Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ann Rule: Revealing the Strangers Beside Us

Bad Women

In Bitter Harvest, Rule wrote about a brilliant female physician with two sides: a competent professional and a demanding, childish drug-abuser who would stop at nothing — including murder — to get what she wanted. In Small Sacrifices, Rule portrayed Diane Downs, an Oregon woman who shot her own children in 1983 so she could have the man she wanted. Rule is currently at work on another tale about a female psychopath, and she's aware that little research has been done on this special breed.

"I always say that bad women are fewer than men," she states, "but when you get one, they're fascinating because they're so rotten."

She learned about Patricia Allanson, featured in Everything She Ever Wanted, from Allanson's son-in-law, when he sent her a bundle of newspaper clippings. She found the story intriguing and eventually went to Georgia to talk to the people involved.

Called a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara, Allanson thought of herself as special. Her parents had always bailed her out and she'd never had to take responsibility for anything. Partly because of that, she felt that whoever married her ought to give her anything she wanted. She was high maintenance, and when she met Tom Allanson, she saw that he had the means to provide for her in style.

In 1974, they married, bought a 58-acre farm in Georgia and decided to raise Morgan horses. Yet Rule makes it clear that Patricia had quite another scheme at work.

When Walter Allanson, Tom's father, disapproved of her and angrily tried to force Tom out of his life, Pat filed complaints of sexual harassment against him, claiming that he had exposed himself to her. Tom grew alarmed over this, along with rumors that he heard that his father was going to kill him, so he took out a restraining order. Yet his father was taking a defensive stand, believing that his own son was out to kill him. Intense fear and anger continued to grow on both sides.

Eventually the two men had a deadly confrontation and it seemed clear to Tom later that he and his father had been set up. He ended up shooting both of his parents and going to prison, while Pat got the farm. When the placed burned down, Pat got the money, and her machinations didn't stop there.

An interesting angle on this story is the interview that investigators had with Tom after he'd finally been released from a 15-year stint in prison. He finally realized that Pat had been a liar, and called her a "headstrong, manipulative type person that would do anything to get what she wanted — and you would not know she was doing it." He didn't know why he hadn't seen it coming.

Rule admits to mixed feelings about these dreadful stories: she finds truly bad women interesting, but they also disturb her.

"For a woman to be like Pat," she says, "it makes me angry and shocks me-and I would include Diane Downs, too — because most of us who are mothers would literally die without thinking to save our babies. We know how a woman is supposed to act and how a normal woman's emotions are, and so when I find one who goes so much against what women instinctively feel, I'm shocked, I'm mad, and I have trouble with a tendency to editorialize as I write. I have to force myself to go back in these books and take my feelings out. Then in the very last chapter, that's when I give my opinion. For me, these women are harder to write about than men, but they're more interesting."

Yet even as she describes the perpetrators of crimes, male or female, she never loses sight of the victims and their families. In one case, she found that other writers looking at the same story had failed to see the real person behind the victim. Letting the reader know the victim, Ann feels, is her own special contribution.

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