Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ann Rule: Revealing the Strangers Beside Us

First Exposure

Ann Rule
Ann Rule

She listened to police tales as a kid, she read true crime growing up, she studied police science in school, and along the way she became America's premier true crime writer. Thanks to her unwavering curiosity about why people do what they do, Ann Rule has produced 20 books about the criminals in our midst, and over 1,400 articles. Some of her books have won awards and some have been turned into television movies, including the award-winning Small Sacrifices, starring Farah Fawcett, Dead by Sunset, and And Never Let Her Go, with Mark Harmon. Nineteen have been New York Times best-sellers.

Perhaps her most famous book is her first one. In The Stranger Beside Me, she wrote a complex tale about a man who had worked alongside her in a crisis hotline center. His name was Ted Bundy. Even as she strove to discover the identity of someone who was murdering young women in her area, she had already unknowingly befriended that very person. Within a few years, he was to become one of the country's most notorious serial killers, yet in a strange way, this encounter later seemed an answer to a prayer.

In 1964, Rule had read Truman Capote's groundbreaking nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood, about how two drifters had slaughtered a family in a small town in Kansas. She had thought to herself, "Oh, if only I could get inside a killer's mind like that and find out what's going on, and then write a book, that's all I'd ever ask." She's learned to be careful about what she asks for. Nevertheless, she now has the distinction of being the only true crime writer who knew a killer on a personal level before, during, and after his crimes, and who followed his trial and eventually his death.

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Where did it all begin?

Born in Lowell, Michigan, to a mother who taught special education and a father who coached sports, Rule had several close relatives who lived by the law: her grandfather and an uncle were sheriffs, her cousin was a prosecutor, and another uncle was a medical examiner, so she heard her share of stories.

"We lived in a small Michigan county where there weren't many murders," she recalls, "but I can remember when I was around nine or ten, my family was sitting around talking about a woman whose body had been found in a lake. It was probably a suicide, because her clothes were folded neatly in her car, but my aunts and uncles were discussing what could have happened and whether someone might have tried to make it look like a suicide when it was really a murder. As kids, we were treated with respect, and we were allowed to participate in these discussions. I always wondered why people did things."

Her grandfather also took her into an empty courtroom one day to show her around. "I was in awe. The place seemed huge. Whatever happened in there seemed important."

In addition to that, she met people in prison when she helped her grandmother prepare their meals. What she saw of them, both male and female, gave no clue as to why they were locked up. To her, they seemed normal. "They seemed so nice," she says. "They weren't big-time criminals. There was one woman upstairs that I was allowed to visit when I took her meals in, and she taught me how to crochet. She was a nice woman, but she'd bought her husband a Ford pickup and then caught him in it with another woman. So she shot him and killed him."

Rather than keep her distance as most young people might have, Rule became more curious. "I was interested in the psychopathology behind criminal acts. I wanted to know why people did these things."

In college, she majored in creative writing, but she also studied psychology and criminology. Then she got a job with the Seattle Police Department and managed to work there for over a year before a civil service examination ended her career. She passed everything else without a problem, but then it was time to check her eyesight. "I couldn't even see the big E on the wall, so that was the end of that. Oh, that was a disappointment."

Rule does not talk about her marriage and divorce. However, after the divorce, she became the sole support for four small children, and she had to find something fast. What she did next was to change her life.

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