I’ve been writing books for 26 years. I’m a nonfiction writer and my world has always been one of finding the truth where possible, and that drive for accuracy has been with me the whole time. Getting to the truth should be the cardinal rule for all writers. But whenever the truth we’re seeking has not, or cannot be obtained, speculation will raise its head to take its place. And it is here where the nonfiction writer must be very careful.
The definition of speculation is as follows: “The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.” Notice that term firm evidence. Without firm evidence, we can speculate about anything, but it better be backed by a great deal of circumstantial evidence, or we shouldn’t be using it. And in my writing career, using any speculation has been rare, and in the few instances where I have, it was based on strong circumstantial evidence.
A perfect example of this was when I was writing about the late-night meeting between Lorraine Fargo and Kathy Parks only minutes before Kathy encountered Ted Bundy in the cafeteria of Oregon State University, which culminated in her murder. I did not interview Lorraine for my book, The Bundy Murders, but I did have the official record that states she bumped into Kathy after leaving the library and was walking home (Bundy often hunted for victims at libraries, and I stated he may have been following her). The record also mentioned that Kathy’s boyfriend received a letter from her postmarked May 7, 1974, so because she was abducted on May 6th, I also posited that perhaps she mailed it while she was out walking that evening. Of course, it was nothing but speculation, but it was based (again) on circumstantial evidence. Well, a year after the book was published, Lorraine contacted me and confirmed that Kathy had dropped the letter in the mailbox in front of the cafeteria. Lorraine also confirmed that a strange acting man had been bothering her at the library, and she thinks he followed out. Of course, I believe that man was Ted Bundy.
Another example of speculation that I “know must be true!” (and I write about this in my new book, The Enigma of Ted Bundy) is that Bundy would use the money of his victims after killing them. When I first posted this on my Facebook page, most people admitted they’d never thought about it, but that it made perfect sense. Even so, there were one or two detractors. However, if you look at how often Bundy was in need of money, and how often he stole the cash and credit cards of unsuspecting people, it’s easy to conclude he’d keep the money and spent it. So yes, it must be a fact. However, because it hasn’t been “confirmed” as was the case with Lorraine Fargo, we must leave it in the realm of speculation, even if we absolutely “know” it’s true.
Occasionally, folks will contact me, suggesting that something I’ve written in one of my books may not be exactly correct. In each case it boiled down to speculation on their part and I always do what I can to straighten it out. In one recent call from a friend, he suggested that something an interviewee told me a few years ago might not be exactly true, and he gave his reason for thinking so. Well, I told him, I’d give the guy a call and do a little probing. And after conferring with the person in question, he reiterated that what he’d told me in 2015 was correct, and gave additional information that put that speculation to rest once and for all. I then passed this info to my friend.
So, the question becomes, was my friend, and all the others, wrong for bringing these things to my attention? No, absolutely not. In fact, when searching for answers, we need to travel down such roads, for in doing so we can often end the speculations and discover the truth.