An excerpt from
When I Got Out
My given name is Larry Ingber—Laurence Allan Ingber—but some people may remember me as the Ivy League Killer from this supposedly sensational trial on Long Island back in the late Sixties, early Seventies.It caused quite a splash in the media for a while because it had all kinds of juicy elements: young love, young love gone wrong, a double murder, class conflict, two dead bodies in the trunk of a Cadillac, a car chase, Mafia connections, other people’s multiple tragedies. In other words, a little something for everyone. But that was a long time ago, and now most people don’t remember me at all. To tell you the truth, I sincerely hope no one recalls that sorry episode. Unfortunately, some people have extraordinary powers of memory, and the dead never forget a thing. I’m somewhere between the two. I don’t want my life to be defined by one very stupid thing that I did when I was nineteen, but I guess, to some extent, that’s what I’m stuck with.
I truly don’t know why my name stayed in the public consciousness for so long. There are lots of murderers, more famous and much worse than me: Manson, Speck, Chapman, Berkowitz, Gacy, O.J., etc. And as I keep saying to everyone: I didn’t kill anyone. OK, I did witness two murders, did not do anything to stop them, and helped dispose of the bodies in a way that demonstrated a “reckless and depraved disregard for human dignity.” But forget about that (not that I can). The point is I didn’t actually kill anyone. That fact always seems to get lost in my story.
I think, finally, what touched people is that, despite all the violence and sensationalism, at the bottom of it all, they felt that The Girl and I were truly in love. We were just a couple of teenagers trying to make it in a hostile world when things got screwed up. Nothing all that special. It was like everyone’s love story... except for the double murder.
The reason I’m writing all this down after all these years— with the full and absolute intention of sending it to “the authorities”—is that my life is now in danger. Funny, after almost forty years in some of the worst prisons in “the land of the free, the home of the brave,” after surviving with caged human animals, guarded by other animals, I’ve come out into the real world, into freedom, and now I fear for my life as much as I ever did in prison.
No, it’s not funny.
That’s why I’m getting this on the record, so that if I’m killed, the cops will know who did it, or, perhaps more precisely, who caused it. For several years in prison, I kept a diary—an extremely detailed, carefully documented journal of deliberate, systematic abuse—that I had smuggled out, but I got in big trouble for it. And before that, right after my trial, I wrote my version of what happened with The Girl and me and the whole Incident for my lawyer. He then tried to use it to influence the judge during the sentencing phase since I didn’t take the stand and testify in my own defense, to my eternal regret. But nothing ever came of that. Just a lot of writer’s cramp.
After my initial stretch at Sing Sing, when I had been sent upstate to Elmira, I tried to write a novel based on my case, but that got burned up in a cell fire started by some guys who wanted to kill me. Don’t worry: later, they got theirs. One thing you learn is how and when to protect yourself. The drive for survival is primal and inexorable, which is what I’m worried about right now.
I stopped that kind of writing—two years up in smoke—and started writing for other inmates: letters to their lawyers or parole boards, doing research, and preparing briefs, things like that. I even wrote quite a few love letters to their wives, fiancées, and what are now called their baby mamas. Legally, you’re not allowed to run a business while you’re in prison, so I took payment in goods and services: better food, easier work assignments, new clothes, extra commissary, books and magazines, and, most importantly, protection.
Protection. That’s a strange word. It means different things to different people. In prison, protection is a very physical thing:
“Stay out of my space, stay out of my face, or I will hurt you.” When you are out, there’s not quite the same risk to your physical well-being at every moment. But I’ve discovered that you need other kinds of protection.
When I first got to Sing Sing in 1970, I had an unusual form of protection. One of the people killed in the Incident that put me in prison was also the girlfriend of a certain Mr. Herb Perlov, a man I despise, even today. While he was alive, he did nothing but harm The Girl and me. I think he also might have abused her, but I’m not sure about that since I’m not sure about a lot of the things she said. But it turned out that Herb was no normal Harvard Law grad. He wasn’t a corporate lawyer or an investment banker; he was, in fact, “Herb the Hebe,” mouthpiece for a certain New York crime family. (I believe that is the technical term for a Mafia lawyer, and if you want to know which family, you can look it look it up yourself. “Google it,” as I have learned to say.)
When I got to Sing Sing, being the Ivy League Killer, I was already a famous criminal and, as such, a big target for any of the assorted bored and violent maniacs who would love to knock off a “celebrity convict” like me. Just for the fun of it. But since I was also the Guy Who Killed Herb the Hebe’s Girlfriend (which was actually not true), I got good protection for as long as I was in that place from members of a New Jersey crime family that was the nemico mortale of Herb’s family. Although I was probably one of the most peaceful, rational people there, it was my reputation as the killer that made my imprisonment safe and semi-bearable.
At least in the beginning. I think I recall almost everything that’s happened to me, but I have a “trick memory.” Some years ago, I took a beating from two redneck hacks in an Oklahoma joint that left some holes in my past. Most things I remember with crystal clarity, as if they were happening right at this moment. But some things I don’t remember at all. That’s probably for the best.
Anyway, prison is now in my past—forever, I hope. I am much better prepared than most convicts getting out. I earned three degrees in prison from correspondence courses—all of them associate degrees (in Psychology, Applied Business, and Sociology) because I couldn’t go for bachelor’s degrees at the institution I was in at the time. I also wanted to take some criminal justice courses, but the goon warden who ran that facility prevented me—even though I had worked my way up to his “honor block”— saying he didn’t want me “getting ideas” and becoming a “painin-the-ass jailhouse lawyer.” Of course, they don’t equal the B.A. from Columbia that was once in my future, the Golden Passport to a Golden Career, but my future became a very different thing once I was convicted of double murder in the second degree.
Thankfully, I was left a legacy by my father. I remember my very last phone conversation with him. I was in a noisy prison hallway and his voice was very weak, but I recall every word he said.
“I saved for you,” he said, “so when you get out, you’ll have something.”
(Notice how he said whenI got out. He always believed in me.)
“You’ll be able to have a life and do something,” he said. “I gave everything to Mantell, so you’ll get it from him. It’s my legacy to you.”
Those words have echoed in my mind many times.
The problem I had was Lester Mantell. Since my parole, I’d talked to Mantell exactly one time on the phone—very briefly— and that was after calling his office dozens of times. You’d think he’d be interested that his long-imprisoned client was getting out of jail after forty fucking years. Evidently he had moved on to other things. He mumbled something about my Dad’s legacy money still being in a trust account that he was in the process of moving because it had been “stuck in probate.” He said he’d be in touch with me when it cleared—and that was the last I heard from him.
My parents got very close to Mantell during my trial and came to depend on him for legal and financial advice, and almost everything after that. Most convicts come out with five hundred dollars of gate money, a parole officer to hassle them, and nothing else. With my Dad’s legacy, I might have really had a chance to make his last wishes for me come true.
Did I mention that both my parents are dead? My Mom died before my Dad, which, from what I understand, is unusual. Men usually go before their women—ground down by life and stress and general male idiocy (cigarette smoking, violence, anger, alcohol). To tell you the plain truth, it was my incarceration that killed my mother. She couldn’t take all the trips to see me, and when they moved me out of Elmira, after seven years, to a facility in Louisiana (a different hell), it was even more difficult for them. They could make only a couple of trips there. We all wrote a million letters trying to get me transferred someplace back East because of family hardship. No dice.
Mom wrote to me every day for six years. Every day, in this little, neat script, on this pretty paper (sometimes pink, sometimes blue). She had the best penmanship of anyone I ever knew. Her father—my grandpa Abe—was a CPA and made his kids practice their penmanship till their hands ached. At least that was the family legend.
My mother was always a somewhat nervous person, so when I got into trouble, she was not prepared. (Is any mother ever prepared to see her son charged with murder? Maybe Ma Barker, but that’s about it.) After all the tension of the trial—the pressure from the police and the DA’s office, the abuse she got from the press, the stares from our neighbors and “friends”—and then when I was found guilty, well, she was never really the same.
But finally, it was her decision to stop living. I can semi-understand it; I was her only child and the light of her life. But still, she shouldn’t have stopped living. There should have been more to her life than just being the mother of a prisoner and trying to get him out. You see, she didn’t only write me letters; she also wrote letters to the governor and the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Corrections and anyone else she could think of, trying to get me transferred or released, or get my sentence reduced. She even wrote to a couple of the wardens of the institutions I was in, which caused me lots of embarrassment until I told her to stop.
Probably the toughest thing about being in prison was not being let out to go to my parents’ funerals. Either of them. My Dad died about four years after my Mom. In a way, that wasn’t surprising either: he needed her, and when she was gone, it was as if he were suddenly missing some essential part of his being. He couldn’t live without his heart. They had been together since high school (Erasmus, in Brooklyn) and, except for the time my Dad spent in the Army in World War II, were never apart. They always said how lucky they were to have found each other so young.
“I didn’t waste any time,” my Dad used to say. “First time I saw her in her gym bloomers cutting through the courtyard, that was it. From that moment on, she was mine.”
I guess it was probably for the best that I wasn’t allowed to go to those funerals. I just would have embarrassed my few remaining relatives, and maybe some reporters would have shown up. You never know.
I thought I was old news when I made the mistake of talking to some snot-nosed young reporter from The New York Times who dug up my story on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Incident. I thought at the time it would help my upcoming parole hearing if I showed the world how “rehabilitated” and “remorseful” I was. Only the article didn’t quite come out that way, and a whole bunch of people got pissed off at me all over again. I guess it was my ego, wanting to be mentioned favorably in the holy Times, “The Paper of Record.” Or maybe it was the way the reporter egged me on, and I wanted to prove that I was just as smart as that pissant.
Anyway, I shot my mouth off during that interview and got myself in trouble. Still, that warden—whose name I won’t even write—should have let me out for the funerals. It wouldn’t have hurt anyone. I wouldn’t have hurt anyone.
But I have to forget all about that now. I’m alive, and they’re dead.
When I was released in 2010 due to the hard work of some good people for many years, I was in surprisingly decent health, considering the hellish series of institutions (seven separate facilities in four decades, not counting innumerable short stays at various transit points), which have been my homes for most of my life. I use the word homes in the most ironic sense possible.
One thing about prison life: it gets you in shape. Either you get in shape, or you don’t last very long. You have to get strong because you are tested every day. The cruel seek out the weak for the pleasure of inflicting pain. But I refused to be weak. I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I might be the most obsessed. I have the strongest will of anybody I’ve ever known. Never forget that. I don’t.
For many years, I did push-ups and sit-ups by the hundreds every day until I ached. I did jumping jacks and shadowboxed, even in the dark. It all made me strong enough to protect myself. Even today I’m pretty lean, especially taking into account all the fatsos out here in the real world. I may have a little potbelly, but the muscles themselves are rock-solid, and there’s only a little layer of fat on me. Not much hair, not much height. But considering the kind of medical care I got in prison, I’m in remarkable shape.
“Medical care.” I had this one cellmate in Oklahoma for three years, a guy with BO so rank that I was convinced it had to be microbial. I mean this guy stunk straight out of the shower! Later, it turned out he had advanced cancer of the intestines. He was rotting from the inside out. Of course, the prison doctor kept diagnosing his problem as “acute gas,” right up until the tumor was practically bulging out of his belly. He looked positively pregnant with cancer.
The fact that I survived this kind of medical care and came out as well as I did is almost a miracle. Finally, I think I survived just to spite my tormentors and the System. To walk out of prison was to get the last laugh. And I think that, most remarkably, I am still fairly sane. Maybe that’s not for me to say. We’ll see what happens. But my willpower and personal drive to survive and not be destroyed by my circumstances remain intact and inviolable. As I said, I might be the most obsessed person who ever lived, but that’s only because I had to be. I don’t want to be obsessed anymore. More than anything, I want to be a normal person who lives a normal life...if I can figure out what that means. I’ll get the money from Mantell and I’ll have a chance to “have something” and “do something,” just like my Dad wanted.