How I knew the priest who ministered to Ted Bundy & his victims

How I knew the priest who ministered to Ted Bundy & his victims

[Update: Corrections and updates made throughout the post based on corrections from my friend, Fr. Gabriel. If I’d known this was going to get as much attention as it did, I would have contacted him first to have him vet the story. In particular, Msgr. Kerr did not administer last rites to anyone. Not sure where in my memory that came from. Nearly everything else was essentially correct.]

Monsignor William Kerr has died. Among other things, he was famous for having administered the last rites come to the spiritual aid of one of serial killer Ted Bundy’s lastvictims and then became a spiritual counselor for Bundy on death row.

I met Monsignor Kerr in 1994, I believe, when he was president of La Roche College, outside Pittsburgh. I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville and I’d been preparing for the Total Consecration to Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort with some of my friends. One of them was my roommate, Kevin Gillen, now Fr. Gabriel Gillen, OP, who knew the monsignor. Kevin arranged for Msgr. Kerr to lead us in the final consecration following Mass at La Roche. I don’t remember too much about the day, but I do remember Msgr. Kerr was kind and gracious to us.

Kevin told us the story Msgr. Kerr told him about that awful night in Gainesville Tallahassee, Florida, in 1978. He said Kerr got the call from the police in the middle of the night to rush out to the sorority house. When he arrived he was told that all but one of the girls in the house were dead or near death, killed by a serial killer who was later to be known to the world as Ted Bundy. After giving those last rites to the dying college girl, then-Fr. Kerr was asked by the police on the scene to talk to the girl who survived unscathed. They wanted to know how she survived the brutal attacks, because Bundy had stopped right inside the door to her room, dropped his weapon, and left without touching her. But the girl would talk to no one but a priest. [To clarify: The girl wouldn’t speak to police without a priest present. They called Msgr. Kerr and she told her story. Interestingly, Msgr. Kerr was not on call that night, but the phone rang in his room, not the other priest’s for some reason.]

When Fr. Kerr approached the near-catatonic girl, she told him that her grandmother had made her promise before going off to college for the first time that she would pray the Rosary every night before bed for protection; even if she fell asleep praying the Rosary, which she had that night so that when Bundy came into her room with murder on his mind, the beads were still clutched in her hands.

Later, Bundy would tell Monsignor that when he entered the girl’s room, he just couldn’t go on, he dropped his weapon, and he fled. She awoke to a man standing over her with a bat. She opened her hands, Bundy looked at the rosary beads in them, and fled. Such is the power of our Mother’s protective mantle.

[ Fr. Gabriel reminded me of this part:] Several weeks/months? later, Msgr. Kerr’s phone rang (again when he was not on call). This time it was the warden of a prison. They had just caught Bundy and he wanted to speak to a priest. Msgr. Kerr did not offer details of the conversation but Bundy would call him on a regular basis.

Bundy called from Florida the night before he was going to be executed (Msgr. was stationed in D.C. at the time) and thanked him for all he had done. Msgr. said he would offer a Mass for him the next morning, which would be at the same time of the execution. Msgr. said it was difficult listening to the radio as he drove to the church to say Mass. Everyone was doing a countdown on the radio, excited about the execution. The Mass was intense and on the way home again it was difficult hearing everyone rejoice at the death of Ted Bundy.

Ted Bundy’s mother called Msgr. (they had been in contact over the previous several years) that morning. She wanted to share something with him. She said: “I just got a call from one of the parents of Ted’s victims. They told me that ‘you’re experiencing the loss of a child today and we’ve experienced the loss of a child. We just want you to know that you are in our prayers and we love you.’”

Msgr. marveled at the parents’ strength to let love have the last word.

Rest in peace, Msgr. Kerr, and thank you for your small part in my faith journey and for your witness.

 

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
18 comments
  • Tallahassee, not Gainesville. There were other murders in Gainesville a few years later – Danny Rohling.

  • Wow! That was a powerful witness.
    LaRoche College, when I knew it was still a Pgh 15237 address.  I could see it out of my bedroom window! Lots of hills is Pgh. What a small world.

  • This is a wonderful, Rosary-affirming story!  In my late teens Bundy came through the town where I lived in Colorado.  I knew nothing of the Rosary then, or faith.  We were, my friends & I, sore afraid.  But now…Hail Mary!

  • I went to school at FSU and the Bundy killing was always mentioned when the college came up in conversation. Over all the story tellings, I had never heard this aspect of the story.  That is truly amazing and it disheartens me that after over 30 years, this grace was never mentioned in the light of such evil.  It is a shame but thank you for sharing this story and hopefully, now when Bundy is ever mentioned, the story will focus now on God’s grace and not the Devil’s work.

  • Seconded. I just saw a program about Bundy the other day and it seemed very complete, but this was never mentioned. Amazing stuff.

    “The Light was in the darkness, and darkness comprehended it not.”

  • I doubt it can be verified, unless perhaps you were to interview the cops or the girl who survived.

    I don’t really care if the snopes skeptics believe it. That forum has generally shown itself to be hostile to faith and belief anyway so I doubt any evidence would be enough to convince them.

    In the end, you can believe this or not. I heard it secondhand so I can’t say that it’s definitely true. However, I believe it.

  • I don’t see why this wouldn’t be true and trustworthy. The account comes to us from the girl in question, who, if she were to make up a story seeking publicity, would almost certainly choose something a little more popularly riveting than a rosary to base her tale on.

    It comes to us from her via, if I understand correctly, Msgr. Kerr, the priest who was there, who told Fr. Gillen, who told the author of this blogpost. Ergo, unless we are to accuse Frs. Kerr and Gillen of deceitfully spreading false miracle stories, this must be true. Priests, after all, contrary to what the media tell us, are generally holy, trustworthy individuals, and they know better than just about anyone the gravity and sinfulness of lies and other sins of the tongue, so there is no reason to presuppose that they’re lying, and every reason to suppose they’re telling the truth.

    In the Snopes thread in question, there is not, as far as I can tell, one shred of evidence brought forth, by people who are much more familiar with Ted Bundy and his killings than I am, to positively discredit a girl having survived because she went to sleep holding a rosary, which stopped the serial killer from murdering her. Several names of girls are given who were asleep and survived, and it could be any one of them. The thread seems to be just a bunch of hot air by fellows who pride themselves on being professional skeptics of anything and everything, especially anything religious.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t surprise me at all that such an anecdote would be left out of official and unofficial accounts of the incident. The police were concerned with cataloguing murders and the circumstances surrounding them, not “near misses,” and authors writing after the fact would probably be inclined to gloss over a story like this as well, dismissing it out of hand -especially if they aren’t Catholic, as either being “obviously” made up, or detracting from the drama of their true-crime book.

    The Devil, of course, would encourage this, because he knows the rosary is our most powerful weapon against him, and so we can expect that any true story which would encourage more people to say it would be strongly opposed by him, to the point where it shouldn’t surprise us that it ends up buried and only coming out in a personal recollection here and there -he certainly wouldn’t let such an anecdote into the news media, etc.

    Regarding the story itself, all I can say is that I echo the sentiments of previous posters: what a very very sensible grandmother this girl had!

  • I’m sorry, but is it your contention that God stood by and permitted Ted Bundy to bludgeon to death a sorority full of innocent women, and then stepped in to spare the last survivor?
    What kind of diety would save just one person amongst a multitude? What would make such a diety pick and choose at such a whim?
    You all seem to be taking this as evidence that God exists and loves us all unconditionally, but I see it as evidence of exactly the opposite.
    No flames, please—I don’t begrudge anyone their faith.  But in my humble opinion, nobody should be using this horrific episode as an affirmation of it.

    • Shirley, God does not decide anything as that would be predestination something that is impossible because it would take away His gift of free will. Usually when dreadful events happen there is often one or more survivors to tell what happened as witness/s to the event , we see this a lot, the people who survived the nazi concentration camps being a very good example. The priests who miraculously survived the bombing of Hiroshima.
      Ted Bundy was possibly the most difficult serial killer to catch, because unlike other cases, he never left any evidence of himself or his victims, there was nothing for detectives to work off, all they had was the name Ted, and even though his girlfriend had given details that she suspected him this was buried amidst the ton of so called sightings of the elusive Ted. Bundy was caught on minor things concerning driving etc., he escaped from jail twice. By 1978 detectives knew who he was but didn’t know where he was and Ted’s appetite for murder so more ferocious then ever. Ted already knew what he was going to do that night(it it thought that he had been hiding in Chi Omega sorority house waiting till dark) and he knew how many young women were in that sorority that night, one girl was not there as she was late coming home but saw him leave. All the girls with the exception of one were brutally raped and bludgeoned/strangled but one girl was totally unharmed and the question did concern the police too. Not everyone died that night either just so we’re clear on this.
      If one girl had a strong faith and did say the rosary every night then why is this so difficult to believe?

      From your comment you don’t seem to believe in God, and if that is the case nobody is forcing you to do so.
      The power of the rosary has been chronicled many times in history and the promises that go with it prove as much. In another account of this story, Ted Bundy apparently asked the priest what had happened that night, he recalled seeing a light above his would be victim but was thrown with great force out of the doorway, he said he got frightened and ran. I dare say Bundy picked up the branch/club he had used and scarpered like the coward he was. It’s been awhile since I heard this account but I’m sure it was on a video on youtube concerning stories of the rosary. The survivors of Chi Omega sorority house murders were separated as the police didn’t want their stories tainted in any way , but the girls themselves felt this was more of a hush hush campaign as the college didn’t want to have a bad name and for years these young women didn’t see or talk to each other. One survivor took her own life a few years later as the trauma was too much for her, so Bundy claimed yet another victim. All these woman have suffered including that girl with the rosary as such traumas will have life long effects. Because of this attack of Chi Omega sorority house, the evidence and the accounts of those brave women Bundy when finally arrested had so much evidence against him he was finally charged and sentenced.

  • Respectfully, no flames, But it happens every day!  God gives us free will and that is why WE need to pray for his protection.  I certainly do not claim to understand God!  I just want to live according to his will and I do pray for his protection and blessing for my family and me everyday.  And I have asked my daugter who will be going off to college to continue to sleep with her Rosary!

  • Strangely enough I was a student at Florida State in the fall of 1978, the following fall term after that horrible event.  I can’t remember the sorority name where the national news event occurred but that story was very much on the minds of students upon entry into the fall of 1978.

    Back to Fr. Kerr – he was an amazing quiet spirited man but very well spoken person, different from me.  I would be more outspoken. I would take his Bible classes at the church, St. Thomas Moore and those were wonderful because he would deal with real biblical scholarship.  Certainly back then the scholastic approach needed to have been taught and should continue to happen in Catholic, other church based schools and even all public high schools.  One can still be a non-theist and gain wisdom from those sacred texts as well as other non-Judeo Christian ones as well. Fr. Kerr was very warm and a gentle person but filled with intellectual soundness in search of the deeper truths in those as well as other texts.  I count myself truly fortunate to have been under his tutelage.  Instead of him being this “Father/ priest figure dominant over me” type, a style I was so use to in my earlier school days, he however, drew you in because of his deep introspective nature.  At times I was more of, “Oh come Fr. Kerr, what about this and what about that” but he would naturally smile – respond with something like, “Ah an interesting perspective and some good points to consider” without being dismissive.

    While the story about the Bundy matter can certainly be turned into a news sensationalist story item the important fact about Fr. Kerr is that his life has so enriched many of us who knew him.  Man, the Catholic Church would truly be Top Notch if more priests followed his style.  I will say no more about the current Catholic Church despite the fact that there are still some wonderful priests, nuns and other lay people.

    During my days at FSU, 1978-1982, I also knew a Father Steve Bosso who was an assistant to Fr. Kerr but his style was more gimmick theology which was not deep enough for me.  I did like Steve Bosso personally – a very jovial and good natured person but I wanted a deeper understanding of the texts and life in general.  Later, in my senior year at FSU in Tallahassee, FL Fr. Steve went onto Rome to study the biblical texts, a very wise move.  I say that because I believe that once you are exposed to deep scholarly studying of those texts the gimmicks tend to fade into the past.  Yet, never will the richness of solid compelling study become old and stale.

    In short, Fr. Kerr was a person that one would want to place on a pedestal not because he himself forced his way up there but because he knew how to get others to want to listen to him.  Not only was his manner very deep and introspective but he also wanted to be sure that his listeners understood what he was communicating.  A truly gifted and richly caring instructor and thus he was indeed a model priest.

  • I just found out about this story when I was watching EWTN two days ago. The priest was talking about the power of the rosary that can save us and save the world and for that, we should be saying the rosary everyday. Then he reminded his listeners about the true story that happened at a college about the murderer who was thrown out of the college girl’s room that would have been the next victim. This story is another of the many stories of the miracles that can come to those who believe and pray rosary. All I can say is “the rosary is amazingly powerful and true.” I know that because I’m a believer and I trust wholeheartedly in the rosary, in the prayers of The Blessed Mother Mary upon those who seek Her intercession. You have to believe in order to receive. The rosary is a powerful weapon.

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