January 2011 Bookshelf

The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Inside Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy (2009 edition) by Ann Rule

I don’t think they’ll ever know how many lives serial killer Ted Bundy actually took – the official “estimate” is 35.  That estimate, though, is really just window-dressing for larger issues like, for example, how he went undetected for as long as he did given the grisly nature of his crimes.  In an effort to shed light on this horror, Ann Rule presents this first-hand account of her involvement in the investigation(s) as well as her relationship with “Ted.”

Rule met and worked with Bundy at, of all places, a suicide crisis hotline center.  Yes, you read that right, at one point Bundy literally talked people out of ending their lives, making his off-the-clock pastimes that much harder to comprehend.  The book moves through Ted’s time in the Seattle area, his subsequent flight (the only word for it) to Utah for law school, his escape from a Colorado prison, and finally – tragically – his time in Florida where his final, chaotic rampage eventually led to “Old Sparky,” locals’ affectionate name for the legendary electric chair housed at Florida State Penitentiary in Starke.

Rule’s account is quite the edge-of-your-seat read.  At more than 600 pages (paperback), you will rifle through this book – it’s that engaging.  There are plenty of head-scratching moments, starting with how close Bundy came to being a high-level Governor’s aide in Washington State.  Your jaw will also drop at how, despite his clearly absurd explanations, authorities were – even at the end – unable to definitively tie Bundy to any of the available evidence (see photo below); he was finally convicted on largely circumstantial evidence with less-than-stellar eyewitness accounts and bite-mark matches.

Upon arrest in Utah, Bundy asserted that "everyone" carried around ice picks, ski masks and handcuffs in their car...

That’s not to say he wasn’t 100% guilty, but the fact that he was apparently the most thorough mass murderer in modern history is both baffling and infuriating.  Not once were there fingerprints.  Not once (with scant, flimsy exceptions) were authorities able to match hair, fluids or clothing fibers.  Not once did anyone get a clear eyewitness observing an actual crime – the best witness cops ever got actually misidentified him the first time she was shown photographs.  Like a chameleon, he was allegedly able to change his appearance at will, altering it so that even those who knew him would have to double take.

At the end of the day, though, in no defense he ever presented (he campaigned vigorously – to no avail – to defend himself in every trial he had) did Ted once actually deny the charges against him.  He instead opted to question evidence and technicalities.  I also found it fascinating that not once during either of his Florida trials were prosecutors able to enter into evidence that Bundy arrived in Florida as an escapee being held on murder charges in Colorado with additional kidnapping and murder charges pending in Utah.  Moreover, he was finally apprehended A) asking the arresting officer to “kill him” and B) with clothes and license plates stolen from a van positively identified as being used in the murder of a 12 year old girl.  That it took such effort is mind-boggling.  And the money involved was even more ridiculous – alone, the Florida circus of trial, incarceration, appeal and execution cost taxpayers of that state in excess of $6 million.

Rule’s book is a must-read for true crime enthusiasts.  If I had one complaint, it was sometimes difficult to separate her attachment to Bundy as an individual and her unbiased evaluation of the evidence.  Not ever having been a personal friend of a serial killer, I will concede that it must have been hard to accept that a seemingly innocuous 21-year old crisis hotline co-worker was, during his downtime, America’s most notorious killer.  Her slow conversion was, I suppose, understandable.

You will get sucked in.

More stuff:

For further reading: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – this bench-mark of true crime reporting covering the Manson Family Murders will make you feel like you’re in the squad car riding bitch

For further reading: The Price of Experience by Randall Sullivan – a bunch of L.A. rich kids get duped by former junior high classmate, end up killing a bunch of people in an effort to pay off multimillion dollar debts at his behest

The Smoking Cupcake, January 2011

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