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She does not look like a badass. She does not command a room when she walks in. She is petite and almost childlike in size. Her head barely reached over the podium as she shared her story. She’s also a bit shy. But her story is what nightmares are made of.
You could have heard a pin drop in a crowded room of 500 people at the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute’s 2019 CrimeCon session, when Kathy Kleiner took the stage to tell her terrifying story of surviving notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy.
There were shocked faces and tears, but mostly people were amazed by her happy-go-lucky disposition. How could it be that Kathy sees the world as a wonderful happy place full of miracles and joy? If anyone should feel slanted by the events that happened to her, and even deserves to be bitter, it’s Kathy Kleiner.
It’s the best time of your life. All the benefits of begin adult without the real responsibilities like bills, home maintenance and caring for others. College is perfect. No curfew. No parents telling you when to go to bed, what to eat and who to hangout with. You are free to do whatever you want, anytime you want to do it. No more sneaking around to meet a boy, or hiding to have a beer, or lying about going over to a friend’s house to study as a cover to attend a party.
Freedom, baby. Kathy was enjoying herself at Florida State University.
She selected the school because it was as far away from her protective parents as she could get while still getting in-state tuition. She was doing college right. She had a great roommate, joined a sorority, and was enjoying her studies.
On January 14, 1978, Kathy decided to stay in for the night and study. It was not the wild and crazy Saturday some college kids were having. Kathy wanted to do well in school. She was living in the Chi Omega house and enjoying the sisterhood.
Kathy’s roommate was Karen Chandler, a junior. Both girls were sound asleep when a man broke into their room and approached their twin beds. He walked in between the two beds, each around five feet apart from each other, and stumbled when he kicked a small foot locker that Kathy had placed between the beds for storage. Kathy woke up, thinking it was Karen stirring in her sleep.
In a sleepy daze, Kathy spotted a black shadow of a man standing over her. He was holding something above his head that looked like a log.
Still trying to wake up fully, Kathy could not process what she was seeing. Before she could speak or scream, the dark figure towering over her hit her with the log. With more power and rage, he hit her a second time, shattering her jaw and making her front tooth jut out.
“My cheek was torn open and was just hanging out….I almost bit my tongue off. This is a situation that you don’t understand as it’s happening. It’s confusing,” Kathy said. “But that feeling of when he hit me was like a thud. It wasn’t pain…and you don’t imagine that’s what it would feel like.”
Kathy had no idea at the time that the man attacking her was the same man responsible for dozens of killings across several Northwest states: Ted Bundy.
Two of Kathy’s sorority sisters, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, were murdered that night. Her roommate, Karan, barely survived. And although she was greatly injured, Kathy has remained positive. She credits the police and the wonderful job they did that night making her feel safe.
Kathy said when she later woke up in a hospital, she spotted an officer outside of her room. She immediately felt calm. When they took her down the hall for X-rays and tests, a police officer didn’t leave her side. When she returned to the Chi Omega house, police were there again with her standing guard. It’s important for police to hear Kathy’s tale and remember that their presence after an attack for a victim is critical.
“It was amazing. When you’re going through something like that and you have something that brings you down, it’s a form of peace and it’s very strong,” Kathy said, explaining that she knew the officers wouldn’t let the suspect attack her again.
A simple gesture of walking with victims to get an X-ray can make a world of difference in their mental recovery.
More Danger, More Gratitude
It’s crazy to think this was not the first or last time Kathy’s life was in danger. The first time happened in middle school. Those years aren’t hard enough, so let’s throw in a lupus diagnosis that caused many days of her formative years being spent in doctor’s offices and undergoing medical tests.
The same year Bundy attacked her, Kathy was robbed while working at gunpoint while working at a bank. Years after the Bundy attack, she was hit with breast cancer. She’s also struggled with miscarriages.
Yet, Kathy remains thankful.
If you watch her work a room and greet people and answer questions and sign autographs, she does it with a genuine thankfulness. She seems surprised that anyone wants to hear her story. Everyone adores her but she doesn’t seem to realize it.
People admire Kathy’s outlook on life after so many major struggles. Just one of these life-altering events would be enough for anyone, but the tragedies somehow made Kathy more relatable and approachable. We can only pray that we could handle such adversity with the same smile, humor and grace.
Kathy’s story is unique and extremely important. She is one of only few people in the world that can address exactly what Bundy was like during his killing spree. She saw how he attacked. She knows he’s slow and deliberate. He never said a word.
By the time he attacked Kathy, he had already killed and raped two other victims during the same night. Kathy and Karen made four victims in a matter of minutes.
After he escaped, Bundy attacked his fifth victim of the night, Cheryl Thomas, an FSU dance major who lived in a house around four blocks away. The attack was bloody and brutal, but Cathy managed to survive. However, she had to give up her dreams of becoming a dancer after Bundy severed a nerve in her ear, leaving with permanent balance issues.
Trial and Conviction
If not for another sorority sister coming home from a date and shining her headlights, Kathy and her roommate, in all likelihood, would have been dead. Kathy said after Bundy hit her twice, he realized she was still making noise and while walking back to her to finish the job, the headlights scared him. .
“As he’s crossing the room back to my bed, a light shone up the room that was so bright and so clear I could see this black thing now…. He was spooked. He immediately ran out of our room.”
Kathy testified at Ted Bundy’s 1979 trial, but since she didn’t see his face, she couldn’t point him out as her attacker. What she could do, however, is tell about the dark figure silently standing over her that delivered haunting thunderous blows.
Kathy met with Bundy’s eyes during the trial. She didn’t back down from his glare. She wouldn’t let him intimidate her.
This was unprecedented testimony. The words from a victim of a serial killer.
Bundy was eventually convicted of murder and attempted murder. He was sentenced to death.
Kathy is a Badass
So, yes, Kathy is a badass, absolutely, but not for the reason you think. She is a rock star because didn’t allow Bundy to kill her spirit or ruin a beautiful life. She not only survived, she thrived.
[Feature Photo: Ted Bundy/Handout]