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Ted Bundy survivor reflects on attack as his trial's 45th anniversary nears

Kathy Kleiner Rubin was attacked in her sorority house by the serial killer but survived, refusing to allow the events to alter the course of her life.
Kathy Kleiner Rubin
Posted at 2:13 PM, May 29, 2024

Kathy Kleiner Rubin is probably most "famous" for surviving Ted Bundy, but she certainly didn't ask for the notoriety.

Bundy went on a rampage at her sorority house in 1978, leaving Kleiner Rubin clinging to life. But the attack at the hands of the infamous serial killer was just one in a string of life-altering occurrences to be tossed her way. Kleiner Rubin lost her father as a young girl and suffered from childhood lupus that kept her out of the classroom and isolated from other kids for long stretches of time.

Enrolling at Florida State University in Tallahassee, nearly 500 miles from her Miami home, and moving into the Chi Omega sorority house finally gave Kleiner Rubin a shot at normalcy, until the Bundy attack almost killed her. Decades later, Kleiner Rubin survived breast cancer. In her book, "A Light in the Dark: Surviving More than Ted Bundy" (Chicago Review Press), Kleiner Rubin discusses her refusal to allow those events to make her bitter.

THE ATTACK

Kleiner Rubin spoke to Court TV about the events surrounding her attack. It was Jan. 14, 1978, into the early morning hours of Jan. 15, on a Saturday night. She and her roommate, who were both 20 years old, went to bed at about 11:30 p.m.

"The next thing I remember is late in the night I heard our bedroom door open, and it swished against the carpet," recalled Kleiner Rubin. "Between our twin beds, my roommate and I had a little footlocker that had our books and other things on it. And after I heard the door swish open, I heard this loud noise — this kicking over of that footlocker. Now I open my eyes and I'm looking, and it's dark in the room, and all I see is a silhouette of someone standing right next to me. And he raised his arm up over my head, and he had something in his hand, and it turned out to be a log. And he hit me so hard on my face that at first it didn't hurt. It was like just a thud. Then within seconds, the pain was extraordinarily hard to take."

Kleiner Rubin's jaw, which had been broken in three places, was hanging on by just one joint. Her cheek had been slit open, her chin was shattered and she had nearly bit off her own tongue.

At this point, Kleiner Rubin's roommate awoke. Their beds were about six feet apart, and the attacker spun around and bashed her in the face, shoulders and arm as she attempted to defend herself.

"I'm on my side of the room trying to call out for help and making noise, and this person, who turned out to be Ted Bundy, didn't leave any survivors. He always would kill his victims," continued Kleiner Rubin. "He came across to my side of the room. He looked at me. He raised his arm up over his head, but before he could strike me again, there was a light. A light that shone through the window through our bedroom. Our curtains were always open because we had hung plants on the curtain rods. So, at this point, a light shone in through the open curtains and illuminated the room. It was such a bright light. We faced the back of the house. We were right over the parking lot when you looked out our windows. This light was so bright that he thought he was seen either by me or by whoever was in the car coming home. And he got real antsy and started moving around. The light started to fade, he ran out of my room, went down the stairs and out the front door. Now the room is dark again, and I'm sitting in a little ball as small as I can be because I thought, if he couldn't see me, he couldn't kill me. That's the last thing I remember until the police officers came."

It turned out that the car that pulled into the parking lot belonged to one of Kleiner Rubin's sorority sisters, who spotted Bundy leaving as she entered the house. She later testified against Bundy at trial.

An unidentified woman peers through drapes on the second story balcony of the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in 1978.
An unidentified woman peers through drapes on the second story balcony of the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in 1978.

Kleiner Rubin described the moments following the attack: "When I opened up my eyes there was a police officer that was standing at the head of my bed, and he was looking at me. And he said, 'It's gonna be okay.' And I just felt a sense of peace. I'm hurting really bad, just excruciating pain in my face, felt like daggers and knives. I touched my face, and it was warm with blood. And I'm trying to scream out, and all I'm doing is making gurgling sounds because of all the blood in my mouth."

The next thing Kleiner Rubin remembered was being put on a stretcher by paramedics and carried out of the sorority house as a misty, chilly rain began to fall.

"As I was being taken to the ambulance, I saw all these lights from the police cars and the ambulance and the fire trucks," she said, “They were swirling around. And I heard chatter, police radios, the ambulance guys talking. I heard all this, and I looked to my side, and I thought for a minute I had been in a carnival. And I could see the midway down the street, and I could hear everyone talking and yakking. And then I was taken into the ambulance, and I was taken to the emergency room at the hospital."

Kleiner Rubin later learned that two of her sorority sisters, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, had been sexually assaulted and murdered by the attacker, but her roommate was going to survive. Kleiner Rubin also later learned that her attacker was Ted Bundy. Bundy was on the run, having escaped a Colorado prison and made his way to Florida.

He managed to slip into the Chi Omega house because of a broken lock. He'd followed a group of women as they walked home from a bar that was within walking distance of the sorority house.

Then Bundy hid in the bushes where it was dark, explained Kleiner Rubin, “and when the girls opened the back door, it opened up. And instead of slamming and locking, it just kind of hit the bolt, so it wasn't locked. So at this point, he saw that. He saw a piece of firewood, and he picked that up, opened the door and got into the sorority house."

Kleiner Rubin's co-author, Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi, also spoke to Court TV, and pointed out at that Kleiner Rubin doesn't resent the fact that the door was broken.

"She's always only blamed Ted Bundy for what he did," she said. "His actions belong to him."

After the Chi Omega attack, Bundy traveled a few blocks away to a duplex apartment on Dunwoody Road where he attacked another female FSU student. Mercifully, she survived. Out of respect for privacy, Kleiner Rubin's book doesn’t mention the names of other victims who are still living.

Bundy managed to evade the law for exactly one more month. He was arrested on Feb. 15, 1978, after being pulled over for operating a vehicle that had been stolen.

ROAD TO RECOVERY

Kleiner Rubin detailed both her physical and mental recovery. Upon release from the hospital in Tallahassee, she was flown to her parents' house in Miami to recuperate.

"I was on liquid morphine, and my mom didn't want to give it to me because she was afraid I'd be an addict," said Kleiner Rubin. "So she barely gave me my medication, but when she did, I felt better. And as I was home, I had a lot of reactions. I was mad. I was mad that this whole thing happened. I was mad I had to leave the sorority house. And then I was sad. I was sad all my friends were there and then I couldn't see them anymore. And then I was depressed because it wasn't right. It wasn't my fault. I didn't do anything. So with all these emotions in my head, I had to get better. I knew I wasn't gonna live like this with all those feelings bundled up inside of me."

Kleiner Rubin wasn't offered therapy — it was 1978, after all — so she described the ways in which she devised her own healing mechanisms:

"In my mind, I knew I had to heal myself … I looked way out in the distance. In the big ocean, there was one little island, and it had one palm tree and one sand chair. And I saw that island. And I looked behind me, and there was this big black mass — this ugly thing behind me that was gonna encompass me. So I took baby steps. I wanted to get to that island so bad, and it took me a long time, many days, to take my baby steps. And when I did, I looked behind me, and this nasty black mass was baby steps behind me. I kept going, and finally, I reached my little island. And when I did, I sat down, put my toes in the sand, looked up, and saw that this black thing was not there. It was nowhere to be seen. And I felt that I had overcome this and that I knew I could do more than that. I knew I could get better because I wanted to. And I think that was my main strength — wanting to do better for me and for my family. They were going through enough trying to take care of me and the trauma they went through."

Kleiner Rubin went on to detail her mother’s devotion, protecting her from anyone who was sick when she was diagnosed with lupus at 13. Her mom also began clipping every article that mentioned Bundy up until he was executed in the electric chair in 1989. When she stumbled upon boxes of clippings decades later, she realized that her mother was trying to shield her from the articles.

Kleiner Rubin's jaw was finally unwired after a grueling nine weeks, during which she came to the realization that she was afraid of men. So not only did she decide she needed to be proactive and do something about it, but she also went ahead and got a job at a lumberyard.

Kathy Kleiner Rubin is pictured in 1977.
Kathy Kleiner Rubin is pictured in 1977.

"I went in, and I saw as many men as I could, and I smelled the oak of the lumberyard, and that was the smell I remembered that night," Kleiner Rubin recalled.

The piece of firewood that Bundy bludgeoned Kleiner Rubin with was an oak log, and during the attack, pieces of bark had become embedded in her face and were found by investigators on her bedroom floor at the Chi Omega house.

"I said to myself, 'Okay, I'm over this.' So, after I decided not to work there anymore, I thought, 'Well, ya know what? There’s a lot of cute construction workers around here, and they all go to lumberyards. So again, I put myself in a happy place, somewhere where I wanted to move on. And this, too, helped me."

After the lumberyard, Kleiner Rubin took a job as a bank teller, where she was confronted by a gunman. She said she had come back from lunch to a young man coming to her station, demanding money and brandishing a pouch with a gun inside.

"I started to get the money in slow motion,” she recalled. "The head teller saw what was going on and pushed the button to call the police. And just when I was getting some money together, he was looking at me, which faced the drive-thru. I was looking at him, facing the lobby. He saw the police drive up to the drive-through, and he grabbed his pouch and his gun, and he left.”

'I STARED TED BUNDY DOWN'

After Bundy was caught, Kleiner Rubin was flown to Tallahassee to give a deposition. She recalled being in the same room as Bundy.

"When I stood there at the head of the table, I looked down, and there was Ted Bundy sitting at the other end of the table, just looking at me. I sat down, and I felt intimidated a little bit but not scared, just enough of a feeling that I felt, 'Okay, he’s not gonna come across the table and hurt me,' and I want to do everything I can to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone else. So I answered the questions from both the defense and the prosecution. I can't remember what the questions were now, but I stared Ted Bundy down. And he was just, like, bored being there."

The next time Kleiner Rubin came face-to-face with Bundy was when she was subpoenaed to appear in front of the grand jury. Once again, Bundy sat at the end of the table.

"This time I looked at him, and he was fidgeting … and he was moving all around. And I looked at him, and I felt strength this time. I felt strong enough to look at him and almost feel sorry for him. The hatred in me had turned into such a terrible thing that I looked at him and knew he was evil, and he was sick, and he was just a sick, mutilated person inside. And that made me stronger."

CAMERAS IN THE COURTROOM

On April 13, 1979, the Florida Supreme Court ruled to allow cameras in court throughout the state. Bundy went to trial two months later, in June 1979. Proceedings had been moved from Tallahassee to Kleiner Rubin's hometown of Miami. Kleiner Rubin recalled arriving at the courthouse to find that the gallery was standing room only. It was the first-ever trial to be televised nationally in the U.S. The concept of cameras in the courtroom was brand new.

Once again, Kleiner Rubin was ushered into a conference room, where she found the paramedics and police officers who had helped her "that terrible night," she said.

The day she testified, Kleiner Rubin wore the "reddest dress I could find in my closet," sat down in the witness box and told her story.

"The questions I remember most were from the defense, and they were trying to make me sound like I had wanted this to happen, that it was my fault that this happened and that it was not their client's fault," she recalled. "I remember looking at him again. He was right in the center of the room at his table, and he was fidgeting now, like he was gonna get mad. He was mad he was here, wasting his time. But I think inside he knew he was coming down to getting caught and gonna get sentenced. So I talked to him, I talked to the jury, and I left the jury box, went out into the hallway, and almost threw up because it was just so much on me and the cameras and everybody just looking at me. And I was strong. I walked in with my red, pretty dress because I knew I could do this. But it did take a toll on me that day."

In total, Bundy was responsible for dozens of murders across multiple states, although he only stood trial for three of those murders and was sentenced to death.

GIVING THE VICTIMS A VOICE

As the trial approaches its 45th anniversary, Kleiner Rubin and Lucchesi took some time to reflect on the fact that victims' names were exposed and forever attached to Ted Bundy's name, even though they never asked for that kind of attention. In fact, Kleiner Rubin and Lucchesi devote much of their book to shining a spotlight on the victims — the hopes and dreams of these women whose names are forever entwined with that of their killer — and the fact that their lives meant something.

Kathy Kleiner Rubin is pictured.
Kathy Kleiner Rubin is pictured.

"Over the years it became very apparent to me that if you open a book on Ted Bundy, you see his victims," lamented Kleiner Rubin. "It's like one paragraph — it's just everyone's name separated with a comma — and that hurt me so much because I knew they had a life and they had things to look forward to, and it wasn't fair that people didn't know that. It was important for me to explain who they were."

DISMANTLING THE TED BUNDY MYSTIQUE

Kleiner Rubin and Lucchesi also dispelled some of the mystique surrounding Ted Bundy, whom the media can't seem to help but portray as a handsome, charming ex-law student who was once on the brink of a brilliant career.

Lucchesi noted that when she gives talks about the media framing of Ted Bundy, she sets the record straight:

"Who constructed this frame, and how did they benefit from it? I always ask the audience: Where were you in life when you were 31? Ted Bundy at that point had been in and out of prison and jail, so he was renting a room in a boarding house. He had next to no work history, barely made it through undergrad, failed in a law school that was basically first-come, first-served in terms of enrollment because they were only in their second year of existence. He fabricated his transcript … and he was just flailing … He did such the bare minimum in life, right? So, one time he interned for a political campaign. One time he volunteered for a suicide hotline. And he gets all this credit. The man just climbed a mountain without taking a step. It's phenomenal to me how much attention he got."

Lucchesi believes Bundy gets too much credit for being some kind of diabolical genius. In reality, he resorted to hiding in bushes and attacking women from behind. Lucchesi even suggested that law enforcement fanned the flames to make up for the failures on their part. After all, Bundy's Colorado prison escape fell on their shoulders.

But today, Kleiner Rubin has learned to find comfort in telling her story — in her own words.

"I find talking about it heals me," she said.

This story was originally published by Katie McLaughlin on Court TV.