Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ann Rule: Revealing the Strangers Beside Us

A Bold Move

Rule read magazines like True Detective, so having learned how to write she pitched a story. "At the time, these magazines would have a stringer in each area, and that person would get first dibs on any crime story that took place there. It happened that just when I wrote in, there was a vacancy in the northwest, so the editor tried me on one story. Then when he accepted it, he said, 'We like your work, but we need you to take a male pseudonym, because our readers won't believe that a woman would know anything about police investigations."

Police composite drawing of 'Ted'
Police composite drawing of

This was back in 1969 when law enforcement was a male domain, so Rule came up with an appropriate nom de plume, Andy Stack. "My maiden name was Ann Stackhouse, and people called my dad 'Stack.' My older son's name is Andy Stack Rule, so I took it from both of them."

It wasn't long before she got other assignments, and soon she was writing two articles a week for such magazines as Master Detective, Inside Detective, Front Page Detective, and Official Detective. To bolster her BA degree from the University of Washington, she got a two-year degree in police science. Her editors acknowledged that she knew more than their male writers about forensic science and law enforcement, so they said if she wanted to, she could write under her own name. Yet she decided against it. "By that time, I realized how quickly most felons got out of prison, and I was divorced with four young children, so in the interest of our protection, I kept the male pseudonym. I worked for them [as Andy Stack] for fourteen years."

Then she got the subject for her transition from articles to books.

It was 1974 in the Pacific Northwest when several attractive young women turned up missing. First they disappeared around Seattle and Olympia, Washington, and then one went missing in Oregon. On the same day in July, someone abducted two women from Lake Sammamish. With these latest victims, there were witnesses and a drawing was made of a man named 'Ted' who had driven a tan or gold Volkswagen Beetle.

A few months later, the remains of the two women were found and Rule was writing about the string of unsolved murders. "We were all so frightened and curious about who 'Ted' was," she recalls. "I used to wonder, how can I get this person to talk to me? If I put an ad in the paper, would he respond?" To her subsequent astonishment, she already knew him. He was her co-worker at the Crisis Clinic, yet she didn't realize that until he was gone.

Ted Bundy (CORBIS)
Ted Bundy (CORBIS)

Ted Bundy had moved on to Utah and four women were abducted there. When their remains were found, one had been bludgeoned so badly she was difficult to identify. A fifth woman managed to get out of his car and run away. She went to the police and later picked Bundy out of a line-up.

A half dozen or more women missing in Colorado and police speculated about a connection. An intense investigation was launched to determine if there were links to the missing girls in the other states, and that's when Rule heard from Ted again. In September of 1975, he called to let her know he was a suspect, but to assure her that he had nothing to do with the crimes. He asked for her support, and when he was convicted of attempted kidnapping in Utah, he continued to write to her.

Awaiting trial for murder in Colorado, he escaped, got caught, and escaped again, landing in Tallahassee, Florida. On January 15, 1978, he fatally attacked Lisa Levy and Martha Bowman in their sorority house at Florida State University, and left three other coeds critically wounded. Although he'd been careful up to that point to leave little evidence, this time he made a mistake — he left a perfect row of teeth marks on Lisa Levy's left buttock.

Then less than a month later, he grabbed 12-year-old Kimberly Leach and killed her in the woods. Soon arrested, he talked with Rule before his impending trial in 1979. She'd had some doubts early on, but by that time, she felt convinced of his guilt: "It sure was an odd coincidence that every place he was, women who all looked the same and who had the same victim profile were killed."

Faced with a choice between attending his trial as a friend or reporter, she took the pragmatic route. "As a reporter, I could get into the courtroom. As a friend of the defendant, I might not. So I went in as a reporter."

Even so, he often looked at her throughout the trial and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "I have no part in this. What are we doing here?"

The most difficult moment of the trial for her was the presentation of the bite mark evidence. The impression he'd left on Levy was clean enough to make a good match to a dental impression of Bundy's teeth. In addition, he had bitten the girl twice with his lower teeth, actually giving the forensic odontologist two impressions to work with. It left little doubt about who had killed her.

Bite mark evidence presented at trial
Bite mark evidence presented at trial

"To be absolutely sure about his guilt," Rule remembers, "I needed to see direct physical evidence, and there it was, no question. It made me sick to my stomach. I went down to the hall to the ladies' room and threw up. Yet he still maintained this suave, friendly look. It was a bad day for me."

After Bundy had been sentenced to death three times for the three brutal murders in Florida, he eventually confessed in 1989 to a number of murders in six states, dating back to the mid-seventies. Then he awaited the electric chair.

After his 1979 trial, Rule had to get on with her book. "I only had three months to do it," she says, "because I only had money put aside to take care of us [her family] for three months. I worked ten to twelve hours a day, every day, but it was very cathartic to get that story out. I'd been saving it for so long and I hadn't really looked squarely at it until then. I just started telling it."

Initially she wrote it using a third-person perspective, but found that after over one hundred pages, it just didn't work. "I had to go back and write it partially as first-person because I was part of the story." When she did that, it worked.

Book cover for The Stranger Beside Me
Book cover: The
Stranger Beside Me

To this day, the experience haunts her and she feels fortunate that there had never been a romantic attachment between her and Bundy. "I felt dumb, I felt fooled, and I thought that my perception, which I'd always counted on, was flawed. Ever since then, I've felt I can't really know anybody." But she wasn't the only one. "We had very rigid screening at the Crisis Clinic where we had worked together, to be sure we were well adjusted and could help people who called in. Bundy fooled everybody."

It's still not easy for her to view this man who'd been like a younger brother as a heartless killer. "I cannot superimpose the monster image over the man I remember. Think about using a microscope where you gradually bring the two slides together. I can't do that with him. I remember him as I thought he was, and then as the monster, but not the two images together."

The Stranger Beside Me launched her career, and she began to sign contracts for books.

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