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Novel revisits '69 Shore killings

OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Standing across from the Ninth Street bed-and-breakfast, Christian Barth wondered in which room the two vacationing college women had slept hours before their murders near the Garden State Parkway in 1969 - the first slayings, some believe, by notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Standing across from the Ninth Street bed-and-breakfast, Christian Barth wondered in which room the two vacationing college women had slept hours before their murders near the Garden State Parkway in 1969 - the first slayings, some believe, by notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

"You can't help but think about the fact that those two girls and whoever actually killed them walked on these very same streets, on this very same boardwalk, maybe spent time on these very same beaches," Barth said, staring at the wide-porched former boardinghouse now called Serendipity.

The Cherry Hill lawyer has spent more than 16 years researching the Memorial Day weekend murders of Susan Davis of Camp Hill, Pa., and Elizabeth Perry of Excelsior, Minn., both 19.

He has studied every fact, nuance, and uncanny coincidence to surface since the women were found strangled and stabbed beneath a pile of leaves in dense pine and oak woods 200 yards from Milepost 31.9 on the parkway, near the Somers Point-Ocean City exit.

Barth has parlayed his research into a new novel about the unsolved crime, The Origins of Infamy, published by The psychological thriller is told from the perspective of Bundy, whose involvement is a tantalizing theory first floated in 1983.

The Atlantic County cold case is "one of the mysteries that's always been there, always fascinated me," said Barth, 43, of Moorestown, who grew up in South Jersey and learned of the crime as a boy when he overheard his parents talking about it as they passed the milepost on a drive home from the Shore.

In 1993, Barth's curiosity became a passion after he read a newspaper account of cryptic references Bundy made to what may have been the Davis and Perry murders.

"Bundy specifically states that he was on the Ocean City boardwalk in the spring of 1969 and that he experienced the thrill of abducting a woman along the boardwalk," Barth said. "Susan and Elizabeth were killed around the same time he was there."

In Infamy, Barth has fused fact with fiction to sketch in what experts say is a maddeningly incomplete portrait of the real-life Bundy. The sociopath - who admitted killing as many as 30 young women in Florida, Idaho, Colorado, Washington, and Utah - remained an enigma to investigators and forensic psychologists who studied him for years on death row.

In rambling confessions and confusing statements made in the third person, Bundy never directly said he had killed the two women, who were roommates at an Illinois junior college, but he implied that his first murders were at the Shore and he described picking up two women in Ocean City that spring. His psychologist-interviewer notified Atlantic County authorities immediately after Bundy's execution in Florida in 1989.

Bundy spent part of his childhood in the Philadelphia area and attended Temple University in early 1969. He lived briefly with his grandparents in Lafayette Hill.

"I wanted to get to the bottom of what happened," said the first-time novelist, who changed the murder victims' names and leaves the reader to decide Bundy's guilt.

"I started doing as much reading and research as I could, calling and interviewing people," including police and Davis' father, he said. He also went to Washington state and traced Bundy's murderous steps there.

Allowing himself "to get into Bundy's head" was disturbing, Barth said. He also said he had lain on the ground where Davis' and Perry's bodies had gone undiscovered for three days in order to get a sense of the remoteness of the spot and was shocked to feel the vibration from parkway traffic.

"Based upon what I have learned about the investigation, I believe there is a very great possibility that [Bundy] committed these murders, either alone or with one or two others," Barth said.

Robert McAllister, who was Atlantic County prosecutor in 1969 and served as chief investigator on the case, said last week that state police had spent "months and years" on the case and questioned many suspects.

Every Memorial Day weekend for nearly a decade they went door to door searching for witnesses and set up roadblocks and a command post in Somers Point, where the women were last seen.

In a less technologically oriented era, before DNA collection and before the term serial killer was in common usage, police vainly hoped the murderer might revisit the crime scene or that the roadblocks would jostle the memory of a vacationer with valuable clues.

"It's one of those cases that never dies, never seems to go away. To this day, people continue to be interested in it," McAllister, 80, said.

"The state police did an exemplary job investigating it. They never quit. They actively worked it on an almost daily basis for several years," he said.

The murders, so close to this happy-go-lucky Shore resort, made headlines for weeks, even in a summer dominated by the first moon walk, the Manson murders, Vietnam, and Woodstock.

The attractiveness of the victims, smiling in grainy high school yearbook photos that accompanied news accounts, holiday vacationers from out of town last seen in Davis' powder-blue convertible with their hair blowing in the ocean breeze, has created a legend around killings.

When Atlantic County Prosecutor Theodore Housel took office two years ago, he was briefed on the case, which remains open.

Atlantic County authorities in 1989 called the psychologist's Bundy lead "not particularly rewarding." But after reviewing the file, Housel said, "There wasn't enough evidence to rule out Ted Bundy." He would not say whether he thought the murders would ever be solved.

There remains surprising interest in the case among investigators, Housel said. A summer intern in the Prosecutor's Office is looking into it and is likely to include information about it in her master's thesis, he said.

The victims' families, who did not return calls seeking comment for this article, indicated after Bundy's execution that they believed he was the killer.

Speaking to The Inquirer in 1993, Margaret Perry, Elizabeth's mother, sounded relieved: "We are convinced that when Ted Bundy died, our daughter's killer got his comeuppance."