Deacon Ian Punnett –
A few months ago, I was asked to speak at the memorial service of Seattle-based, true crime writer Ann Rule who died peacefully at 83. There may be many claimants to the title of “king,” but Ann Rule was the indisputable Queen of True Crime.
If one scholar is correct when she says that for young women, “True crime books provide a secret map of the world,” then Ann was one of the most important secret mapmakers. I’d like to share with you what I learned from knowing the author of more than 40 bestselling true crime books.
Her interest in true crime began when she was little. “I started to read true crime magazines when I was eight, in the sheriff’s office,” Rule explained to me. “My grandpa the sheriff, my uncle the undersheriff, and my aunts did not want me to read them. I’d say, ‘I’ll just look at the pictures. I won’t read.’ But, of course, I snuck them and read them. The victims were almost always women, and they were described as beautiful. They had no voice. I noticed that early on. All I wanted to do (was become a policewoman). From when I was a little girl, I wanted to be involved in criminal justice.”
Rule did become one of the first policewomen in the Seattle Police Department in the 1950s, but was let go after the probationary period when she could not pass a mandatory eye exam. She was heartbroken. After that, Rule turned to freelance writing and wrote for a couple women’s magazines. By 1969, “I was more interested in True Detective magazines—and one day there was a vacancy.” She believed she saved more lives teaching her readers that “secret map” to avoid victimhood than she ever could have as a police officer.
I also was curious how she viewed the criminals she wrote about, so I asked her once, “Did any religious tradition shape your worldview when it came to good and evil?”
“My dad wanted us to go to church on Sunday morning, so I did have a sense—pretty much a black-and-white sense—of who is evil and who is good. When I was a child, the guys that were in jail were so nice. They would throw nickels out the windows so we could go get ice cream cones. Until my grandpa the sheriff found out. My black-and-white sense of who is evil and who is good modified as I grew up because I learned more about people. I learned that some evil is pure evil and some is to be expected depending on what happened to the accused.”
We can learn a lot about life from true crime books, I believe. To Ann Rule, crime stories were like fairytales, “rude fairytales” as she described them, that teach as well as entertain.
I asked her, when she was gone, what she wanted her legacy to be.
“I think I showed you could do pretty classy writing in true crime, but you can’t just dash stuff off. I look at the shelves and there are a whole bunch of true crime books. Most of them, I pick them up and I look at them, and I know right away that they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re not giving victims a voice.”
That is, I think, the moral to any “rude fairytale”: focus less on the macabre interest in the perpetrators and listen more to the voice of the victims. Also, remembering Rule’s personal disappointment at losing her job as a policewoman, and then becoming the most famous true crime writer in the world, be mindful when our career plans are disrupted, that we can still find new, and sometimes better, ways to live out our dreams.