Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me is a true crime classic for every bookshelf. A deep, dark dive into the world of Ted Bundy by someone who got to know him before he wreaked havoc on society.
In 1971, while working the late-shift at a Seattle crisis clinic, true-crime writer Ann Rule struck up a friendship with a sensitive, charismatic young coworker: Ted Bundy. Three years later, eight young women disappeared in seven months, and Rule began tracking a brutal mass murderer. But she had no idea that the “Ted” the police were seeking was the same Ted who had become her close friend and confidant. As she put the evidence together, a terrifying picture emerged of the man she thought she knew—his magnetic power, his bleak compulsion, his double life, and, most of all, his string of helpless victims. Bundy eventually confessed to killing at least thirty-six women across the country.
Forty years after its initial publication, The Stranger Beside Me remains a gripping, intimate, and unforgettable true-crime classic, “as dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight” (New York Times).
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|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:October 22, 1935
Place of Birth:Lowell, Michigan
Education:Creative Writing Program, University of Washington
Read an Excerpt
Stranger Beside Me, the (Revised and Updated)20th Anniversary
By Ann Rule
Signet BookCopyright © 2001 Ann Rule
All right reserved.
No one glanced at the young man who walked out of the Trailways Bus Station in Tallahassee, Florida, at dawn on Sunday, January 8, 1978. He looked like a college studentperhaps a bit olderand he blended in smoothly with the 30,000 students who had arrived in Florida's capital city that week. He had planned it that way. He felt at ease in a campus atmosphere, at home.
In truth, he was almost as far away from home as he could get and still remain in the United States. He had planned that too, just as he planned everything. He had accomplished the impossible, and now he would begin a new life, with a new name, a contrived, "stolen" background, an entirely different pattern of behavior. By doing this, he felt confident that his heady sense of freedom would continue forever.
In Washington State, or Utah, or Colorado, he would have been recognized instantly by even the most desultory of media watchers and readers. But here in Tallahassee, Florida, he was anonymous, only another handsome young man with a ready smile.
He had been Theodore Robert Bundy. But Ted Bundy would be no more. Now he was Chris Hagen. That would do until he decided who he would be next.
He had been cold for so long. Cold in the frigid night air of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, as he emerged undetected from the Garfield County Jail. Cold on New Year's Day as he mingled with the tavern crowd in Ann Arbor, Michigan, cheering for the Rose Bowl game on TV. Cold when he decided that he would head south. Where he went didn't really matter as long as the sun was hot, the weather mild, and he was on a college campus.
Why had he chosen Tallahassee? Chance more than anything. Looking back, we see it is often casual choices which chart a path to tragedy. He had been enthralled with the University of Michigan campus, and he could have stayed there. There'd been enough money left from the stash he'd hidden in jail to pay for a twelve-dollar room at the YMCA but Michigan nights in January can be unrelentingly icy, and he didn't have warm clothing.
He'd been to Florida before. Back in the days when he was an energetic young worker for the Republican Party he'd received a trip to the 1968 convention in Miami as part of his reward. But, as he pored over college catalogues in the University of Michigan Library, he wasn't thinking of Miami.
He looked at the University of Florida in Gainesville and dismissed it summarily. There was no water around Gainesville, and, as he would say later, "It didn't look right on the mapsuperstition, I guess."
Tallahassee, on the other hand, "looked great." He had lived the better part of his life on Washingtons Puget Sound and he craved the sight and smell of water: Tallahassee was on the Ochlockonee River, which led to the Apalachee Bay and the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico.
He knew he couldn't go home again, ever, but the Florida Indian names reminded him a little of the cities and rivers of Washington with their Northwestern tribal names.
Tallahassee it would be.
He had traveled comfortably up until New Year's Day. The first night out was a little hard, but walking free was enough in itself. When he'd stolen the "beater" off the streets in Glenwood Springs, he'd known it might not be up to making the snow-clogged pass into Aspen, but he'd had little choice. It had burned out thirty miles from Vailforty miles from Aspenbut a good Samaritan had helped him push the car off the road, and given him a ride back to Vail.
From there, there was the bus ride to Denver, a cab to the airport, and a plane to Chicago, even before they'd discovered he was gone. He hadn't been on a train since he was a child and he'd enjoyed the Amtrak journey to Ann Arbor, having his first drinks in two years in the club car as he thought of his captors searching the snowbanks further and further behind him.
In Ann Arbor, he'd counted his money and realized that he would have to conserve it. He'd been straight since leaving Colorado, but he decided one more car theft didn't matter. He left this one in the middle of a black ghetto in Atlanta with the keys in it. Nobody could ever tie it to Ted Bundynot even the FBI (an organization that he privately considered vastly overrated,) who had just placed him on their Ten-Most-Wanted List.
The Trailways bus had delivered him right into the center of downtown Tallahassee. He'd had a bit of a scare as he got off the bus. He thought he'd seen a man he'd known in prison in Utah, but the man had looked right through him, and he realized he was slightly paranoid. Besides, he didn't have enough money to travel any further and still afford a room to rent.
He loved Tallahassee. It was perfect, dead, quieta hick town on Sunday morning. He walked out onto Duval Street, and it was glorious. Warm. The air smelled good and it seemed right that it was the fresh dawn of a new day. Like a homing pigeon, he headed for the Florida State University campus. It wasn't that hard to find. Duval cut across College and he turned right. He could see the old and new capitol buildings ahead, and, beyond that, the campus itself.
The parking strips were planted with dogwood treesreminiscent of homebut the rest of the vegetation was strange, unlike that in the places from which he'd come. Live oak, water oak, slash pine, date palms, and towering sweet gums. The whole city seemed to be sheltered by trees. The sweet gum branches were stark and bare in January, making the vista a bit like a northern winter's, but the temperature was nearing 70 already. The very strangeness of the landscape made him feel safer, as if all the bad times were behind him, so far away that everything in the previous four years could be forgotten, forgotten so completely that it would be as if it had never happened at all. He was good at that; there was a place he could go to in his mind where he truly could forget. Not erase; forget.
As he neared the Florida State campus proper, his euphoria lessened; perhaps he'd made a mistake. He'd expected a much bigger operation in which to lose himself, and a proliferation of For Rent signs. There seemed to be very few rentals, and he knew the classifieds wouldn't help him much; he wouldn't be able to tell which addresses were near the university.
The clothing that had been too light in Michigan and Colorado was beginning to feel too heavy, and he went to the campus bookstore where he found lockers to stow his sweaters and hat.
He had $160 left, not that much money when he figured he had to rent a room, pay a deposit, and buy food until he found a job. He found that most of the students lived in dormitories, fraternal houses, and in a hodgepodge of older apartment and rooming houses bordering the campus. But he was late in arriving; the term had started, and almost everything was already rented.
Ted Bundy had lived in nice apartments, airy rooms in the upper stories of comfortable older homes near the University of Washington and the University of Utah campuses, and he was less than enchanted with the pseudo-Southern-mansion facade of "The Oak" on West College Avenue. It drew its name from the single tree in its front yard, a tree as disheveled as the aging house behind it. The paint was fading, and the balcony listed a bit, but there was a For Rent sign in the window.
He smiled ingratiatingly at the landlord and quickly talked his way into the one vacancy with only a $100 deposit. As Chris Hagen, he promised to pay two months' rent$320within a month. The room itself was as dispirited as the building, but it meant he was off the streets. He had a place to live, a place where he could begin to carry out the rest of his plans.
Ted Bundy is a man who learns from experiencehis own and others'. Over the past four years, his life had changed full circle from the world of a bright young man on his way up, a man who might well have been Governor of Washington in the foreseeable future, to the life of a con and a fugitive. And he had, indeed, become con-wise, gleaning whatever bits of information he needed from the men who shared his cell blocks. He was smarter by far than any of them, smarter than most of his jailers, and the drive that had once spurred him on to be a success in the straight world had gradually redirected itself until it focused on only one thing: escapepermanent and lasting freedom, even though he would be, perhaps, the most hunted man in the United States.
He had seen what happened to escapees who weren't clever enough to plan. He knew that his first priority would have to be identification papers. Not one set, but many. He had watched the less astute escapees led back to their prisons, and had deduced that their biggest mistake had been that they were stopped by the law and had been unable to produce I.D. that would draw no hits on the "big-daddy" computers of the National Crime Information Center in Washington, D.C.
He would not make that fatal error; his first chore would be to research student files and find records of several graduates, records without the slightest shadows on them. Although he was thirty-one, he decided that in his new lives, he would be about twenty-three, a graduate student. Once he had that secure cover, he would find two other identities that he could switch to if his antennae told him he was being observed too closely.
He also had to find worknot the kind of job for which he was infinitely qualified: social service, mental health counselor, political aide, legal assistantbut a blue collar job. He would have to have a social security number, a driver's license, and permanent address. The latter, he had; the rest he would obtain. After the rental deposit, he had only $60 left, and he'd been shocked already to see the inroads inflation had made into the economy while he'd been incarcerated. He'd been sure that the several hundred dollars he'd begun his escape with would last him a month or two, but now it was almost gone.
He would rectify that. The program was simple. First the I.D., next the job, and last, but most important, he would be the most law-abiding citizen who ever walked a Florida street. He promised himself that he would never get so much as a jaywalking ticket, nothing whatever that would cause law enforcement officers to ever glance his way.
He was now a man without any past at all. Ted Bundy was dead.
As all of his plans had been, it was a good plan. Had he been able to carry it out to the letter, it is doubtful that he would ever have been apprehended. Florida lawmen had homicide suspects of their own to keep tabs on, and crimes as far afield as Utah or Colorado held little interest for them.
Most young men, among strangers, in a strange land, with only $60 to their names, jobless, and in need of $320 within the month, might be expected to feel a stirring of panic at the unknown quality of the days ahead.
"Chris Hagen" felt no panic. He felt only a bubbling elation and a vast sense of relief. He had done it. He was free, and he no longer had to run. Whatever lay ahead paled in comparison with what the morning of January 9th had meant to him as 1977 drew to a close. He was relaxed and happy as he fell asleep in his narrow bed in the Oak in Tallahassee.
He had good reason to be. For Theodore Robert Bundythe man who was no more had been scheduled to go on trial for first degree murder in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at 9 A.M. on January 9th. Now that courtroom would be empty.
The defendant was gone.
Excerpted from Stranger Beside Me, the (Revised and Updated) by Ann Rule Copyright © 2001 by Ann Rule. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Stranger Beside Me includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Meeting in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, Ann Rule and Ted Bundy developed a friendship and correspondence that would span the rest of his life. Rule had no idea that when they went their separate ways, their paths would cross again under shocking circumstances.
The Stranger Beside Me is Rule’s compelling firsthand account of not just her relationship with Bundy, but also his life—from his complicated childhood to the media circus of his trials. Astonishing in its intimacy and with Rule’s clear-eyed prose, one can’t help but share in her growing horror at discovering that her friend was one of the most notorious American serial killers.
An unforgettable and haunting work of research, journalism, and personal memories, The Stranger Beside Me is “as dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight” (The New York Times).
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the 1980 preface, Ann Rule tells the reader that Ted Bundy is aware she’s writing the book. Why do you think she felt that was necessary to mention? Did this disclosure influence the way you read the rest of the book? What do you think Bundy’s expectations were for the book and, based on his reaction to the release, were those expectations met?
2. Ann Rule notes that the psychologists and psychiatrists who interviewed Bundy often misdiagnosed him. Only one, an expert on antisocial personalities, categorized him of having antisocial personality disorder. Why do you think that is? How much of this misdiagnosis can be attributed to the state of mental healthcare and society’s awareness of mental health issues at the time?
3. Why do you think the author choose to go into explicit detail when describing the crime scenes and violent acts Bundy performed on his victims? Why do you think Rule chose to depict Bundy as a “normal” man in other moments of the book? Was a “full picture” of Bundy shown?
4. Ann Rule often spoke about Bundy’s ability to manipulate people, specifically women and police officers while in their custody. The closest she came to admitting to being manipulated herself was on page 223 when she says, “If he was manipulating me, he was doing an excellent job of it.” Do you agree with that statement? In what ways, if any, was he manipulating her? How did he benefit from her companionship? Were there benefits for her in that relationship?
5. Many of Bundy’s victims are described as being physically and intellectually similar to his first girlfriend, Stephanie: petite women with long hair, usually brunette, parted down the middle; educated, kind, career-driven. The author goes as far as calling them “protypes” of her (page 425). What are the chances this was just coincidence and not calculation on Bundy’s part? Do you agree with the suggestion that Bundy could have chosen his victims based on their resemblance to Stephanie?
6. Ted Bundy used a number of items when attacking his victims but used pantyhose during his attacks with relative frequency; pantyhose were eventually a solid link between Bundy and murder cases across stateliness. What do you think the significance was in Bundy’s use of pantyhose as both a mask and as a tool for strangulation? Does the use of feminine apparel support or detract from the idea that his attacks were motivated by his hatred toward women?
7. Police officers in the various jurisdictions Bundy passed through had little communication with one another, making his attacks in some areas look like isolated incidents. The use of DNA evidence was still in its infancy at this time, so the seminal fluid, blood, and hair found at the crime scenes were of little help tracking down a perpetrator. With the benefit of hindsight, how could statewide communication among police forces improve individual forces’ ability to catch criminals? How has the role of DNA evidence changed from the 70s–80s to present day?
8. Meg Anders stood by Bundy’s side despite her intuition telling her he was the “Ted” police were looking for, his numerous romantic relationships with other women, and his indefinite jail stays. Why do you think she remained loyal to him for as long as she did? What, in your opinion, finally broke that loyalty? How did you feel when you learned that Anders had written a book about Bundy?
9. Ted Bundy was able to evade the death penalty three times before the state of Florida went through with his execution, despite his alleged willingness to continue giving details about murders he’d committed. Do you think the state should have granted permission for him to continue, allowing him to avoid the death penalty yet again, while detectives corroborated his details? How truthful or complete would you expect his confessions to be? The author raises the idea of sending Bundy to a mental institution. What benefits, if any, could there have been to this course of action? What do you think we can learn about antisocial personality disorder from Bundy’s life, and what do you think doctors could have learned if Bundy had been under observation in an institution?
10. Although he was not as prolific or otherwise noteworthy as many known serial killers, Ted Bundy has been sensationalized and immortalized over the years. What do you think led to this disproportionate level of notoriety? How much of this notoriety is related to the media’s portrayal of him? How much do you think can be attributed to the nature of his crimes?
11. Would you consider the relationship between Ann Rule and Ted Bundy a true friendship? In what ways do you think their relationship was genuine? In what ways do you think it was not?
12. In her overall assessment of Bundy starting on page 419, Rule notes that she believes in the depths of Bundy’s brain that “there is a synapse of cells that is trying to destroy him” (pg. 429). He constantly battled the people who tried to save him, which led her to believe he wanted to die even if he didn’t realize it. Did she provide sufficient evidence to back up this idea? If Rule is correct, do you think his decision to run to Florida, a state known for their follow-through with the death penalty, was a conscious one?
13. When Bundy finally gave Bob Keppel details of the murders he committed, he was explicit about knocking the women unconscious or tossing their bodies. However, Bundy was evasive when speaking about sexual violence. Why do you think he was shy about those details? Do you think he was ashamed of his actions? Do you think he was capable of feeling ashamed, given his antisocial behavior?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Take turns within the group to discuss the first time you heard about Ted Bundy. How do your first impressions compare to Ann Rule’s portrayal of him? Watch a documentary or fictionalization of Bundy’s life. Discuss how he has been portrayed in pop culture and whether or not that portrayal is accurate, given what you know after reading Ann Rule’s account.
2. Consider the way the author and law enforcement at the time described the women who fell victim to Ted Bundy. Discuss the ways that rhetoric is dated, or remains timely, especially in the #MeToo era.
3. Ted Bundy escaped from prison twice, and his second escape was more deliberate and calculated than the first. Was this more of a system failure, or was this a criminal mastermind at work? Read a few newspaper or journal articles about the United States prison system, and discuss what you learn about incarceration.
4. So much has changed about the way we consume news and media since this case broke. How would Ted Bundy’s case have been different had the trial happened now, with social media and twenty-four-hour news coverage? What are the pros and cons of the way news coverage and online communication have developed since the twentieth century?