Goodreads: The Stranger Beside Me
Genre: True Crime, Non-fiction
Utterly unique in its astonishing intimacy, as jarringly frightening as when it first appeared, Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me defies our expectation that we would surely know if a monster lived among us, worked alongside of us, appeared as one of us. With a slow chill that intensifies with each heart-pounding page, Rule describes her dawning awareness that Ted Bundy, her sensitive coworker on a crisis hotline, was one of the most prolific serial killers in America. He would confess to killing at least thirty-six young women from coast to coast, and was eventually executed for three of those cases. Drawing from their correspondence that endured until shortly before Bundy’s death, and striking a seamless balance between her deeply personal perspective and her role as a crime reporter on the hunt for a savage serial killer — the brilliant and charismatic Bundy, the man she thought she knew — Rule changed the course of true-crime literature with this unforgettable chronicle.
Where do I even start in reviewing a book like this? My mind is still trying to process everything that I’ve read. Plus, I’ve just stumbled down an Ann Rule-Ted Bundy-Carol Ann Boone wormhole and after watching an interview of Bundy on YouTube (why did I do that?) I’m still not sure I’ve been fully spit back out yet. I’m covered in full-body chills and it’s a sweltering 35℃ right now!
“And, like all the others, I have been manipulated to suit Ted’s needs. I don’t feel particularly embarrassed or resentful about that. I was one of many, all of us intelligent, compassionate people who had no real comprehension of what possessed him, what drove him obsessively.”
I’m not usually a non-fiction reader but this book has been on my radar for several years now. I don’t know when I first learned about Ted Bundy and I’m pretty sure that the majority of people in my circles wouldn’t know who he is or at most his name might ring a bell. I knew he was good looking and charming but I never knew the details of when, where and how he operated. I never knew how much of a sociopath he was. I didn’t know how he was caught and for what he was actually convicted of. This book answered so many questions I didn’t know I had about him, but it also left me with more questions about his psyche too.
I can’t even fathom what it took Ann Rule to write this book. I know I just read it but I’m still not sure anyone will ever really understand what it’s like to write a detailed account of cruel and violent murders perpetrated by someone who you (thought you) knew so well. Someone who you were close to; someone whose connection with you was formed based on the loss of your brother; someone whose persona you knew to be so different to how others described him. It makes you think: how is it possible to judge a character so wrongly? Based on what Rule shared in this book, it’s not that difficult to understand when it comes to Bundy because he had so many sides to him it was almost impossible to know which was the REAL one, even at the end.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Bundy was a deeply disturbed individual. What he did was… I don’t even have the words for how angry and beyond disgusted it makes me feel to think about what he did and what he got away with so easily and for so long! Ted Bundy was a man with chameleon-like good looks, with a bright mind and endless charm, and I think what really got to me while reading this is how Rule managed to somehow… humanize him? Even though it took a long time for her to come to terms with his guilt, she didn’t excuse or try to justify what he did and I honestly don’t think she intentionally tried to make readers feel sympathetic towards someone as deplorable as him. And yet you can’t help but feel a little mournful(?) of the waste of life (all around) and how differently things could’ve turned out for him (and others like him) if his childhood was better… I know that’s an oversimplification and perhaps it was inevitable for him to turn out this way, it maybe would’ve taken him longer, but you can’t help envisioning him as the person that Rule initially described him as. Just to be clear, this isn’t me sympathizing or feeling sorry for him — no way! — this book just took me (emotionally) by surprise.
“According to the FBI information and several reporters who were deluging the Pensacola detectives with calls, they had caught a man suspected of thirty-six murders, a figure they found hard to believe.
When Chapman asked him about that during the post-taping conversation, Ted had reportedly replied, “Add one digit to that and you’ll have it.”
What had he meant? Was he being sarcastic? did he mean thirty-seven murders? Or, no, it couldn’t be… did he mean a hundred or more murders?”
I don’t know how to emphasize how horrifying it was to know how easy it was for Bundy to fool everyone around him. That he was smart and so meticulous about not leaving a single clue at each scene was beyond terrifying and it blows my mind to think how long this would’ve continued had he not been caught for other things. My gut churns knowing that the remains of the women he killed will never be found… and who knows how long he has been killing and how many women he actually killed in his lifetime… But I digress. Kind of. I don’t want to go on too much about what I read and learned, not because I don’t want to spoil the book, as I’m sure you can find the majority of information online or by watching the documentaries about him and the movie based on the book. I could go on about my thoughts on this but I’d likely end up repeating myself because there really are no words.
In the end, would I say I enjoyed this book? I mean, if you consider that I didn’t want to leave this book for too long, then yes, I did enjoy it because I read it faster than I thought I would. Every time I put it down I would think about it until I picked it up again. But it also feels wrong to say that because of what it’s about. The contents of this book have been tumbling over in my head since I finished reading it and I have a feeling that it’s one that will stick with me for a long, long time.
Have you read The Stranger Beside Me? Do you enjoy true crime?