The Stranger Beside Me, True Crime by Ann Rule

Ann Rule began volunteer work at the suicide Crisis Centre after her brother committed suicide. She felt guilt over his death and wanted to do something to help suicidal people. She answered the phone at night and into the early hours of the morning. There were only two people on the night shift, herself and a polite, friendly, empathetic young man who talked people out of suicide. His name was Ted Bundy, probably the worst serial killer in American history.

As they worked through the nights, side by side, they became firm friends, despite the fact that Ann Rule was 10 years older, had four children, and was married. Ted was a student at the University of Washington, a psychology major, and an honour student. During quiet nights, they shared aspects of their lives as friends do.

No one saw Ted Bundy as a threat, as a killer. What they saw was a charming, intelligent, helpful, friendly young man, universally called “good looking”.

In 1971 Ann was a single mother of four, aged 35 years, struggling with a divorce and a sick husband. She had briefly been a police officer, but now made a meagre living by writing factual crime articles for magazines. When university students began to disappear at the rate of one a month, Ann Rule was given a publishing contract to write a full-length book about the killer of these young women. She told Bundy this, not thinking he could be the murderer.

Bundy was a clever predator, using different methods, such as a fake leg cast, pretending to be unable to walk, and so getting young women to help him to his car. At that point he would have an iron bar ready to attack them, and push their unconscious body into his car, took them to a remote location and murdered them, often after raping them. Other times he picked up hitch-hikers, or pretended to be a police officer telling a woman someone had broken into her car and she should go with him to the police station.

Some women saved themselves; these women took action, doubted his stories and refused to go to the second location, following their instincts, they were the ones who survived. Interestingly, dogs seemed to sense he was not a good person and kept up a ruckus when he tried to get past the front door. Generally, women believed his charm, his lies. Ann Rule found it difficult to believe he was the serial killer, even when she saw his Identikit sketch in the newspaper where she instantly recognised it as Bundy.

Bundy had a number of girlfriends, but was able to compartmentalise them, so they did not know of each other’s existence, even when he was engaged to two different women at the same time. While he was in jail, charged with the most evil, monstrous murders, he always had one or more women who loved him, supported him, believing in his innocence. And as the years went on, he acquired groupies who fought to get into his trials, overcome with joy if he smiled at them as they sat in the front row of the courtroom.

There is no doubt this is a fascinating story of probably the worst American serial killer of all time. He murdered “at least 100 women”. On two occasions, he committed more than one murder on the same day. The women, in most cases vanished as if spirited away by an alien. One woman, had 100 metres to walk to her flat, she saw two friends along the way, the final distance she had to go was a mere 10 metres to her front door. She disappeared without trace, without a sound. This was common to many of the murdered women. Many bodies were not found for months or years, many have never been found. There were no clues, no one saw or heard anything. And the killer, Ted Bundy lived a exemplary life. He studied law at different universities, he worked as a security guard, in a government department, volunteered with the Republican Party, was charming, friendly, and very persuasive.

This factual book, is definitely creepy. But there are things to learn from it. In one case, two women walked to their car at night. One went back to their flat, some 100 metres away to get a forgotten key. The other waited at the car. When the woman returned with the key, she saw a man dragging her friend away in a headlock. She let out an almighty scream, that was heard blocks away. The man, Ted Bundy, let her go and took off.

There are parts of this book that are gruesome — the murders — fortunately the most vile parts such as the necrophilia, are not fully detailed. The book is largely a biography about Bundy’s life, and a brief autobiography of Ann Rules’ connection to Bundy. Much of the book is about his legal defence — he had been a law student and a psychology graduate — and how used every trick he could to keep himself alive. He had three different execution warrants waiting for him.

Ann Rule would have known Bundy better than anyone. After they went their separate ways they continued to correspond as friends, by mail, and phone calls. Ann Rule strongly suspected Bundy of the killings, but found it difficult to reconcile the Bundy she knew with the hideous murdering Bundy. This was even though she had vast experience in law, and gave seminars to police detectives on many criminal matters. During her lifetime, she has written 33 books and 1,400 articles mainly on criminal cases, so she was not naive about murderers. She followed his case through the courts, from detectives working on the murders, and from the phone calls and letters that Bundy sent to her.

As time went on she became convinced of his guilt, even as he continued to skilfully deny it. In the court, the evidence against him was never rock-solid. There was no DNA, no fingerprints, he always wore gloves and rarely left the slightest bit of evidence behind, even the bodies were not found for months, years, and in many case have never been found. His defence team was able to get some important police evidence removed from the trials. But members of the public, women who escaped death, were able to identify him. Teeth marks on the body of one woman exactly matched his teeth. Hairs found in a stocking mask matched his hair. Weapons, a cleaver, plaster, and crutches were all found in his possession. The evidence was irrefutable.

It is a fascinating book, detailing how he was finally caught, his escape from custody on two occasions, the failure of the criminal justice system to co-ordinate information from other states. Bundy killed, not just in one state, but in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, California, and probably more. There were many similarities in these abductions and murders, yet each state mostly kept the information to themselves. Had the information been shared they would have caught him years earlier.

It is not known how many women — mostly between 15 and 25 years of age — Bundy killed, but the best estimate is “at least 100”. Many bodies have never been found, dumped in remote locations. As well as this, over the years many credible witnesses have come forward to describe how Bundy stalked them, or tried to abduct them.

There are many theories about his mental condition. Was he insane? After many mental examinations the answer was always in the negative. The most likely description was sociopathic (psychopathic). He was normally lucid, intelligent, persuasive, and charming. On occasion, he showed violent anger that frightened those who saw it. There is no consensus on why he committed these murders, or what his mental defect was.

For ten years Bundy argued that he was innocent, but even in his last hours after confessing to thirty murders, he was not taking the blame. The blame, he said, was pornography which warped his mind and led him to carry out the murders. Yet many years earlier he had written to Ann Rule saying that no one looked at these porno books, and he certainly had no interest in them himself.

Ted Bundy was executed in Florida in 1989.

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