Please note that this review shall mention some of Bundy’s crimes, which includes sexual violence against women and children. Please read at your own discretion.
The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Inside Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy by Ann Rule is a nonfiction, true crime novel about renown serial killer from the 1970s, Ted Bundy. I picked this book up shortly after watching the Netflix film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
Ted Bundy is someone that I knew very little about. Apart from crude jokes that I had heard people make, or minor references to him crime cinema that I had watched over the years, the man himself was a giant mystery to me. When the Netflix film was advertised to me, I became curious. I had asked Madame Gabs if she wanted to watch it with me. She gave me a brief head’s up as to who Bundy was and what some of his crimes consisted of due to subject matters that I am sensitive to, given my own past trauma. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be something so… astonishing.
Ted Bundy was a serial killer who stalked women and then brutally murdered them, usually by inflicting trauma to their head and genitals. He would then bury them in natural areas that weren’t regularly frequented by people so he could revisit the bodies to relive the crimes he committed, which at times included having sex with the corpses. One of his victims included a twelve-year-old girl.
These were things that were touched upon in the film, but they were never really discussed in any great details, so while I obtained a vague idea of the crimes he committed, the depth of them, including the number of women he victimised, were unknown to me.
I have always been very fascinated by crime. I would never, ever want to commit any myself, but I find it interesting to see why and how people end up becoming the vile and monstrous individuals that they do. What compels them to bash strange young women in the head? Or to rape them with a glass bottle? These are such devastatingly disturbing acts of violence, and unfortunately, they’re not even the worse crimes committed, which is even more astounding. The film we watched became sort of my gateway into serial killers. Even though I was curious about them, I had always been too much of a coward to look anything up on my own because I was just as scared by the idea of what people do to others as I was intrigued by them, psychologically.
“The stalking, predatory animal cuts the weakest from the pack, and then kills at his leisure.”
I found The Stranger Beside Me at my local library and it was my first introduction into the world of serials killers. The author, Ann Rule, was someone who worked closely with Bundy when he was very young and had a job at a local crisis centre, where he helped advice young people with the issues they struggled with. Some of those included giving advice and comfort to women who were victims of sexual assault. Because the book is written by someone who had an intimate (platonic) relationship with Bundy, it provides a layer of insight into how he was able to manipulate so many folx, especially women, into believing that he was a decent and upstanding young man. This is one of the best characteristics of this book.
At many times, from the beginning before the crimes started and through Bundy’s imprisonment, Rule talks about how it was incredibly difficult to associate a clean-cut, charming man like Bundy to being the type of person who could brutalise women. The significant lack of evidence also made it very easy to put faith into his pleas of innocence. It isn’t until much later in life that Rule was finally able to believe without hesitation that he was the killer. It wasn’t until years later—years of conflicting stories and strange psychological behaviours and attitudes, as well as certain things that Bundy had stated to Rule—that it all started to make sense to her. These elements, this realisation that unfolds on the pages of her book as she navigates Bundy’s criminal career, become extremely chilling and discomforting. I almost felt like I was reading about a friend of my very own, whom I had trusted for decades slowly unravelling into a fucking monster of a human being.
“On the surface, at least, it seemed that I had more problems than Ted did. He was one of those rare people who listen with full attention, who evince a genuine caring by their very stance. You could tell things to Ted that you might never tell anyone else.”
The intricate way that the facts and revelations draw you deeper and deeper into the web that is Ted Bundy is further heightened by Rule’s insightful yet straightforward prose. She doesn’t use flowery or metaphorical language; she doesn’t use an obnoxious amount of scholarly prose or smart words to talk about the facts. She says them as they are, interspersed with unfiltered feelings, reactions, and responses of her own, in their simplest forms, and that contributes to the eery atmosphere and terrifying tone as much as it does to its honest and truthful essence.
Because the story begins with Bundy’s early years and takes the reader through each phase of his life, it can be a hard read. It doesn’t read slowly, but there is a ton of information that sometimes makes it feel like you’re not making much progress. It’s not so detailed as to be boring, yet there’s enough as to feel overwhelming; sort of like watching a four-hour long film. The discussions on Bundy’s victims and his victimisation (how he chooses the women he killed, possible triggering events, etc.). is provided with keen comprehension of the crimes, the people who worked these cases, the challenges of connecting him to the victims, the loved ones left behind, and even his personality. It’s meticulously researched and very carefully crafted.
“And, like all the others, I have been manipulated to suit Ted’s needs. I don’t feel particularly embarrassed or resentful about that. I was one of many, all of us intelligent, compassionate people who had no real comprehension of what possessed him, what drove him obsessively.”
Ann Rule is extremely delicate when she talks about the cases and the victims. I was worried that she would have glamourized them for the sake of telling a compelling narrative, but she never does. She’s always aware of the fact that she’s telling a story that’s very painful and her concern for the victims and their loved ones show in the way that she presents the materials.
When I was finished with it, I felt thoroughly fucked-up. Admittedly, I had a difficult time sleeping normally for the weeks that followed because I knew that this was something that was quite real and if it happened back then, it very well could happen again. Rule speaks about the various ways that women can be more cautious of their surroundings and how they prevent themselves from falling vulnerable to individuals like Bundy by taking a few precautions. All of these elements made me realise how callous I’ve been with my own safety, especially when I go out alone at night, and that contributed even more to my fucked-up state of mind.
As a nonfiction book on the life and crimes of Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me is an excellent resource. It’s not an easy read at all, nor should it be. Because of that, I would only recommend this to readers of nonfiction or true crime who aren’t going to be affected by what they read, at least not to the extent that I was. You definitely have to have a strong constitution while reading a book like this. It gets into your bones and into your mind, and it can make you feel ridiculously ill-at-ease. If you are someone who gets disturbed or highly discomforted with this sort of subject matter, then avoid The Stranger Beside Me. You’d probably be better off with a Google search of newspaper articles or some other less detailed resources, if you’re really that curious about Bundy.
4 outta 5.
If you’d like me to do an impressions of the film that I mentioned above, please let me know in the comments and I’ll put one together.