Kathy Kleiner & Karen Chandler: Ted Bundy Survivors At Chi Omega

 

Bundy survivors Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler

Chi Omega survivors Kathy Kleiner (left) and Karen Chandler (right) testify at Ted Bundy’s murder trial on July 11, 1979. (Source)

Despite sustaining serious jaw and skull injuries, Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler lived on to testify at Ted Bundy’s Chi Omega trial

January 18, 2023 ~ By Shari Rose

At the Chi Omega house, four sorority sisters were viciously attacked by Ted Bundy in a frenzied, violent assault. Two young women, Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler, survived their injuries. Two of their sorority sisters did not. But, like other survivors of Bundy’s rage, the women lived on to testify against their attacker and speak on behalf of the sisters they lost that night. 

Ted Bundy Attacks Sorority Sisters at Chi Omega

In the early morning hours of January 15, 1978, a group of young women living at the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in Tallahassee were asleep in their rooms. Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler shared the same dorm, room number 8. Kleiner fell asleep first, and Chandler went to bed shortly after. 

Fresh off his recent escape from prison just two weeks earlier, Ted Bundy made his way toward the Chi Omega sorority house just before 3 am. He picked up a heavy piece of firewood as he approached the back door of the building. The door’s lock was broken, and he easily entered the sorority house. 

Bundy found 21-year-old Margaret Bowman asleep in her room, bludgeoned her with his wooden club, then strangled her to death with nylon stockings. He walked out of Bowman’s room and across the hall to 20-year-old Lisa Levy’s room. Bundy crushed Levy’s skull with his firewood club and strangled her. He sexually assaulted her with a Clairol hairspray bottle and left a deep bite mark on her body, which became crucial evidence that investigators would later use to identify him as the killer. 

Bundy victims Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman

Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman. (Source)

After attacking Levy, Bundy entered the dorm next door, room number 8. In a later interview, Kathy Kleiner explained she heard a noise that stirred her from sleep. It was the sound of her front bedroom door opening. Bundy then tripped over a trunk that sat between her and Karen Chandler’s twin beds. Now, Kleiner says, she was wide awake. 

“As I look up, I see this dark figure with a hand up, club in his hand, and before I knew it, he brought it down on me and attacked my face,” she said in a 2019 interview. “I did not feel a pain … it wasn’t pain, it was more of a thud or a pressure at that point.” 

During the commotion of the assault, Chandler woke up. Bundy moved to her bed and began bludgeoning her in the face with the heavy piece of firewood. Then, the violence suddenly stopped. 

A light from outside the sorority sisters’ room shone through the curtainless window. Their room faced a parking lot, and a car’s headlights illuminated the small space. Bundy feared he had been seen, and he fled from the Chi Omega house. 

“He got spooked and ran out, and I’m still waiting for the next blow to come,” Kleiner recounted.  

Steps at the Chi Omega house

A police handout of the Chi Omega house’s interior steps. (Source)

A few moments of silence passed,and the 20-year-old freshman started calling for help. But her jaw was completely shattered, hanging from just one joint on the side of her face. 

“I was in my bed now, screaming for help, yelling for help, and all I was doing was making a gurgling sound,” Kathy Kleiner said. 

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Kleiner and Chandler Sustain Serious Jaw, Skull Injuries

As the four young women at the Chi Omega house lay grievously injured in their beds, Nita Neary watched Ted Bundy escape through the sorority house’s front door just as she entered the building from the back. Neary had said goodnight to her date at 3:15 am, and walked through the entryway to see the darkened profile of her sisters’ killer escape the building, his wooden club still in hand. 

Neary ran to wake her roommate, Nancy Dowdy, and they awoke the sorority president. Then Karen Chandler stumbled out of her room and into the hallway, covered in blood. They comforted Chandler and found Kleiner rocking back and forth on her own bed, trying to use the telephone.

While on the witness stand, Kleiner said her first memory after the attack was her attempting to call her boyfriend as well as her pastor on the phone. But with her broken jaw, she couldn’t speak. 

The uninjured sorority sisters made multiple 911 calls to police around 3:20 am.

Kathy Kleiner’s jaw was broken in three places, and several of her teeth were broken. Karen Chandler sustained a broken jaw, concussion, skull fracture, broken arm and broken finger. In a later interview, Chandler said that she could barely recognize herself in the mirror while recovering at the hospital. Her mother initially tried to cover the mirror in the bathroom so Chandler couldn’t see the extent of her facial injuries. 

Karen Chandler interview about Ted Bundy attack

Chandler recounts what happened at the Chi Omega house in a 2019 interview with 20/20. (Source)

Bundy’s two other victims at Chi Omega, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, died of their injuries that night. 

Despite the horrific nature of the murders, none of the women heard the attacks on their sorority sisters. The only lead investigators had on the Chi Omega killer was a dental imprint he left behind on Levy’s body. 

Aftermath of the Chi Omega Attack

After surviving Ted Bundy’s assault, Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner spent nearly a week recovering in the hospital. Chandler took the rest of the academic quarter off, but later returned to Florida State University. She decided to live at the Chi Omega house again, much to her mother’s disbelief. But with all the extra security measures, Chandler said she believed it would be the safest place for her on campus. 

Kleiner did not return to FSU. She moved to Miami to be close to family, and got married shortly after recovering from her injuries. 

The night of the Chi Omega murders, Bundy assaulted another victim, a 21-year-old FSU student named Cheryl Thomas. He climbed into her apartment through a kitchen window, broke her jaw, and severed a nerve that caused permanent hearing loss. Thomas survived the attack. 

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Because authorities had no suspect or motive, investigators did not know if the vicious beatings were random or directly targeted against the sorority. As a result, the women were told to hide their affiliation to Chi Omega. They removed bumper stickers from cars and stopped wearing Chi Omega apparel. The sorority sisters were also told not to talk to each other after the attack to ensure they did not influence each other’s testimonies of what happened that night. 

A week after the attack, Kathy Kleiner was escorted back to the sorority house by police. She entered her bedroom and saw Chandler’s and her own blood sprayed across the room.

Kathy Kleiner speaks about Ted Bundy

Kleiner speaks in an undated interview about Bundy’s upcoming execution. (Source)

“At this point, the blood was dry and it was all over the place. That shocked me into knowing this really happened,” Kleiner said.

Bundy evaded arrest for another 30 days. In that time, he kidnapped, tortured, and killed a 12-year-old girl named Kimberly Leach. But, finally, police were on his trail. 

Bundy was arrested on February 15, 1978, and would remain in police custody until his death. 

Bundy’s Chi Omega Murder Trial

Both Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner testified in court about their injuries and any memories they had of the night their sorority sisters were killed. Chandler said on the stand that her first memory after the attack was “being lifted into the ambulance.” In the darkness of her dorm room, she never saw her attacker. 

Likewise, Kleiner testified that she did not get a good look at the man who tried to kill her. In a 2019 interview, she recounted her experience on the witness stand. 

“When it was my turn to go up and sit in the witness stand, I looked out and there was Bundy, sitting at the defense table,” she said. “I stared him down in the eyes. I don’t remember what the questions were … I felt like I had power now. He was on the other side of that table, and I was okay. I didn’t want him to think at all that he had any power anymore.”

Ted Bundy at the Chi Omega trial

Ted Bundy complains about the news media’s treatment of his mother while awaiting sentencing for the Chi Omega murders. (Source)

On July 24, 1979, Ted Bundy was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to death. For the following 10 years, multiple appeals and stays of execution delayed Bundy’s death. His victims, like Carol DaRonch, and their families grew weary of the justice they believed he deserved. 

While Bundy remained on death row, Chandler spoke in an interview about the many delays to his execution. 

“I knew that it was going to be a long process. I knew that he was going to use everything within his means to stop the execution, so it doesn’t really surprise me at all,” she said.

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Similarly, Kleiner expressed her frustration with the slow pace of court proceedings, saying in a television interview: “It’s drug out for so long, and it’s hard for everyone involved, for the victims, family, friends. It’s time to end it now. Let him have what’s coming to him, let’s put this past us.”

“He took two women, barely out of their teens. He took their lives, shouldn’t he give his?” Kleiner said. 

After a decade of waiting on death row, Ted Bundy was executed on January 24, 1989. When she heard news of his death, Kleiner said she finally felt relief. 

“I cried, and I felt for Margaret and Lisa, my sorority sisters, and all the women,” she said. “I cried for them as well because they now could rest in peace.”

Kathy Kleiner Rubin and Karen Chandler Today

After both women recovered from their injuries, they settled down, got married, and had children. In a 1989 interview with Karen Chandler, she said she understood that Bundy had not attacked her personally, and that knowledge helped her heal from the trauma. 

Karen Chandler undated photo

Undated photo of Karen Chandler. (Source)

“I felt that this was somebody who didn’t know me,” she said. “He wasn’t after Karen Chandler, he was after a female body.”

Soon after healing from the Chi Omega attack, Kathy Kleiner got married. However, the marriage ended in divorce within a short time. Kleiner said that no relationship at that point in her life would have lasted regardless. She realized she needed to heal first, physically and emotionally, before having a serious relationship. 

Kleiner said that she had never been contacted by the Chi Omega sorority in the years following the murders. She suspects that members were told not to contact her in an effort to conceal the bloody past of the sorority. 

“I was always going to be a ‘Ted Bundy Chi Omega person’ and a connection to it, and new pledges weren’t going to join, and no new money was going to come into the corporation,” she said in 2019.

Kathy Kleiner Rubin interview

Kathy Kleiner speaks in a June 2019 interview with Oxygen about how she survived Ted Bundy’s attack at Chi Omega. (Source)

Today, Kathy Kleiner Rubin is married and says that she found solace in learning about the case, and even about Bundy himself. She read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule and found it empowering because she felt she had a better understanding of the actual person who attacked her. As she recovered, she also relied on a mental exercise that helped her put space between the past trauma and her life as it is now. 

“One of my ways of healing was that I had this horrific thing in front of me, but if I took baby steps and walked away, I’d look behind me and see it was walking away,” Kleiner said. “So I had a goal, I had something I wanted to go to, and it was the beach. It took me forever to get there. But every time I did, I looked behind me, and there was nothing to be afraid of.”  

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Shari Rose

Shari Rose

Owner of Blurred Bylines

Shari Rose created Blurred Bylines to help bring stories from marginalized perspectives and experiences into the national conversation. A former journalist and current freelance SEO specialist, she does her best to combine both in her stories at BB. The articles she writes typically involve individuals or social movements that are uniquely American in their struggles, triumphs, and challenges. 💖💜💙

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