The Crime Craze: “The Ted Bundy Tapes” vs “The Innocent Man”

State Archives of Florida

Alden Wiygul, Staff Writer

The newest craze on Netflix seems to have turned the public eye onto a topic that is universally fascinating and horrifying: killers. Numerous crime documentaries have been popping up more frequently since 2018, such as “The Staircase,”  “I am a Killer,” and “Evil Genius.” Even though Netflix is filled with these documentaries now, there are two that particularly stand out due to their story and production value: “The Innocent Man” and (the latest to be added) “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.”

“The Ted Bundy Tapes” quickly gained popularity and brought the new crime documentary craze further into the light. It was first available to stream Jan. 24, 2019, and people have been increasingly interested in this case ever since.

Florida Department of Corrections
Ted Bundy’s mugshot when he was arrested in Florida

Ted Bundy was a serial killer in the 70s and 80s who brutally murdered 30 women across Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Florida. (The real number is speculated to be much higher, but these are the ones they currently have evidence for.)  Before Bundy, the general public had no tangible definition of a serial killer. No one thought that normal places could be filled with dangerous people who find sick enjoyment in the murdering of others. When Bundy’s case first appeared, the police were forced to be confronted with the reality that serial killers are not only real but also that this one had been able to get away with serial murders for so long. The reason that Bundy’s killing went undetected at first was that police did not share information across state lines yet. Bundy actually ended up providing the FBI with the information that profilers now use to target serial killers.  

Bundy’s story makes for an intriguing documentary because his case was so monumental back in the day. Plus, people find it difficult to look away from Bundy’s egotistical and psychopathic charm, which is more easily brought to light by the sheer amount of information there exists on him. Bundy appeared in court many times and often acted like he was representing himself by making grand public speeches professing his innocence. Even better than the hours of video of him in court are the recordings of Bundy talking about both his life and the crimes that he committed, which he relayed to a reporter. While he never confessed in these recordings, they make up the infamous “Ted Bundy Tapes” that the documentary uses throughout the story.

“If I wrote “The Innocent Man” as a novel, folks probably wouldn’t believe it.””

— John Grisham

There is a different documentary series, however, that, despite not gaining the instant popularity that “The Ted Bundy Tapes” did, I believe is better. “The Innocent Man” came out Dec. 14, 2018, based on the only nonfiction book of the same name by John Grisham. “The Innocent Man” is about two unrelated murder cases that happened within a year in the same town of Ada, Oklahoma. In each of these cases, a pair of men are tried and found guilty for the murder of a woman. Three of them are sentenced to death row. The series explores the overwhelming evidence supporting their innocence and the corruption interwoven into the quiet town of Ada.

The story told by “The Innocent Man” is much deeper and more interesting than Ted Bundy’s. While Bundy is a fascinating person, especially from a psychological standpoint, the tale of “The Innocent Man” is filled with captivating characters and so many different surprises. I ended up staying awake until 4:00 a.m. finishing it.

Besides the more compelling storyline, the production quality is also a step higher. “The Ted Bundy Tapes” is well made, but “The Innocent Man” makes the viewer feel as if they are watching a well-produced murder mystery show where the producer had the liberty of creating the most interesting sets and plot possible. Every moment of the documentary is filled with interviews, imagery, and reproduced scenes from the people’s retellings of the murders.

So, while “The Ted Bundy Tapes” is a good show, I watched “The Innocent Man” right after and discovered how much better it was. The prior is often overhyped because it is already so well-known. People are attracted to its famous story, especially with the upcoming movie about Ted Bundy where he is played by Zac Efron. However, if you only had one day left on earth, I strongly recommend “The Innocent Man.” It is formatted more like a mystery movie instead of a real documentary.

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