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A Review of Ann Rule's Every Breath You Take


Friday, Mar. 15, 2002

Ann Rule, Every Breath You Take (Free Press 2001)

The latest work by Ann Rule - viewed by many of her fans as the queen of true-crime - is another true-crime book, but one with a new and particularly strange twist.

Rule tells the story of a woman, Sheila Bullush, who is brutally murdered in her Florida home by her vicious, maniacal ex-husband - having previously fled there under cover of darkness with her new husband and six children months earlier.

Rule does just that, in excruciating detail. Prior to becoming a best-selling author, Rule worked as a Seattle police officer. Earlier, she also worked at a Seattle crisis hotline (alongside the notorious - but then unidentified - serial killer Ted Bundy). Sadly, despite her history as a policewoman and counselor, the only way Rule is ultimately able to help Bullush is after her murder.

But Rule does, in a way, aid Bullush, though posthumously. Through her book, Rule is able, at least, to honor the legacy of the fan and victim she never met. And, by telling the story of a young mother's marriage filled with violence, perversion, secrecy, and deception, she may motivate other woman who desperately need help escaping abuse, to finally seek it - something Bullush surely would have wished for them.

From Bad To Worse: When Escaping An Abuse Relationship May Not Be Enough

Sheila Bullush grew up poor but happy in Oregon. While working as an assistant at an Oregon law firm, she ended up dating one of the firm's clients, William Allen Van Houte. At the time, Van Houte was going through one of his divorces.

Van Houte was a slick-talker who, working with his father, made millions in the 1970's lighting up disco floors in Oregon and Washington. The book contains allusions to Van Houte's having been abused as a child by his mother and grandfather, but other evidence in the book indicates that it is not clear if Van Houte's claims of abuse are to be believed. After all, Van Houte's also frequently-divorced father spoke of his son's ability to "convince anybody of anything. People trusted him. He was the flim-flam man supreme."

After marrying Bullush, Van Houte convinced her father to co-sign loans so that he could get a Porsche and a fancy boat. Then Van Houte somehow transferred title of the vehicles to his own name.

Rule chronicles how, after the children were born, Van Houte continued his scheming and evasiveness to avoid judgments or creditors in Oregon and Hawaii. He changed his name to "Allen Blackthorne," the name of a character in James Clavell's "Shogun," and used the social security numbers of his two daughters, rather than his own.

As Rule reveals, "Blackthorne" stopped at little when it came to either making or hiding money. Rule shows that behind closed doors, Blackthorne was known to have been a cross-dresser and a transvestite, and to have cheated on Bullush, sometimes with prostitutes (both male and female) whose services he sometimes used at home.

When Bullush and Blackthorne eventually moved to San Antonio, Texas, it still took time for Sheila to take the courageous step of moving out of her home with her young daughters. And during the period before she left for good, her husband's physical violence and emotional abuse continued.

Divorce Doesn't Necessarily Mean Gone Forever

As Rule relates, after the couple divorced, Blackthorne continued to make millions selling electronic stomach muscle stimulators (the kind one often sees advertised on TV today). Yet his court-ordered child support payments were routinely either late, or simply never sent at all. Blackthorne played golf and drove fancy cars, while at the same time crying poverty to the court.

Perhaps one of the hardest things for people in violent and abusive relationships to do is get away from their abusers. Even his fourth divorce, and a subsequent remarriage, did not stop Blackthorne from tormenting his ex-wife - who eventually also remarried. He tried to exert control over her life and over the lives of his daughters every chance he could.

Not Until Death Did They Part

After Sheila gave birth to quadruplets with her new husband, the six-child family quietly and secretly left San Antonio to escape Blackthorne's reach. They moved to Sarasota, Florida, and Sheila's second-husband, Jamie, worked there as a pharmaceutical company sales representative.

Furious that Sheila was still trying to escape from his control, Blackthorne schemed to find her. He tried to have a local sales representative for his company track her down. He also tried to get one of his daughters to describe the neighborhood where she lived so he could follow the family there.

Blackthorne ultimately conspired to use his money and influence to have a local bookie whom he knew from his golf gambling help him arrange to have a hit-man kill Sheila. After traveling from Texas to Florida and back, the hit man quickly fled to Mexico, leaving a treasure trove of evidence behind in his car.

Rule has a penchant for detail, but this book has far too much. Perhaps the overabundance stems from Rule's training as a police officer, or from a desire to thoroughly investigate a fan's murder. But this book did not warrant a nearly 450-page account of the victim's and her ex-husband-turned-killer's upbringings, their falling out, the murder, the criminal investigation, and the subsequent trials.

Every Breath You Take should leave readers taking a closer look at their own lives - as Rule's other true-crime books have often done for her legion of fans. The tragedy is that even though Sheila Bullush, as a devoted fan, was able to reexamine her life through Rule's clarifying lens, she still could not escape the controlling, sociopathic ex-husband that she thought she had finally been able to leave behind.

Joel R. Zand is an attorney, senior producer, and book reviewer for FindLaw's Writ.

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