STORMVILLE, N.Y. — The claims of savage violence against women don't seem to matter. Nor does the hard time behind walls painted institutional peach. Nor a tabloid headline--KILLER DAD AND HIS SON--published above a treasured family photo.
When John Royster Sr., convicted murderer, talks about John Royster Jr., accused murderer, nothing dampens his pride.
John Jr. "is exactly like I am," the father said with no hint of irony. "I could swear on a stack of Bibles that inside, we are almost exactly the same person."
It's been years since John Sr. has spoken to John Jr., the suspect in a terrifying series of attacks on women in June. But in a recent interview at Green Haven prison, 60 miles north of New York City, where the 46-year-old father is serving 33 1/2 years to life for killing an ex-girlfriend and wounding her sister eight years ago, John Sr. went on about a cosmic bond with his only child.
"This is a kid who I was locked into while conceiving him with his mother. It's always been that way," he said. "He's always known I was with him."
John Jr., 22, is lodged in the jail ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital amid reports his lawyers are planning an insanity defense. Prosecutors must decide by Tuesday whether to seek the death penalty.
On the afternoon of June 4, police say, John Jr. tried to rape a piano teacher in New York's Central Park before smashing her head against an asphalt path until she was comatose. They say he brutally attacked two other women, on June 5 and June 7, before beating a woman to death as she arrived to open her Park Avenue dry cleaning shop early the morning of June 11.
The Roysters, both short and slight with almond-shaped eyes, have been portrayed as disadvantaged but bright, as loners who, once rejected by women, sought bloody vengeance in public places.
John Jr.'s friends noted his fascination with martial arts, Eastern religions and unobtainable women. Late last year, he fell in love with a Japanese tourist who was visiting New York and felt rejected when she went home, he allegedly told detectives.
In the spring, John Jr. was hired--and quickly fired--by an office-supply store. A co-worker later described him as abusive toward women. The one-man crime wave began a few weeks later.
Asked what he taught his son about women, John Sr. smiled and replied in a near-whisper.
"He learned to love women," he said. "I would be shocked if he didn't know the type of elation I've known with women--the magic."
Born in 1949 in Manhattan, John Sr. was reared in Brooklyn with eight siblings. As a child, he was so responsible that his fatherless family nicknamed him "Husband." He attended Catholic schools and was an altar boy.
"I'm not a tough guy," he said. "I was the skinniest kid. I was the guy that the other ones would cross the street to see if he had any money to take. . . . But I was a thinking person. There were places where no one was allowed."
In those places, John Sr. said, he felt a despair he believes his son knows as well.
"I can understand this aloneness," he said. "I can remember dependency being unavailable to me."
After considering the priesthood, John Sr. enrolled in Manhattan College and earned an accounting degree in 1971. Jobs in finance and insurance, a marriage, and the birth of his son followed.
His son, he said, could recite his ABCs before he could walk: "He was brilliant. He was like myself."
But by the mid-1970s, the father was locked in a bitter divorce and custody battle. Given visitation rights in 1980, John Sr. said he managed one "magic summer" of father-son outings to Central Park and events at Madison Square Garden before the boy's mother cut him off.
Adrift, John Sr. began seeing a woman named Willye Jean Dukes. But their 6-year relationship ended in 1987, and she soon sought court protection, claiming that he was threatening to kill her.
John Sr. followed through in January 1988. While Dukes and two sisters waited for a subway train on a crowded platform in Grand Central Terminal, John Sr. showed up with a 12-gauge shotgun and fired a deadly blast.
The defendant represented himself at his trial. At sentencing, he told the judge: "To my son, who always gave love and never asked for anything in return but love, I want him to know that at this moment, I am thinking about him."