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For more than 40 years, Rhonda Stapley kept a dark secret: On Oct. 11, 1974, the University of Utah pharmacy student was waiting for a tardy bus after a dental appointment when she accepted a ride from a passing driver.
The man, who said he was also a U. student, didn't drive her home. He had an errand to run by the Hogle Zoo, he said, and then when he started to drive up the canyon, that's when Stapley started to get worried.
When the man finally pulled over and parked his Volkswagen Bug, he leaned way over, as if he were going to kiss Stapley, but instead said: "I'm going to kill you." Instantly, he wrapped his hands around her throat and she lost consciousness.
She was brutally attacked and raped before her attacker left her for dead. Stapley seized that moment and fled, stumbling miles through the darkness down the canyon.
When the young woman reached her apartment, she was too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, until news accounts made her realize her attacker was Ted Bundy. "I would have been the second victim in Utah, had anyone known about me," the 62-year-old Salt Lake City woman says now.
Bundy, the U. law school's most famous dropout, was executed in Florida on Jan. 24, 1989, for the murder and rape of a 12-year-old girl. He was convicted in two bludgeoning deaths at Florida State University, known as the Chi Omega murders, but he was considered a serial murderer, suspected of dozens slayings in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Utah.
A couple of years ago, Stapley says her memories were triggered by a difficult patch at work, and she began counseling with a therapist, who coaxed out her long-buried secret. Stapley says she felt relief from her yearslong guilt and shame after she recounted the attack. The therapist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now she's written an account of her attack, "I survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape and PTSD That Changed My Life," which was edited and published by Leslie Rule, of the Seattle-area Galaxy-44 publishing company.
The book was released on Tuesday, and Stapley launched it with an appearance on the "Dr. Phil" talk show. Stapley asked The Tribune to use her maiden name, which was the name she used to publish the book.
Rule is the daughter of author Ann Rule, who wrote a definitive true-crime book about Bundy, 1980's "The Stranger Beside Me." Before Ann Rule's death last summer, the writer contributed a foreward for Stapley's book.
"It is an absolute miracle that she escaped," says Leslie Rule. "And the fact that she was able to rise above it, graduate, become a pharmacist, raise a family and have a pretty good life."
Rule says over the years, she and her mother had received hundreds of emails and letters from women who had thought they had encounters with Bundy. When she first read Stapley's account, Rule says she was "blown away." "It just had the ring of truth to it," she says. "We were so moved by what she had been through and the fact that she was such a survivor."
Before publishing the book, she checked out the contours of Stapley's story by comparing the timeline of the attack to the details in Bundy's FBI files and conferred with Stapley's psychiatrist.
As for Stapley, she knows she'll attract criticism for coming forward now, all these years later. Because she didn't report the attack, there's little corroborating evidence. She says she was terrified to appear on national television.
But she said she wants to help others who have been sexually assaulted, or those who might not understand the effects and complications of PTSD. Her daughters and her husband say they are proud of her. And she hopes her story of recovery can help others find the courage to tell their stories.