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The stranger beside me: Ted Bundy, the shocking inside story

Ann Rule, a former police officer and author for the magazine True Detective, worked with a case of serial murders in the 1970's. Eventually, something made her remember her colleague at the Seattle Crisis Clinique. Was it possible that a man she had known for several years - and worked with at a place where humanity and empathy are essential - could be something else than a sweet, modest man?

This is the story of Ted Bundy, who murdered approximately 30-100 people in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Florida. The reason can only be speculated on. His childhood was peculiar and probably left a mark. Later, the break-up with his girlfriend humiliated him and might have revealed his vulnerable self and building rage. All the victims were women, and resembled her. Disappearing day and night, in a park or on university campuses, kidnapped or murdered in their beds at home, they had all brown, long hair, parted in the middle.

The book, first published in 1980, is about these truly horrible and incomprehensible events, and written by a friend of the murderer. This is the revised 20th anniversary edition, with the added afterword about the aftermath and an interesting reflexion about additional murders that fit the profile and might, according to Ann Rule, be commited by Bundy. He was on a killing rampage in the 70's, but some experts, Rule included, think that his first murder happened during his teenage years in 1961, when an eight-year-old girl disappeared in his neighborhood.

Like many biograhies, the main reason is to tell a true story, and the writing is rather ordinary. The flaw is merely the somewhat repetetive passages and the sometimes over detailed descriptions, such as the rambling of names of the police officers, judges, jurors and endless attorneys, and what clothes everyone wore. None of this is interesting and it doesn't contribute to the story. Of course, some of the names should be mentioned, but not all of them. It only slows it down. Another thing that makes it feel drawn-out is the several chapters following the epiloge. Even though they tell some interesting facts they drag on for a long time and slows down the pace. However, the story, as many true stories, stands for itself, and especially the psychological aspect of the novel makes it interesting.

Ann Rule had always liked her friend, and, at first, had a difficult time believing he was guilty. It was interesting to finally meet the real Ted Bundy, the grandiose and not so modest man. At some point during the trials, he was beginning to show his true self, the unpredictable, hostile person that he had been trying to hide. Being in a delicate situation and needing all the help he could get, he decided to fire one attorney after another, thinking he would do better by himself - in total, he had fourteen attorneys. Suddenly, he was both defendent, defence attorney and witness at the same time. But the attorneys came in handy when the death sentence was signed. What's most surprising, he survived three death sentences.

Bundy was very intelligent and knew how to claim his rights. He demanded certain benefits in prison and his manipulation granted him the kind of freedom he needed to escape – twice. It's almost comical. Another thing outrageous and really tragic is the investigators destructive ability. They kept damaging the case by destroying evidence. The mold of Bundy's teeth was destroyed during preservation, and the remains of two of the victims were cremated by mistake.

As much as this book is a psychological thriller, it is also a portrayal of a man with profound darkness, and his difficulty to control it. It's about the core of a murderer, the human part of a psychopath and the broken part of a human. Not being able to feel emphathy and guilt makes it easier to commit a crime. A hate of women so profound that it's impossible to even try to imagine it is clearly a factor that fueled his antisocial personality. All together, what was needed for him to be able to commit these crimes was manipulation, a quality he was in possession of. As Rule puts it, people with antisocial personality are charming and able to manipulate the other sex. Even when Bundy was convicted of all these murders, there were still young women in his life, believing he was innocent and doing everything for him.

This book, one among many, tells us that we should listen to our sudden unexplainable hesitation or instinct, however ridiculous. When meeting this kind of man, the warning signs are subtle and easy to overlook. In some of the cases, the women who survived said they had felt a moment of doubt, or just an uneasy feeling, but ignored it. In a sorority house, where two women were murdered, some of the other tenants felt an unexplained panic creep up on them that night when walking in the hallway, which made them lock themselves in their rooms. That probably saved their lives.

Finally, the book is about a woman's doubt and want to believe in a friend's innocence, despite the signs indicating otherwise, and eventually realizing that he is a stranger. That awakes the question. Do we really know the people among us?

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