Ann Rule became a household name in the true crime genre after her shocking debut, The Stranger Beside Me. Rule’s book on infamous serial killer Ted Bundy was unique: she didn’t just thoroughly research the psychopath, she knew him personally. Rule and Bundy met in 1971, when they were co-workers at a crisis hotline center. Just a few years later, Bundy would begin his murderous rampage that left upwards of 30 women dead. The Stranger Beside Me is an intimate, hair-raising account of Rule’s friendship with Bundy and her inability to accept that he was capable of shocking evil—until the evidence became so overwhelming that she had no other choice.
After her first accidental encounter with a serial killer, Rule didn’t shy away from the topic. Following her first book’s success, the former Seattle police officer went on to write 35 true crime books and one crime fiction novel before her death in 2015. Her favorite topic to write about remained antiheroes—people who seem charming and pleasant on the outside, but hide murderous urges.
Though all of Ann Rule’s true crime books are impressive, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 that can’t be missed. They cover the most shocking cases, from the definitive biography of Ted Bundy that started it all to Small Sacrifices, Rule’s book on Diane Downs, an Oregon mother who murdered her own children. Rule consistently crafted thoroughly researched, compelling reads that are sure to draw you in. Read on for 15 of the best Ann Rule books from the writer who arguably reinvented the true crime genre.
The Stranger Beside Me
Have you ever wanted to know what a serial killer is really like? The book that started Rule’s impressive career details the crimes of serial killer Ted Bundy, Rule’s former coworker. Pick up this book to get a first-hand account of how the notorious killer fooled the people closest to him, and how police in multiple states with unsolved murder cases began closing in on him as a suspect. Rule’s friendship with Bundy makes this book a rarity and an addictive read.
The Want-Ad Killer
Before the Craigslist Killer, there was the Want-Ad Killer. His name was Harvey Louis Carignan, and time after time he manipulated the legal system. In 1949, he was paroled after committing murder, leaving him free to continue assaulting and killing women before he was finally put behind bars for good. Rule tells the chilling story of how Carignan put want ads in the paper, and met his victims with a hammer—his murder weapon of choice. Minnesota laws about maximum prison sentences left investigators fearful of his early release, but the brutal murderer is still incarcerated at the age of 91.
The I-5 Killer
Thought to have killed 44 women, Randall Woodfield cruised the I-5 highway on the West Coast in the early 1980s—robbing, sexually assaulting, and killing those he encountered along the way. His female victims ranged from former classmates whom he knew personally to complete strangers. Rule wrote about his crimes and possible motivations, such as feelings of rejection and inadequacy that drove him to violence. Years later, Woodfield unsuccessfully attempted to sue Rule for libel over the publication of this disturbing true crime book.
One of Rule’s most popular books tells the story of Diane Downs—a mother who attempted to murder her own children by shooting them, all so she could pursue a relationship with a married man who preferred to be childless. Downs shot her three children and drove them to the hospital, claiming a strange man had attacked them. Police were suspicious when Diane’s demeanor was strangely calm, but they never expected Karen, age nine, to survive her injuries and identify her own mother as her attacker. Rule’s book about the unthinkable—a murderous mom— will enthrall you.
If You Really Loved Me
When 14-year-old Cinnamon Brown killed her stepmother, she was sentenced to 24 years to life in prison. But soon after her sentencing, the inner world of her father, millionaire David Brown, was revealed … as was the fact that he asked Cinnamon to kill his wife to prove her love for him. This shocking book details the true story of how David Brown manipulated his daughter to murder on his behalf, then went on to marry his dead wife’s teenage sister. Rule masterfully tackled this tale of family dysfunction taken to the extreme.
Everything She Ever Wanted
Unlike most of the subjects of Rule’s books, Pat Allanson has never been convicted of, or even charged with murder. Rather, this true crime account dives into the mysterious life of a socialite who fed poison to her husband’s grandparents and is thought to be responsible for the death of his parents, too. Although not a prolific killer like some of the other villains on this list, Pat is a ruthless person who will not hesitate to manipulate or even harm others to get what she wants. Rule explores Pat’s psyche and the mysterious deaths that befell her loved ones in this fascinating account.
Related: 7 True Crime Books for Ann Rule Fans
Dead by Sunset
When lawyer Cheryl Keeton was bludgeoned to death in 1986, her husband Bradly Morris Cunningham was the prime suspect. The two were embroiled in a bitter divorce and custody dispute over their 3 children when Keeton’s body was discovered inside her car, an attempt to make her mangled body look like the result of a highway accident. And as the investigation into Keeton’s death continued, startling facts about Cunningham came to light—including multiple previous marriages, spousal abuse, and infidelity. Cunningham quickly remarried, but his new wife began to suspect her husband may not be so innocent after all, and she might be next …
Debora Green seemed to have the perfect life: the physician had a thriving career, doting family, and beautiful home in Kansas City. But misfortunes occurred in rapid succession—a raging fire burnt her house to ashes killing two of her children, and her husband became mysteriously ill. Was it possible that the loving mom with a genius IQ was behind the destruction of her family? Rule unravels the secrets, lies, and mental deterioration of Debora Green in this gripping book about an unhappy mom in the Midwest who does unspeakable acts in the wake of a failing marriage.
And Never Let Her Go
Political scandal is at the forefront of this true crime book by Ann Rule, as it covers the infamous case of Thomas Capano, the former Delaware deputy attorney general who was convicted of killing his young lover Anne Marie Fahey. They began their affair in the mid-90s, when Fahey was the scheduling secretary for Delaware’s governor. The fling proved fatal for Fahey, who was never seen again after going out to dinner one night with Capano. Although her body was never recovered, Capano’s brother testified that he helped weigh down the woman’s body with anchors and sink it 60 miles out to sea. This book will leave you breathless with its depiction of a love affair turned obsessive and deadly.
Heart Full of Lies
Liysa and Chris Northon seemed like they had the perfect relationship. But when Chris wound up dead at a campsite in 2000 and Liysa appeared to have been beaten, the question remained: Who was the real victim? Was Chris’ shooting death an act of self-defense or cold-blooded murder? Rule first heard of the case when one of Chris’ colleagues at Hawaiian Airlines contacted her to investigate the bizarre incident. Rule dives deep into the facts, sifting through physical evidence and interviewing the key players to try to understand whether Liysa was a battered woman or a cold-blooded sociopath.
Every Breath You Take
After divorcing her millionaire husband, Sheila Blackthorne Bellush hauntingly told her sister to “find Ann Rule” and make sure there’s an investigation if anything were to ever happen to her. Unfortunately, the mother of six was murdered in 1997—but her sister kept her promise. Sheila tried to start her life over after her marriage with Allen Blackthorne ended, even remarrying and having quadruplets with her new husband in a different part of the country. But her angry and obsessive ex continued to stalk her for 10 years before hiring someone to kill her. Bellush was viciously shot and had her throat slit in front of her toddlers. Rule made sure that Bellush's story was heard in this haunting true tale.
Green River, Running Red
Ann Rule tells the story of the Green River Killer, the man who was convicted of murdering 49 young women over the course of a 21-year killing spree in Washington State. This is arguably her most ambitious book. Rule followed the case for two decades and read tens of thousands of pages of police reports to become an expert on the case of the man who thought he was ridding the world of evil. It’s also highly personal—some of the victims’ bodies were found in Rule’s zip code, and she accurately captures the fearful atmosphere in Seattle while a prolific murderer was on the loose.
Too Late to Say Goodbye
The author investigates the death of Jenn Corbin, a wife and mother who was found with a bullet in her head—an apparent suicide. But was it actually murder? The couple’s seven-year-old son found his mother dead, and ran to the neighbor’s to get help. Jenn’s husband Bart was telephoned to inform him of the news. He became a suspect as eight hours rolled by without Bart showing up to see his wife’s body or comfort his sons. Police later found a connection between Corbin’s death and the mysterious suicide of Dorothy Hearn, someone Bart had dated 15 years earlier.
In the Still of the Night
Ann Rule investigates the mysterious circumstances of Ronda Reynolds’ death. About to be divorced from her second husband, Reynolds was found just before Christmas 1998 after her husband called 911 and reported that his wife had committed suicide. But a postmortem was never conducted, and over the next 11 years the coroner would change the cause of death from “undetermined” to “suicide” and back again. Deeper digging revealed a botched investigation by the local police department. The crime scene was contaminated before the lead investigator even arrived, and when Detective Berry attempted to examine the death as a homicide, he was demoted to desk work and instructed not to pursue the case. Rather than a story about catching a cold-blooded killer, this book focuses on improper conduct by a police department and the pursuit of justice for a woman whose true fate may sadly never be known.
Practice to Deceive
When Russel Douglas’ body was discovered the day after Christmas, the investigation turned towards his estranged wife, Brenna. Taking place on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, Rule’s book reads like a mystery novel—with a cast of suspects set against a secluded backdrop. Eventually, Brenna’s friend Peggy Sue Thomas and her illicit lover James Huden were implicated in the murder as well, with Huden fleeing to Mexico to avoid arrest. As usual, Rule’s book is thoroughly researched and captures the astonishment of a small community who can’t believe that their own neighbors would turn out to be killers.
Featured photo of Ted Bundy: Murderpedia