[Update: Corrections and updates made throughout the post based on corrections from my friend, Fr. Gabriel. If I’d known this was going to get as much attention as it did, I would have contacted him first to have him vet the story. In particular, Msgr. Kerr did not administer last rites to anyone. Not sure where in my memory that came from. Nearly everything else was essentially correct.]
Monsignor William Kerr has died. Among other things, he was famous for having
administered the last rites come to the spiritual aid of one of serial killer Ted Bundy’s lastvictims and then became a spiritual counselor for Bundy on death row.
I met Monsignor Kerr in 1994, I believe, when he was president of La Roche College, outside Pittsburgh. I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville and I’d been preparing for the Total Consecration to Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort with some of my friends. One of them was my roommate, Kevin Gillen, now Fr. Gabriel Gillen, OP, who knew the monsignor. Kevin arranged for Msgr. Kerr to lead us in the final consecration following Mass at La Roche. I don’t remember too much about the day, but I do remember Msgr. Kerr was kind and gracious to us.
Kevin told us the story Msgr. Kerr told him about that awful night in
Gainesville Tallahassee, Florida, in 1978. He said Kerr got the call from the police in the middle of the night to rush out to the sorority house. When he arrived he was told that all but one of the girls in the house were dead or near death, killed by a serial killer who was later to be known to the world as Ted Bundy. After giving those last rites to the dying college girl, then-Fr. Kerr was asked by the police on the scene to talk to the girl who survived unscathed. They wanted to know how she survived the brutal attacks, because Bundy had stopped right inside the door to her room, dropped his weapon, and left without touching her. But the girl would talk to no one but a priest. [To clarify: The girl wouldn’t speak to police without a priest present. They called Msgr. Kerr and she told her story. Interestingly, Msgr. Kerr was not on call that night, but the phone rang in his room, not the other priest’s for some reason.]
When Fr. Kerr approached the near-catatonic girl, she told him that her grandmother had made her promise before going off to college for the first time that she would pray the Rosary every night before bed for protection; even if she fell asleep praying the Rosary, which she had that night so that when Bundy came into her room with murder on his mind, the beads were still clutched in her hands.
[ Fr. Gabriel reminded me of this part:] Several weeks/months? later, Msgr. Kerr's phone rang (again when he was not on call). This time it was the warden of a prison. They had just caught Bundy and he wanted to speak to a priest. Msgr. Kerr did not offer details of the conversation but Bundy would call him on a regular basis.
Later, Bundy would tell Monsignor that when he entered the girl’s room, he just couldn’t go on, he dropped his weapon, and he fled. She awoke to a man standing over her with a bat. She opened her hands, Bundy looked at the rosary beads in them, and fled. Such is the power of our Mother’s protective mantle.
Bundy called from Florida the night before he was going to be executed (Msgr. was stationed in D.C. at the time) and thanked him for all he had done. Msgr. said he would offer a Mass for him the next morning, which would be at the same time of the execution. Msgr. said it was difficult listening to the radio as he drove to the church to say Mass. Everyone was doing a countdown on the radio, excited about the execution. The Mass was intense and on the way home again it was difficult hearing everyone rejoice at the death of Ted Bundy.
Ted Bundy’s mother called Msgr. (they had been in contact over the previous several years) that morning. She wanted to share something with him. She said: “I just got a call from one of the parents of Ted’s victims. They told me that ‘you’re experiencing the loss of a child today and we’ve experienced the loss of a child. We just want you to know that you are in our prayers and we love you.’”
Msgr. marveled at the parents’ strength to let love have the last word.
Rest in peace, Msgr. Kerr, and thank you for your small part in my faith journey and for your witness.