Ted Bundy’s escape forever a part of Western Slope history
As infamous serial killer Ted Bundy finds his way back into mainstream media – including a popular Netflix documentary, a pending new movie and a multitude of retrospective news stories – over 30 years after his death by electric chair, it’s hard for some Garfield County residents not to reminisce on his short stay in town.
For one Rifle resident, Bundy’s escape from the Garfield County Jail on Dec. 30, 1977, just months after he escaped from the Pitkin County Courthouse and was recaptured on Highway 82 near Aspen, is a time he remembers vividly now over 40 years later.
To this day, Andy Leyba, who lived in Rifle at the time of Bundy’s escapes and still does, believes he unknowingly gave Bundy a ride out of town the night he escaped jail.
Working an evening tunnel shift in one of area coal mines at the time, Leyba recalls driving through Glenwood Springs early the morning of New Year’s Eve 1977. He said he was driving through a snowstorm and his was the only car on the road coming through Glenwood.
“For Glenwood Springs and vicinity the weather service is calling for scattered snow today, increasing tonight and continuing Saturday,” the Post’s weather report from that day reads. “Snow heavy at times tonight with six inches or more of new snow.”
According to National Weather Service Grand Junction meteorologist Michael Charnick, Glenwood Springs received 4.5 inches of new snow on Dec. 30, 1977.
HITCHIN’ A RIDE
As Leyba was making his way through Glenwood Springs, ready to head back to Rifle, he said some guy jumped in front of the vehicle waving his hands.
With no jacket on, Leyba said to himself, “if I don’t pick this guy up he’s going to freeze,” and ended up giving him a ride to Rifle. Before letting him out in Rifle, Leyba said he gave the man his jacket. His wife had gotten the jacket for him that Christmas.
It wasn’t until he saw Ted Bundy’s photo in the news a few days later that he began to reflect on who exactly was in his truck that night.
“I got to thinking … one of the biggest murderers in the world … I had him in my truck,” he added.
Though Leyba attempted to contact the authorities about this hitchhiker, stopping at two roadblocks set up in town that week, he could never prove what happened and not one law enforcement official ever tried to corroborate his story.
What is known for sure is that Ted Bundy was incarcerated in the old Garfield County jailhouse in Glenwood Springs, now long gone, just before the end of 1977. He would not stay into the New Year.
That Friday night, hours before New Years Eve, Bundy is believed to have escaped from the Garfield County Jail. He was not seen again by authorities until his final capture in Tallahassee, Florida over a month later in February 1978.
“Bundy escaped from the Garfield County Jail Friday night … by slipping through a one-foot hole in the ceiling of his cell, crawling through a plumbing and wiring passageway above the jail ceiling, and exiting through a closet in [the jailer’s] adjacent apartment,” the Monday, Jan. 2, 1978 Glenwood Post reported.
Bundy’s escape wasn’t discovered until that Saturday afternoon.
On that Monday, Garfield County Undersheriff Bob Hart said he planned to have all the light fixtures in the jail remodeled so that it would take a wrench just to change a light bulb, a story by reporter Tom Oxley reads. Hart speculated that Bundy had been wearing jeans, a gray turtleneck pullover and jail-issue boat sneakers when he escaped.
As of that Tuesday, “there were no new leads in the search,” according to the followup story titled :Bundy leads don’t pan out.”
Bundy was scheduled to go on trial that Monday for the prior year’s slaying of Michigan nurse Caryn Campbell, whose body was found in a snowbank near Aspen, Oxley reported on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Post staff writer Marti Alles reported that Hart said a welder was at the jail Tuesday, welding the light fixtures in other cells shut, to prevent another escape like Bundy.
“You know the old cliché,” Hart reportedly said. “After the horse is stolen, you lock the barn. “
That day, it was also reported that FBI and Garfield County authorities searched the Hotel Colorado after a report from a maintenance engineer at the hotel said he had given directions to a man who looked like Bundy.
He said this encounter was made at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday.
According to Alles, two dogs were brought into the hotel and both trailed Bundy’s scent to a spot by the elevator and then out the door again, but no further trace was discovered.
The maintenance man also said he didn’t recognize Bundy until he saw a picture of him in a newspaper the next day.
It will likely never be known for sure how Bundy made it out of Colorado, but his case is one that remains in the public eye even now, four decades later.
Current Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson called the renewed hysteria around Bundy “a weird phenomenon,” and said the only time he ever thinks about the infamous serial killer is when curious reporters call him out of the blue to ask him about it.
He added, however, that the case serves as an interesting contrast for modern law enforcement officials, as it shows just how much investigations have changed since that time.
He said it’s clear that law enforcement was very compartmentalized at the time of Bundy’s escapes, but now, with modern communications, investigations are spread much more rapidly across jurisdictions and information is shared much more efficiently and effectively.
While an exact number of Bundy’s victims could never be confirmed, he confessed to 30 homicides in seven states between 1974 and 1978.
For Leyba, he will never truly know who he gave his jacket to that night, but he admitted it was hard to follow the case through the years and not think about what could have been.
“I never picked up another stranger hitchhiker after that,” he said.
Whenever he tells the story now, whether it be at his church or when driving around with someone in the same truck, he said some people believe him, while others remain skeptical.