Saturday, December 26, 2009

'The Stranger Beside Me' Provides Bone-Chilling Account of Friendship With a Serial Killer

As I am prone to reading nightmare-inducing books, usually before bedtime, I picked up Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me several months ago at a local Goodwill. I think I had recently watched a television special about Ted Bundy and Rule's book, so finding it on the shelves at Goodwill so soon after seemed like a sign that I should read it. It lived up to its promise -- "terrifying," "gripping," and "explosive" were all words used on the book cover, and it was all three.

In the early 1970s, Ann Rule was a former policewoman working as a true-crime writer. In addition to penning magazine articles about interesting crimes, Rule also often worked closely with local police departments in the Seattle, Washington, area on written reports involving current cases. When Ted Bundy began his killing spree, Rule was both working with him at a crisis call center in Seattle and working on the case with area detectives. Of course, at the time, she had no idea the killer who she and police were chasing was also her friend and colleague Ted. Rule was beginning research for the book as she discussed work and her personal life with Bundy in the cubicle with her during their late-night shift at the crisis call center.

As time went by, the politically-connected Bundy (he managed the Seattle office for Nelson Rockefeller's 1968 presidential campaign, attended the Republican National Convention that year in Miami, and later worked closely with Washington Gov. Daniel J. Evans) grew closer to Ann Rule and other influential people in Seattle. When he became a suspect in the serial murders of several young coeds in 1973 and 1974, Rule and others denied the possibility that their comrade could be involved.

The Stranger Beside Me is therefore not only a true-crime thriller, but also a personal account of one woman who could honestly say, "I never saw it coming. He was such a good friend." Rule describes the man she knew as being politically conservative, sensitive to the needs of others, and calm in times of crisis. Rule describes his behavior with an elderly couple he lived with for several years as son-like; Bundy often fixed things around their house, tended to the couple's garden, and even returned in the years after he had moved to complete tasks they could not.

Rule continues her account of her relationship with Ted Bundy well into the investigation and prosecution of him for crimes she is not convinced he committed. Until the book's end Rule keeps readers guessing as to whether or not she believes Bundy is guilty of the heinous crimes of which he has been accused.

Published in 1980, Rule wrote The Stranger Beside Me just after the last murder trials were completed. Much happened in the following years which readers of the book will have to catch up on through Wikipedia or some other such information site. However, The Stranger Beside Me is a worthy read for its striking, and truly behind-the-scenes, portrayal of a serial killer in all forms of self -- the cold, calculating murderer; the ambitious worker; and the caring friend.

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