Ann Rule, a doyenne of the true-crime genre whose more than 30 books included “The Stranger Beside Me,” a portrait of a man she had befriended — Ted Bundy — before he emerged as one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, died July 26 at a hospital in Burien, Washington. She was 83.
Her death, from congestive heart failure, was announced by the Simon & Schuster publishing house and reported by The Associated Press.
Rule spent decades chronicling the deeds of killers, particularly those, like Bundy, whose minds were characterized by both extraordinary intelligence and extraordinary aberrance. She chose her cases “the way great thespians choose their roles,” a reviewer once observed, and rendered victims, assailants and detectives with a fascination that propelled her books through the ranks of bestseller charts.
She had not set out for a career in literature. The granddaughter of a sheriff, Rule helped deliver meals to jailhouse inmates and aspired from a young age to be a police officer. A short-lived stint on the Seattle police force ended because of her nearsightedness, which Rule described as the worst disappointment in her life.
She began writing for pulp magazines in the late 1960s under the pen name Andy Stack — “because a woman was not considered credible as a crime writer,” she told the Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon. Freelance assignments helped support her children after she was divorced and her ex-husband died.
Rule was working the night shift at a Seattle crisis hotline in 1971 when she met another volunteer, a good-looking student in his 20s. “I can remember thinking that if I were younger and single or if my daughters were older,” she would later write, “this would be almost the perfect man.”
That man, Bundy, would eventually confess to 30 murders before he was executed in Florida in 1989. Rule received a contract to write a book about a raft of disappearances before Bundy was identified as the killer.
“My goal was to write a book like ‘In Cold Blood,’ where I could really get inside the killer’s head,” she told the Eugene newspaper. “I thought, ‘How can I talk to this Ted that everyone’s looking for?’ I even thought about putting an ad in the personals to try to find him, unaware that I already knew him.”
“The Stranger Beside Me,” published in 1980, became a bestseller. “Bundy made my career,” she once told the Detroit News, “but I lost some innocence in that I thought I could recognize evil and I couldn’t.”
After the success of her debut book, Rule explored dozens of other crimes and criminals. Her volumes included “Small Sacrifices” (1987), about an Oregon mother who shot three of her children, one of them fatally, and then attempted to finger a “bushy-haired stranger” as the assailant; and “Bitter Harvest” (1997), about a Kansas physician who attempted to poison her husband and killed two of their children in a fire.
One of her most unusual books was “Every Breath You Take” (2001), about the hired killing in Florida of Sheila Bellush by her ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne, in 1997. Rule said that the victim’s sister asked her to write the book because of a request Bellush had made before her death.
“Promise me,” Bellush told her sister, according to the book, “that if I’m not here, you will find Ann Rule and have her write my story.”
Her book “Green River, Running Red” (2004) recounted the dozens of killing perpetrated by Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River killer in Washington state, who Rule said had attended her book signings.
Rule was recognized for the detailed research and narrative style that she brought to her writing. She developed contacts among law enforcement officers, who often provided her tips, and who also came to recognize her as an expert on serial killers.
Testifying once before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, she said that the serial killer is “a troller who encounters his victims in a random and senseless manner, killing those he perceives to be vulnerable simply because he is obsessed with killing for its own sake or to expiate a compulsive rage that smolders over him.”
She told an interviewer that while it was difficult to feel sorry for killers, she did “feel empathy and sympathy for the children that they were.”
Rule was born Ann Stackhouse in Lowell, Michigan, on Oct. 22, 1931, according to her publisher; other sources list her birth year as 1935. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was an athletic coach. According to a biography on her website, an uncle, like her grandfather, was a sheriff; a cousin was a prosecuting attorney and another uncle was a medical examiner.
At the University of Washington, she studied fields including writing, psychology and criminology. She and her fellow female police officers “were glorified caseworkers,” she once told The Washington Post. “We didn’t wear uniforms. A badge and a bus pass were all we were given. If things got dangerous, we were told to call for a male backup.”
After leaving the force, she became a social services case worker. Her early writing led to assignments for Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal, and a number of her books were adapted for television. In one about the Bundy case, Rule was portrayed by actress Barbara Hershey.
Rule was divorced from Bill Rule and told an interviewer that she had four children and a foster son. In April, two sons were charged with theft and other offenses related to the raiding of her assets. Rule also had five grandchildren, according to her publisher.
During her years of writing, she once told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she had became “far more spiritual.”
“I’ve had to be,” she said.” Because you grasp how fleeting life is, and how terrible things happen to good people.”