Convicted felon Jack Abbot became a celebrity from the book he wrote in prison, In the Belly of the Beast
, which became a bestseller and garnered a great deal of support among America
s literati. It had developed from a series of letters he had written to Norman Mailer during the 1970s, and Mailer had helped him to get the collection published. Mailer and his associates then championed Abbott's release before the parole board, with the assurance that Abbott was a "powerful and important writer."
In 1981, Abbot got out of prison and, like Unterweger, received numerous invitations to dinner parties and television talk shows. He was celebrated as a rehabilitated man, thanks to his ability to rechannel his thoughts into the more spiritual form of literature. Yet no one seemed to notice that he had dedicated the book to the international predator Carl Panzram, an unrepentant rapist and multiple killer who hated everyone and had described himself as the "spirit of meanness personified." He never hesitated to rape or kill when the mood hit him, and one story has it that he took six African men on a safari, killed them all and tossed them into the river for the crocodiles. Why Abbott admired him is anyones guess, but it was a good indication of his own propensities.
Abbott disappointed his supporters when, six weeks after his release, he stabbed Richard Adnan, a 22-year-old waiter, to death. Then he dismissed the killing in a sequel My Return as necessary and said publicly that Adnan didnt have much talent, anyway. In other words, this literary giant had no concern for another persons life. Art had not reformed him or given him lofty spiritual sentiments.
Gary Gilmore, incarcerated throughout his adolescence for a series of car thefts and burglaries, showed real talent with art. His drawings and ink sketches won contests, so he received an early release to attend art school in Eugene, Oregon
. The hope was, according to his brother Mikal Gilmore in Shot in the Heart
, that he would redirect his antisocial energies into something rewarding and productive.
Unfortunately, the idea that art could override years of anger, poor role-modeling from a father who was a con artist, and Garys inadequate sense of self-esteem, was over-idealistic. Not only did Gilmore fail to register for classes, he armed himself, got drunk, and held up a store. That sent him right back to prison. Years later, when he won release again, he killed two men in cold blood and ended up executed.
Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers
Edgar Smith was a convicted murderer on Death Row. His case is described in Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers
, edited by Brian King. Smith corresponded with William F. Buckley over a period of seven years and managed to convince him that he was an innocent man falsely imprisoned. His crime involved the rape and bludgeoning murder of a 15-year-old girl in 1957 in New Jersey
. Buckley helped Smith to write and publish Brief Against Death
. With Buckleys sponsorship, Smith won release in 1971 from a judge who believed he had been rehabilitated. Smith appeared on television with Buckley that day and became a member of the genius club, Mensa. Five years later, he attacked a young woman in California
. She escaped, turning him in, and Smith asked Buckley for help. Buckley turned him over to the FBI. He then confessed to having committed the original murder. His entire story had been a lie.
Those who deal with killers on a regular basis know their deceptions, so a murderer who managed to talk or write his way out of prison and convince others he was now a good guy did not surprise them. The task at hand, however, was to educate a jury in these nuances of psychopathy.