TACOMA, WASH. -- Serial killer Ted Bundy has long been suspected in the abduction of 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr, who disappeared from her Tacoma, Wash., home in 1961.
Over the years, academics, police investigators and relatives of Bundy and Ann Marie have debated whether she was the first of his dozens of murder victims.
But soon, a more concrete answer might be available.
Officials in Florida are working to have Bundy's DNA profile uploaded into the FBI's national database by mid-August. Tacoma detectives hope to compare it to evidence that was never analyzed in the Ann Marie case. "It's a question that needs to be answered from a historical standpoint as well as an investigative standpoint," said detective Gene Miller, who leads the Tacoma Police Department's cold case unit.
Bundy's killings and execution came before the creation of state and national databases that contain millions of DNA samples of convicted offenders. Law enforcement agencies use the databases to crack unsolved crimes, strengthen their evidence against suspects or to clear them. Having Bundy's DNA in the national database could shed light on the case of Ann Marie and other unsolved cases in states where he preyed on young women and girls.
In the 1970s, Bundy began his spree of raping, torturing and killing women and girls in at least five states, including Washington.
Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell in 1946 in Vermont. He later moved to Tacoma and took his stepfather's last name.He frequently visited his uncle, who lived in the Burr neighborhood.
The first time Bundy was caught was in Utah in August 1975; he was convicted of attempted kidnapping and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was extradited to Colorado to face charges there, but escaped twice.
In 1978, Bundy crept into a Florida State University sorority, killed two women and hurt two others. Less than a month later, he kidnapped and killed a 12-year-old girl.
Florida police arrested Bundy in a stolen car a week later. He was convicted and executed for killing the two sorority sisters and the girl.
Before he was executed in 1989 in Florida, the 42-year-old Bundy confessed to killing 30 victims. Law enforcement investigators were not able to identify all the victims and suspected he killed dozens more.
Before his execution, Bundy wrote to Ann Marie's parents; he said he didn't know what happened to the girl and denied having anything to do with her disappearance.
The effort to get Bundy's profile into the FBI database has spanned several years.
Around 2002, the lab received a partial profile of Bundy's DNA. A private lab had developed the profile based on tissue taken from Bundy's body before he was cremated.
The profile was too limited to be uploaded into the FBI's database, but it could be used for comparisons when detectives called about unsolved slayings where Bundy was a suspect.
None of the comparisons linked Bundy to a killing, said David Coffman, the lab's director. To know for sure, investigators needed a complete DNA profile. To get that, Coffman needed to find a new sample or piece of evidence to test.
He'd looked for a usable blood sample from evidence in the Bundy cases in Florida but came up empty.
Then he took the call from a homicide detective in Tacoma. After the two talked, Coffman got to thinking. The crime lab had a display case of items from the Bundy murders. He checked the display and found a set of dental impressions in some evidence boxes.
When the lab's technicians inspected the molds, they found them covered with fingerprints. That would contaminate any DNA.
In the meantime, Coffman contacted the clerk's office in Florida where Bundy killed the 12-year-old girl. Investigators still had evidence from the case, including a vial of Bundy's blood drawn when he was arrested in 1978.
Coffman submitted the sample for a DNA profile and scored.
Even after 50 years, DNA could still exist on the evidence from the Ann Marie case. The detectives will soon send it to the state crime lab to find out.
If a DNA profile can be found, it will be compared with those of convicted felons in the state and national databases. It also will be run against unsolved cases where there is DNA evidence from unknown suspects.
The FBI will issue a nationwide bulletin informing law enforcement agencies that Bundy's DNA has been added to the national database. A similar announcement will go out to agencies in the state.
"It's not just our case," Tacoma homicide detective Lindsey Wade said. "Once the word gets out, other agencies can look at their old cases."