The Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile generated tons of buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January. And now it’s finally coming to Netflix on May 3. The film, starring Zac Efron as the infamous convicted serial killer, tells his story from the perspective of his girlfriend Elizabeth "Liz" Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins), who had to come to terms with the violent reality Bundy had kept from her.. Kloepfer went on to write the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy in 1981, that the movie’s based on. But how accurate is Kloepfer and Bundy's relationship in the film compared to what really happened?
In the Netflix docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, it’s explained that Bundy and Kloepfer met at a bar in 1969 and went on to live together, which is also how it goes in Extremely Wicked. Kloepfer was a single mother by the time she met Bundy and has a daughter named Tina, who he helped raise for a period of time. While Bundy was keeping the appearance of being a loving boyfriend at home, he was stalking and killing women outside of it. (Per ABC News, Bundy eventually confessed to taking 30 lives, though the actual number may be higher. He was executed in 1989.) Kloepfer wasn’t aware of his crimes, but did note some red flags.
Per the documentary series, she talked to the police, after learning of the 1974 disappearances of two women in Lake Sammamish State Park. In 1975, the police brought Kloepfer in for an interview. “He mentioned an incident about following a sorority girl. When he was out late at night and he would follow people like that," she told the police in a tape heard in the docuseries. She also told authorities that she found a suspicious bag in their home full of women’s underwear, as well as a bowl filled with house keys, bandages, and a knife in his car. And she recalled Bundy going out the night one of the victims disappeared.
Per Biography, Kloepfer wrote in her memoir (under the pen name Elizabeth Kendall) that, even after she came to terms with what Bundy had likely done, he couldn’t break contact with her. Kloepfer recalled that he once called her at 2 a.m. from prison, admitting that on one occasion he tried to kill her, by “[closing] the fireplace damper so the smoke couldn't go up the chimney, and [putting] a towel in the door crack so the smoke would stay in the apartment.” The film shows how this connection persisted, and the ways in which Kloepfer tried to break free from Bundy entirely.
“In my own mind, there were coincidences that seemed to tie him in,” said Kloepfer in an interview shown in the series. “Yet when I would think about our day-to-day relationship, there was nothing there that would lead me to think that he was a violent man capable of doing something like that.”
Kloepfer closed the chapter on speaking about her six-year boyfriend with the memoir. Since then, she’s kept her personal life private, without giving any interviews. But she did get to meet Collins and give her insight on her life. During a red carpet interview with E!, the actor said, “I play someone who is still alive and for all intents and purposes that’s pretty amazing in and of itself. Someone who was willing and was actually passionate about meeting me. Her and her daughter met me and met [director] Joe [Berlinger].”
The film credits her book as the basis for the story, but Kloepfer did not work in a consultant capacity. And Berlinger told a Sundance audience at a screening where Bustle was in attendance that a face-to-face meeting that happens between Bundy and Kloepfer at the end of the film takes poetic license with what was, in reality, a final phone call. So while the main arc of their story is pretty consistent, Extremely Wicked dramatizing for effect.
While Kloepfer is clearly happy to leave the past in the past, by meeting with Collins and Berlinger, she’s giving her blessing for her story to continue to be told — possibly to share how easy it can be for someone as savvy as Bundy to ingratiate himself in a "normal" life.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.