Ann Rule Wasn’t Just Ted Bundy’s Friend
Ann Rule grew up in a law enforcement family: one uncle was a sheriff, two other relatives worked as prosecuting attorneys, and there was a medical examiner in the bunch. Her parents moved around a lot when she was a kid, but she often spent summers with relatives. One summer, she was staying with her grandparents, who lived above the jail, and she was helping out by preparing lunch for prisoners and taking meals to their cells.
“I would pass the tray through the slot in the pantry to the prisoners, and they were so nice,” The Seattle Times reported her saying in a 2004 interview. “So I would always ask my grandpa, ‘How come they’re locked up?’ I wanted to know why some kids grew up to be criminals and why other people didn’t. That is still the main thrust behind my books: I want to know why these things happen, and so do my readers.”
She wanted to write, too, from a young age — but she also harbored an ambition to serve and protect. After Ann earned her college degree (majoring in creative writing and minoring in psychology) she decided to do both. She became a cop in Seattle and began steadily churning out articles for True Detective magazine in 1969.
The police officer job lasted a year and a half. She couldn’t pass the eye exam, so she fell back on her other love. In 1972, divorced with four kids to raise, she hunkered down and wrote 10,000 words a day.
From baby-care magazines to her big break
Like a lot of writers, her first few gigs weren’t the most exciting: true-confession mags and baby-care publications. A hard worker, she was soon getting published in first tier magazines (especially for female authors) like Cosmopolitan and Reader’s Digest.
But she found a home at True Detective, where her editors insisted she use a male surname because “readers won’t believe that a woman knows anything about police.” She became known as Chris Hanson, Arthur Stone or her go-to (after her first name and her dad’s nickname) — Andy Stack.
Despite penning quite a few full-length books, she kept toiling away for True Detective until 1982.
She also wrote three of her early books as Andy Stack: The Want-Ad Killer, The Lust Killer, and The I-5 Killer.
True crime fans know that Ann Rule’s first published book was also her most famous, The Stranger Beside Me (1980), a harrowing account of Ted Bundy’s crimes and her unlikely friendship with him. After Stranger was published, she settled into a winning formula for writing — about two books a year plus magazine articles.
The queen of true crime
She was a workhorse, but what made Ann Rule special — and the reason her books still sell today — was her ability to empathize with crime victims. She told the victim’s stories. Prior to Rule, much of true crime writing was told from the perspective of the criminal or, at best, from a detached viewpoint or the musings of some half-fictional, hard-boiled detective.
Why tell the criminal’s side of the story? Crime reporting was skewed toward the perpetrator partly because of the tawdry nature of true crime magazines. In the early part of the 20th century, such magazines were often nothing more than cheap porn, written for a male audience. Reading about horrible crimes was a pastime for the pervert set before the internet. Today, these types are huddling in internet chat rooms.
Ann Rule wrote the stories that interested her: what happened to the victim? How did she (or he) cope with the trauma? What was the victim’s life like before, and after the crime? She also wanted to know what made criminals tick — but she always let her heart lead the way. She was passionate about getting to know everyone involved in the cases she covered, and her genuine caring took her books beyond “if it bleeds it leads” into deeply affecting human portraits.
Her friend, Ted Bundy
As a normal, empathetic person Ann took a one-night-a-week volunteer job at Seattle’s suicide hotline. She got shown the ropes by a younger man who was good-looking and friendly. They got to be friends; he walked her to her car some nights for her safety.
In the late 1970s, she was deep into researching her next book, about a series of ongoing rapes and murders in the Seattle area. These brutal crimes terrorized what was then a much smaller city, and everyone was looking for a man named “Ted” who drove a gold VW bug. Although Ann didn’t believe her Ted could be the man, she called in a tip anyway. Spooked when she discovered that her friend was known to drive a gold VW, the tip went nowhere as and she put her suspicions aside.
When he was arrested, Ann did not believe Ted could have raped and killed dozens of women. After he escaped from a jail in Colorado, then murdered again while on the run, she finally acknowledged the evidence against him. But she continued to correspond with him in his prison cell in a Florida jail, while he awaited trial for the multiple murders (he later confessed to 36). Those conversations became part of the basis for the bestselling Stranger.
Death and legacy
Women are, by far, the biggest audience for true crime books. The reason for this devotion is likely a combination of factors: it’s best to know the danger you could face, it’s comforting to read about something bad happening to someone else, and women can sympathize with female victims.
Ann Rule’s voice is quieted now. She died in 2015, at the age of 83, from congestive heart failure. But her voice in print still sings loud and clear. She paved the way for a new generation of women, such as Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff of the wildly popular My Favorite Murder podcast, to bond with a new generation of true crime fans.
Rule was known to keep a baseball bat and handgun at her side when she wrote. She was not naïve about the dangerous world she lived in. But she kept her focus on the good in people.
In a 1999 interview with CNN, she said, “I am not a cynic because I find at least three dozen heroes for every bad guy or gal I have to write about. The good in humanity always comes out wayyyyy ahead!”