The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule was first published in 1980 by W.W. Norton and Company.
Revisions of the book, with updates by the author, were published in 1986, 1989, 2000 and 2008.
It's in the same mould as In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
True Crime Classics
When "In Cold Blood" was first published in 1966, it defined what was to become the modern true crime genre.
In this story about the murders of four family members in a rural community in Kansas, Capote examined the viewpoints of the victims, the killers and the investigators.
This made for a more interesting, well-rounded and thought-provoking narrative.
It also provided some insight into how and why the murders were committed.
The Stranger Beside Me is unique
Ann Rule does the same in The Stranger Beside Me.
But what makes her book unique is that she was able to write about one of the most notorious serial killers in history, from the personal perspective of a longstanding friendship.
Reviews For The Stranger Beside Me
This book was a New York Times bestseller upon publication and has garnered thousands of rave reviews in the 40 years since.
Here’s a few of them:
‘A shattering story…carefully investigated, written with compassion but also with professional objectivity.’ (Seattle Times)
‘Affecting, tense and smart true crime.' (The Washington Post Book World)
‘Ann Rule has an extraordinary angle on the most fascinating killer in modern American history.’ (The New York Times)
The Stranger Beside Me Synopsis
In 1971, the year Rule met Bundy, she was a forty year old plumpish mother of four, nearing divorce.
She had been a policewoman and studied abnormal psychology and police science at University.
Rule was now forging a career as a freelance writer, writing true crime stories for True Detective Magazine.
She volunteered two nights a week on the crisis hotlines at Seattle’s Crisis Clinic, where twenty five year old Bundy, a psychology student, was also volunteering to gain work experience.They formed an almost instant rapport and became close friends.
They lost contact for a while in late 1973 after he stopped working at the clinic, but maintained their friendship over the years through intermittent periods of contact.
As Wholesome As Apple Pie
On the surface, Ted Bundy was the epitome of wholesome American youth.
He was handsome, charming, intelligent, ambitious, and an active member of the Republican Party.
It was the main reason he managed to stay under the radar for so long.
In early 1974 a series of brutal murders of young women in Seattle shocked the city, and Rule was contracted to write a book about them.
Eye witness descriptions pointed to Bundy as a person of interest.
Authorities however, were deluged with tips and leads and because of his respectable persona, he was not followed up as a serious suspect.
Rule found it impossible to believe her friend would be capable of such crimes.
The Murders Begin
In late 1974, Bundy moved to Salt Lake City.
The killings in Seattle stopped and a series of murders of young women in Utah, Colorado and Idaho began.
The modus operandi was similar to those in Seattle.
Police in these states began sharing information, honing in on Bundy as their main suspect.
Still, Rule refused to believe in his culpability, even when he was extradited to Colorado to face murder charges.
Bundy escaped from custody in Colorado and made his way to Florida, where he killed three women and raped and killed a 12 year old girl.
It was not until his capture in 1978 and subsequent trial in Florida that Rule accepted that the man she thought she knew was a serial killer.
She conceded that he was the perpetrator of the crimes she was writing about in her book.
Ted Bundy's Death Sentence
Bundy was sentenced to death for the Florida murders, but managed to stave off the inevitable for the next 11 years by a series of appeals.
Shortly before his death he confessed to over 30 murders committed in seven states, in an attempt to delay his execution.It failed, and he was executed on 24 January 1989 at the age of 43.
Ann Rule's Writing Style
Rule’s writing style is engaging and easy to read.
She switches throughout the book from first person to third person, writing from Bundy’s point of view, beginning with his arrival in Florida and working back in time.
She does a fine job of balancing personal perspective and objectivity.
And we can really feel empathy for her as she slowly becomes aware of the horrendous dark side of her so-called kind and generous friend.
Listen to your dogShe writes candidly about the emotional trauma her friendship with Bundy caused her over the years:
‘I had always prided myself on my ability to detect aberrance in other humans, both because I had that innate skill and through experience and training.
And I have berated myself for a long time because I saw nothing threatening or disturbing in Ted’s façade.He was very kind to me, solicitous of my safety and seemingly empathetic.’
However, she went on to say that her dog didn’t like him and growled whenever Ted came near him. ‘The lesson is clear - pay attention to your dog!’
Everyone Was A Pawn
Rule was just one of many people, including his victims, who were taken in by Bundy’s personable façade.
She admits her naivety in being unwilling to see the truth for so long.
Indeed, I became frustrated with her refusal to face facts in the wake of insurmountable evidence.
Even after she acknowledged Bundy’s guilt, she continued, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty, to write to him in prison and send him money.
‘‘I don’t feel particularly embarrassed or resentful about that. I was one of many, all of us intelligent, compassionate people who had no real comprehension of what possessed him, what drove him obsessively.’
I found the updates of each new edition of the book as fascinating as the story itself.
The 1989 update features Bundy’s execution, and the 2000 update includes the experiences of many women who claimed to have encountered Bundy in the 1970s.
In addition to his lengthy list of murders, there were numerous times when he attempted abduction.
The victims however, whether through luck or their own resourcefulness, managed to escape.
A 2008 update of the book features more ‘near miss’ stories from women who encountered Bundy.
It also includes a ‘Ted Bundy FAQ’ section, where Rule answers the questions she is most often asked by readers.
Author Ann Rule
Ann Rule was born in 1931 in Michigan.
Her grandfather and uncle were sheriffs, and she spent her school holidays with her grandparents doing volunteer work at the local jail.
This fostered her interest in crime.
She was curious about the prisoners she encountered – who they were and what had led them there.
Rule studied creative writing, criminology and psychology at University.
She wrote over 30 true crime books, many hitting #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
The Stranger Beside Me is her best known work.
Another acclaimed novel is Small Sacrifices, about Oregon child murderer Diane Downs.
Ann Rule Interviews
In this interview in The Internet Writing Journal, Rule discussed her writing process, what inspired her and how she juggled it with raising her children.
Ann Rule On Youtube
Rule discussed her career and how she got started in this YouTube Interview.
The Stranger Beside Me Review Conclusion
Although Rule came under criticism for being too close to her subject in The Stranger Beside Me, it’s a riveting story, regardless of your opinion.
If you’re a true crime fan, I highly recommend it.
It's a fascinating insight into one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.
I’ll let the author have the final words:‘His crimes changed my life and opened the door to my first book contract, but as a human being, I wish I could go back and erase him and his murderous swath through America.’