THE Murder book- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

When I was a child, we had a bookshelf in the hallway upstairs. The top shelf was stacked with coloring books, the second shelf was half puzzles, the third was filled with Dr. Suess and other children’s picture books, the bottom shelf held more puzzles and some board games. Next to the puzzles on the second shelf were a bunch of well-read, brick-shaped, books with names like Death by Sunset, the I-5 Killer, Bitter Harvest, and Small Sacrifices– these were my mom’s books. Murder books. Sitting with them was a book with a black cover and red letters, a pair of creepy eyes staring out. That one was the only one that I hadn’t read before I left for college.

As a rule, most murder books are detached, just facts. The good ones spin a narrative, usually about the murderer, their birth their life before they started to murder people. The writer usually has only met the murderers after they are convicted, sometimes the murderer has never been caught, so the book is a tale of murder after murder, listing victims, and possible victims, evidence. This book is different.

This book has been, as far as I am concerned THE Murder Book. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with that opinion, of not The Murder Book than The book about Ted Bundy that if you enjoy books about murder, you should read. I know that murder books aren’t everyone’s thing, but they are my thing. For whatever reason, however, I hadn’t read this one yet.

Actually, I know the reason, the cover, a photo of which I will not include because it still freaks me out a little.  It’s the eyes, the creepy eyes of a person who killed more than 30 women, probably a lot more; we’ll never know the answer to that one.

I listen primarily to two kinds of audiobooks, memoirs and biographies, and murder books. This one is a little bit of a mix of all three.

If you know like true crime books and know who Ann Rule was, you know that when she was in her early 40’s, she worked for a kind of suicide hotline as a volunteer in Seatle in 1971. There she worked closely with a psychology student. That man, who was 22 at the time Rule meet him, became probably the most famous American serial killer. To her, he was just the nice kid that worked the night shift at the hotline with her, a casual friend. He changed her life completely.

Three years ago, I think, there was a 3 part tv movie type thing on Investigation Discovery about this case. Although I’ve known the name, heard it pretty much my whole life– he was put to death when I was two years old– and I knew that he killed dark-haired women in Washington State, I didn’t know the story. I wasn’t until that tv movie that I learned the facts of the case.

Now I’ve read books and seen shows about what people call “Heavy Hitters” since I was a kid, like honestly far too young to be watching murder shows. I watched an American Justice about the man who inspired the likes of Norman Bates, the Texas Chain Saw guy, and Buffalo Bill from Hannibal was I was about nine. Look up that guy, nine-year-olds should not be watching American Justice episodes about that, but that’s what I was interested in, and I would have found out about it someway or another. I’ve read books about killer clowns and cannibals who tried to make zombies in the Midwest; the unsolved until I was in high school torture murders of women in Kansas, and the man tossing women into a river near Seattle. But for whatever reason, this one, the one about the guy with creepy eyes on the one book of my mother’s I hadn’t read, I knew next to nothing. Now I listen to murder podcasts, and I’ve heard probably eight different people tell this story in their own way, none as well as this book is presented.

Because the author knew the murderer, he’s painted as the man that she knew, and I think the way that a lot of people saw him watching some of his trials on TV. He was a charismatic, charming personality. It seems impossible not to be drawn to people like that. Ann Rule was, and she once worked in a police department, she wrote about crime for a living. She did drop a dime as it were on him before he was picked up the first time in Utah, a little suspicious from the police sketch and description of that man that kidnapped two women from a beach full of people at separate times on the same day. She believed, however, for a long time that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t all true. That the friend she knew wasn’t the same man, who could do those terrible things to so many women.

Ann Rule talks about the victims, she takes a moment to talk about each known victims life, the last day of their life, who their family was, what they were planning to be. I think with serial killers that tend to get lost– unless the crime is unsolved. These stories, as much as they are about the man that killed them is about the people killed. Ann Rule’s books, to me, always had the part the showed the victims as whole people instead of just things that were killed. There’s a respect for the families that I think gets lost many times in these kinds of books, I think that’s why I like her books the most.

In the early parts of the book, until it gets into the murdering, I think Rule does do a little bit of humanizing. It’s hard not to talk about your friend as a person and not a monster, but by the end– I have the version of the book with two additions including his death in 1989– she talks about him as the vile monster he was. At a certain point for her, he was no longer her friend Ted from the crisis hotline, but the crazy-eyed man from the Florida courtroom. Rule talks about the man she knew, the conversations they had after he was arrested the first in Utah, when he was in jail in Colorado, after his first escape, in jail in Florida– the letters they wrote back and forth to each other– how he changes slowly. It’s interesting to see her seeing it. Watching her friend become what and who almost everyone else saw.

Overall, I think this book is interesting, and even 38 years later holds up as The murder book is because it tells us that these killers aren’t monsters that hide in back alleys and wait for us unexpectedly. They are people that sit next to us at work, friends from school, the shy kid in the back of your middle school class. They aren’t all people you would look at and say “yeah that dude is probably a murderer.” Not all killers have Charles Manson’s crazy eyes, or some can hide their crazy eyes until it’s too late.

Until Next time Internet,



3 thoughts on “THE Murder book- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

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