Episode 77: Karen Chandler Pryor, Ted Bundy Survivor
In this episode, Karen speaks with Karen Chandler Pryor who was a student at Florida State University and a member of the Chi Omega Sorority. She was living in the sorority house in 1978 when serial killer Ted Bundy broke into the house, murdered two of Kathy’s sorority sisters and attempted to kill Karen and her roommate Kathy. Karen and Kathy survived Bundy’s brutal attack, and Karen is here to share her story.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Karen Chandler Pryor, Karen was a student at Florida State University and a member of the Chi Omega sorority, living in the sorority house in 1978 when serial killer Ted Bundy broke into the house, murdered two of Karen's sorority sisters and attempted to kill Karen and her roommate Kathy. Karen and Kathy survived Bundy's brutal attack. Karen is here to share her story. Karen, welcome to You Matter.
Karen Chandler Pryor 01:30
Karen Ortman 01:32
Where did you grow up Karen?
Karen Chandler Pryor 01:35
Partially in St. Petersburg, Florida, but most of my life in Tallahassee.
Karen Ortman 01:40
And was it a childhood dream of yours to go to Florida State University? How did that come to be?
Karen Chandler Pryor 01:47
I don't think so. I always loved clothing and textiles, so when I was in high school and decided that I wanted to major in that, Florida State had a great program. So, that really was why I went to Florida State.
Karen Ortman 02:06
What was your major?
Karen Chandler Pryor 02:08
Clothing and textiles.
Karen Ortman 02:10
And have you built a career on that major?
Karen Chandler Pryor 02:15
I did. When I graduated, I went to work for Rich's department store in Atlanta as an assistant buyer. I did that for a couple of years, but then decided that really wasn't what I wanted to do. I ended up in what then was called personnel, but now I think it's called industrial relations. I did that until I had children.
Karen Ortman 02:35
Oh, okay. So you are attending Florida State University. So in 1978, what year were you at Florida State?
Karen Chandler Pryor 02:44
I was a senior.
Karen Ortman 02:45
Oh, you were senior? Okay. So you're at Florida State University, at what point during your four years there did you decide to join a sorority?
Karen Chandler Pryor 02:57
I joined a sorority when I was a freshman. It was the fall of my freshman year. I joined the sorority, I think before classes started my freshman year.
Karen Ortman 03:08
That was something that you knew you wanted to do when you entered Florida State?
Karen Chandler Pryor 03:13
Yeah, I think so.
Karen Ortman 03:16
In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 15, 1978, your life changed?
Karen Chandler Pryor 03:25
Karen Ortman 03:26
So take me back to the evening of Saturday, January 14, 1978, and tell me what you recall.
Karen Chandler Pryor 03:37
My mother, my parents lived in Tallahassee, my mother had the flu. My father had called me Saturday morning and asked me if I would come over and cook them dinner. I think I worked that Saturday, and after work, I went over and I fixed my parents dinner. My dad actually wanted me to stay, but I had a project due on Monday that I needed to work on so I went back to the sorority house.
Karen Ortman 04:07
And what time did you go back to the sorority house?
Karen Chandler Pryor 04:10
Probably, I'd say between maybe nine and ten o'clock. We had they came in she gone to a wedding. So she came in maybe 11. Nish. And I was working on my project. She was tired. So I think we turn the lights out maybe 11 3012 o'clock.
Karen Ortman 04:29
So when you got back to the house, how many people - first of all - lived in the sorority house at the time?
Karen Chandler Pryor 04:38
They were probably about 40 girls living in the house that semester, or actually it was a quarter at that time. Probably about 30 were there that night.
Karen Ortman 04:49
So when you got home from your parents house to the sorority house, were you engaged at all with your sorority sisters? What was the environment when you returned; you know, was everybody in their rooms, were people mingling?
Karen Chandler Pryor 05:06
More people were probably out of their room about that time. I'm just coming back from dinner kind of thing. I remember walking through the rec room and there were a bunch of girls and some guys that were watching TV. I think I chatted a little bit and then went up to the room, like I said I had a project due. I went up to the room and started working on my project. I don't really remember. I mean, I'm sure I went to the bathroom and, you know, talk to a few people while I brush my teeth and that kind of stuff, but I don't really remember any specific conversation.
Karen Ortman 05:42
When you went back to your sorority house, was the front door to the sorority house typically locked?
Karen Chandler Pryor 05:50
No, well, there were two doors that we used; there was the front door and back door. The front door was open during the day. When it was dinner time, I believe that the house mother locked the front door, and whoever was on monitor duty, if there was a knock on the door, they answered the door. Otherwise, the door was locked until the morning until about six o'clock in the morning.
Karen Ortman 06:16
Tell me about the house mother. Who was that?
Karen Chandler Pryor 06:21
Well, there had been a house mother there for years and years, I mean, probably about 20 years until she retired between my sophomore and junior year. We had a house mother for a year, she left. I'm trying to remember, I think her name was now Mrs. SCHNELF. Anyway, she lived there, and she was responsible for planning meals, she was responsible for just making sure that letting the alumni, that were in charge of the house, know of any repairs that needed to be made, making sure that people that were there to do any work; like, that the cooks were there and if they weren't there getting somebody to take their place, and just details of running a house for 70 girls.
Karen Ortman 07:11
Yeah. Did she have any say in who visited the house?
Karen Chandler Pryor 07:17
No, the rules were, men were downstairs and only downstairs. Upstairs where all the rooms were, with the exception of, there were like four or five rooms downstairs, but you wouldn't have really typically known that, how you got to it was a little convoluted. So the most of the rooms were upstairs. The only time a man was allowed upstairs was either something that needed to be repaired during the day, and it was announced that there was a man upstairs, which would be very occasionally, and then move in day men were allowed to come in, obviously, fathers and boyfriends and stuff and help you bring in big items. Okay. Other than that no men were ever allowed upstairs, and certainly not at night.
Karen Ortman 08:16
You also mentioned monitor duty. What was that?
Karen Chandler Pryor 08:19
It was rotating. Every quarter they would post the day that you had monitor duty and that was it. These were the days of nocell phones, so there were three phones upstairs and there was a central line downstairs. When you were a monitor, you answered the phone, you left notes, everybody had an intercom in their room so you tried to find the person. If you couldn't find them, you left a note in their mailbox. And, you answered the door if somebody knocked on the front door.
Karen Ortman 08:56
So we'll go back to late Saturday, January 14, 1978. You'd gotten home from your parents. I believe you said your roommate, Kathy was in the room. What time did you decide to go to bed and turn off the lights?
Karen Chandler Pryor 09:21
Kathy was tired and I had worked for a couple of hours on my project. I think when she said she was tired and she turned out the lights, I decided to go to bed too. I think we went to bed about the same time and I'd say around 11:30, give or take you know 30 minutes either way, was about the time we turn the lights on went to bed.
Karen Ortman 09:43
Did you shut your door, or is your door open? The door to your room.
Karen Chandler Pryor 09:48
You know, I don't know whether our door was shut or open. People have asked about whether there were locks on the door and I've asked people if they remember if there were locks on the door. Now, I talked to somebody that was there in the 60s, and she said she didn't know that there were locks on the doors, she didn't remember there being locks on the doors. The reason I think maybe there weren't locks on the doors is, although the house had been updated, the structure; the the doors, the windows all stayed the same. The wallpaper may change, you may get a new sofa, but the actual bones of the house stayed the same. So the doors, I'm pretty sure, were the doors that were there when the house was made into a sorority house, I believe in the 60s. Back then she was saying she didn't think that there were locks on the doors because they had bed check in those days.
Karen Ortman 10:46
So they would go in there and make sure everybody was in their beds?
Karen Chandler Pryor 10:49
Right. Surprise checks. I don't know if she did it, the house mother or somebody did it I guess. So she didn't think that there were locks on the doors, and I don't remember there being locks on the doors. I don't remember ever locking the door. If the door was shut, it was sort of understood that you knocked on the door and got permission to enter the room.
Karen Ortman 11:12
You go to bed on Saturday evening and you fall asleep. At what point were you awakened?
Karen Chandler Pryor 11:25
I think the first memory I have after falling asleep on Saturday night was the feeling that I was being carried down the stairs on something flat, really just that feeling, you know, sort of that motion that up and down motion. I just kind of remember just a feeling I was being carried down the stairs.
Karen Ortman 11:50
Do you have any recollection as to why you were being carried down the stairs?
Karen Chandler Pryor 11:59
I didn't really even, that was like maybe a two second flash. I also vaguely have a flash of memory of being lifted into the back of the ambulance and asking if Kathy was okay. I think the person said, she's going to be fine, you need to worry about yourself or something to that effect. I remember being at the hospital, feeling like I was gonna throw up and the nurse saying there's a basin and next to your head. I leaned over and threw up and it was just blood. That's all I remember until I woke up in in intensive care.
Karen Ortman 12:40
So you had no idea that you were assaulted.
Karen Chandler Pryor 12:46
I think I knew that I hadn't fallen down the stairs. I think I knew that something had happened after I went to sleep, but I didn't know why. I really didn't. Somehow, I knew too that Kathy was hurt. I think at that point, I just didn't want to know what happened.
Karen Ortman 13:03
Sure At what point did you learn what happened to you?
Karen Chandler Pryor 13:07
I think a day or two later when I was put into a room. My family was there. I think there was kind of a lull in the conversation, and I said something about, does anyone want to watch TV? My dad sat down and he said, Karen, I need to tell you something. He was afraid there was going to be something on TV, some news flash or some something, so he wanted to be the one to tell me.
Karen Ortman 13:39
Yeah. Had it been all over the news at that point?
Karen Chandler Pryor 13:42
Karen Ortman 13:43
Okay. So you knew nothing? You knew nothing about your sorority sisters who had just been murdered.
Karen Chandler Pryor 13:50
I didn't know details.
Karen Ortman 13:52
Nor, the details of what happened to Kathy? So who was it that actually told you what you went through?
Karen Chandler Pryor 14:03
Well, my dad told me about the attack. I think my mother told me more about what had happened and what my injuries were. They had actually gotten a phone call that night from someone at the police department, or the sheriff's department I'm not sure which. Like I told you, my mother was sick, so it was just kind of a confused, they weren't really sure when it happened, but there had been some problem at the sorority house and I was on the way to the hospital. My dad is thinking something like a broken bone, you know, some cuts or something like that. He got to the hospital before I did, and they put him in a room. He said that while he was sitting there. He heard some nurses walking down the hall and said two of the girls coming in are going to be DOA. He didn't know who that was, so so he called my mom, and he said, I'm coming to get you. But, before he left, the doctor did come in and say, she's almost here and she's going to survive.
Karen Ortman 15:29
That must have been a very scary time for your father.
Karen Chandler Pryor 15:32
Yeah, yeah. Oh, absolutely. He said, I don't think it was very long between hearing it and the doctor coming in, but that it seemed like just forever.
Karen Ortman 15:44
So at some point, you learned that you were viciously attacked, that there was a weapon used? When did you learn the details of what happened to you? How the weapon was used to assault you?
Karen Chandler Pryor 16:02
I think really, probably when I got home. I slept an awful lot in the hospital, and I don't think my parents, really wanted to go into a lot of detail at that point. I think that I was still just trying to absorb Lisa and Margaret, and what had happened.
Karen Ortman 16:29
They're the two sorority sisters who were murdered?
Karen Chandler Pryor 16:34
Right, right. Yeah. I think when I got home, there were some newspapers there that had the story in there. I think I read it, because I remember that when I got home from the hospital, there was blood all in my hair. I just wanted to wash it, but my arm was in a cast, so my mother had to get me into the bathroom, and wash the blood out of my hair. I remember asking her, I had seen in the paper that Lisa had been raped, and I asked her if I had been raped, and she said, no.
Karen Ortman 17:16
Do you know what the weapon was used against you?
Karen Chandler Pryor 17:20
Well, they were saying at that time that it was a log.
Karen Ortman 17:26
Can you describe the injuries that you had?
Karen Chandler Pryor 17:31
I had have a skull fracture. I think all the bones in my face were broken, my orbital bones, my nose, my jaw, I had teeth knocked out, I had a broken arm and a crushed finger. I think that's pretty much it.
Karen Ortman 17:50
Can you describe your pain immediately following, and the duration of your recovery period?
Karen Chandler Pryor 18:04
I have to say, I know at the beginning I'm sure I had an IV, I think for the first day I was in the room, so there may have been some painkiller in that but after they took that out I never felt any pain. I never felt any pain until the doctor came to take the the stitches out of my finger. He pulled on the stitches to get the scissors underneath and that was the first pain I felt. As far as the physical recovery went, I think I had my cast on for maybe six to eight weeks. I want to say I think that my jaw was wired together about the same amount of time. Yeah, it seemed like the wires were taken off and my cast was taken off in a very short period of time.
Karen Ortman 19:25
How did the assault affect you emotionally?
Karen Chandler Pryor 19:33
I don't, I mean, I think, the worst part was just Lisa and Margaret, and just sort of the pain of knowing what the girls that were living there at the house had gone through that night and what they had seen and what they had endured. As far as I went, I mean I felt very lucky. You know, at the beginning when it first happened they were worried about brain damage, and as far as I know, I don't have any. I didn't feel pain and I had scars, but I had so much to feel grateful for. I don't think I really felt mad, or I felt like somehow I had been... I didn't feel like I had gotten the worst of it. I felt terrible for Lisa and Margaret, and their families, and the girls. I felt very grateful to have my family there, and to know that what had happened to me was going to heal, and not remember anything. I mean, I feel blessed that I don't have those memories.
Karen Ortman 20:51
How about resources? Were there any resources offered to you? I know this was the 1970s, very different times.
Karen Chandler Pryor 21:02
Absolutely. I did not know that at the time, but apparently Florida had just passed a victim's compensation law that it started January 1st. So yes, we were offered help with hospital bills if you didn't have insurance, or the insurance didn't pay all of it. We were offered counseling. My mother took time off to stay home with me to get me to doctor's appointments. Like I said, at that time, I had a plaster cast and I wasn't able to drive, I wasn't able to bathe myself, so she took time off work, and they paid for that.
Karen Ortman 21:51
Prior to your assault, had you ever heard the name Ted Bundy before?
Karen Chandler Pryor 21:58
Karen Ortman 22:01
How soon after your assault did you learn the identity of your attacker?
Karen Chandler Pryor 22:08
It was Valentine's day or a day or two before after that. My family, we had gone up to see my brother. We were leaving, and he came home and said that someone had come into his office and told him that they thought they had found the man that had done this. So, on our way back home, we saw a newspaper stand and my dad stopped. We got a newspaper. It had some information in there, but at that time, he had stolen some ID from a man named Ken Meisner, so that's the only name they had attached to him at the time. It wasn't until, I think several days later that he was identified as Ted Bundy.
Karen Ortman 23:06
When did you know and understand the significance of, and the danger associated with this person?
Karen Chandler Pryor 23:15
I think it was several days later before the information really came out about him and his escape from Colorado, and some of the some of the murders that he was believed to have been associated with. I don't know whether it was a week later, or if it was three or four days after he was caught. I really don't have a feel for at what time all that information came out.
Karen Ortman 23:45
Was there ever a time that you were face to face with Ted Bundy following this?
Karen Chandler Pryor 23:51
I was, yes. For a while he was going to represent himself. I was living in Atlanta and got a phone call that I had been, I guess, subpoenaed to give him a deposition at the sheriff's or at the jail in Tallahassee. I flew down there, and that would have been the Fall of '78, I think. It was Larry Simpson who was the prosecuting attorney, myself and a lawyer for the sorority house. We sat in a school room, and they brought him in, two guards were on either side of him, and he questioned me mostly wanting to know what I remembered, or if I remembered anything that night. Apparently, he wanted to prove prejudice. He asked me a lot of questions about whether I thought he was guilty, but he always spoke in the third person, so everything was, have you ever met Theodore Robert Bundy?
Karen Ortman 25:11
How did it make you feel, to not only see this person who did this to you in person, but to be asked questions by him?
Karen Chandler Pryor 25:25
I remember being nervous because I just didn't know what kind of questions he might ask. Really, I think my main goal was, don't let him see it. Yeah, don't let him see it.
Karen Ortman 25:45
Was there anything about him, his his movement, the way he spoke, his build; was there anything recognizable for you about him?
Karen Chandler Pryor 26:00
Yeah. He just looked like your average Joe. I mean, there was really nothing I could, I don't think, I sort of had wrack my brain at the time -had I ever seen him before? Had I ever seen him walking down the street? Had he worked at a place I had gone into? You know, anything like that. But no.
Karen Ortman 26:21
No. Did you ever have the opportunity to see him again, following this deposition?
Karen Chandler Pryor 26:30
Just atthe trial.
Karen Ortman 26:32
Did you testify in the trial, or were you there to observe?
Karen Chandler Pryor 26:36
No, we testified really to if we remembered it, OR NEAR OUR NAMES, if we remembered anything, and what our injuries were. That was all Larry Simpson asked. As far as I know, the three victims from that night, we were not questioned at all by Bundy or his team.
Karen Ortman 27:03
And what was the outcome of that court proceeding?
Karen Chandler Pryor 27:09
He was found guilty of two murders, guilty of three attempted murders, and sentenced to die.
Karen Ortman 27:19
How did you feel about the fact that he was sentenced to death?
Karen Chandler Pryor 27:25
Relief, really more than anything. I was so worried that if he was allowed to live that at some point in time, he would find some way to get out? I really felt like if there was happened for any reason at all, it was it was to be the end, the end of his ability to ever hurt anybody again.
Karen Ortman 27:54
Was it difficult to maintain your privacy after this happened to you?
Karen Chandler Pryor 28:01
I have to say, the picture in the paper that, I think, was from my freshman year where I had very long hair and I was not wearing glasses, so I don't think that too many people recognize me. I had a few strange incidents afterwards, but generally speaking, I think that after the initial media coverage of him being caught, there was a lull. So, for pretty much my time at FSU, I think, I had a lot of privacy. The sorority sisters were very caring about me, not pushing me or, you know, very careful about my feelings, in a good way, not coddling, just not pushing for information or anything like that.
Karen Ortman 29:04
How did your parents cope? I'm sure this must have been probably the most devastating thing that ever happened to them.
Karen Chandler Pryor 29:14
My mother tells the story of a friend while she was waiting, I was in surgery and she was waiting for that to end and to get the final report on what they had done, what they had found. The friend said, I'm so sorry, this is horrible. My mother said, all she could say was, oh Betty, she's alive. I think that sort of says it all as far as my parents went.
Karen Ortman 29:46
Are you ever afraid today as a result of what happened?
Karen Chandler Pryor 29:51
Absolutely not. From the very beginning, at first it was more of an act of will, or stubbornness, or whatever not to let it change anything in my life. I think it's now, it's just a way of life. I don't think I have any more chances of anything bad happening to me then next door neighbors or, you know, anybody else where I live.
Karen Ortman 30:24
Are the people in your life today aware of this part of your story?
Karen Chandler Pryor 30:32
I went for a lot of year with nobody knowing; neighbors not knowing, even close friends. Of course, family knows, but I would say my greater, you know, scheme of friends and neighbors, and things did not know until a couple of years ago when the movie came out with Zac Efron and, you know, much more media coverage. Then more people saw it.
Karen Ortman 31:07
So, about that Netflix special with Zac Efron as Ted Bundy. Did you watch that?
Karen Chandler Pryor 31:14
I did not. Not for any reason that I didn't want to see it, just, I know the story. I don't need to see it again.
Karen Ortman 31:28
How about your children? Did your experience affect your parenting of your own children?
Karen Chandler Pryor 31:42
I don't think so. I tried not to be too much of a, you know, hovering mother, to let them go out and have fun and live their lives. They were told about it, sort of, in pieces, so they've known about it most of their life. We don't really talk about it. I bet you we've gone 10 years or more with maybe his name even not mentioned, not that it was anything intentional.
Karen Ortman 32:12
Yeah. Do you know if your children have watched the Netflix special about Ted Bundy?
Karen Chandler Pryor 32:17
I don't know. I'm not sure I've asked them.
Karen Ortman 32:21
And I guess if they had, they probably would have had some questions for you, so maybe not.
Karen Chandler Pryor 32:26
Yeah, Yeah. I watched, around that time, a few of the specials that I was interviewed. I watched with my son and daughter-in-law, and my husband, but I don't know about the Netflix. I don't. Probably not.
Karen Ortman 32:46
What would you tell someone today who has experienced something, you know, life altering as you had? Something that was traumatic, and they're struggling and perhaps not handling it as best as you? Any sort of words of wisdom for that person?
Karen Chandler Pryor 33:06
I was lucky in that I had a lot of family around and friends,, and the sorority sisters, and to kind of talk. It seemed like the more I talked about it, the easier it got to talk about it. I would say as much as you can, you know, talk to your family, talk to your friends. I would just express to them that they're there to listen, not necessarily to fix it, but just to let them talk. I was able to go back and kind of, pick up my life where it left off. I moved back to the sorority house the spring quarter. Other than the fact that Lisa and Margaret weren't there anymore, and Kathy had decided not to come back, I think pretty much everybody came back, which is pretty amazing.
Karen Ortman 34:14
Yeah. Did you go back to that room?
Karen Chandler Pryor 34:20
I went to Lisa's room. I lived in Lisa's room with a sister.
Karen Ortman 34:27
And, Lisa was one of your sisters who was murdered? You went and stayed in her room?
Karen Chandler Pryor 34:33
Karen Ortman 34:34
How did that feel?
Karen Chandler Pryor 34:38
It felt fine. People have asked me if I believe in ghosts, or spirits, or whatever. I did not feel anything like that when I lived there. I'm pretty convinced that if there's any spirit of Lisa and Margaret in that house, it's only wishing us and wanting the best for us. I never found any horror or anything.
Karen Ortman 35:05
Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven't asked you today?
Karen Chandler Pryor 35:11
I don't think so, other than just thanking the people that were there for me. I don't know how you could ever repay your family, your friends, the policemen, the EMTs, the doctors, Charles Moore, who put my face back together? I don't know if he's still alive, but I still appreciate him. When something terrible happens, it really does take a village.
Karen Ortman 35:43
Oh, sure. And, people that are lucky enough to have that village are blessed. For those who maybe don't have the support that you and others have had, I just hope that they know there is help out there, and that there are resources available for them. If anybody has any questions with respect to resources for any situation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will help you in any way that we can. On that note, I just want to say thank you so much to my guest, Karen, for joining me today and sharing this story. You're an inspiration for sure.
Karen Chandler Pryor 36:28
Karen Ortman 36:29
And truly, thank you for taking the time, because it's very much appreciated not by me, alone, but all of our listeners. So thank you again, and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.