• Culture

Why Ann Rule's 'The Stranger Beside Me' Is The Most Haunting Book About Ted Bundy You'll Ever Read

Ted Bundy is one of the world’s foremost boogeymen. Throughout the 1970s, Bundy assaulted and killed more than 30 young women in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Florida. He never gave a reason, and even though he was in several long-term relationships, none of his partners ever knew what kind of monster they were dating.

Ann Rule - a true crime writer and former officer with the Seattle Police Department - was the only person who got close enough to Bundy to somewhat understand him. The two met after she began volunteering at a self-harm crisis hotline in Seattle and they became friends. 

Rule never understood why Bundy was so open with her, but her book The Stranger Beside Me offers one of the clearest glimpses into the life of someone who lived in the shadows. Rule's book is filled with chilling details, including accounts of Bundy’s offenses, his letters to Rule from inside, and even the moment Rule knew Bundy was guilty.

  • Rule Met Bundy While Working At A Self-Harm Hotline

    Photo: City Of Boston Archive / Wikimedia

    Writer Ann Rule met Ted Bundy while volunteering for a self-harm hotline in 1971. They each worked shifts at the Seattle Crisis Clinic, which was based in "a huge old Victorian mansion on Capitol Hill" that had become dilapidated over time due to disrepair. While Rule worked a four-hour shift from 10 pm to 2 am one night a week, Bundy worked a grueling 12-hour shift "several nights a week." Rule remembers Bundy was immediately personable; on her first night on the job, he brought her a cup of coffee and the two instantly bonded.

    Rule writes, "As it turned out, we made a good team. Working side by side in the cluttered two rooms on the top floor of the building, we seemed to be able to communicate in emergencies without even having to speak."

  • Rule Initially Suspected Bundy Of Foul Play In Washington

    Photo: Wikimedia

    After Rule stopped working at the crisis hotline, she stepped up her writing and began working with the Washington State Police, crafting summary reports of cases while interviewing detectives for her own work. Throughout 1973 and 1974, Rule worked on a series of cases involving young women. In multiple instances, the offender broke into the house and left without a trace.

    There was no clue as to who committed the offenses, except for an anonymous 911 call stating, "The person who [went after] that girl on 8th last month and the person who took Lynda Healy away are one [and] the same. He was outside both houses. He was seen."

    The stories continued to add up until a girl named Susan Rancourt went missing before authorities later recovered her body. Rule recalls, "Other coeds came forward with descriptions of incidents that had vaguely disturbed them. One girl said she'd talked to a tall, handsome man in his twenties outside the campus library on April 12th, a man who had one arm in a sling and a metal brace on his finger. He'd had trouble managing his armload of books and had dropped several."

    This man asked each girl if they would help him get his things in his car, but they all demurred. These were some of the first events that lead Rule to suspect Bundy, but she initially pushed these thoughts away, believing herself to be paranoid. 

  • Bundy Was Extremely Charming

    The early section of Rule's book details Bundy's university life before things took a dark turn. At the time, he was already committing small infractions, and he was particularly charming to the women in his life.

    Specifically, Bundy had an affinity for 60-year-old Beatrice Sloan, a woman with whom he worked at the Olympic Hotel. Sloan was wrapped around Bundy's finger; she loaned him her car and even let him use her set of crystal so he could impress Stephanie Brooks, the woman Bundy blamed for his dark compulsions. 

    Rule recounts how Bundy once borrowed money from Sloan. When he didn't pay Sloan back, she called his mother, but that didn't do anything. "Louise had laughed, according to Mrs. Sloan, and said, 'You're a fool to loan him money. You'll never get it back. He's a stranger around here.'"


  • Bundy Grew Up Believing His Mother Was His Sister

    In 1968, Bundy was working as a driver for Lieutenant Governor candidate Art Fletcher. When Fletcher lost the election, Bundy went into a bit of a tailspin. He decided to get back to his roots and visit his family. In early 1969, Bundy discovered some harsh truths.

    Rule writes, "Ted went to Burlington, Vermont, after checking records in Philadelphia. His birth certificate was in the files there, stamped with the archaic and cruel 'Illegitimate.' He had been born to Eleanor Louise Cowell." Up until that point, Bundy had believed Cowell was his sister.