Jack Henry Abbott

Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Author
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: 1965 / 1980
Date of birth: January 21, 1944
Victims profile:: A fellow inmate / Richard Adan, 22
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Utah/New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to fifteen years to life on April 15, 1982. Hanged himself in his prison cell on February 10, 2002

He was born on a U.S. Army base in Michigan to an American soldier and a Chinese woman. As a child Abbott was in trouble with teachers and later the law, and by the age of sixteen he was sent to a reform school. In 1965 at 21 years old, Jack Abbott was serving a sentence for forgery in a Utah prison when he stabbed a fellow inmate to death. He was given a sentence of three to twenty years for this offense, and in 1971 his sentence was increased by a further nineteen years after he escaped and committed a bank robbery in Colorado.

In 1977 he read that author Norman Mailer was writing about convicted killer Gary Gilmore. Abbott wrote to Mailer and offered to write about his time behind bars and the conditions he was in. Mailer agreed and helped to publish In the Belly of the Beast, Abbott’s book on life in the prison system consisting of his letters to Mailer.
Mailer supported Abbott’s attempts to gain parole, which were successful in June 1980 when Abbott was released. He went to New York City and was the toast of the literary scene for a short while.

Norman Mailer was subjected to some criticism for his role in getting Jack Abbott released and was accused of being so blinded by Abbott’s evident talent for writing that he did not take into account Abbott’s propensity for violence.

In a 1992 interview in The Buffalo News, Mailer said that his involvement with Abbott was “another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in.”

On the morning of July 18, just six weeks after getting out of prison, Jack Abbott went to a small cafe called the Binibon in Manhattan. He clashed with 22-year-old Richard Adan, son-in-law of the restaurant’s owner, over Adan’s telling him the restroom was for staff only. Abbott stabbed Adan in the chest, killing him.

The very next day, unaware of Abbott’s crime, the New York Times ran a positive review of The Belly of the Beast.

After some time on the run, Abbott was arrested and charged with murdering Richard Adan. At his trial in January 1982, he was convicted of manslaughter and given fifteen years to life.

Abbott did not receive any profits from The Belly of the Beast, as Richard Adan’s widow successfully sued him for $7.5 million in damages, which meant she received all the money from the book’s sales.

There was a tragic irony to the murder, not lost on the community of aspiring writers and actors in New York. While Abbott was an accomplished writer, Adan was both an actor and a playwright: shortly before his murder his first play had been accepted for production by the La Mama theatre company.

In 1987 Abbott published My Return, which was not a success. It contained a great deal of self-pity, but no remorse for his crimes. Abbott blamed his crimes on the prison system and said he wanted an apology from society for the way he had been treated.He appeared before the parole board in 2001, but his application was turned down because of his failure to express remorse and his lengthy criminal record.

On February 10, 2002 Jack hanged himself in his prison cell using bedsheets and shoelaces.

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