May 17, 2024

The Curious Friendship
Between Ann Rule and Ted Bundy

Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me has been called the most unnerving book of all time.

Rule said of her first book that if she had tried to sell it as a novel, no publisher would ever find the story believable enough. But in some cases, the truth can be stranger than fiction.

“Not even a television script could make it believable that a crime writer could sign a contract to write a book about a killer, and then have the subject turn out to be her close friend. It wouldn’t wash.”

Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me

Rule was working at a suicide hotline when she made fast friends with a young Ted Bundy, who worked on the desk next to her. Handsome, intelligent and ambitious, Bundy was the last person that Ann suspected could be behind the spate of murders rocking the Pacific Northwest. As the death toll increases and Ann is asked by her connections in the police to write the story of the investigation, we follow Ann on a journey from incredulity to the chilling realisation that her close friend—who would walk her to her car from the office on dark nights—was the most infamous serial killer in American history.

“I liked him immediately,” Rule wrote in The Stranger Beside Me, the book about Bundy that brought her fame in 1980, ultimately selling more than 2 million copies. “It would have been hard not to. He brought me a cup of coffee and waved his arm over the awesome banks of phone lines.” Bundy’s first words to Rule: “You think we can handle all this?”

Even after Bundy was initially arrested for kidnapping in 1975 in Salt Lake City, Rule had lunch with him in Seattle while he was out on bond and bought him a carafe of Chablis. Rule had a sisterly affection for Bundy. She said that he reminded her of her younger brother, who she had sadly lost to suicide.

“I knew that he was a prime suspect but that was all I knew at the time,” Rule wrote. “I had no knowledge at all beyond the few innuendoes I’d read in the papers.” She asked Bundy if he had read about the missing women — after all, she was writing a book about them. He shrugged the questions off. In early 1976, they hung out again and talked for “five hours,” Rule reported.

“I have to tell you this,” she told Bundy. “I cannot be completely convinced of your innocence.” Bundy replied “That’s O.K.”

It was the last time Rule would see Bundy “as a free man,” she wrote. Bundy was convicted of kidnapping in 1976 and began a prison sentence as authorities in other states tried to build murder cases against him.

Still, Rule corresponded with him. She visited him. She sent him $20 — he paid for a haircut with the money. Then, in 1977, Bundy escaped, was arrested and escaped again. After the second escape, he killed three more women before he was arrested in Florida.

The jig was up. And even as she was being courted by Hollywood, Rule was trying to facilitate Bundy’s confession.

“I tried, literally, to save his life,” Rule wrote. “I began to phone Washington state agencies to try to arrange something that would allow Ted to confess to me, and, through plea bargaining, to be returned to Washington for confinement in a mental hospital.”

It wouldn’t work. Bundy was found guilty of capital murder in Florida in 1979 and sentenced to death.

In 1999 Rule said, “People like Ted can fool you completely … I’d been a cop, had all that psychology — but his mask was perfect. I say that long acquaintance can help you know someone. But you can never be really sure. Scary.”

Rule added: “I felt sick when Ted was executed — but I would not have stopped it if I could. He was going to get out, and he would have killed again and again and again.”

Original article in The Washington Post.