The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule is a fascinating look into the Ted Bundy case from the perspective of somebody who knew him personally, was good friends with him, and was contracted to write a book on his crimes before she even knew that it was Ted who was committing them. His life is described in great detail, as are his victims. One thing that I really enjoyed about the book is that rather than painting the victims as mere objects representative of Bundy’s reign of terror, they are shown as real people with real stories. Enough about the crimes is presented to show the reader how horrendous they were and to condemn Bundy, but not every grisly, upsetting detail is included. The victims are shown as more than their last moments, and the book is not overly sensationalized “trauma porn.”
The victims are humanized, and in a way, so is the murderer, or at least the person that he was pretending to be. As upsetting as this can be at first, Rule’s way of showing Ted’s kind, normal facade and his relationships with those around him is integral to the warning that is built into the book: it isn’t just stranger danger. It isn’t just scary-looking men who you pass on the streets or see looking at you in an uncomfortable way. Of course, it can be, but that isn’t all a dangerous person is. Sometimes it is someone you know. Sometimes it is someone who is handsome, charming, and on the outside seems to be a wonderful friend and person. It could be anyone. She emphasizes this throughout the book, especially through the would-be victims that got away. They screamed. They ran. They fought back.
Rule’s emotional journey matched that of many of the women close to Bundy: she couldn’t see the man that she knew and loved, the man that walked her to her car at night and warned her against involving herself with any dangerous situations, as the man who committed the crimes. But the evidence was undeniable. The advantage that Rule had that many women in Bundy’s life did not was that she did not see him as a potential romantic partner. She was not in love with him, so she was significantly less blinded by emotion than other women in Bundy’s life. When she saw the similarities between her Ted and the “Ted” that the police were searching for, she called them. She was the first to report him. He was at first cleared by the police.
Besides Rule’s unique perspective, her writing style is one of true mastery and familiarity with the true crime genre. She was a true crime writer before Bundy and continued to be one after him. She dutifully updated the book as new findings surfaced to do with the case. Her additions ended only after her death.
All in all, I’d highly recommend reading this book if you are at all interested in true crime. It was the first true crime book I have ever read, and I enjoyed it, finding it accessible and engaging. If you have read this or considered reading it, please let me know what you thought of it.