There are some books so compelling that you think about them even when you are not engrossed in their pages and long after you close them for good. Unfortunately, I don’t think this would be a very accurate description of the book The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. That was harsh, and, frankly, I did like the book as a sort of summary of the events surrounding Ted Bundy—I just did not find the writing of the book to be particularly engaging. Regardless, the story of this serial murderer is sensational. The killings are so grotesque and blood curdling that reporters have described the attacks as something only a deranged wild animal could have committed. Yet, a winsome, intelligent, handsome young man turned out to be the most likely and, perhaps, unlikely of suspects.
Ann Rule, mother of four, and close friend of Ted Bundy narrates Ted’s story from her memory of events, letters that she and Ted wrote to each other, and through her work as an investigative reporter. Rule and Ted became acquainted through work. Ted was a student at the time and Rule became somewhat of a mentor to him. Rule quickly grew fond of Ted. At one point she loftily considered how Ted would make a perfect suiter for one of her daughters had they been a bit older.
In a very straightforward narrative style, Rule details Ted’s early life from his birth to young adulthood. In short, Ted was born out of wedlock. His mother was ashamed of his origins and moved away from home in Philadelphia to Washington state, assumed a new name, and claimed that Ted was her younger brother. Later she married a man and started a family, and this is how she and Ted assumed the last name Bundy. Rule then moves on to discuss Ted’s romantic life, citing a painful breakup with a smart, rich girl as a sort of turning point in Ted’s life. After the failed romance, Ted worked hard, got his education, found the woman again, and made her fall for him. Without hesitation, however, Ted treated his old love like she did not mean anything to him and let her go as a partner. The woman later confided in her friend that it seemed as if Ted led her on just so she would get attached and then let down in a way that would ensure that she experienced the same pain that she put Ted through years ago.
The number of women that Ted ultimately bludgeoned, mutilated, kidnapped, and killed is unknown. The striking pattern of attacks, however, shows that the victims were all white, slender, college-aged women with long hair, parted in the middle. The victims often willingly entered Ted’s car at night along the roads or in parking lots. Ted’s killing spree lasted about four years. His knowledge of the law, clean criminal record, and attention to detail when it came to committing neat biological-evidence-free crimes perpetuated his time at large.
The story of Ted Bundy is incredibly fascinating; however, Ann Rule’s retelling has the tone of a ‘report’ rather than a story – which makes sense as Rule is a reporter by profession. For a more compelling take on Bundy’s story, I would suggest watching the 2019 crime drama “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” staring Zac Efron. I’ve seen the film and caught myself replaying scenes of the movie in my head corresponding with sections in The Stranger Beside Me.
If you are interested in the facts, including a documentation of Bundy’s life and a peek into his personal relationships, then the Stranger Beside Me will well satisfy your quench for knowledge. If you are looking for more detail and color, please do consider watching the movie!