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Looking for Mr. Goodbar


By Herbert Hadad




A complex and chilling film that inspired fear in the hearts of young single women on the prowl.



By Herbert Hadad


Mr. Goodbar, the symbol of which terrified a generation of New York women in the latter part of the last century, was a real person with a different name.

        I found the real Mr. Goodbar within 10 days of his crime. I called Mr. Goodbar but Mr. Goodbar never returned my call.

        Let me tell you the tale. I was a newcomer to New York journalism, working for the New York Post, and the murder became my first important story. With a little digging and a lot of luck, I found the alleged killer -- his name was John Wain Wilson -- and the District Attorney's office asked that I put away my notes and keep the discovery a secret.

        "We think you've got the right guy but if you print anything you'll spook him and kill the case," they said.

        My editors went along. After waiting for the D.A. to cinch the case and hand back my exclusive -- the story that would help make my reputation -- I got impatient and called Wilson myself.

        He lived in an apartment in Chelsea. "He's not here just now," said his older roommate. "He's visiting his family in the Midwest and should be back in a week or so."

        The roommate gave me the right dope, but it was incomplete. Wilson came back in a week or so from the Midwest, but he was manacled to about five cops, who tossed him in a downtown hostelry called The Tombs.

        The Goodbar story began one morning as I sat on the Post's rewrite bank. (A rewriteman, as most of you know, is the one who takes the research, as well as the exaggerated and sometimes hysterical observations of the reporter at the scene, and crafts them into a readable yarn.)

         "Kinky murder on the West Side," said the City Editor, Larry Nathanson. "Take it on line 6."

        What I got was a description of a young female victim, beaten on the head with a small piece of statuary as she lay in her own bed. The headmaster of a school for the handicapped had called when she'd failed to show up at her teaching job for a few days. Someone was let into her apartment and made the discovery. The only other bit of information was that she was last seen alive leaving a bar near her building with a young man.

         Being new to the paper, I was especially eager to make a good impression. Within minutes I was reeling off paragraph after paragraph of crisp prose on the size and quality of the apartment building, the ambience and habitation of the bar where Roseann Quinn -- the victim's real name -- had apparently met her killer, the rhythm and color of the street late at night.

         "This is damn good stuff," exclaimed the editor. "Where're you getting it?"

         I tapped my moist forehead. "I live next door to the All-State Café and across the street from Quinn's place, with the Gristede's on the first floor," I confessed.

An intimacy developed between the principals of the crime and the chronicler. She was already Roseann, my victim, and I was going to do all I could to make the story bigger and better -- and maybe even crack the case.

         For the next several days I used my spare time visiting the grocers, cleaners, newspaper stand and other spots where Roseann likely shopped. They were the same merchants I used and were inclined to be helpful. A few knew her -- the dry cleaner by name from writing up tickets for clothing left -- as a pretty, quiet young woman who walked with a slight limp.

        I reached the headmaster. She was kind and patient with the children, he said, and came from a good and pious family in New Jersey. They were of no help.

After a while, the story began to cool. Until I learned that police had visited a midtown office and asked lots of questions about a young male employee. No one had said anything outright, but the cops left the impression they were looking for Roseann's murderer. I had a friend at the company.

         "I'll lose my job if they trace this back to me," he said. I blithely promised him anonymity. He then told me about Wilson, the tall, slim, handsome man who had been taken on as a mailroom clerk and who had become a favorite of the young women.

        "He loves to take them downstairs for an ice cream soda, and they love going," my informant said. "Beyond that, I don't know much about him or his habits."

         But he gave me Wilson's name and remembered that Wilson stopped coming to work - vanished, in fact - about two days after Roseann Quinn's body was found. If he was right and Wilson was indeed the killer, it meant that Wilson came to work the morning after the slaying and continued to make his soda-fountain dates, but that something made him run a few days later.

        The contrast of the killer and the wholesome youngster sipping malteds was intriguing, and I think we could have run the story without the suspect's name. But someone allegedly smarter than I was offered the information to the D.A. instead, and there went that day's story and most of the ones after that.

        As most of us know, the case became really famous following publication of the book, "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," and the movie adaptation. They dramatized the danger and shallowness of New York night life as young women tried to meet eligible young men.

         For the record, it was later disclosed that Roseann and Wilson met in the All-State Café on West 72nd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue and then proceeded to her apartment across the street. When Wilson declined or became incapable of romantic endeavor, Roseann either kidded or taunted him. He became enraged and beat her to death.

         So Wilson was returned from the Midwest, and the court reporters anticipated a real juicy trial.

         But then came the call I got from the Post's legendary court reporter, the man with his own table at Forlini's restaurant on Baxter Street behind the courthouse, Mike Pearl.

         "You hear from Wilson yet?" he asked.


         "Well, you won't. Scratch Wilson. He just hung himself in his cell."