Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack Abbott: From the Belly of the Beast

The Fugitive Writer

Port Authority Bus Terminal
Port Authority Bus Terminal

Immediately after the killing, Abbott went back to the Salvation Army halfway house and picked up some personal items. He also grabbed $200 in cash that he had hidden away in his room. By 6:30 a.m., only one hour after the killing, Abbott was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street looking for a way out of New York. "I had to do something," he later told a reporter during an interview, "so at the Port Authority, I bought a ticket to Philadelphia and I was on my way." Abbott quickly boarded the bus, fading into the comfort of the anonymous crowd. While police were still sorting through the bloody crime scene outside the Binibon, Abbott was safely on his way to Pennsylvania via the New Jersey Turnpike.

"Society will be a lot safer if Jack Henry Abbott is locked up for the rest of his life!" said a later editorial in the New York Daily News. Abbott's literary agent, Scott Meredith, told reporters, "We are stunned and distressed. He was a very gentle, quiet spoken person, the opposite of what he is accused of."

After he arrived in Philadelphia, Abbott quickly jumped on another bus to Chicago. That same night, he called his loyal friend, Norman Mailer, at his summer home in Provincetown, Mass. But the two men never spoke and Abbott left a message that he would call back. He never did. The next morning, Abbott left Chicago and in a few days, reached Laredo, Texas, hitching a ride with a southbound trucker. But by then, the story of Adan's killing was all over the nation's newspapers. New York police received a series of phone calls from people who had spotted Abbott not only in the Philadelphia bus terminal, but in Chicago as well. The old prison tattoo that Abbott had inscribed on the fingers of his left hand, J-A-C-K, had betrayed him.

While investigators continued to track Abbott's odyssey, he bribed a Mexican official with $50 to let him pass over the border at Nueva Laredo. Then he quickly headed south on highway 85 toward Monterey, Mexico. "I wanted to go somewhere and lay down and think and write," he told the press in a later interview, "but the huts were no bigger than cells with dirt floors and flies over everything and filth everywhere." He continued an arduous, harrowing journey southward until he reached the Mexican border with Guatemala. Eventually, Abbott settled in the small village of Es Carcega on the Yucatan peninsula. Broke, exhausted, sick from unsanitary conditions and the drinking water, he had to scrounge for food and sleep in the jungle. For several days, he languished in the village unable to work and wondering what to do next. He began to drift towards the gulf port of Vera Cruz. There, he tried to get on a ship bound for Cuba but was unsuccessful.

He returned to the United States a few weeks later through southwestern Texas and found temporary work in local oil fields. But he was never able to stay in one location for very long. Always paranoid and terrified of recapture, Abbott slept in the cheapest flophouses and tent cities. He changed his name to "Jack Eastman" and forged a new Social Security card. He moved from one oil field to another, taking the most menial of jobs for a few dollars an hour. But always he was on the move. Soon, he became lost in a sea of hundreds of iterant field workers who lived in squalid, nameless work camps in the swamplands of western Louisiana.

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