With more than 50 million copies of her books in print—from her chilling personal account of knowing Ted Bundy to sixteen collections in her #1 bestselling Crime Files series—Ann Rule is a legendary true crime writer. Here, in Practice to Deceive, Rule unravels a shattering case of Christmastime murder off the coast of Washington State—presented with the clarity, authority, and emotional depth that Rule’s readers expect.
Nestled in Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is a gem of the Pacific Northwest. Accessible only by ferry, it is known for its artistic communities and stunning natural beauty. Life there is low-key, and the island’s year-round residents tend to know one another’s business. But when the blood-drenched body of Russel Douglas was discovered the day after Christmas in his SUV in a hidden driveway near Whidbey’s most exclusive mansion—a single bullet between his eyes—the whole island was shocked. At first, police suspected suicide, tragically common at the height of the holiday season. But when they found no gun in or near the SUV, Russel’s manner of death became homicide.
Brenna Douglas, Russel’s estranged and soon-to-be-ex wife, allowed him to come home for a Christmas visit with their children. The couple owned the popular Just B’s salon. Brenna’s good friend Peggy Sue Thomas worked there, and Brenna complained often to her that Russel was physically and emotionally abusive. Peggy Sue’s own life has been one of extremes. Married three times, hers is a rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale in which she’s played many roles, from aircraft mechanic to “drop-dead gorgeous” beauty queen as a former Ms. Washington. But in 2003, her love affair with married guitarist Jim Huden led the two Whidbey Island natives to pursue their ultimate dreams of wealth and privilege—even at the expense of human life.
Unravel the tangled web woven by Russel Douglas’s murder in Practice to Deceive, a heart pounding true-crime tour de force.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:October 22, 1935
Place of Birth:Lowell, Michigan
Education:Creative Writing Program, University of Washington
Read an Excerpt
Practice to Deceive
THIS STORY OF MURDER has as many facets as an intricately cut diamond, far too many to seem believable as either fiction or nonfiction. Either way, as the bizarre scenarios blaze a path through encounters between people who would not be expected to know one another, this saga might well seem contrived. As nonfiction—which it is—it is a murky sea of reality with myriad characters who seem larger than life. They are infinitely different from one another in personalities, lifestyles, and possible motivations.
I have wondered if their machinations can be reconstructed here in any orderly fashion. Where do I jump in and build a foundation of sentences and paragraphs strong enough to bear the weight of everything that must be told? There are no locks that my author’s keys will open easily, just as there are few threads that might be woven into a pattern that makes sense.
The denouement of this baffling case took a decade. The entire story traverses fifty years. Even now, there are shadowy corners where secrets still hide.
Many innocents have died violent deaths in unlikely places. Over time, the motives behind why these particular human beings were singled out for death are more obscure.
* * *
IN THE SIXTIES, A group of authors decided to write a rather silly book where each writer penned a chapter. New additions didn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with the story line that came before. The provocative title and book jacket drew potential buyers, and Naked Came the Stranger became a bizarre bestseller.
Some years later, I belonged to a similar social organization of a dozen or so Seattle best-selling authors. We called it the Bitch and Moan Society. It was a venue to air our disappointments, complaints, and anxieties about our profession. Eventually, we decided to write a book similar to Naked Came the Stranger, where we, too, took turns writing disconnected chapters.
Our manuscript, Deadly Obsession, Possession, and Depression Revisited, was packed with implausible plots and wacky characters. A reader could start at the beginning, the end, or the middle and none of it fit together, which isn’t surprising, because each of us wrote in a different genre: romance, horror, military espionage, true crime, psychological suspense, teenage love stories, humor, and historical sagas. We never intended to publish it, which was just as well, but we all laughed hysterically when each segment was read aloud.
One of our rules demanded that we always had to “put the action on an island!”
In many ways Practice to Deceive has challenged me to cover murderous plots with players as diverse as our mythical Deadly Obsession. And, ironically, many of the nefarious plots in this book did take place on an island.