In 1980, The New York Review of Books published a selection from the letters, with a brief introduction by Mailer. Erroll McDonald, a young Random House editor who was looking for new talent, signed Mr. Abbott to a book contract with a $12,500 advance. The book would be made up of excerpts from the letters to Mailer, who would write a longer introduction. Meanwhile, Mr. Abbott was trying to obtain parole, but first he had to complete his state sentence in Utah for killing the inmate.

In January 1981, federal authorities sent Mr. Abbott back to Utah, where he was automatically considered for parole. By then, his book was being edited for publication and he had a job offer from Mailer as a research assistant. In June, Mailer met Mr. Abbott at the airport, and the inmate, now free, was admitted to a halfway house on East Third Street.

On the night of July 17, Mr. Abbott and two women were at the Binibon, a restaurant in the East Village, when Mr. Abbott got up from his table and asked Richard Adan, a 22-year-old waiter and aspiring actor, to direct him to the toilet. Mr. Adan explained that the toilet could be reached only through the kitchen, and because the restaurant did not have accident insurance for customers, only employees could use the bathroom. Mr. Abbott argued with him. They took their dispute outside, where Mr. Abbott stabbed Mr. Adan to death, early in the morning of July 18.

The following day, July 19, The New York Times Book Review, unaware of Mr. Abbott’s crime, published a review of his book, “In the Belly of the Beast.” The reviewer, Terrence Des Pres, a Colgate University professor, wrote that the work was ‘’awesome, brilliant, perversely ingenuous; its impact is indelible, and as an articulation of penal nightmare it is completely compelling.'’

That same day, the police announced that they were searching for Mr. Abbott for killing the waiter. Federal authorities joined in the manhunt. Meanwhile, Mr. Farber of The Times reconstructed Mr. Abbott’s mental and emotional state, through scores of interviews with people who knew him and a review of his medical and legal records, while Michiko Kakutani, a cultural critic for The Times, wrote an extended essay about themes in Mr. Abbott’s book and their relation to his shocking new crime.

On Sept. 23, 1981, Mr. Abbott was seized in Louisiana. He was indicted on Oct. 7. Mr. Farber weighed in with an article chronicling the manhunt.

Mr. Abbott, who chose to represent himself in court, testified about his harrowing experiences in foster care and in prisons and admitted to the killing. On Jan. 21, 1982, he was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and on April 15, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

At the time, many people blamed not only Mailer, but also Mr. Abbott’s book editor and even Robert Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books, for having supported his release from prison. But Henry Howard, the waiter’s father-in-law, said it was the criminal justice system, not Mailer, that was at fault:

I’m not angry at Mailer or Random House. It’s their job to recognize writing talent and they saw it in Jack Abbott. My quarrel is with the prison authorities, with the Establishment. It’s their job to decide who goes out of prison, and not because of some pressure from great writers or publishers.

Mr. Abbott came out with a new book, “My Return,” in 1986. In 1990, Mr. Adan’s widow filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Abbott, seeking $10 million in damages. In court, Mr. Abbott maintained that his attack on Mr. Adan had been so quick that there was no suffering. Again representing himself, he cross-examined the widow, at one point berating her for weeping. On June 15, 1990, a jury awarded Mr. Adan’s family $7.57 million in damages. (Mr. Abbott was already barred from using any money he earned from the Adan murder under the so-called Son of Sam law, a New York statute that prevents criminals from profiting from any crimes they commit.)

On Feb. 10, 2002, Mr. Abbott was found dead in his prison cell in Alden, N.Y., near Buffalo. He had committed suicide.