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Crime-writer Ann Rule visits Friday Harbor on Monday; latest book features Orcas Island woman
Crime writer Ann Rule, whose 30 books include “No Regrets,” about the Ruth Neslund murder case, will sign copies of her latest book at Boardwalk Bookstore Dec. 15, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Rule's newest book, “Mortal Danger,” has been published by Pocket Books. Her updated version of “The Stranger Beside Me,” will be published by Pocket Books in January
By Nina Laramore
The Islands' Sounder
A leading role in an Ann Rule book is usually reserved for murder victims — and their killers. In her latest book, the 13th of her true-crime anthologies, Rule tells one story of survival.
“I was very glad to have a chance to talk to and write about a survivor. Many times I must speak for the victims,” Rule said. “‘Mortal Danger’ is perhaps one of the strangest and most mysterious tales of obsessive love I have ever encountered.”
“Mortal Danger and Other True Cases,” is about Orcas resident Kate Jewel falling in love with “a caring and sensitive” man, John Williams Branden, the relationship turning violent and her attempts to leave that culminate in a night of rape and terror in which she believes he is going to kill her and barely escapes in time.
Not everyone survives. Jewel was released from the omnipresent fear she lived under for eight years following her escape. But in 2007, Branden murdered the woman with whom he was living, almost murdered a friend and then committed suicide.
“In taking the baby steps to get my life back to normal after his death, there was also horrific survivor’s guilt and remorse that I had survived and she did not. The woman he killed had children and grandchildren,” Jewel said.
Jewel moved to Orcas Island to hide after hearing there had never been a murder on the island. She spent months working with the FBI and police to track down Branden’s whereabouts and worried for the safety of future women in his life. She finally realized that she could not devote her entire life to finding him. She needed to move on with her own life.
She knew he was still looking for her because of hang-up calls but never knew he was as close as Gig Harbor.
Jewel constantly scanned crowds looking for his face. Once, she became frantic and had to leave an island event because her contact lenses had fogged up and she could not see well enough to identify people. She jumped at small noises and felt constant fear.
Now that she no longer has to hide, she is unsure if she will stay on Orcas.
“I love it here. I love the people here. I feel safe here,” Jewel said. “But part of me wants to rejoin the world again. I came to hide and to heal. It has taken the last year and a half [since Branden’s death] to start to not feel like I am still hiding. I think I have healed. A lot of credit for helping me goes to DVSA and Anita Castle.”
Rule, who receives 5,000 e-mails a year with requests and suggestions for stories from readers, families of victims and detectives, first saw Jewel on television after the murder-suicide and was attracted to the story.
Rule is known for getting people to tell her the intimate details of their personal lives.
“I think the book has really helped give Kate some kind of closure. It would be terribly difficult for anyone to have to tell of being raped,” Rule said. “I think she knew that she could trust me. That I honestly care for the people I write about. Many people don’t understand that women in abusive relationships often leave and come back and leave and come back many times. Friends and relatives get disgusted with them. They don’t realize the courage needed to make the final break.”
Rule says some women don’t leave abusive relationships for a variety and combination of reasons, including having no money and needing to take care of children and pets. Women’s shelters don’t allow pets and many women don’t want to leave the pet in the house for fear of anger being taken out on it. In Jewel’s case, she was frightened for her cat, Mittens.
Jewel had been thinking of writing her story herself, as she wanted other women to learn from her experiences, but Rule convinced her that letting her tell the story would bring it to a wider audience.
“I’ve had this sense that because I survived I have a duty to others,” Jewel said. “Others who have survived don’t want to talk about what they have been through. I told my story to Ann with the hope of helping someone else not go where I have been. I made some really bad choices.”
“Ann has a huge following and we were working toward the same goal of saving other women from violence. I realized through working with her, how hard it would have been for me to tell the story myself. I could not go over that last night. Ann got the District Attorney’s tapes and listened to them instead of making me relive the night I was sure I was going to die."
Jewel says that the book has been cathartic for her. She has read the comments and reactions from readers and says that they make her feel that she did accomplish something by leaving.
Five other stories are included in the book. “Written in Blood‚“ is the story of a newly married couple who were murdered by a paroled killer who had come to Washington from Massachusetts. The authorities had not been warned of his relocation.
Another story that was important to Rule is “Thirty Years Later.” Rule says it is a case she never expected to be solved when she wrote about it years ago for a detective magazine.
“Mortal Danger” is a story that both Rule and Jewel hope will lead to more survivors. They hope it will help women recognize the early signs of anger and assist them in terminating a violent relationship
“These men can be absolutely charming,” Rule said. “They are everything you think you would want in a boyfriend. The physical abuse does not start right away. It’s like a prince that becomes an ogre.”
Rule says that abusers sometimes don’t turn violent for a long time into the relationship; other times, the ceremony is barely over before they start hitting. She says the first sign of the violence to come is isolation.
“Abusers often begin by cutting the woman off from friends and family,” Rule said. "Insisting that the woman check in constantly with him when she is out of his sight usually follows this. We have already received mail that reading the book has changed women’s views of who they are with.”
That is exactly what Jewel hoped her story would do for other women.
“If this story can help one woman not go where I went, then it is worth telling.”
— For more information about domestic violence services in San Juan County, go to www.dvsassanjuans.org.