Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Stranger Beside Me (Revised and Updated): 20th Anniversary Edition by Ann Rule

When I saw the picture of this man on the front cover as I was handed The Stranger Beside Me at the True Crime book group, I immediately knew this man from reports on the news from when I was growing up. I wasn't sure if I could read this book or if I should. I remember having nightmares about him back then and I did again as I read this book. Terrifying isn't a strong enough word to explain Ted Bundy. It is chilling to realize that the author, Ann Rule, knew this man as a friend on and off for a period of about ten years. They were, at first, co-workers for a Seattle, Washington crisis center where she felt that he had helped saved lives of troubled people who called in for help. She thought he was like a "knight in shining armor" to her as he safely helped her to her car after late night shifts. "You can't be too careful" is what he would gently tell her. He seemed to be someone that had everything going for him as he was evidently handsome, intelligent, charismatic, and a very articulate young man, who was, during this time, involved in local politics and later became a law student at the University of Utah. It was at this time of her association with him that she was developing her writing career in true crime magazines. She had been offered and had signed a contract to write this book before she even had an inkling that it was or could be the "Ted" that had been committing these horrific murders. She is rivetingly honest and straightforward not only in telling Bundy's story but of the victims and their families.
To this day, Rule is haunted by questions about Bundy and still receives stories from women who are convinced that they may have run into him and barely escaped to live and to tell about their close encounter. The author illustrates this in the book through an experience she had in a hospital:
Not long ago, I was undergoing preparations for surgery and I recall lying on an operating table. The anesthesiologist leaned over before putting me to sleep. I thought she was about to give me more directions when she asked instead "Ann," the anesthesiologist said softly, "tell me, what was Ted Bundy really like?"


This is a grizzly book as mentioned on the cover:
As dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight. -- The New York Times

It has well-researched facts and descriptions that hit close to home for Rule and written in first person she does let her feelings and opinions come out about Bundy at the different stages as she was uncovering this serial killer's story. I think it was well-written and did not feel like "old news" but it felt surprisingly current and horrifyingly realistic.
So, unless I know that someone is interested in true crime, it is not a book that I would recommend due to the subject matter. It was not a likable book. I think I was curious about Rule's psycho-drama and personal insights about Bundy and not only about her portrayal of him but of other intelligent women in the book who were fooled by this killer. Some of the women were not victims but thought they loved Bundy so he must be innocent and they sadly did whatever it took to be around him and thought they could save him.
The harsh and gruesome reality is that too many women were taken by Bundy against their will, the question of exactly how many still remains a mystery, and they were victims and lost their lives or disappeared into thin air forever because he actually carried out his murderous fantasies. For them, I wonder if justice was ever truly served because how could it be?

560 pages, June 2001, My rating: 3 stars

12 comments:

Amanda said...

I actually don't know the first thing about Ted Bundy. I'm a little ashamed to admit that. So maybe the book would be a good one for me.

Marcia Mickelson said...

Sounds like a very interesting book. I'm drawn into stuff like that too, but I can see how it's not a likeable book. Too much sad stuff.

Christina said...

I like to watch Forensic Files, watch and read about the forensics of a case, and I love to read mysteries, but true crime is something I tend to stay away from. For someone studying crime, names like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer are hard to avoid. I had seen some shows about Ted Bundy where they mentioned exactly what you did, he was charming, intelligent, and fooled a lot of women. He proposed to his girlfriend during his trial. He seemed to treat the trial as a joke (at first) and I don't think he thought he would be convicted. But during the trial, one reporter snapped a picture during one of Bundy's outbursts and it made him look like the monster he really was. I also read a forensic book which a portion was written by the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Bundy. He said Bundy had applied a sunless tanning lotion and, before his execution, he kept trying to get law enforcement to take to a location where he claimed a victim of his was. The medical examiner felt it was a ruse to escape. He also mentioned when he performed the autopsy, he didn't find anything remarkable about Bundy's brain. It's sad that all of Bundy's victims will never be found, but at least there will be no more victims from him.

Julie said...

As far as reports could tell, Bundy committed most of his crimes between 1974-1978. Now, they feel it was even more widespread than those dates. I was even to young to remember then. He was convicted in 1979/1980. The reports that I remember were the retold ones from when he was executed in 1989. Maybe it shouldn't have given me nightmares then but it did.
Many reviews feel that this book wasn't objectionable enough because Rule had a relationship with him. I thought it was well done. If you want purely facts, it might not be what you're looking for but if you want to know how another person viewed Bundy & how he may have been viewed by others and also some of the behind-the-scenes detective work then you may think it is a good one. Frankly, there is info. that is all very disturbing in this book and very sad.

Julie said...

The photo Christina mentioned was in this book.

Lula O said...

Thankfully the few memories I have of this horrid man are that the guy from NCIS played him in a made-for-tv movie, and to celebrate his death, people made bundt cakes and sliced them to pieces in his honor.

Amanda said...

Which one from NCIS?

Julie said...

Mark Harmon played him in the movie.

Amanda said...

I love Mark Harmon!!

Lula O said...

He made for a creepy Ted Bundy I'll tell you what. I remember thinking at the time that no way was Ted that cute. But I think he was. He was a handsome guy. Demented and said, but hey, some guys can't have everything..

Lula O said...

I mean sad - good grief can I not type today!!!

hamilcar barca said...

oh my! many years ago, i read the 1989 version of this book. it was a brutal read, and two things stuck in my mind.

first, Ted Bundy must have been the master of pick-up lines. somewhere around 80 women were willing to put themselves alone and at the mercy of him, even though he was a complete stranger.

second, Ann Rule was a sentimental idiot. despite the correlation of missing/murdered young women with Ted Bundy's proximity, at the end of the book she could only reluctantly admit that it was "likely" that Bundy was a sadistic killer. get over it, Ann. he charmed and fooled even you.