The hunt for a murderous writer: he convinced the authorities of his talent, then killed a man


Jack Abbott hanged himself in his prison cell with a makeshift noose made from his sheets and shoelaces.

Photo: China Photos/Getty Images

Jack Henry Abbott he spent practically his entire life in prison. At the age of nine, he was sent to reform school in Utah.

Shortly after his release from reform school, nine years later, was arrested and convicted of forgery. While serving his sentence in the Utah State Penitentiary, Abbott killed a fellow inmate in 1966. Although he claimed to have been defending himself against homosexual assault, he received another 14-year sentence.

In 1971, the criminal escaped from jail and robbed a bank in Denver before being caught. Back in prison, he heard that Norman Mailer was writing a book about Gary Gilmore, who was on death row in Utah, and began writing long letters to Mailer, detailing his alleged mistreatment of him in prison.

Mailer, who thought that Abbott was a gifted writeror, he got the New York Review of Books to publish some of the letters. Random House then published Abbott’s book, In the Belly of the Beast.

By telling prison officials that Abbott had a promising career as a writer, Mailer offered to hire him as an investigator. On June 5, 1981, he was sent to a rehabilitation center in New York City.

Although the New York literary crowd embraced Abbott, found himself more comfortable among criminals small-timers who lived on the city’s Lower East Side. Just six weeks after his parole, this criminal got into a fight with waiter Richard Adan at Bonibon restaurant, stabbed him in the chestkilling him instantly.

Abbott fled to a small Mexican town, but since he did not speak Spanish, he traveled to Louisiana, where detectives caught up with him.

Back in New York, he managed to get the minimum sentence for murdering Adan, 15 years to life, in part because Mailer urged the court to be lenient. According to Mailer, “culture is worth a little risk.”

Abbott described his life as that of a “state-raised convict” spending much of his life from the age of 12 in confinement in state facilities, including solitary confinement.

He wrote that due to confinement with other violent criminals from whom he could not escape, he developed a subjective perspective that every encounter was potentially threatening.

Subsequently, Abbott’s notoriety grew further and his book became a bestseller.. he committed suicide in prison on February 10, 2002.

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