Ann Rule: The Last Interview

True-crime writer talked about her books, her readers, and her dogs

Posted Jul 28, 2015

Ann Rule, used with permission
Source: Ann Rule, used with permission

Ann Rule, who rose to prominence after writing The Stranger Beside Me about serial killer Ted Bundy, interviewed earlier this year for a piece in PsychologyToday.com. Rule died in her sleep July 26 while in a hospital, according to her daughter, Leslie Rule. She was 83.

Of the 43 books she penned, 30 hit #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, many of which featured women.

Rule, who lived in Washington state, prided herself in being an advocate for women, she said in an interview, particularly to show respect to female victims. “I don’t use gory pictures of them,” she told me, “and some personal things about the women, I just don’t use.”

I met Ann Rule years earlier via email when we communicated sporadically, beginning after I started writing crime books in 1997. But we didn't talk on the phone until 2013, about six months before she broke her hip during a serious fall while on tour for one of her last books, Practice to Deceive.

A couple of months after the accident when I interviewed her again, I could hear the sound of the oxygen tank she used following the accident. Even with oxygen, she was short of breath.

The next time we spoke, however, she sounded well. We talked more than an hour about a variety of cases, evidence gathering, and the Bundy serial murders. Of her friendship with Bundy, whom she worked with at a call center, she said, "You just can’t see behind the mask of a killer if they're right beside you."

And we talked about our pets. She asked for a copy of my latest book, Unconditional Honor: Wounded Warriors and Their Dogs, so my publisher sent her a copy.

She seemed enthusiastic about her upcoming projects and relieved to have finally finished and sent off the edits for Practice to Deceive, which she called "my first hardcover book."

Because of the accident, “I missed my deadline,” she noted. “It's the first time.”

After the book's release, she said in an email she was pleased with its reception, even with her accident and no book tour. “I had to cancel and postpone all my talks and signings—which hurts—and I feel as if I really didn’t have a book launching at all," she said.

Still, she moved forward to future projects. When we talked next, in April of this year, she said, "I am working on two books—a memoir about my life, and a new collection, #18, in my Crime Files series. This one is called Savage Spring."

She also spoke about her legion of readers and what they meant to her. "I hope, first and foremost, I continue to have my readers trust me," she said. "I try to tell it all just as I research it."

Our conversations, though, always came back to rescued animals. About the recent loss of her dog, she commented, “I miss Willow so much, but I feel her around me. I reach down to pet her but she’s not there. She was with me when I wrote, and she was beside my bed. I know you understand the feeling.”

Marsha MacWillie, a former Garden Grove Police Department forensics crime specialist, knew Rule for more than 25 years, beginning in early 1990 before Rule traveled to southern California to cover a six-week trial for her book If You Really Loved Me about the David Brown case.

MacWillie, who provided Rule with official crime-scene photos and police reports, escorted her around town, including to the house where the murder occurred. “I gave Ann whatever she needed and took her whereever she needed to go,” MacWillie said.

Just before the Brown trial began, Rule invited MacWillie, along with seven other women from local law enforcement, to a slumber party in her rented Santa Ana apartment. “We stayed up all night talking about her experiences with Ted Bundy,” MacWillie said, adding that she’ll miss Rule's friendship, especially her laughter.

“She had the most amazing laugh,” MacWillie said, noting that she visited Rule in Washington. “It was like a little girl. She was kind, giving, and she was an animal lover. There was nothing pretentious about Ann. She was fun to hang out with.”