Ever since I learned that there was such a thing as a true crime novel I have been interested in them. I have a strange relationship with true crime books and books about serial killers. I make myself read them and, because they scare the shit out of me, I don't read too many. They scare me more than any fictional novel ever will because the things that human beings actually do to each other will always be more horrific than what an author can come up with. Why? Because fiction is just a possibility and reality is what lives next door to you, reality is what you thought was a nice person who you had conversations with, reality is something that's so ugly and twisted on the inside but shows itself on the outside much less frequently than people hope.
I love reading about reality because it's a lesson but, oh man, it screws with me for months after I read it and I never forget it. Recently, I had the urge to delve into true crime again. Ann Rule is one of the best known in the business, and she's been doing it for years. I looked for her most popular book and The Stranger Beside Me popped up. This is her book about Ted Bundy, one of the most well known serial killers. Here's the twist though. Ted Bundy was Ann Rule's friend and coworker. Not only that but later on she also becomes his confidant while he's in prison. This makes the book so unique. I had to read it.
*Spoilers ahead (if it's possible to spoil a true crime novel...I don't know)*
Now, I haven't quite finished this book because I am reading it ridiculously slowly. This is not because it isn't engrossing. I'm reading slowly because this is the most afraid any book has ever made me. I have been reading this book for three weeks. That should tell you all something.
There are more than a few reasons why this book is so frightening. It's all about the content. Ann Rule chooses to give mostly facts, meaning she doesn't get flowery or let her writing overtake the horror that went on during the years Ted Bundy was free. What strikes me the most every time I think about Ted Bundy and what he did is the fact that the childhood Ann Rule writes of was pretty uneventful. There's nothing that makes a person think Bundy is going to grow up to be completely screwed in the head. It frightens me to think a parent could do what every other moderately good parent does and yet their child turns out so, so wrong. Seriously, seriously wrong for no discernable reason. How do you learn to avoid something like this happening again if you don't know the reason why it happened in the first place?
When Ted Bundy started his reign of murder, he started with break-ins. This was the early to mid seventies and security measures were not as much of a thing then. People locked their doors, yes, but there weren't fifty million deadbolts and twenty chains on people's doors. I get the feeling from reading this book that breaking into someone's apartment or house wasn't that hard back then. Ted Bundy took advantage of that. He violated young women's homes, the places that are supposed to be safe, and proved to the world and to the readers of this book that home is not as safe as we like to think it is. Bundy was also brutal. His first known victim was a young woman who lived in a basement apartment. He broke in and attacked her while she slept. This would actually become a pattern of Bundy's, attacking and killing women while they slept.
Let me make a note here on one of the things that freaks me out the most about many of Bundy's attacks and murders; they happened while the victims slept soundly in their own beds. Sleep is a human being's most vulnerable state. You have no knowledge of what's happeneing around you, and no ability to prepare for or fight off anything harmful. You're a sitting duck and there are some maniancally murderous and vicious hunters in this world. People, and it seems especially women because there's always that danger of rape for women, like to think that if you sleep with some kind of weapon near your bed you have a fighting chance. These are the things we tell ourselves and this book, where Ann Rule unflinchingly details Bundy's actions, says "There's a real chance you're going to die". Many of Bundy's victims never even woke up in time to fight back. They were left in the position in which they laid down to go to sleep. There was no skin or fibers under their nails, there were no defensive wounds or signs of struggle, and they never knew what happened to them.
This book made me wonder what would happen if someone broke into my apartment one day. I've always thought that I would hear a noise, be able to wake up in time to defend myself, put up a valiant fight. The first Bundy attack I read about in this book made me stop and I said out loud "Fuck. I might die". That is an absolutely horrifying realization and that was the first night Ann Rule robbed me of sleep.
Another thing that Ann Rule's account of Ted Bundy's murders brought to light was that the man was a damn ghost. Not in the sense that he was reclusive because he wasn't. He had friends, a girlfriend, jobs, he was living on the grid. No, Bundy was a ghost when he killed. No one saw him, and those who glimpsed him didn't really remember what he looked like, only that he wore a cast or a sling. That was one of his ruses; get the girl to help the poor injured man. He left almost no, and in most cases absolutely no, physical evidence. When he lured women away he did it in small spaces of time and within mere feet of someone having just seen that person, whole, healthy, and alive. The first time he's ever really seen is when he abducts two women in one day at Sammamish Lake. He had already killed and abducted multiple women at that point. Multiple women.
I could really go on for longer about the horrors in this book and I haven't even finished it yet. I'm going to stop now though because I think you guys get the idea. This is very weird to say, I think, but I suggest that every woman reads this book. When your daughters reach, 13 or 14, maybe tell them about this book or if you think they can handle it let them read it. Ann Rule says she wrote it so that women and girls will know what to look for, that this kind of evil is out there and that it might not look the way they expect it to. Telling a woman or girl what to watch out for is great but, let's face it, a lot will forget because no one likes to think violence is lurking around them. A lot will rationalize why they should help that injured guy, why getting so wasted that you maybe don't remember to lock your door is okay, why going home with this guy you just met at the bar is safe because what are the chances really, why they should just let it slide when a roommate maybe brings home strangers, the list goes on and on. I've made those mistakes and I think most women have. Not because they're not smart or at any fault if they become a victim, but because no one wants to see themselves as a potential victim. This book really brings home the point that NO woman should rationalize anything that would put her in danger. It brings home the point that a person should do everything they can to be safe because even when you think you're safe you STILL might not be.
What this book said to me was "Don't leave a door open that lets that monster in. If he wants to come in make him work for it because while the monster is working, you just might have the time to slay him."