September 17, 2015

"Stranger Beside Me" - Ann Rule's Epic Tale Of America's Most Dangerous serial Killer

English: Ted Bundy in custody, Florida, July 1...
English: Ted Bundy in custody, Florida, July 1978. Florida Memory Project, Florida Photographic Collection, #N035653 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Some very light spoilers)

I had never heard of Ted Bundy's name until I saw part of his documentary on TV (20/20?) very recently. I was immediately drawn into the story and fascinated by his case for a conscious reason: his look. He didn't look like criminal, rather, he looked handsome, educated, sensitive and extremely charismatic. So I did some research and found a book to read: Ann Rule's Stranger Beside Me.

This is the first true crime book I've ever read and I found it extremely riveting. The most extraordinary part is the fact that Bundy was actually Rule's friend for many years. They both worked as partners in a suicide support center Crisis Clinic in Seattle, WA., and built a warm friendship since then. Rule had no slightest idea that at the time they worked together, Bundy already started his heinous killing. Rule always believed that her friend was a kind, friendly and intelligent young man whom she would want to marry if she was 10 years younger.

Rule herself worked in criminal justice system and has been a crime writer ever since, so it makes perfect sense that she should write a book about Ted Bundy - the most notorious serial killer of all time. The book is long (over 600 pages), pretty much chronologically documented, with accurate details of events and crime scenes. If I understand it correctly, the main body of the book - which is the first edition that was published before Bundy's execution - was inconclusive about Bundy's guilt. It is in the "forward" - which was written years after the first edition, we found out that Bundy's guilt is confirmed by his own confession, and finally was electrocuted in January 1989. And 10 years after the "forward", Rule added another "final chapter". It seems like that Ted Bundy had been haunting Ann Rule most of her life, and would continue do so.

I found Rule's writing style straightforward yet inviting, and the evidences she accumulated in this books are invaluable. I was drawn right into this book due to 2 reasons: the friendship between the author and the killer, and the mythical (or "magical") ways the killer conducted his crimes . I literally could not put down during the first 60% of book. The rest of book still contains some extremely important events, but I had to admit that there are also some irrelevant trivial matters as well, such as author's personal life, tedious legal processes, etc., or I was just tired. Nonetheless, my interest in Ted Bundy drove me through the whole book, from back to back.

Bundy brutally murdered dozens, possibly over 100 young women. The manners he employed were extremely violent, such as strangulation or blowing victims' heads with whatever tools on hand. I didn't read any evidences or descriptions on how he tortured or raped victims when they were still alive. It seems, as a notorious necrophilia, he performed most sexual abuses after victims were dead. The way he captured his victims were all so "ingenious" that lots of them were abducted in public places, and he was never caught during and after his crimes. And there were hardly any hard evidences to convict him. He was actually first arrested by keeping burglary tools in his car!

Bundy claimed he was innocent all the way through his trials which lasted over a decade long, confessed only some of his murders - which were still over 30! - merely a couple of days before his execution. Many people believed his innocence - especially women, even after overwhelming evidences (mostly circumstantial) provided in courts. Bundy never lacked female supporters during his trials, he even got married during his trial.

There's no doubt that Bundy was an extremely intelligent person. He excelled in schools whenever he wanted to; he escaped from prison twice (the second time was quite Houdini-like); his charming personality and repartee not only made him the most popular male criminal among women (include many of his victims), but also impressed his friends, coworkers, even later his defense team members and his judges; he was knowledgeable in psychology, criminology and law, which gave him advantage in committing his crimes. The fact is, he could have led a successful normal life that any men would envy, both career and personal life wise, still, he chose the otherwise.

Though Rule for long time believed that Bundy was mentally ill, thought he should be put in mental hospital instead of prison, both psychiatrists and psychologists did not find him mentally ill, or "incompetent". They did diagnosed him as "multi personality disorder". As matter of fact, he fired most of his defense lawyers so he could present himself during most of his trials. He was 100% mentally lucid and cunning that even when Ann Rule finished her first edition of this book - which was years after Bundy was arrested, she was still not 100% convinced Bundy was guilty.

I have to question what made Bundy - such a seemingly charming person - so evil? Was it because he was a illegitimate? His trouble childhood? His violent grandfather? Or, was it because he was rejected by his first love? Maybe all of these reasons combined? Or maybe he was simply born evil? I can't find a sure answer for my questions, all I can say by far is that, we humans are "products" of extreme complication. To make a criminal like Ted Bundy, probably would take as much as it's needed to make a genius. It's also very hard for me to believe that there was no love, no humane side inside this person's mind. I rather believe he did have a heart, but just at the same time his vast mental and emotional possessions drove him into something so tragic and so devastating.

Notwithstanding, as a person who is so interested in human psyche, I found it's invaluable to study such a person's life and mind. We should not let him go without any scrutinizing his inner world, for the sake of preventing similar crimes in future. And I am just glad to see there's plenty of books about him.

It was in the "last chapter" we could find some details of Bundy's execution. Though Rule's writing style is not "graphic", I found it hard to go through. Bundy was known for his confidence demeanor, but based on one eye witness, he entered the death chamber with a shaking head and quivering knees.  I found death by execution is way more cruel than by any other kinds, because when a person know he/she is going to die, the fear is so overwhelming that it amplified the suffering to the maximum extend. I believe Dostoevsky had some serious thoughts and writings about this subject, because he had once almost been executed by firing squad. I don't know others, but if I had to die, I probably prefer to die with a violent blow than being electrocuted in that "old sparky" (nick name for the electric chair that killed Bundy and many other criminals).

Nonetheless, justice was finally served. And "peace and love to all the innocents you destroyed." (Ann Rule)


  1. yunyi, Bundy is a perfect example how I define a monster: "intelligence without a heart." There are plenty of them around. Some become serial killers, some become sex traffickers, and some become heads of state.

    1. thanks marty for commenting. i agree, there's people with intelligence but no heart. very sad.

  2. Does the book explain why he decided not to be successful, but instead chose to kill? How is it that he could be so brutal and charming at the same time? While I think the death penalty is wrongly used in our society, I feel that I can't really feel sorry for Bundy during his execution, because he made up to 100 women feel the same terror (and worse!) Good post, I want to read this book.

    1. No, the book doesn't explain why. I don't even psychologists or scientists would know why. As matter of fact, Ann Rule asked this question at near end of the book, and she said she didn't know what Bundy was, and she didn't believe Bundy himself knew what he was. It's a mystery!
      Yes, read it if you like. It's a long journey, pretty heavy loaded...