The Stranger Beside Me (2003) poster

The Stranger Beside Me (2003)


USA. 2003.


Director – Paul Shapiro, Teleplay – Matthew McDuffie & Matthew Tabak, Based on the Book by Ann Rule, Producers – Kay Hoffman, Photography – Ron Orieux, Music – Joseph Conlan, Special Effects Supervisor – Al Benjamin, Production Design – Michael Joy. Production Company – Robert Greenwald Films/Sonar Entertainment.


Billy Campbell (Ted Bundy), Barbara Hershey (Ann Rule), Suki Kaiser (Kelly Parker), Kevin Dunn (Dick Reed), Brenda James (Margo), Jay Brazeau (Judge Harris Carlton), Meghan Black (Leslie Rule), Benjamin Ratner (Joe Foley), Aaron Douglas (Prosecutor Baines), Kimberly Warnat (Julie Wyatt), Claudette Mink (Victoria)


Seattle, 1971. Ann Rule works at a suicide hotline alongside Ted Bundy and the two have become good friends. Ann has had some success writing true crime articles. She is fascinated with reports around the area of missing girls and is offered a book deal if there is a conviction. She notices similarities between sketches of the suspect and Ted who admits he was on the task force’s suspect list. After moving to Utah, Ted is arrested but escapes jail. In Florida, he is arrested again for the slaughter of several girls at a sorority house. As Ted is placed on trial, Ann has difficulty ignoring the tide of evidence against Ted as he continues to protest his innocence.

Ted Bundy (1946-89) probably needs no introduction as an American serial killer. In a spree that went from Seattle to Utah, Colorado and Florida, Bundy would lure and then kill girls. He confessed to thirty murders, although the count could be higher than that. He was finally arrested in 1978 – following previous arrests during which he twice escaped from jail – and placed on trial in 1979 where he was found guilty and sentenced to execution, which was duly conducted in 1989.

As the film recounts, Ann Rule (1931-2015) was working as a suicide hotline counsellor at a crisis centre in Seattle in 1971 alongside Bundy who was a psychology student at the time, where the two became good friends. She was witness as Bundy came onto the police radar for the killings in 1974 and initially discounted the evidence against him. After Bundy’s journeys across the country, he remained in contact and would call her for help. She eventually published a book about their friendship with The Stranger Beside Me (1980), which was republished and updated several times subsequently. The book forms the basis of the film here. Rule went on to write another 25 true crime books before her death.

The Stranger Beside Me was a TV Movie made for the USA Network. It was the second film made about Bundy. The first had been the film Ted Bundy (2002) starring Michael Reilly Burke, which had come out only eight months before this. To follow would be the low-budget Bundy: An American Icon (2009) starring Corin Nemec, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2019) starring Zac Efron and the low-budget Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman (2021) starring Chad Michael Murray, as well as the definitive documentary tv series Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019).

Billy Campbell as Ted Bundy in The Stranger Beside Me (2003)
Billy Campbell as Ted Bundy
Ann Rule (Barbara Hershey) and Ted Bundy (Billy Campbell) in The Stranger Beside Me (2003)
Ann Rule (Barbara Hershey) and Ted Bundy (Billy Campbell)

The tv movie has never been a particular bastion of factual accuracy in the treatment of True Crime subject matters and The Stranger Beside Me is no different. I began to switch off from the point it came to one of the quintessential icons of Bundy story – Bundy’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle – and we instead we get a red VW. The film leaves you questioning other elements – did Bundy make bail in Utah and make a return to Seattle as the film has him doing? That feels uncharacteristic given Bundy’s behavioural patterns, which usually involved his fleeing from the law at any opportunity.

One of the more noticeable departures is the depiction of Carol Anne Boone, the woman that Bundy married in the course of the trial, played here by Suki Kaiser who looks nothing like Boone. The latter scenes even go to the extent of giving the impression that she and the baby were allowed to stay in the jail with Bundy while he was on Death Row.

The most notable extent to which the film departs from the facts of the case is when it comes to the still existing parts – the video footage from his trial. Certainly, the film incorporates many of the key speeches and sections of dialogue from the trial. On the other hand, the layout of the courtroom and other areas like where Bundy was interviewed are very different. The original material should have been available to the filmmakers so you wonder why did they not make more of an effort at accurate recreation. If the film hasn’t made the effort in these areas, you wonder where else it has simply not cared to check facts and made matters up. Certainly one of the good points of the film is Billy Campbell who gets the polished charm of Bundy down right, along with the haircut and manner.

Full film available here

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