30 women, managed to get married and have a child with long time friend turned groupie turned wife Carol Ann Boone. Herman Eloff points out that society has an obsession with making serial killers sexy, citing examples such as Zac Efron playing the role of Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and Penn Badgley starring in the new TV series You as an obsessed stalker who murders his lover after being rejected.

Charles Manson was the leader of a cult dubbed the Manson “Family”. Manson persuaded the members of his self proclaimed family to brutally murder actress Sharon Tate and her friends, as well as Leno and Rosemary LaBianca (Jeff Guinn). Jeff goes on to explain how Charles Manson, then 80, and 27 year old “Star”, a name given to her by Manson, got engaged. Some of Charles Manson’s remaining followers even created a website dedicated to his ramblings which attracted “a new wave of disaffected youth” (Guinn). According to the article, Charles Manson didn’t particularly care what was said of him, but rather that people were talking and writing about him. The attention that serial killers are given creates obsession and curiosity. Many serial killers have fan clubs and followers that wish to get closer to the offender or to “understand” them.

Although there are some documentaries that honestly and accurately depict serial killers as what and who they truly are, there is still sensationalization surrounding the cases, which creates interest. Dr. Hodgkinson sums the situation up well by stating, “Most people’s knowledge about serial killing is therefore based on a consistent but flawed narrative; a sensationalist, and simplified stereotype of the organized ‘evil’ psychopathic killer, who kills randomly without motivation, but who (thankfully) can be easily apprehended using the credible science of profiling, restoring our faith in the powers of law enforcement.”

Troubled Ted Bundy

Not many serial killers attracted as much attention as Theodore, also known as Ted, Bundy. In The last murder the investigation, prosecution, and execution of Ted Bundy, George Dekle highlights how unbelievable it was for many that Ted Bundy could commit these atrocious acts: “Bundy’s neighbors at the Oak Apartments could hardly believe that he was the Chi Omega murderer. Tina Louise Hopkins, who lived two doors down from Bundy, said, “He looked like a student. He blended in. He wasn’t ugly and gross and slimy.” (Dekle, 21).

This is just one example of how people thought Ted looked like the regular guy, someone incapable of committing the crimes he was proven guilty of. Many people did not believe Ted was guilty because he didn’t look how they expected him to. Ted’s trial was unique to say the least, especially in the fact that he was allowed to represent himself for the most part, and even got married during his trial through a legal loophole. Dekle writes about the “wedding” in his book, stating “Bundy took the stage to conduct his own defense. Dressed in a grey jacket and wearing a bow tie, he looked every bit the dapper lawyer. Calling Carol Boone to the witness stand, he led her through a dissertation about how wonderful he was and then asked her if she wanted to marry him. She did. He said, “I hereby marry you,” (Dekle, 212). This excerpt from his book not only highlights the grandiose nature of Ted Bundy, but the fact that he was a showman and enjoyed the attention his trial brought him. Bundy even later went on to father a child by Carol Ann Boone, but the identity of the child is unknown.

Bundy’s trial was highly publicized, with many headlines alluding to him as a “law student” instead of highlighting him as a murderer, referencing the way the media romanticizes and idealizes serial murderers. Ted Bundy’s trial was dramatic, public, and a high profile case that was followed by millions. The media took Ted’s trial and personality and ran with it. Ted Bundy is a perfect example of how the media sensationalizes serial murderers since his trial was followed so religiously by the media. In reality, Ted wasn’t the super attractive Zac Efron-esque heartthrob the media would lead you to believe, but rather a relatively average looking psychopath grasping desperately for control after failing to meet his own expectations. Dekle writes, “He was not only a narcissist but a psychopath as well. He loved being in control not only in his murders but of the system, the au-dience, the courts.” At the end of his trial the judge made a comment about how he would have loved to have seen Ted practice law since he was gifted in it. This comment not only showed the utter disregard the media, and the judge, gave to actually highlighting what he had done instead of highlighting his accomplishments and potential.


Although Ted and Dexter live in different worlds, one being the fictitious dramatized television series world, the former being in the real word, they do share some similarities and many differences. Both Ted and Dexter were educated, except Ted was woefully inadequate in his pursuit of a legal education which some believe may have contributed to Ted becoming a serial killer. Ted had to face a trial whereas Dexter did not, since Dexter was incredibly meticulous and elusive, characteristics that he and Ted did not share. Both Ted and Dexter highlight important trends in how we view serial killers.

Both helped to perpetuate the stereotype that serial killers are very intelligent, charming, witty, and attractive psychopaths, although none of these things can be solely attributed to serial killers exclusively and Ted was only viewed as some of these things because of the light the media presented him in. Prolific cases of serial murderer tend to captivate the world, the media, and the public due to the graphic nature of the topic, our lack of knowledge, and a natural human tendency to be interested in things we do not understand. As more information becomes available hopefully the personas we give serial murderers will be more accurate, or at the very least perhaps we will focus more on the victims than the horrific acts that led to their demise.

Cite this paper

Serial Killers in the Media and in Real Life: Dexter and Ted Bundy. (2020, Nov 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/serial-killers-in-the-media-and-in-real-life-dexter-and-ted-bundy/



How does the media influence serial killers?
Media coverage regarding serial murder is also theorized as a possible cause for the phenomenon's increase, as potential killers are easily exposed to information that could teach them necessary techniques to carry out their own fantasies or simply inspire them to finally act on an impulse they have resisted for years.
Is Dexter based on Ted Bundy?
No, Dexter is not based on Ted Bundy.
Was Ted Bundy's IQ high?
There is no definitive answer, but some reports claim that his IQ was around 136.
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