Ward Lucas relives covering prolific serial killer in Netflix’s “Ted Bundy Tapes”

Until two weeks ago, Ward Lucas didn’t even have a Netflix account.

Now the retired investigative reporter and television news anchor who spent three decades at Denver’s 9News is featured in one of the platform’s most talked-about new series.

Ward Lucas of 9News in Ted Bundy tapes

John Leyba, The Denver Post

In this 2001 file photo, former 9News anchor Ward Lucas, left, is seen on the station’s set with newscaster Anita Lopez. Lucas, who spent more than three decades at the Denver TV station, appears in the new Netflix docu series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.”

“Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” burst onto the streaming scene on Jan. 24 — a four-part series detailing the brutal, unflinching story of one America’s most notorious serial killers.

Bundy assaulted and murdered 30-some women during the 1970s in several states, including Colorado. Millions around the country followed with horror as Bundy conducted two brazen escapes over the years — he committed more assaults and murders while on the lam — before finally being recaptured in 1978. He was executed in Florida in 1989.

Lucas was there when the saga first began.

A young radio reporter in Seattle in the early 1970s, Lucas began covering the disappearance of several young women.

“Seattle was in a royal state of panic,” Lucas, 70, told The Denver Post in an interview this week. “Everyone was talking about it.”

As the number of missing women continued to climb, Lucas went out with police on ride-alongs throughout the city.

“We got a call about a guy breaking into a woman’s house,” Lucas recalled. “The cops drive up and we went to the door, and the woman was sobbing. She said, ‘I thought I was going to be No. 16.’ ”

His radio station had started numbering the victims.

“I was kind of revolted by the whole thing,” Lucas said. “We were doing almost gratuitous coverage. Every single story up there was a Ted Bundy story. In retrospect, it was appropriate.”

A national story

Until that point, the story was huge in Seattle — but not anywhere else.

The disappearances of Denise Naslund, 19, and Janice Ott, 23, on the same day in July 1974 changed all that. The two women were abducted, separately, in broad daylight from Lake Sammamish State Park by a man who had one of his arms in a sling, who asked for their help in unloading a sailboat from his tan Volkswagen.

“Suddenly, we have a man named ‘Ted,’ ” Lucas said. “Suddenly we had witnesses. It was the first real hard evidence.”

Two weeks after the two women disappeared, Lucas’ supervisor came to him with an unusual story assignment.

“My boss wanted me to go to the park with my arm in a sling and a hidden tape recorder,” Lucas said. “He wanted to stage this stunt to see if I could get people to help me with a boat.”

Lucas refused.

“We had an argument over ethics,” he said. “It eventually made me leave the station.”

In this 1977 photo serial killer ...

Glenwood Springs Post Independent via AP

In this 1977 photo, serial killer Ted Bundy, center, is escorted out of court in Pitkin County, Colo. The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent discovered the 40-year-old photo of Bundy, along with others, that had been locked in an old safe in the newsroom, which a local locksmith volunteered to open. The photos show Bundy in custody in 1977, the year he escaped from local law enforcement twice while awaiting a murder trial.

In 1976, Lucas moved to Colorado to work for 9News. If he thought he was leaving the Bundy beat behind, he was wrong.

Already in Utah State Prison at the time, Bundy was extradited to Aspen in June 1977 for a preliminary hearing in the murder of a 23-year-old registered nurse named Caryn Campbell.

Lucas remembers that when young women in the Aspen area went missing, he had a hard time convincing the higher-ups that this was something they needed to cover.

“I kept saying this is a national story,” Lucas said. “My news director said, ‘Aspen is outside our viewing area.’ He refused to let me cover the story. So I paid for a plane flight for me and a photographer. All of a sudden, I guess, we decided it was a national story.”

RELATED: Photos of serial killer Ted Bundy found in old Colorado safe

“Hi, Ward”

Pitkin County Court was the site of Bundy’s first dramatic escape. Unshackled, he jumped out a second-floor window and escaped into the woods. It took six days for authorities to catch him. That’s when Lucas had his most memorable — and only — encounter with the mass murderer.

“There’s a famous shot when he came down the courthouse stairs, and he’s walking through a crowd,” Lucas said. “He turns to me and said, ‘Hi, Ward.’ He was obviously watching the news coverage.”

While he would later become a household name in Colorado news, Lucas in 1977 was still a relatively unknown face.

“The other reporters there turned to me and said, ‘Who the hell are you?’ ”

It was the last time Lucas saw Ted Bundy in person.

Lucas said the beat reporters back in the day used to be pretty open about sharing information. But not with the Bundy case.

“It was dramatic,” he said. “It was all a competition among reporters — not so much information sharing. Everyone wanted the big scoop.”

About six or seven months ago, Netflix called to see whether Lucas — who retired in 2009 after 33 years at 9News — would be interested in flying to Seattle to be interviewed for the Bundy series.

“I didn’t have Netflix until a couple days after it aired,” Lucas admitted. “I don’t watch much TV.”

Still, he believed the documentary stayed mostly true to the facts.

“I thought it was well done,” Lucas said. “They didn’t overly sensationalize; they didn’t go overboard.”

So why does the Ted Bundy story capture the imagination of so many Americans decades after his final breath?

“He was good-looking, articulate, well-spoken, a law student — and obviously devious,” Lucas said. “That was intriguing. In the midst of this national panic, girls were still getting into the car with him.

“Bundy was the boy next door.”

 

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