Like any self-respecting procrastinator, I’ve only recently gotten into the “My Favorite Murder” podcast. For those of you living under a rock, it’s a two-woman comedy show about real-life murders. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but trust me: it works.
True crime has always fascinated me, although I didn’t realize it until a few years ago when I became an armchair detective intent on solving the JonBenet Ramsey case. My entire summer of 2015 was dedicated to reading books, websites, and forums with the crazy notion that I – with no professional background – could solve the mystery.
Fast-forward a few years and here I am, obsessed with a murder podcast and learning about new-to-me horrors on a weekly basis.
My life’s a blast.
I promise there’s a reason I told you all that: one of the “My Favorite Murder” fans created a 2018 Murderino Reading Challenge, essentially a BINGO board of true crime topics to read about in the coming year. Sign. Me. Up.
Now, that said, I’m lazy and I’m poor. As a result, I decided to cancel my Kindle Unlimited subscription because I’ve found myself gravitating toward physical books the past few years. While I was canceling, I learned that:
- My subscription wouldn’t end until the end of February, based on my last renewal date
- I had access to a plethora of Ann Rule books through Kindle Unlimited that I could binge read in that time
- Ann Rule is on the Murderino BINGO board
- She wrote a book about Ted Bundy
- Georgia, from MFM, is also reading this book right now
- Zac Efron is portraying Ted Bundy in an upcoming movie
- I love Zac Efron
And that’s how I ended up cuddling with Ted Bundy every night for a 12 days.
First, let me say that Ann Rule was a treasure. I have to say “was” because she unfortunately passed away not long ago, leaving a well-written true crime legacy in her wake. Her style is engrossing, smart, and direct. She has a masterful way of weaving description and facts with observation and theories. Reading “The Stranger Beside Me” was – despite the topic – a treat.
As for Ted Bundy, I’m lucky enough to have not really known who he was prior to downloading Rule’s book. Sure, I knew he was a notorious murderer, but for what exactly, I wasn’t sure. I’m now sufficiently creeped out.
The book is an interesting view into Bundy’s life if only for the fact Rule was commissioned to write it before anyone knew who Bundy was. Indeed, it was any crime writer’s dream: be commissioned to cover a series of gory murders where young women are killed in rapid succession, only to eventually discover the murderer is someone you used to volunteer with, someone you considered a decent friend, someone you accompanied to the occasional work gathering. It makes for an interesting 550-page glimpse into a warped mind.
I won’t go into extreme detail about the book because I find those reviews boring. Instead, I thought I’d share some things I learned:
- Nobody knows how many women Bundy killed and he never confirmed a number. When presented with “36”, he said, “Add a number to that and you’d be correct.” In other words, we’re talking anywhere from 37-360+ women. The acceptable estimate is at least 100, starting with the disappearance of a young girl in his neighborhood when Bundy was only 14/15 (which he denied).
- He was notorious for escaping prison. His last romp with freedom took him to Florida, where he wreaked havoc on the community for a few weeks before being apprehended a final time.
- His own stubbornness is probably why he was sentenced to death; Bundy insisted on defending himself throughout his trials. He’d continually have his lawyers fired, hire new ones, brag about them, then grow to detest them, too. His courtroom inexperience got him into trouble on several occasions, even leading him to rage once in front of a jury, which may very well have signaled his end.
- He got married in court during one of his trials to a woman who (for good reason) essentially abandoned him at the end. I wish there was more information about that presented, but it didn’t seem like Carol Ann Boone had much (if any) respect for Rule from the beginning. I’ll have to look into that because it’s a piece that interests me.
- Bundy doesn’t really have a diagnosis. There’s a lot of speculation as to what was “wrong” with him, but he’s more complex than maybe we give him credit for. For example, he’d stumble over his descriptions of the murders. Whether that was because he was remorseful or because he was playing a game is hard to say. Whatever was going on inside that deranged mind if his, he almost always came off as cool and calculating; you never knew if he was being genuine.
Needless to say, all of this has lured me into a deep rabbit hole of research from which I may never emerge.
While I’m here, I want to mention how I take umbrage with several Goodreads reviews and address them here, as it seems people enjoy reading only to speak miserably about what they shouldn’t have read in the first place:
- All of this information could be found online. Good story, but the internet didn’t exist (for public consumption) when the book was first published in 1980.
- There was bad editing. Yes. There was. And that admittedly gave me pause several times when words didn’t make sense or something was omitted/randomly capitalized. Blame the publisher.
- Rule speaks in cliches. Eh. Maybe. No worse than the plethora of authors who refer to light walking as “padding” on every other page.
- Rule drones on and on in her additions and should have rewritten the book instead. Okay, sure. There were times – toward the end – where I found myself saying, “Get on with it.” I’m not sure I agree that she should have completely rewritten the book, though, to include those details. It was more interesting to see how her ideas formed – and re-formed – over time as new information came out to play. You could see her struggle as someone who viewed him as both a deplorable mass of carbon and also as a human being who was there for her emotionally during a rough time.
- Rule insinuates she could have been Bundy’s victim, which is insane because she’s not an attractive young woman. First of all, there’s something wrong with if you feel so compelled to write that. When dealing with a potential serial killer whose MO isn’t 100% pinned down, it’s natural to not feel safe in a room alone with them. At least, that’s what I’d assume having hopefully never dined with one over wine in a remote area with no security. In most cases, I felt she was commiserating with the victims and viewed them as could-be daughters due to their age. Come on, dude; say something that makes me feel like you’re actually contributing to society.
- Rule doesn’t go into psychological depth about Ted Bundy. Probably. But how could she? Most of the book was written before the man was dead and nobody could put a finger on any true diagnosis; they still can’t. Rule describes at length – in several areas – how the only thing psychologists could agree on is that he wasn’t insane, but most likely had APD. One even went so far as to diagnose him as bipolar, which Rule felt was out of left field. Rule’s theory is that Bundy never had a chance to bond with his mother in his first few months, grew up under the thumb of a tyrannical grandfather, and exhibited signs of a sociopath as early as age three (when his aunt woke up from a nap surrounded by kitchen knives). The truth? I’m not sure anyone really knows or understands his psychological profile. He was merely, as one reviewer writes, “shittastically evil”.
- Rule doesn’t psychologically go into her own relationship with Bundy. To that, I ask: did we even read the same book? Rule states over and over again that she doesn’t understand her connection to him, saying she felt like a victim in that she – like many women – experienced an unexplainable draw to him. She states several times that she felt manipulated, betrayed, and even silly for caring about him. Like any decent person, she was confused. With hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to write off her emotions and wish for more, but maybe it’s as simple as taking her word for how she felt.
Would I recommend this book?
100x yes! If true crime is your thing, and if you want to read a firsthand account of Ted Bundy before the movie comes out, I would highly recommend it. The book itself has its flaws, like a million additions and questionable editing, but the storytelling is intriguing and the sources are mostly primary. Thumbs up from this reader.
2 thoughts on “12 Evenings with Ted Bundy: Review of “The Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule”
Have you watched the Netflix movie with Zac Efron’s portraying Ted Bundy. Good flix. Recommend it
I did! Perfect thing to watch alone on a Sunday night haha. The acting was great but I thought they tried to take it too many directions when it was meant to view the situation from Liz’s perspective. But maybe I’m a little TOO into the whole Ted Bundy situation so I’m just a harsh critic. I enjoyed it overall.