How meeting Ted Bundy set true-crime writer Ann Rule on her way
The struggling crime reporter, who recently died, befriended American serial killer, saw her tip-offs to police ignored, and tried to save him from execution
Few journalists are lucky enough to stumble into stories that grab the national consciousness for decades. And when they do, even fewer are lucky enough to know their subjects intimately before the news breaks.
Ann Rule, who died on July 26 at the age of 83, was one of these. Though she would become a prolific writer who reinvented the true-crime genre, Rule was just another anonymous writer in Seattle in 1971. A former police officer turned crime reporter on the wrong side of 40, with four children at home and a dissolving marriage, Rule volunteered at a suicide crisis hotline one night a week.
There she befriended a young man who would later be convicted of dozens of horrific murders: serial killer Ted Bundy.
"I liked him immediately," Rule wrote in The Stranger Beside Me, the 1980 book about Bundy that brought her fame and ultimately sold more than 2 million copies. "It would have been hard not to. He brought me a cup of coffee and waved his arm over the awesome banks of phone lines." Bundy's first words to Rule: "You think we can handle all this?"
"His physical attractiveness helped to make him a mythical character, an antihero who continues to intrigue readers, many of whom were not even born when he carried out his horrendous crimes," Rule wrote in The Stranger Beside Me. "As far as his appeal to women, I can remember thinking that if I were younger and single or if my daughters were older, this would be almost the perfect man." Yet, down the line, it became clear that Bundy fell far short of Mr Right.
In 1974, Rule was following the bloody path of a killer who preyed on young women. A witness reported hearing a suspect identify himself as "Ted" and police thought he drove a Volkswagen. Rule was concerned that her old friend matched a description authorities were circulating, and tipped off an officer she knew.
The ensuing interaction went beyond tragedy into comedy. "I don't really think this is anything, but it's bugging me," Rule wrote she told police. "His name is Ted Bundy. B-U-N-D-Y. Call me back. OK?"
The officer reported back: "Would you believe [he drives] a 1968 bronze Volkswagen Bug?"
Rule thought the officer was joking. "Come on … What does he really drive?" she asked.
Officer: "Ann, I'm serious."
Unfortunately, flooded with leads, police didn't recognise Rule's hot tip for what it was. Bundy continued to kill - and Rule continued to be his friend. Even after Bundy was initially arrested for kidnapping in 1975 in Salt Lake City, Rule had lunch with him in Seattle while he was out on bond and bought him a carafe of Chablis.
"When this is all over," Bundy told Rule, "I'll take you out to lunch." She asked Bundy if he had read about the missing women — after all, she was writing a book about them. He shrugged the questions off. In early 1976, they hung out again and talked for five hours, Rule reported.
"I have to tell you this," she told Bundy. "I cannot be completely convinced of your innocence."
Bundy: "That's OK."
It was the last time Rule would see Bundy as a free man. Bundy was convicted of kidnapping in 1976 and began a prison sentence as authorities in other states tried to build murder cases against him.
Still, Rule corresponded with him. She visited him. Then, in 1977, Bundy escaped, was arrested and escaped again. After the second escape, he killed three more women before he was arrested in Florida.
The jig was up. And even as she was being courted by Hollywood, Rule was trying to facilitate Bundy's confession. "I tried, literally, to save his life," Rule wrote. "I began to phone Washington state agencies to try to arrange something that would allow Ted to confess to me, and, through plea bargaining, to be returned to Washington for confinement in a mental hospital."
It wouldn't work. Bundy was found guilty of capital murder in Florida in 1979 and sentenced to death. Rule was on board - sort of.
"I believed that the verdict had been the right verdict, but I wondered if it had been for the wrong reasons," she wrote. "It had been too swift, too vindictive. Was justice still justice when it manifested itself as it had in the less than six hours of jury deliberation?"
Ten years later, after his 1989 execution in the electric chair, she offered a postscript: "At long last, peace Ted And peace and love to all the innocents you destroyed," she wrote. And 10 years after she wrote those words, her fondness for Bundy seemed to have faded. "People like Ted can fool you completely," she said. "I'd been a cop, had all that psychology - but his mask was perfect. I say that long acquaintance can help you know someone. But you can never be really sure. Scary."
The Washington Post