Jack Henry Abbott was a career criminal who had spent the majority of his life in prison. But in the late 1970s, he made one important connection on the outside: Norman Mailer.
Mailer and Abbott corresponded though letters. Mailer, impressed with Abbott’s writing style, agreed to help him publish In the Belly of the Beast, reprinting those letters detailing Abbott’s life behind bars.
In the Belly of the Beast met with critical acclaim. Soon after it was published, Mailer and other literati sponsored Abbott’s early parole. Mailer gave Abbott a job as his research asisstant, and Abbott moved into a halfway house on East Third Street. He was partying it up with writers and Barnard coeds.
He wasn’t free to party for long. Just six weeks later, on July 18, 1981, he stopped in for breakfast at Binibon, a 24-hour cafe and artists’ hangout on Second Avenue and Fifth Street.
Abbott got up to look for a rest room, but a 22-year-old waiter, Richard Adan—son-in-law of Binibon’s owner and an aspiring writer—told him that customers were prohibited from using it.
Abbott began arguing with Adan, and the two went outside, where Abbott stabbed Adan to death.
Caught in Louisiana a few weeks later, Abbott was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. He committed suicide in prison in 2002.
Mailer later said he felt “completely responsible” for Abbott’s actions.
Now the Madras Cafe, this was Binibon in 1981, at 79 Second Avenue