Fact or Fiction? Exploring the haunts and myths of Ted Bundy’s cabin/cellar

Oct 31, 2023, 3:04 PM | Updated: 5:54 pm

Ted Bundy with a bow tie...

Ted Bundy, Feb. 23, 1976. (W. Claudell Johnson)

(W. Claudell Johnson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Since serial killer Ted Bundy lived in Utah and committed horrific crimes, stories and myths about the places he operated have emerged and evolved.

Stories were told of a place in the mountains where Bundy held his victims. To some, it was a cabin and cellar up in Emigration Canyon, to others, a cave in American Fork Canyon, and to others, an abandoned home in Bountiful.

Bundy researcher, Chris Mortensen has interviewed everyone he can find still living that’s connected to Bundy or his victims — over 100 people. He’s shared his findings on his YouTube channel, Captain Borax. 

“From about 2013 until about 2020 I spent an exorbitant amount of time researching that case and traveling,” Mortensen said.

The stories

Mortensen explained Bundy’s history and his connections to Utah.

“He was a cross-country traveling serial killer with a Volkswagen,” Mortensen said. Bundy moved to Utah at age 28 with plans to attend the University of Utah law school.

“He had already been killing girls in the Washington area and Oregon for a while and then when he came out to Salt Lake, he kind of picked up his habits again, and he was kind of cross-traveling into Colorado, and Idaho,” Mortensen said.

From 1974 to 1978, girls disappeared and were found killed and sexually assaulted.

“He was just he was basically a serial textbook killer kind of depending on his looks, and he would he would kind of talk girls into coming with him on little short trips to his car,” Mortensen said.

Since his spree of crimes, interest in Bundy’s crimes has continued, which may be why stories get passed down and altered over time.

Possibly perpetuated by Utah teenagers, stories began to circulate in the Salt Lake area about a cabin with a cellar up Emigration Canyon. The cabin was said to have burned down or been destroyed, with only a cellar entrance remaining.

A Google search for “Ted Bundy’s Cellar” shows a list of blogs of people discussing the abandoned, graffitied cement structure.

Another common Google search is for “Ted Bundy’s Cave” which several websites have listed in American Fork Canyon.

The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures did an entire segment on an abandoned home in Bountiful they state, “where locals claim Bundy killed one of his victims.”

Ted Bundy speaks to reporters in Salt Lake City, Utah outside a courthouse on November 21, 1975. (Archive, KSL TV) VW bug Carol DaRonch testifies at  a pres-sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Ted Bundy in Miami as Judge Edward Cowart looks on. Bundy was convicted of kidnapping DaRonch from a Salt Lake City suburb. (Associated Press - 1979) Ted Bundy, Feb. 23, 1976. (W. Claudell Johnson)

But is any of it true?

Fact or Fiction?

“The short answer is no,” Mortensen said. “I found the address of the property that everybody’s talking about this Ted Bundy cellar and it’s like a little there’s like a little doorway and it’s painted with graffiti. And everybody goes, ‘Oh, I hear voices down there!’ It’s really corny.”

Mortensen explained that in his extensive research of Bundy, there are only three confirmed addresses he lived at within Utah: two homes in the Avenues, and one near the University of Utah.*

“I’ve been up there multiple times. It’s an old property. If you look at it really carefully, you can tell that it was some sort of industrial property,” Mortensen said. “It’s absolutely commercial, there’s absolutely no residential qualities to it whatsoever. You can tell it’s like an old pump house for the zoo back in the old days or something. There’s like there’s some giant culverts on the side. I’m not sure what they are. But there’s an enormous water heater at the bottom of that thing that, could run the hot water for an entire high school. I mean, it’s just silly but people make it up.”

Mortensen said the story may have started because of a possible tour company that listed the location, Bundy’s cellar, as haunted. Despite all the bloggers, ghost hunters, and Reddit threads that say otherwise, it seems the cellar is complete fiction.

“They’re up there all the time kicking kids out of there,” Mortensen said. “It’s totally untrue, 100% falsified, the three addresses like I said, [a home in the Avenues] was the last place he stayed at and I think he was just trying to dodge the cops (and) the media during the Carol DaRonch kidnapping trial in 1976.”

The kidnapping Mortensen was referring to happened in the parking lot of Fashion Place Mall. Bundy approached DaRonch pretending to be a police officer and convinced her to come with him to the station even flashing a police badge. Once in his car, DaRonch fought for her life and was able to escape, flagging down a motorist as Bundy chased her with a crowbar. DaRonch was one of the few victims of Ted Bundy that survived and escaped.

The kidnapping trial was the first crime prosecuted against Bundy.

The other supposed location, a cave in American Fork Canyon has also never been verified.

“Well, there was a victim, there was a girl that he had left up there, but it was about two miles away from that cave,” Mortensen said. “And I don’t know if that’s where that started.”

Mortensen said victim Laura Ann Aime went missing from a park on Halloween in 1974, but her body wasn’t recovered until a month later in American Fork Canyon. Because of the length of time between when Aime went missing and when her body was found, Mortensen said people may have speculated that Bundy held her in the nearby cave until he killed her. However, he said, there’s no evidence of that.

As far as a home in Bountiful, Mortensen also debunked that tale.

“Ghost Adventures, did a story about a house in Bountiful a couple of years ago, where someone had supposedly taken Debra Kent or Ted had taken Debra Kent to this little abandoned house there,” Mortensen said. “And it’s totally untrue. I ended up finding the people that used to own the house. They told me they lived there the whole time and when the story supposedly happened, he was living in the Avenues.”

Kent was taken the evening after DaRonch escaped Bundy. 17-year-old Kent left a play at Viewmont High School during intermission to pick up her brother when she disappeared. There’s no evidence she was ever taken to the home in Bountiful.

While the cave, abandoned Bountiful home, and Emigration Canyon cellar seems to be fiction, there may be some fact in a cellar, just not in a canyon.

The home in the Avenues where Bundy lived did have a storm cellar, one of those old-fashioned dirt basements with two doors around the back of the house.

There’s no evidence that Bundy ever had victims in that cellar, but Mortensen said it’s a possibility. Mortensen spoke to a former tenant of the home who lived there at the same time as Bundy.

“Ted had the only key to the cellar and [the tenant] said he heard Ted all the time at night slamming open and closing that door, and he could tell that Ted was down in the cellar a lot,” Mortensen said.

This may be where beliefs and legends of Bundy’s cellar began.

A cellar on the side of a home in the Avenues where Ted Bundy once lived. (Chris Mortensen)

“I think that’s possible, but I’ve been down in that cellar but it’s pretty small,” Mortensen said. “It’s like an old, dirty brick potato cellar with a dirt floor and I mean, it’s potentially likely that he could have done that, I don’t know if I completely buy it.”

The history, then and now

After years of disappearances and deaths, Bundy confessed to 30 murders committed in seven different states across multiple years. The total number of victims of Bundy is unknown.

Within Utah, police believed Bundy killed Melissa Smith, Nancy Wilcox, Laura Ann Aime, Debi Kent, and Susan Curtis. Only Aime and Smith’s bodies were recovered. Although a bone found in the area Bundy said Kent’s body was, tested positive for Kent’s DNA in 2019. 

Bundy was ultimately caught in 1975 when he was pulled over by Utah Highway Patrol for a driving violation. Recognizing his car and description as the potential kidnapper in the DaRonch case, Bundy was eventually arrested and jailed for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault.

“So as soon as he got caught then of course everybody’s looking at him because Washington had already been putting together a big list of witnesses that say they were approached by this guy named Ted in a Volkswagen,” Mortensen said.

Bundy was quickly a suspect in multiple unsolved homicides in several states. Bundy was facing murder charges in Colorado when he was able to make an escape from the courthouse, jumping out the second-story window.

Bundy was recaptured but made a second escape from his cell six months later. Bundy fled to Florida where he committed more crimes including three murders before he was discovered and taken back into custody in 1978.

Bundy was sentenced to death and killed by electric chair in 1989 in a Florida prison.

“It’s such a huge national crime. When it all happened, it’s almost like the planets kind of aligned at the time, like it was the perfect time to be a Ted Bundy,” Mortensen said. “The police, they will tell you now that nobody communicated with each other back in those days. There was no internet, there was no really good data source center for criminals. You could really hide, there was no CCTV on every single street corner. It was really easy to get away with stuff.”

Interest in the Bundy case hasn’t waned. Most recently, a Netflix docuseries, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes ” was released in January 2019, and so was a movie about Bundy’s crimes titled, “Extremely Wicked and Shockingly Evil.”

Zac Efron stars in “Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile,” a biopic about Ted Bundy that has been criticized for appearing to glamorize the serial killer. (Netflix)

It’s a huge story and everybody’s fascinated with it. I think people were just kind of fascinated that someone could be so seemingly so normal and well-put together but had this complete dark side,” Mortensen said.

* For the privacy of current tenants and families of victims, KSL TV will not share those addresses.

Throughout October, KSL TV will be exploring haunts and legends around Salt Lake County. We’ll share with you what we learn – what’s fact and what’s fiction. Other stories include: The Rio Grande Depot, The Old Mill, Sugar House Park, and Allen Park. 

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Fact or Fiction? Exploring the haunts and myths of Ted Bundy’s cabin/cellar