On Whidbey Island there aren’t many no-tell Motels or discrete bars where lovers can escape prying eyes.
Two murders on Whidbey, 50 years apart, are the subject of true-crime author Ann Rule’s new book released today “Practice to Deceive.”
“If one hadn’t happened, the other would not have happened. The most recent case happened on the day after Christmas 2003,” Rule tells me as we sit in her Normandy Park home discussing the subject of what will likely become her 34th New York Times bestseller.
“On a lonely road – and you know what it’s like when it’s the Christmas season. It’s usually rainy and the wind is blowing – this young man who was 32 was found dead in his bright yellow car on a driveway in an area he was not familiar with at all. He had no business being there,” she says.
“He was shot right in the middle of the forehead and the question was, ‘Who would hate Russ Douglas enough to shoot him?'”
The homicide took 10 years to solve and make its way through the justice system, but earlier this year, a former Ms. Washington pageant winner was sentenced in Coupeville to four years in prison for her role in the murder.
Peggy Sue Thomas pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance in February 2013. Island County prosecutors say she lured Douglas to the spot where he was killed.
“Everyone thinks that kind of thing can’t happen here,” Rule says. “Well of course it can happen and it does.”
With more than 50 million copies of her books in print, Rule has made a career out of writing about the people nobody would have suspected of being cold-blooded killers.
“I’ve been a Seattle cop and majored in creative writing and then in abnormal psychology, so I always thought I could spot aberrants and I saw nothing in Ted Bundy that made me the least bit concerned,” she says.
Rule worked side-by-side with mass murderer Ted Bundy staffing a Seattle crisis hotline. They took calls late at night from people who were suicidal or were dealing with trauma.
“We were the only people in this four-story mansion, looked like the house in ‘Psycho’ on Capitol Hill and when I left, he insisted on walking me out to my car and made sure my car was locked,” she recalls.
“He said, ‘I don’t want anything bad to happen to you on the way home.’ I look back and that still gives me a bit of a chill.”
Before he was executed in 1989, Bundy confessed to 30 homicides committed in seven states in the 1970s. The total number of women he murdered is unknown. Bundy was the subject of Rule’s first book in 1980 – “The Stranger Beside Me.”
One common thread in her books is killers who are sociopaths. They wear masks that “fit so perfectly” the only ones who see a crack in the mask are the victims, and by then it’s too late.
“I think most of us are ‘what you see is what you get.’ But when you get a person without a conscience they have no regrets, they feel no guilt, they see themselves as the center of the world and the rest of us are kind of dancing around them to give them pleasure or whatever it is they need. They will lie, they will cheat, and it doesn’t bother them,” Rule says.
“Most people do have consciences, but the people I write about, most of them don’t have a conscience.”
Writing about the most horrific criminals, mostly from the Northwest, could make her feel like there is a lot of evil, ugliness, and senseless violence in the world. The opposite is true.
“For every bad guy or bad gal I have to write about, there are at least three dozen heroes. There are the detectives who work so hard, the prosecutors, witnesses who come forward when it’s kind of dangerous for them to come forward,” says Rule.
“So when you weigh the good people who want to help, who want to protect the innocent against the sociopath, the weight is always heaviest on the good people. So that’s probably what keeps me going.”
Even as her latest book comes out today, she’s at work on her next true-crime story. She’s attracted to stories that spark her curiosity.
Rule is intrigued by the 2010 disappearance of Kyron Horman, who was seven when he was last seen at his Portland-area elementary school.
She’s also looking into the 2011 disappearance of Sky Metalwala in Bellevue. The 2-year-old boy’s mother, Julia Biryukova, told police her car ran out of gas and she left Sky in the car while she, and Sky’s sister, went to get help. She told police when she returned, Sky was gone.
“If immediately I think ‘I wonder what happened’ and if it’s a very complicated case, then I know there’s something there,” says Rule.
“It can’t be a woman kills a husband and she’s waiting at the door with a knife and gives it to police. How are you going to make a 400-page book out of that? So it has to have lots of detours and sidelines and things that you think nothing more could happen, but it does. When I find those, I know.”
By LINDA THOMAS