Journalist and psychologist Thomas Gaddis published THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ in 1955. One of the earliest true crime books, it was about a convicted murderer who became a famed ornithologist behind bars. While a big hit film followed, no true crime books of note did, until 11 years later.
In 1966, Truman Capote took a story about two killers in Kansas that slaughter a farm family of four, and made it into IN COLD BLOOD, the kind of riveting work of narrative non-fiction every true crime author still aspires to write. Despite it’s success, relatively few true crime books followed it.
It was Ann Rule, who recently died, that made true crime into a commercial literary genre, offering gals and guys like me an opportunity. What I never expected was that Ms. Rule and I would also have TED BUNDY in common.
In THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, the book that made Ms. Rules’ career, she wrote about her relationship with serial killer Bundy. Though she subsequently had many other best-sellers, this was the one she was best known for.
“I really thought in 1980, when I wrote this book [The Stranger Beside Me], that I could get it all out of my head, it would be very cathartic, and I would never have to think about Ted Bundy again,” SHE TOLD THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE. “And yet, he just fascinated people, and he still does. I probably get two emails a day, many of them from women who think they got away from him, and some of them are so close, I think they did.”
I interviewed someone who did get away from Ted Bundy, and I don’t like thinking about him either.
In 2006, I flew into Louisville, Kentucky. I was working on a book about survivors of serial killers, and I was going around the country interviewing the survivors. The idea was to find out what it was like to confront ultimate evil. I spoke with survivors of Son of Sam, BTK, and others.
What was it about these individuals, that enabled them to survive when others didn’t? Did God have any hand in it? Was it dumb luck? I wanted answers. That’s why Nita Neary and I met in a Louisville chain restaurant. She was an attractive woman with dark, good looks.
But there was something else, in the shadows of her personality. I could feel it, but I didn’t know what it was. It made me feel creepy, more so as Nita told me her story over cocktails. She had a glass of wine and I had Manhattan.
On January 15, 1978, she was an undergraduate at Florida State University. She had come home to her sorority house at about 3 a.m., after a keg party. She was sober. Nita came in through the back way and passed into the living room. That’s when she spotted the man holding a bloody club.
He was at the far end of the hallway, standing in a pool of light, at the foot of the stairs. She would later find out he was an escaped serial killer named Ted Bundy. Why didn’t he see her? Why wasn’t she murdered like her two sorority sisters? Unknown to Nita, they lay dead upstairs, their blood on the club in Bundy’s hand.
Nita told me that she believed it was an act of God that saved her life that night. She later identified Bundy at trial, and put his ass in the electric chair, where he died in 1989. But here it was, Bundy cold in his grave 28 years later, and every time she mentioned the seductive serial killer’s name, it was like one of J.K. Rowling’s dementors was sucking the life out of the room.
Late that night, I left Nita. As I disappeared into the dark shadows of the parking lot, I felt cold, like something was out there I couldn’t see, feel or touch. When I got to my hotel room and thought about it, I eventually realized that I had touched someone who, in turn, had touched pure evil.
Even when pure evil is defeated, it leaves in the world both emotional and physical scars of its very real presence.
Bundy was a dementor. And Nita Neary had helped dispose of Thomas Robert Bundy, with as much courage and panache as Harry Potter facing down Tom Marvolo Riddell.
This article originally appeared in The Lineup.