Ann Rule's Death and Life
by Dawna Kaufmann
Although I had known she was ill, Ann Rule's death from congestive heart failure on July 26, 2015, threw me for a loop that I'm just coming out of now. Like the Great Wall of China or Mount Rushmore, she seemed a permanent fixture on our planet, an awesome symbol of prominence and rectitude. Ann was my mentor, my friend, the writer of forewords for two of my books and, for my current book. When she and I would give speeches together, I'd introduce her as the Queen of True Crime, while I--with my background in TV comedy--was merely its Court Jester. Now she's gone and I'm forlorn.
It is some comfort to we ARFs--Ann Rule Fans--that her 33 best-selling books remain in existence, having been made into e-books at www.PlanetAnnRule.com by her loving family members. Just look at the stellar book covers designed by Ann's daughter Leslie (herself a major author of books about ghosts and psychic phenomena). These colorful covers just make you want to scoop them up like the precious jewels they are, and since they're Ann's beautifully written true-life stories, you know they'll be well worth reading and re-reading. Also, Ann was so prolific to the end, I believe there's still a book she wrote that has yet to come out and likely more stories that will contribute to her Crime Files collection of updated older cases. For the latest news, go to: www.facebook.com/planetannrule.
In her early 20s, Ann had been a Seattle policewoman. It was a job she loved, although her near-sightedness--legally blind without her glasses--prevented her from staying on the force. For the year or so she patrolled the beat, she had a female partner, making them a real-life Cagney and Lacey before that popular TV series even hit the air. The two policewomen were told to always wear skirts and heels, even when they had to wade through crime scenes. Still, the milieu sparked something in Ann that stayed with her through the decades.
There was a more modern television drama--which recently went off the air--whose every episode reminded me of Ann. While Mad Men was set in the early 1960's world of advertising, the popular character of Peggy Olson faced many of the same burdens that Ann, a bit later, saw and overcame in her budding writing career. As a divorced mom of four young children and a foster child, Ann wrote hundreds of articles for true crime magazines and tabloids, but had to use a masculine byline because the editors felt a woman's name on a tough-as-nails story would be unbelievable. As Ann told me of these experiences I was appalled that so many of her superiors were threatened by her ambition and intelligence. She laughed it off, although I'm sure such encounters weren't amusing at the time. Like Peggy Olson, Ann flew the flag for progress and feminism by staying the course and being as good, if not better, than her male counterparts.
Much was written in Ann's obituaries about her extraordinary relationship with Ted Bundy who she first met when she volunteered on Sunday and Tuesday nights at the Crisis Clinic, a local suicide prevention hot line office. Bundy was a paid employee there, before he became one of our nation's nastiest serial killers who would murder innocent women, decapitating many of them and sexually defiling their corpses. Ann's book, The Stranger Beside Me, and subsequent movie of the same name, recounted her time with the winsome young preppy who would bring her coffee and walk her out to her car after their shift, telling her she needed to stay safe. Less known, perhaps, was the depth of Ann and Ted's friendship.
In 1974, after the dead bodies of young women began showing up in the Pacific Northwest, Ann started chronicling the search for the assailant, considering that it might make a good book. That July, after two victims were snatched from Lake Sammamish State Park on the same day, the Seattle Times published a two-page spread that horrified Ann. There was a composite photo of the assailant with the caption "Ted," which reflected a quote from a witness. In a daze, Ann showed the newspaper to her two daughters, Laura and Leslie. "Girls," she whispered, "I think this looks like my friend, Ted." Laura scoffed and told her mom she was crazy. But Leslie, who had met Ted Bundy at the clinic, got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
The article also stated that detectives believed the killer could be driving a Volkswagen Beetle. Ann wasn't sure if her pal Bundy had a car, yet she left her contact information on a police tip line. The officer who called her back told her Bundy indeed owned a 1968 VW Beetle and wrote up the lead. Sadly, it got shuffled into the huge pile of other tips and nothing came of it. Ann had difficulty processing that her friend, who actively tried to save people's lives, might have a secret hobby as a killer.
By 1975, Ted Bundy had moved to Salt Lake City, where he was charged with kidnapping a young woman. Out on bail, he came back to Seattle and Ann took him to lunch. He promised their next meal would be on him once he was cleared of the false charge. She told him of her writing project and peppered him with questions about what he thought might motivate such a vicious criminal, but he ignored her probing. The next year, as the number of Bundy victims mounted, police deemed him a top suspect yet lacked the evidence to charge him with a crime. Ann again used her unique connection with Ted to study his psyche up-close, this time spending five hours before she announced that she had to wonder if he was the fiend police were seeking. He smiled and told her that was okay. Shortly after, he was convicted of the kidnapping charge and detectives nationwide began comparing notes on unsolved murder cases Bundy might have been involved in. Ann wrote to him in prison and sent him $20 for a haircut. In 1977, he escaped from custody, was arrested, and then escaped again. He fled to Florida, where he committed three more murders, bringing his total to as many as 30. She tried to convince Washington authorities to allow him to confess to her, which could result in a plea bargain and life sentence in a mental institution, but they declined. Instead, he was sent to Florida's death row in 1979.
Ann kept writing her book, which now had the dual threads of deconstructing the personality of a charming but ruthless killer, while highlighting the achievements and aspirations of his many victims through remembrances from their family members. That sensitivity would become the hallmark of an Ann Rule book. In 1980, New American Library published her book, which topped the charts and sold two million copies. It was later republished by Simon and Schuster. Ann's "overnight success" led to contracts for many more books about many more heartless murderers and their heartbroken families. When Bundy was finally executed in 1989, Ann was resolved to his fate, knowing that he would never stop killing, if given the chance.
In 2003, the USA cable channel aired Ann Rule Presents: The Stranger Beside Me TV movie, with Barbara Hershey as Ann, Billy Campbell as Bundy, and Meghan Black as Leslie Rule. It would be the first of many of Ann's books to be made into a movie or mini-series. Others included: Small Sacrifices, in 1989, with Farrah Fawcett playing child slayer Diane Downs; Dead by Sunset, in 1995 starring Ken Olin and Lindsay Frost; Too Late to Say Goodbye, in 2009, with Rob Lowe playing deadly dentist Barton Corbin; Everything She Ever Wanted, in 2009 with Gina Gershon as callous socialite Pat Allanson; And Never Let Her Go, in 2001, starring Mark Harmon and Kathryn Morris; and Hunt for the I-5 Killer, in 2011, with John Corbett and Sara Canning. If you see any of these movies scheduled on the Lifetime Movie Network or Netflix, put them in your queue, make some popcorn, and settle in for a stimulating evening.
Long before the FBI had its Behavioral Analysis Unit for criminal profiling, which was established by our late mutual friend, Robert K. Ressler, Ann was compelled to study the personality and psychology of those who kill. Her books include a mix of predators and prey---men and women, wealthy and poor, of various ethnicities and education, and include different manners of causing death and destruction. Often jealousy and obsessive control, sexual deviancy, and greed were front-and-center, and frequently the killer felt he or she was just smarter than everyone else. Those last types were the ones Ann most liked to write about as she traced their arc from crime to punishment and derived pleasure from seeing them slammed with the justice they so richly deserved.
When she first began writing about these cases, she had a crisis of consciousness and questioned whether she was adding to the misery of the victim's loved ones by detailing what caused their demise. But the psychiatrist she consulted assured her that detectives, coroners, lawyers, and others "in the system" had those same concerns, but pressed on because they were professionals. That helped Ann realize that as long as she took great care to show the humanity in her accounts, it could help ease the suffering of those in pain. As Ann's work and reputation grew, more than one family member contacted her to say that their slain relative suspected he or she would be murdered by a particular person and to please "beg Ann Rule to write about my case when I'm dead." They turned over photos and intimate stories to boost the background of the case, so Ann would not just have to depend on news accounts and police and court files. And Ann always credited the law enforcement personnel who sweated and cracked the cases, and the defense attorneys who had a legal mandate to provide a jury with alternative views at trial. This is what gave Ann's book such a ring of authenticity, and what I've also tried to emulate in the cases I write about.
For most of my career I was a TV producer and writer for countless comedy and variety shows and series, but after the O.J. Simpson murders in my city, I turned to writing true crime as I covered the investigation and trials for national magazines. I became enthralled about that work, and over the next years, wrote about numerous high-profile homicides, sexual assaults and kidnappings, including attending trials and learning about the latest scientific techniques for solving crimes. In the early 2000's I attended a week-long conference of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, where Ann was a keynote speaker. After her lecture, I got into a long line of fans who purchased her latest book and wanted it autographed. When I spelled my first name for her, she looked up and said my last name. It turned out she was in the habit of buying all of my magazine articles and she liked my work. We exchanged phone numbers and had many long and interesting conversations from then on. I couldn't have been more pleased to be acknowledged by someone I respected so intensely! We attended other seminars and I also wrote articles about Ann and Leslie Rule whenever I could feature their fascinating books in one of my publications.
Ann had a sunny and silly side too, and we giggled a lot. We loved to gossip about whichever "bad girl" was in the news, from Paris Hilton to Lindsay Lohan, and bemoaned all articles about any "Kardashian" as it took space and attention away from crime stories. She oohed when I told her I had once slept in Brad Pitt's bed, until I confessed that it was while I house-sat for friends who owned the mansion and custom-made bed that Brad later bought. And we shared gardening tips and funny stories about our pets (it's no surprise that Ann's family asked that, in lieu of flowers, fans can make a donation to her favorite animal charity at
But most of our talks involved doom and gloom, which was our normal shop talk. We spoke of the villains we saw in courtrooms during their trials including, for me, Scott Peterson, who killed his pregnant wife Laci in 2002, and music legend Phil Spector, who murdered Lana Clarkson, a female visitor to his castle in 2003. Both men saw my press pass and made eye contact with me, perhaps in hopes I'd treat them favorably in print, but while I was fair to both I was delighted by their convictions. Ann had experienced that kind of fleeting contact with killers she saw in court. While they smiled and even flirted, their eyes were as dead as a shark's; those evil eyes were the last things their victims saw.
Over the phone we'd celebrate important dates in our victims' lives, be it a birthday or the anniversary a killer was convicted. We shared sweet little aspects of the cases, such as slain Jenn Corbin's recipe for hot dog/squash soup (reprinted in Ann's 2007 book, Too Late to Say Goodbye), and reminded each other to watch our appearances on news programs about our cases. I'll never forget how she described the murder-for-hire by millionaire Allen Blackthorne of his ex-wife, mom-of-six Sheila Bellush, who was shot in the face, had her neck slit, and was left to die on the floor as her toddler quadruplets crawled in her blood.
We commiserated at the crimes perpetrated against children and made special efforts not to get too gory when we wrote about these cases. We were always mindful that the parents and siblings might one day read these accounts and we needed to artfully convey the details without being excessively graphic. One case I wrote about extensively was that of Danielle van Dam, a seven-year-old who was stalked, murdered, and dumped in the desert by her neighbor, David Westerfield. I complained to Ann that during Westerfield's trial, he was not being charged with rape, due to the advanced mummification of Danielle's little body. Westerfield surely did rape the child, and Ann and I both knew that was the compulsion that led to the death. It was discovered that he had an enormous amount of catalogued child porn, including animation of a girl who looked like Danielle being raped by an adult male. Westerfield tried and failed to get his son to testify that it was his porn, not his father's, but that didn't fly with the jury. He was convicted and resides on California's Death Row, near Scott Peterson.
After my stories appeared in print, and a chapter on the case was in my first book, Westerfield developed a fan who criticized my copious research with online smears, mischaracterizing the evidence and pledging that the conviction would be overturned. That, of course, has never happened, nor will it. Ann settled my angst, telling me of the many times her own solid stories had been attacked by trouble-makers with too much time and too few facts on their hands. The best solution, she advised, was to Write On. There's always a new case that needs attention.
Ann would shame me with her discipline and ability to turn out eight pages of copy every day. Eight pages. Every day. How she avoided the pitfalls of FreeCell and Facebook, I still don't understand, but she did. She imbued in me the joy of producing a good day's output and the readback that followed. I took her suggestion and decided to focus on writing books. I was lucky to partner with Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, the world's most experienced forensic pathologist who has personally performed more than 18,000 autopsies and consulted on some 36,000 other death cases. Cyril and I believe that a good homicide case begins with the autopsy and moves forward with forensic details and cutting-edge science. Our books are a collection of cases that Cyril and I have worked, often together. The first book, A Question of Murder, came out in 2009, with Ann's foreword. We followed that up with From Crime Scene to Courtroom: Examining the Mysteries Behind Famous Cases, in 2011; both were published by Prometheus Books. In 2013, Planet Ann Rule published Ann Rule Presents -- Final Exams: True Crime Cases from Cyril Wecht, our latest collection of what I call "twisty mysteries." Ann wrote the foreword for this book, and came up with the wonderful title of "Final Exams." As a youngster, she would visit her uncle who was a local medical examiner, so she observed autopsies first-hand and understood the reverence doctors who do this work must feel for their patients. Cyril and I are honored to be part of the Planet Ann Rule family, which has provided us with every advantage and creative service a professional publishing house can offer, and we look forward to continuing that relationship with our next book.
Ann was extraordinary for the many accomplishments she made as a true crime journalist-turned-author, as well as her utter kindness toward everyone. While she had unfailing compassion for the victims in her stories, she always tried to understand the killers, even if she showed them little sympathy. With the breadth of her experience and skill, I had always hoped someone would turn Ann's life into a movie. I'm tempted to write it myself, if no one else does. It's a story that would entertain, educate, and inspire. I'm just sorry now I won't have the chance to watch it with her.
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