As New Yorkers walked down Second Avenue with their Sunday New York Times tucked under their arms, they probably didn’t notice the stain on the sidewalk outside the Bini-Bon, a 24-hour restaurant. It was hardly unusual for the East Village, piled with refuse and derelicts and sandwiched between the Bowery and the crime-ridden slums of Avenues A, B, C and D. At about 5:30 a.m. on July 19, a man had stabbed a 22-year-old waiter, Richard Adan, outside the BiniBon after an argument over toilet facilities. Stabbings aren’t unusual, either. However, those who read a lengthy review in that day’s Times of In the Belly of the Beast, a collection of prison letters by Jack Henry Abbott, must have
felt the crushing irony later, when it was announced that the man being sought for the murder was none other than the author, whose prose had been described as “penetrating” and “knifelike.”
Abbott, 37, was released from a Utah prison a month ago, helped by bestselling author Norman Mailer, who met
him while researching The Executioner’s Song, his book about Gary Gilmore, the convicted murderer who fought a successful court battle in January, 1977, for the right to die in the electric chair. Prior to the Second Avenue slaying, Abbott, who had spent all but nine months of his adult life in jail, was staying at a halfway house on a workrelease program as Mailer’s research assistant.
Not surprisingly, Mailer wasn’t talking to reporters last week. However, Scott Meredith, literary agent for both Mailer and Abbott, described the wanted man as “a very gentle, softspoken person—the opposite of what he is accused of being.” That quote, too, had an ironic ring. In his book, Abbott described killing a fellow inmate. “You can feel his life trembling through the knife in your hand. ... It almost overcomes you, the gentleness ... at the center of a coarse act of murder,” he wrote. LAWRENCE O’TOOLE
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