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Literature / The Stranger Beside Me

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The Stranger Beside Me is a 1980 True Crime book by Ann Rule. It concerns the life and killings of notorious Serial Killer Ted Bundy, with special focus on his relationship with Ann Rule herself.

The book was adapted as a Made-for-TV Movie in 2003 starring Billy Campbell as Bundy and Barbara Hershey as Rule.

This book contains examples of:

  • A Fool for a Client: Despite the judge sincerely saying that it would have been a pleasure to see him practice in court under different circumstances, Bundy frequently engaged in clownish antics and stall tactics, and pursued lines of questioning in court that sabotaged his own case. He may have been acquitted or received a lesser sentence if he had kept his mouth shut and let legitimate attorneys handle his defense.
  • The Atoner: Ann joins the crisis hotline because she failed to convince her brother to not commit suicide.
  • Bad Samaritan: Inverted, in that Ted would fake injuries to get help from unsuspecting young women. But also played straight—he admitted to picking up several hitchikers under the guise of helping them, then killing them.
  • Bastard Bastard: Ted is an illegitimate child who is also a serial killer.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Two of Bundy's victims were nearsighted and not wearing their glasses or contacts when they were abducted. While not completely blind, their vision was likely impaired enough to not have noticed anything suspicious.
  • The Charmer: Downplayed, as Ted Bundy was never more than moderately popular.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ted's father abandoned his mother before Ted was born.
  • Enfant Terrible: Ted displayed disturbing behavior even as a young boy—at age 3, he collected knives and placed them around his sleeping aunt. As he grew older, he engaged in voyeurism and theft, and he is strongly suspected of having begun his killing spree at only 14.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Ted was rather fond of his late grandfather. He reportedly felt something that approximates remorse about lying to and deceiving his stepson Jamey.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Rule notes that her dog always shied away from Ted and growled whenever he tried to pet him, despite being friendly to everyone else. And one of the sorority sisters who survived his attack on the house recalled that the house cat ran away the day of attack, as if he sensed the impending danger.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: At some point, Ted learned what he'd always suspected—that his "older sister" was in fact his mother. Even worse, she may have still been his older sister, due to the heavy speculation that he was the result of Parental Incest.
  • The Film of the Book: Made for TV in 2003, with Billy Campbell as Bundy and Barbara Hershey as Ann.
  • Finally Found the Body: The remains of Bundy's Pacific Northwest victims turned up on Taylor Mountain (where he liked to hike) roughly a year after they disappeared.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Ann speculates that she and Ted became close friends because they constantly had to deal with crises at the call centre they both volunteered at.
  • For Want of a Nail: When profiling Ted's victims, Ann noticed that on the day of their disappearance/murder, all of them were preoccupied with something (a breakup, death/illness in the family, an exam, etc), and speculates that had it not been for this, their intuition would have kicked in and warned them of the danger they were in.
  • Four Is Death: Bundy is executed on the fourth death warrant to be issued by the state of Florida (the first three having all been stayed by the courts.)
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Ted Bundy grows from a college student who can't keep a job for longer than a month at a time to one of America's most prolific serial killers.
  • Has a Type: Ted's victims were typically young, pretty girls in the late teens/early twenties age range with long dark hair. He also had a fondness for light-colored Volkswagen Beetles.
  • How We Got Here: We start off with Ted Bundy moving to Florida after having escaped jail in Colorado.
  • I Love the Dead: Bundy confessed to engaging in necrophilia with some of his victims.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Half of Bundy's MO. At least two would-be victims who managed to get away stated that he approached them in this mode.
  • Inbred and Evil: Possibly Bundy, considering the rumors that he was a product of Parental Incest.
  • Irony: Ted spent some nights stalking, abducting, and killing women, and others saving lives while working on the suicide hotline. Additionally, Ann has repeatedly stated that she never feared for her safety while alone with Bundy (though this was likely because she did not fit the demographic he preferred).
    • At least one victim, Susan Elaine Rancourt, was known to be afraid of the dark and was painfully shy. One night, she ventured out to a movie by herself to force herself to get over both of these fears... and basically had them confirmed when she encountered Bundy.
    • Bundy also never got physically violent with his girlfriends, even telling one that he made sure to stay away from her when he felt the urge to kill building up.
  • Loving a Shadow: Ann tried to offer some counsel to the infatuated young women who would write to her asking about Bundy, with limited success, given how convinced they were that he was somehow a "good man" who simply needed some TLC. It got even worse when The Deliberate Stranger was broadcast, thanks to the casting of heartthrob Mark Harmon as Bundy. Several girls were able to snap out of their delusions after Rule told them that that was who they were infatuated with.
  • Man Bites Man: Bundy bit two of his last victims. Casts of his teeth confirmed this and was used as evidence against him.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The two times Bundy was caught, it was for a thoroughly mundane reason. The first incident was because he was driving without his headlights on (it has been speculated that he may have been looking for a victim). The cop didn't buy his explanation and found alarming things in his backseat: handcuffs, a ski mask, a crowbar, etc. The second time, the cop felt his Volkswagen Beetle was out of place in the posh neighborhood. Bundy might still have gotten away had he not attacked the cop in an effort to get away (it has been speculated he was trying to invoke Suicide by Cop).
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Inverted. The final scenes of the movie based on the book show a young Bundy enticing his first victim, an 8-year old girl, into coming with him.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: While not as extreme as today, still invoked in both the race and the "good girl" character of his victims.
  • Never Found the Body: Sadly, the fate of many of Ted's victims.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The girls who went along with Bundy, believing that they were doing a favor for an injured man. As one other crime writer sadly put it, "The cost of their altruism was their lives."
  • Replacement Goldfish: An especially gruesome example. While in college, Ted's heart was broken by a young woman named Stephanie. Ann Rule noted that the majority of his victims bore a strong resemblance to her—young, pretty, long-haired, brunette—and suspected that he was taking out his murderous rage on them.
  • Serial Killer: Ted killed 36 young women that we know of. During one of his many jailhouse interviews as he sat on death row, he famously boasted "Add a digit". Meaning. . .37? Or perhaps. . .136? (A number that has indeed been speculated by several of the cops who spoke with him, as well as Ann Rule)
  • The Sociopath: Ted Bundy was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
  • Suicide by Cop: Bundy's last slew of crimes were committed in Florida, a known death penalty state. Indeed, he was sentenced to death when convicted. Ann suspects that he was fully aware that this might happen.
    • Bundy attacked the cop who pulled him over in Florida and tried to make a run for it. When the guy caught him, he outright said, "I wish you'd killed me.", indicating that he was trying to invoke this.
  • Survivor Guilt: For years, Rule received letters from women swearing that they had had an encounter with Bundy, several of whom expressed this sentiment.
  • Villain Protagonist: Part of the book focuses on the point of view of Ted Bundy, Serial Killer. The rest focuses on Ann Rule.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Ted Bundy worked at a suicide hotline; Ann Rule states that he saved more lives than he took. He also volunteered for the Republican Party, saved a drowning toddler, wrote a pamphlet instructing women how to prevent rape, and chased down a thief who had stolen a woman's purse—and even returned it to her. One has to wonder why he would do all those good deeds when he was really a depraved serial killer.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: The other half of his MO. Very often, after a woman disappeared, witnesses in the area would recall a man using crutches or wearing his arm in a sling, asking for help in carrying things to his car. Once again, several would-be victims stated that he approached them in this manner. At least one of his confessions specifically stated that this was how he would entice his unsuspecting victims to come away with him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: At least two of Bundy's victims, including his last one, were 12-year old girls. And the girl believed to be his first (never proven, but strongly suspected) was only 8.