Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule - (True Crime)

 Reviewed by Susan Price

I have a friend who I first bonded with over our shared interest in
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
psychopaths.          My interest is, thank god, an academic one, a writer's curiosity about the extremes of human behaviour. My friend, poor woman, married a psychopath and has first hand experience of the dedicated selfishness that a human being can be capable of, the blind inability to appreciate that anyone except them has any right to an opinion, a life or free will.
          But when it comes to psycho-spotting, author and journalist Ann Rule can perhaps claim the prize.
          As a journalist, she often handled crime reports, spent a lot of time in police stations talking to detectives and made several friends on the force.
Ann Rule, from her Amazon page
          In her 40s, she volunteered to man phones on a suicide help-line, and shared her regular night-shift with a psychology student named Ted. She thought him a lovely young man and they became good friends, despite the age-gap of ten years. He was so caring towards the callers and at the end of her shift, he always walked her to her car, to make sure she was safe - whereas her detective friends, when she left their offices late at night, would say, "We'll watch from the window and if anyone mugs you, we'll phone 911."

     This little anecdote perhaps highlights something about psychopaths (and human nature.) Rule's detective friends were showing genuine concern and covering it with a joke. They probably knew there was little risk to her and, as ordinary human beings with many other concerns, they said goodbye and got on with their lives and jobs.
          'Ted', on the other hand, was acting a role, performing the character of 'lovely young man and caring friend.' It was convincing so long as it was never tested. One difference between someone telling the truth and a liar is that the truth-teller has 'an expectation of belief' because they know that they're telling the truth and therefore don't think they need bother to be meticulously convincing. They give a rough account, forget details - or assume that their genuine affection is apparent and needs no display.
          Liars know themselves to be lying and therefore go several extra miles in order to convince. Their stories are neatly in order, with lots of irrelevant detail to 'hide the lie among truths.' When it comes to relationships, their false affection is constantly voiced,  rehearsed and displayed. And takes many in.  Alas, research has shown that, though most of us think we can tell when someone is lying, we're actually very bad at it.

          Rule was no longer working with Ted, but was still in touch
Seattle, wikimedia
with him, when young women started disappearing from the Greater Seattle area. Rule was soon aware, from her friends in the Police, that they feared they were dealing with a serial killer. When suspicion fell on Ann Rule's friend, Ted, she thought it was obviously a routine enquiry or a mistake...          But it wasn't. Ann's friend was Ted Bundy, and she found herself in the middle of the crime story that would define her career. For ever after she would be, the woman who worked beside Ted Bundy.

          Bundy abducted, terrified, raped and murdered many women, possibly more than a hundred. Like most serial killers, he probably started much earlier than the crimes he was charged with. Rule's research turned up the fact that, when Bundy was 15, a young girl, a child, was abducted from her home and murdered. The killer was never found. Bundy lived a few doors away, and knew the child. He never admitted to that killing - but he never admitted to anything unless there was an advantage for him.
          He was eventually arrested in Seattle, but insisted on representing himself, which gave him the right to make trips to the library to look at law books. While swearing complete innocence and mistaken arrest, he used a library trip to escape.

          He ran to Florida, but couldn't give up his hobby. Or was killing his addiction, his crutch? Within a week of arriving in Florida, he attacked several women in one night, killing three and leaving other badly injured.
Florida Capitol, wikimedia
          Bundy found Florida less careless and forgiving than the North-West. They sentenced him to death and placed him in a far more secure prison. Another escape attempt was thwarted and after that he was kept in chains. Yes, he could have his trips to the law library - in chains.
          Now you would think that, to him, life was cheap. He had, after all, killed an unknown number of women for fun. Their lives and everything and everyone their lives had encompassed, had been as disposable, to him, as a condom. So what was a little matter of a death sentence, when life is so unimportant?
          But only other people's lives were unimportant to Bundy. He tried every possible delaying tactic, trick and appeal to preserve his own life. He also attempted to use the names of the women he'd murdered, and the sites where he'd dumped their bodies, as bargaining tools. Grant him another appeal, let him live a little longer, and he might give up a few more identities and a few more remains for burial.

          Bundy was an exemplary serial killer in that he demonstrates just how loathsome a nasty piece of work a human being can be - and yet he had a little fan club of female fools who were besotted with him. One even married him and had his child.
          If the psychology of serial killers is strange, the psychology of their groupies defeats me.

         If you share my interest in the minds of psychopaths, then Rule's book is of great interest. It sprawls a little, because she has updated it regularly over more than twenty years.
          Besides knowing the loathsome Bundy personally, and having access to him in jail, she has also interviewed many of the people he bereaved, which throws up some intriguing stories.
          The husband of one murdered woman was away on business on the day she was abducted. He told Rule that, in his distant hotel room, late on that day, he clearly heard his wife's voice say, "Help."
          Bundy's final killing spree took place in a university dormitory. He broke in, and lay in wait in darkened corridors. Rule interviewed a couple of survivors who survived because, as they told Rule, they became seized by what seemed, at the time, an inexplicable fear. One girl was in a bathroom and only had to step across the dark corridor to her bedroom, but found herself completely unable, for fear, to open the door. She had no idea why. She had no idea, consciously at least,  that Bundy was murdering her fellow students a little way down the corridor.
          Which is interesting in the light of another book I've reviewed on this site - Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear.
         The Stranger Beside Me is often a grim read, but it's an informative one.

Susan Price has won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize.
          Her best known books are The Sterkarm Handshake (soon to be reissued) and The Ghost Drum.

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