For a long time I was quite the aficionado of true crime books. I had a fascination with serial murder for a good part of my young life. I published a zine about it, in fact. I probably read most of the books Rule published before the early 1990s. She, John Waters (who also collected true crime and wrote an essay titled “All My Trials”), and boredom at work were the three reasons I started the zine.
Among others, Ms. Rule wrote one of the two more interesting books about serial killer Ted Bundy. Hers was The Stranger Beside Me, the other was The Only Living Witness by Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth. TOLW was based on hours of interviews with Bundy—who never openly confessed, but was happy to “speculate” on the nature of the murders and the killer’s mindset—which lent it the frisson of hearing the smug bastard’s story in his own words. Rule’s book, as I recall, was nicely written and researched, but was also helped by the fact that Rule knew Ted before “Bundy” become synonymous with evil (or Married…with Children for that matter).
During my true crime fanboy period, I enjoyed reading Rule. Not always. I remember her being occasionally stilted. When she began covering scandalous family murders instead of serial killing perverts, I lost interest. According to my regressive thinking at the time, that was middle-aged chick reading—weepy pap about filicides and mariticides enjoyed by pearl-clutching hausfraus. Give me dark darkness with extra dark, Laird Beelzebub, said a young, gritty, quasi-puncrock Mr. Dan Kelly. Glad I got over that…mostly. It helped that I encountered many real lost boys and girls through the mail, who refused to grow up and dabbled in muck without the slightest bit of self-examination. Geez. Of course, they also made my zine—titled Evil® (the copyright sign’s intended irony was lost on most)—my most successful. But that’s a longer story for another day.
Anyway, Rule generally reliably delivered the goods. She was an old-school true crime writer, writing innumerable articles for the newsprint detective mags and several books under the alias Andy Stack (and others) because, per her first editor, the wimmens just didn’t write true crime. For the genre she was pretty good. Not Capote or Mailer good, but she kept things percolating, did her research (she ran into some accusations of sloppiness later, though these came from less than pure folks), and, as far as I can tell, kept the exploitation and sensationalism down. Uh, never mind the early Andy Stack stuff, which was SLEAZY as hell.
I saw her many years ago at a bookstore signing…I forget where. She talked about her latest book (If You Really Loved Me or Everything She ever Wanted maybe), knowing Bundy (who’d been electrocuted for, I think, two years by then), and answered questions. Silence of the Lambs had recently come out, and someone asked her opinion of the book and film. Unequivocally, she stated she hated both, loathing the idea of a serial killer character portrayed as smart, sexy, and funny. I imagine when you discovered the smart, sexy, and funny fellow you worked a suicide line with, and who you previously would have loved to see your daughter dating, was a psychopath who secretly raped and killed 30+ women, you’re likely to view Hannibal and Dexter with a scowl.
After the talk, I asked her to sign my books (she even signed my copy of The I-5 Killer as Andy Stack!), and told her I was a writer, and that she was a personal inspiration. Which was true, though before and since there have been other more influential writers in my life. I don’t recall her exact words, but she was very encouraging, and even spoke with me a bit about the craft without a hint of brush-off or acting as if she’d rather be elsewhere. Rare behavior in my field.
Anyway, in my experience: a very nice person was Ann Rule. RIP. I may dig through my old true crime collection—what remains of it—and reread one of her books in tribute.