The Woman Who Invented True Crime

A photo of Ann Rule in 1976 from her official website. 

If you enjoy reading and watching true crime, then you have to thank true crime writer Ann Rule. This author, most well-known for her true crime novel The Stranger Beside Me, has shaped the genre as we know it today. Simply put, true crime would not exist as we know it without the work of Ann Rule. But who is this author and what has she done to contribute to true crime books? Yes, we know that Ann Rule didn’t invent the term “true crime.” That goes to Edmund Pearson, who first mentioned the term in a 1964 anthology, and all those who came before. Yet Ann Rule popularized the genre, allowing it to soar to new heights in a way no other writer has.

Ann Rule was born Ann Rae Stackhouse on October 22, 1931. Growing up, Rule had many family members who worked in law enforcement. Her grandfather and uncle were sheriffs, another one of her uncles was a medical examiner, and her cousin was a prosecutor. During the summers, Rule spent her time volunteering at her grandfather’s jail in Stanton, Michigan.

Considering her childhood experiences, it probably comes as no surprise Ann Rule pursued a career in law enforcement. For a short time in her young adult life, Rule started working for the Seattle Police Department. At the time, Rule was the youngest policewoman to ever be hired onto the force. However, her dreams of a life of crime fighting were short-lived. Eventually, she was forced to leave the department because of her poor eyesight. In an interview with KCTS-9, Rule said leaving the Seattle Police Department “just broke my heart because I loved that job so much.”

After her time in law enforcement was cut short, Rule shifted her attentions to true crime writing. Rule had studied creative writing, criminology and psychology, and crime writing combined these three areas of interest. Starting in 1969, Rule began writing for the true crime magazine True Detective under the pen name “Andy Stack.”

TheStrangerBeside MeAnn Rule’s first true crime book The Stranger Beside Me didn’t come out until 1980, but it all began in 1971 when the author was volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline. There she met Ted Bundy who only a few years later would be arrested and identified as a serial murderer. While they were working together, however, Ann Rule didn’t think Bundy seemed particularly suspicious. In fact, quite the opposite. Rule wrote in The Stranger Beside Me, “I can remember thinking that if I were younger and single or if my daughters were older, this would be almost the perfect man.”

To this day, Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me is the most popular book written about Bundy. Ann Rule’s true crime writing style was notably different than the works that preceded her because of the amount of empathy and complexity she gave to her subject. Ted Bundy was not portrayed as an outright monster, but rather a serial murderer who was especially chilling because he was the kind of person you’d never suspect to be dangerous.

As Rule went on to write more true crime books, the author focused on finding charismatic subjects to write about. In an article posted in The Guardian, Ann Rule explained, ““I’m looking for a protagonist, a subject who is as many of these as possible: attractive, rich, brilliant, successful, charismatic, has love in his life – basically all the things that we think we would be happy if we had, but they always want more.’ It’s tough, she says, but she doesn’t want to hear about killers who are ‘ugly, mean and have no charm. We’re not interested in the kind of person who looks like he would commit murder. We want to know about the kind who you could not imagine having this monstrous self behind the pleasant face.’”

Generally, Ann Rule’s true crime focuses on three major subjects: the victims of the crime and their stories, the detectives and the prosecutors and how they were able to solve the case, and the lives of the killers themselves. Ann Rule has said she was always particularly fascinated by the killers’ lives, how they grew up, and what shaped them into the person they became. Rule’s work is always meticulously researched and deeply considerate of everyone’s stories and the actual lives involved in the case.

Ann Rule has written over 30 books and has sold over 20 million copies of her books. Most of her books are true crime, but in 1983, the author also wrote a crime fiction novel entitled Possession.A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases

Aside from The Stranger Beside Me, some of Rule’s most popular works include: A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases, Dead By Sunset, Small Sacrifices, and Practice to Deceive. In a True Crime Zine Reader’s Poll, Ann Rule’s book Fatal Friends, Deadly Neighbors and Other True Cases was named one of the top three 2012 Best True Crime Books. Ann Rule has also won two Anthony Awards, one in 1994 for A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases, and one in 1996 for Dead By Sunset

On July 26, 2015, Ann Rule died at the age of 83. Her daughter Leslie Rule wrote on Facebook that Ann suffered from many health issues. She died after being hospitalized for congestive heart failure.

Following the death of this beloved true crime author, there was an outpouring of support and words of remembrance. In a news release, the Seattle Police Department said, “We are deeply saddened to learn the news of Ann Rule’s passing. Ann was a pioneer in American policing, joining the Seattle Police Department’s Women’s Bureau prior to pursuing her passion for writing in 1969 … She will truly be missed.” Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster said, “[Ann Rule] will be remembered not only for her many books, but also for her ongoing and tireless work on behalf of victims rights.”

Ann Rule lives on through her works, most of which are still in publication and many of which have been adapted for television. The author’s care for detail and her empathy for her subjects has shaped the way we approach true crime stories to this day, and she will not soon be forgotten.