Ted Bundy did not intend for Rhonda Stapley to survive.
In 1974, Stapley was a 21-year-old University of Utah pharmacy student waiting for a Salt Lake City bus when a handsome stranger pulled up and offered a ride in his Volkswagen Beetle. “He was the boy next door,” she tells PEOPLE. “He didn’t have fangs and he didn’t have black circles under his eyes. He was normal. He fit in with the community.”
He gave his name as Ted, and said he needed to run an errand first. But after her fateful decision to hop in his car, the trip turned terrifying as Stapley’s friendly companion turned silent, parked in an isolated canyon picnic area and then leaned in toward her.
“Do you know what?” he said quietly. “I am going to kill you.”
In her new book I Survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape & PTSD That Changed My Life, excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Stapley reveals what happened next.
She also reveals why she kept the terrifying encounter a secret for the next 37 years – even after she learned her attacker’s identity and Bundy revealed himself to be one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, confessing to at least 30 murders before he was executed in 1989.
To read more about Stapley’s attack and recovery after her encounter with Ted Bundy, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
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“I spent my whole life pretending it never happened,” says Stapley, 62, now a retired pharmacist and grandmother of two. She hopes that by speaking out, she can inspire victims of any assault to find their own path toward healing. “Now I’m ready to tell it.”