Imagine this: You’re early on in your writing career and you find yourself working at a magazine that publishes nothing but true crime-type stories. You hammer out articles, day after day, learning of and meeting interesting stories and people. Then, one day, you decide to switch it up and volunteer for a crisis hotline – you know, to help your fellow struggling citizens out.
Now imagine that in this scenario, you meet a colleague at that hotline and become good friends with him. He meets your family and kids, has you over for dinner and enjoy long conversations together. What would you do if this friend and co-worker turns out to be living a double life of the most sinister kind?
This is exactly what happened to Ann Rule: a cop turned best-selling true-crime author who became famous for detailing her close friendship with Ted Bundy, one of the world’s most famous serial killers in her (aptly titled) book, The Stranger Beside Me. How ironic is it, then, that a former police officer who started a new career at a crime magazine ended up befriending a notorious criminal, only to become famous for her own true crime story that she lived out herself?
Rule’s book may just be one of the most unnerving true-crime books ever published. Not only is the story itself gripping, but what makes the subject so unsettling is the fact that it’s a reminder that we never truly know who is beside us.
Rule’s twisted friendship with Bundy is a chilling reminder that sometimes we don’t really know the people closest to us. Who really is this charming young man who’s coming over for dinner? Well, for Rule, Ted Bundy was a personable, 24-year-old psychology student at the University of Washington who was contemplating a career in law and politics.
Rule ended up working alongside Bundy at the hotline during the early ‘70s. In 1971, Rule was just another anonymous writer working in Seattle. The former cop found herself on the wrong side of 40 with four kids at home and a marriage on the rocks. She decided to spend one night a week volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline.
That’s when she met a dashing young man and began a friendship that would both make her famous and haunt her until the day she died. By coincidence in Rule’s schedule, she ended up spending more time with Bundy than any of the other volunteers. “I liked him immediately,” Rule wrote in her book (which sold more than two million copies).
And how could she not like him? He always brought her a cup of coffee on his way in and waved his arm over the gigantic banks of phone lines on his way out. Rule remembered the first thing Bundy said to her: “You think we can handle all this?”
Whenever Bundy or Rule got a call from someone whom they felt was truly suicidal, they would signal the other to trace the call for emergency services. It’s baffling, of course, that the future serial killer was once helping save lives. Rule later wrote of the dissonance: “Ted Bundy took lives, he also saved lives.”
But Rule met Bundy before he became the psychopath we all came to know – before he made a name for himself in the media as one of the worst humans on the planet. He did, after all, kill at least 30 women. What’s terrifying is how much of a stand-up guy he seemed, unlike his shady counterparts, like Charles Manson (who looked as creepy as he behaved).
“Ted Bundy was a complex man who somewhere along the line went wrong,” a prosecutor stated when Bundy was executed in 1989. Referring to the man who killed for the sheer thrill of it, this district attorney said that Bundy “probably could have done anything in life he set his mind to do, but something happened to him, and we still don’t know what it was.”
It’s strange to hear a prosecutor compliment a man who beat women to death and assaulted their corpses, but Bundy was used to flattery. The truth is people loved him, and Ann Rule was one of them. It also didn’t help that he wasn’t bad to look at.
Rule thought the guy was “smokin’.” She wrote that his looks helped turn him into a mythical character, “an antihero who continues to intrigue readers” – many of them weren’t even born when he committed his horrific crimes.
She also found him to be “kind, solicitous, and empathetic” and even admitted thinking at the time that if she were younger and single, or if her daughters were older, that he “would be almost the perfect man.” It’s almost cringe-worthy to hear a mother of four say such a thing about her daughters dating a killer, but hey, at least she’s honest.
In her book, Rule described spending hours with him alone — this was before most of his crimes were committed. But when she thought about it – and created some sort of timeline – she realized that it was likely not before his first attempts at kidnapping.
There were a few years there that Rule warmed up to him; she considered him a real friend. Bundy told her of his illegitimate birth and how his grandmother posed as his own mother. He confided in her about how he wanted to win back his ex-girlfriend. He sent her a Christmas card one year with a synopsis of her favorite O. Henry story.
Somewhere down the line, it became obvious that Bundy wasn’t Mr. Right. But it was a slow revelation. In 1974, a year or so after she last saw Bundy (they fell out of contact in late 1973 after he left the crisis center), the crime writer hit the streets of the Pacific Northwest, trying to follow the bloody path of a man who was preying on young women.
Rule was commissioned to write a book on the unsolved murders of young women that were occurring in Washington. At one point, a witness reported that the predator told a woman he approached in Lake Sammamish State Park that his name was Ted.
The police also believed that he drove a Volkswagen. For a moment there, Rule found herself wondering about “her” Ted. She didn’t think he owned a car, but she was concerned that her old friend from the crisis center matched the description that was circulating, and so she tipped off an officer she knew from her time on the force.
She contacted the Seattle homicide detective, telling him that her friend matched the description but that he didn’t have a car. She was shocked to hear what the detective told her next. The conversation went as follows:
Rule: “I don’t really think this is anything, but it’s bugging me. His name is Ted Bundy. B-U-N-D-Y. Call me back. O.K.?”
Officer: “Would you believe he drives a 1968 bronze Volkswagen Bug?”
Rule: “Come on… What does he really drive?”
Officer: “Ann, I’m serious.”
As it turns out, Bundy indeed owned a 1968 bronze VW bug – the model that was being sought. He told Rule that he was going to pass on Bundy’s information to the county and, more important, that her tip would be kept anonymous.
(More on this VW and a certain famous blonde later…)
When talking about her suspicion at the time, she said she “forgot about it – a lot of people drove VWs.” She said she heard nothing more to indicate Bundy was a viable suspect. She didn’t hear from Bundy again until September 1975.
He called her up to find out why his law-school records were being subpoenaed. He then proceeded to tell his friend that he thought “they have some kind of a wild idea I’m connected with some cases up in Washington.” He continued to tell her that everything was going to be fine, and if not, she’d be reading about him in the papers.
Before hanging up, he told her, “When this is all over, I’ll take you out to lunch.” Rule then called the Major Crimes Unit to ask about the records he was being subpoenaed for. She was told that Bundy was “just one of 1,200 people being checked out, it’s a routine inquiry.”
Unfortunately, the police were being flooded with leads, and they didn’t recognize Rule’s tip for what it was. What that means is that Bundy continued to kill. What it also means is that Rule continued to be his friend.
“I knew that he was a prime suspect, but that was all I knew at the time,” she said. But she had no knowledge beyond the few anecdotes she was reading in the papers. She even asked Bundy if he had read about these missing women. She was, after all, writing a book about them.
Bundy dismissed her questions, shrugging them off. A few weeks later, Bundy was arrested for a kidnapping in 1975 in Salt Lake City. Even after that initial arrest, Rule had lunch with him in Seattle while he was out on bond. She bought him a bottle of wine.
It was only once he was in custody that Rule went from being a friend of a serial killer to an author who wanted to use her access to him to her advantage. In early 1976, they met again and talked for five hours. “I have to tell you this,” she told him. “I cannot be completely convinced of your innocence.”
Bundy’s response was “That’s OK.” It was the last time she saw him “as a free man,” she wrote. As of the fall of 1975, Rule insisted that she believed Bundy was innocent, or, at the very least, that she hadn’t made up her mind yet.
Still, Rule felt the need to justify herself (understandably so). “I suspended judgment… until I had proof Ted was guilty, I would wait.” Now connected to a criminal, Rule became Bundy’s pen pal. They continued to meet and write to each other.
She sent him $20 for a haircut. Just after Thanksgiving in 1975, she met Ted for a meal while he was out on bail again from a kidnapping charge and under constant surveillance. They spoke of the crisis clinic, old friends, and their intention to meet again. But nothing significant was said about the case.
Even though her book details what Rule thought of Bundy, she never really revealed at what point she saw the friendship and her book merging. During their correspondence, Bundy showed an interest in discussing the case.
Writing from jail, he asked her for editorial advice. He wanted her to be his agent, for them to collaborate and talk percentages. “I didn’t know just what it was that he intended to write,” she wrote, “but I repeated information about the book contract I had, stressed my belief his story would have to be a part of my book, just how much I couldn’t know.”
The way Rule explained it, she offered to share her profits, based on the number of chapters he might write in his own words. But if she believed in his innocence, as she claimed, then what was she thinking would be in those chapters?
It’s not clear whether it was Bundy’s idea to contribute to the book or if it was something Rule had previously considered. Rule was truly in a rare position: She was a true-crime writer with direct access to a murderer. While most authors are forced to rely on trial transcripts and interviews with those around the killer, she was buying wine for and having meals with the psychopath himself.
By 1976, Bundy was convicted of kidnapping and charged with murder. He began his prison sentence. Meanwhile, the authorities in other states were trying to build murder cases against him. It was then that Rule finally started leaning toward his guilt.
Yet, her letter-writing and cash-sending habits remained unchanged. Rule defended her actions with the public interest: “I tried, literally, to save his life,” she wrote. She said she would phone Washington state agencies to allow Ted to confess to her. She said her goal was for Bundy to be returned to Washington “for confinement in a mental hospital.”
Then, in 1977, Bundy escaped (from a window), was arrested and escaped again. That second escape was worse since he killed three more women before he was arrested yet one more time in Florida. There was no turning back now – Rule couldn’t possibly still believe in his innocence.
While Rule was being courted by Hollywood, she tried feverishly to facilitate Bundy’s confession. But it didn’t work. Bundy was ultimately found guilty of capital murder in 1979 and sentenced to death. What did Rule think about it? Well, she was pretty much on board with the decision.
In 1989, Ted Bundy was executed via the electric chair. Rule wrote: “I believed that the verdict had been the right verdict, but I wondered if it had been for the wrong reasons… It had been too swift, too vindictive.” She further explained her thoughts – was it really justice when it manifested itself in less than six hours of jury deliberation?
Ten years after his execution, she offered a postscript to her book that truly contrasted with the many who shouted “Burn, Bundy, burn!” Rule’s last words were “At long last, peace Ted… And peace and love to all the innocents you destroyed.”
Another ten years after those words were published, Rule’s fondness for Bundy faded. “People like Ted can fool you completely,” she said in an interview in 1999. She explained how being a former cop, she understood psychology. But Bundy’s “mask was perfect.”
She asserted that a long acquaintance could help you know someone, “but you can never be really sure. Scary.” She added that she felt “sick” when he was executed — but she made a point to say that she wouldn’t have stopped it even if she could have. Why? Because “he was going to get out, and he would have killed again and again and again.”
In her afterword, which follows her mourning for the serial killer, Rule describes Bundy’s trial for the murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach in Florida. Bundy continued to claim his innocence for several years, but before his execution, he finally confessed to more than 30 murders in a bid to delay his death.
In 1989, Rule provided an update to her book, which outlined Bundy’s execution. Her 2000 update touched on all the women who claimed to have encountered Bundy in the ‘70s and Bundy’s possible involvement in the unsolved disappearance of Ann Marie Burr, who disappeared in 1961 when Bundy was 14.
Eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr vanished under mysterious circumstances from her home in 1961 in Tacoma, Washington. After years of national news headlines, her case received renewed attention when Ted Bundy came into the picture. Ann is believed to have been his first victim.
At the time, Bundy was a teenager living in Tacoma. On the night of August 30, 1961, Ann went to sleep in her upstairs bedroom, which she shared with her three-year-old sister. During the night, Burr woke up her mother, Beverly, to tell her that her younger sister, recovering from a broken arm, was crying.
After comforting the toddler, Mrs. Burr put both girls back to bed. At around 5:30 a.m., the family realized that Ann wasn’t in her bedroom. The front door was ajar, a living-room window was open, and Ann was missing.
The girl’s disappearance launched a significant manhunt, utilizing soldiers and members of the United States National Guard. No potential suspects in the years following were ever convicted… until Ted Bundy became a suspect in 1978 after he was apprehended. It was discovered that when he was 14, he lived close to the Burr home.
In fact, Bundy delivered newspapers in the neighborhood. A further connection that was revealed was that the Burr home was very close to one of Bundy’s childhood homes where his favorite great-uncle lived. Furthermore, there was a shoe imprint found outside the living-room window, which some investigators believed belonged to a teenager.
Prior to Bundy’s execution, the Burrs publicly stated that they believed their daughter’s remains were buried on the University of Puget Sound campus. Unfortunately, a DNA sample couldn’t be secured. As of 2021, her whereabouts remain unknown.
Another update of Ann Rule’s book was published in 2008, which included more stories from women who have contacted Rule with their personal stories of “near-miss” contacts with Bundy. One woman – who didn’t contact Rule but you definitely know who she is – also had a near-miss with the notorious killer.
Blondie’s Debbie Harry reportedly escaped Bundy at one point and fortunately didn’t become one of his victims. According to the singer’s memoir, Face It, she could have easily been one of those victims. Harry recalled that one night, as she was trying to make her way to an after-hours club, a car pulled up beside her…
This man offered her a ride, but she wasn’t interested and kept trying to flag down a cab. But the man was “very persistent” and asked her where she was going. Where she was going was really only a couple of blocks away, so he insisted that he give her a ride. Yes, she agreed to get in the car…
When Harry got into his car, she quickly realized her mistake. The interior of his VW Beetle was stripped down – the doors had no handles and there was only a tiny crack in the window. The man also smelled “putrid.” Harry recalled it being a “horror movie scenario.”
It was clear to her at this point that this was not a good position to be in. She knew she had to do something, and fast. She then started to roll down her window, inch by inch, with as much power as she could. All the while keeping her escape covert.
She managed to get her arm out of the window and started flailing it, trying to open the door from the outside. “As soon as he saw that, he tried to turn the corner really fast, and I spun out of the car and landed in the middle of the street,” she recalled.
Although this was a first-hand account by the singer herself, the story was forever scrutinized by many naysayers. People have made continuous efforts to debunk Harry’s bone-chilling tale, challenging her view of events. But, to her credit, Blondie herself has never backed down from a challenge and has always been open and honest about her life.
Those who know her say that the story is most likely true. In other words, take her word for it. In her 2012 memoir, Parallel Lives, she wrote: “I was so lucky. At the time I didn’t know anything about Ted Bundy.” We’re lucky, too, because we could easily have lost Debbie Harry before we even found her.
Rule has been the subject of a lawsuit of her own after the release of her 2003 book Heart Full of Lies, about the manslaughter conviction in the 2000 murder of Liysa Northon’s husband Chris. Northon decided to file a defamation lawsuit against Rule and her publisher. The suit was dismissed in 2011.
While in prison for 12 years, Northon’s fiancé, Rick Swart, wrote a front-page article for The Seattle Weekly newspaper accusing Rule of “sloppy storytelling.” Rule responded in 2013 with a libel lawsuit against the newspaper and Swart, claiming defamation. Rule died in 2015 at the age of 83.