I was about 8 or 9 years old when I first stumbled upon a book of my dad’s – an encyclopaedia of serial killers. Up until that point, I’d known that people died, whether that be through accident, illness, war or whatever, but it was this book that informed me that sometimes people died because someone enjoyed hurting them. Given that I’ve been reading about murder ever since, I’m amazed that thirty years later I’d still somehow never got around to reading The Stranger Beside Me – a giant in the true crime genre thanks to the unusual circumstances that its author found herself in: writing a book about an unfolding serial killer case, only to have the killer turn out to be one of her friends. That man was Ted Bundy.
Eventually confessing to the murders of over 30 girls and young women in the seventies, Ted first met Ann Rule when they worked together at a suicide crisis line. A former policewoman and a freelance writer of crime cases, Rule thought that Ted Bundy was wonderful – kind, empathetic and the sort of young man she’d have been pleased for her daughter to date. When the killings started and Rule was contracted to write a book about the ongoing case, her young co-worker was the last person she suspected of the crimes. As the signs started to stack up, and even when Ted was arrested for the crimes, Rule found it hard to believe that the man she knew was capable of such things, and The Stranger Beside Me more than anything shows her struggle to understand the highly effective mask that Ted wore, and who was beneath it.
As a former cop and crime reporter, Rule writes about the case in a clear and unadorned fashion and talks respectfully of his victims, even while relaying the extreme brutality of the attacks they endured. Prefaced and followed up with updates following its initial publication, Rule also talks of the many women who have contacted her over the years, either with their own Bundy encounters or expressing extremely misguided feelings for the man. While he seems to be regarded as handsome by many, I don’t agree – and even if he had looked like Jason Momoa, given what he did I can’t understand why anyone would develop a crush on him, let alone turn up at his trial having modelled themselves on his victim type in the hopes of catching his eye.
If you’re at all interested in true crime, I would definitely recommend this book (and if you’re interested in Bundy, then I‘d also recommend the excellent The Only Living Witness by Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth- although that one also gave me a serious case of the wiggins) Then you can join me in becoming extremely suspicious of all of your co-workers from now on.