Richard Ywain Gregory spent most of the past week playing cards.
To Baltimore County jail officials, it seemed a normal way for a convicted felon to forget and cope with the prospect of life in prison. But in Gregory's mind, hope had apparently run out.
Gregory, an Elkridge man convicted Thursday of first-degree rape and facing trial on six other charges stemming from violent sexual attacks, hanged himself Monday in his cell at the Baltimore County Detention Center.
Jail officials say Gregory, 20, tore up a bed sheet in his cell and used a strip to hang himself from a sprinkler sometime before 5 a.m., just hours after a long evening of card-playing with fellow inmates.
"We had no inkling his mood would have led him to do this," said James M. Dean, administrator of the detention center. "He wasn't on a suicide watch, and he had never shown any signs of needing psychological or medical help. It was very surprising."
Gregory's cell was part of a block that guards checked at 12:30 a.m. and again at 5 a.m. Jail officials say Gregory was positioned in a corner of the cell that was out of the guards' view, and it was unclear how long he had been dead before he was found.
For jail officials, prosecutors, Gregory's defense attorneys and even his victims, the suicide marked a sudden, shocking end to a criminal history of a working-class man who had in the past year emerged as a suspected serial rapist.
Gregory grew up near York, Pa., and moved into a small Elkridge apartment on Washington Boulevard two years ago. While there, he worked as a local pizza delivery man and as a driver for Party, Party, Party, a business specializing in party supplies.
Between September 1989 and March of this year, Gregory is believed to have committed a series of sexual attacks in Howard, Prince George's, and Baltimore counties. When police targeted Gregory as a suspect in March, he made a five-day cross-country escape trek to California, where he was captured and charged with another sexual assault.
But Gregory's demeanor as a prisoner showed no signs of violence or instability, say those who knew him.
One police officer recalled that Gregory was silent and reflective while riding the plane back during his extradition from California, at times commenting that "he didn't know why he had done what he did." On his return to Maryland, he spoke frankly to his lawyers.
"He seemed to be a pretty calm sort of person, not prone to outbursts," said Elizabeth Osterman, a Howard County public defender assigned to represent Gregory in four cases of sexual attacks here.
Despite the seriousness of the charges against him -- most of which involved the abduction of area women at knifepoint or gunpoint -- Gregory maintained a level-headed attitude, Osterman said.
"I know he was upset by the conviction, but he didn't immediately raise any serious concerns," said Osterman. The fact that he was convicted, in jail and charged with a string of crimes did not seem to rock his even temperament, she said.
Gregory was awaiting sentencing for a conviction that carried a maximum penalty of life plus 43 years. That crime occurred Feb. 4, when a Perry Hall woman was kidnapped from outside her apartment building in Baltimore County, driven to the Cockeysville area and raped.
The Howard County crimes followed the same pattern. Gregory was charged with first-degree rape in the Sept. 4, 1989 abduction of a woman from The Mall in Columbia, and the Feb. 12 sexual assault of an Elkridge woman.
Gregory was scheduled to appear for the first of the Howard County trials on Sept. 20.
Gregory also was charged with two counts of assault with intent to rape in connection with incidents that happened here in January and September 1989, said Ronald Hogg, a county prosecutor assigned to the cases.
Hogg said he had contacted all but one of the victims by noon yesterday to inform them of Gregory's death.
"It's been a very tragic situation, from his death to what happened to the victims," Hogg said. "There's nothing nice about any of it. But it's sad that a human being had to die by their own hand; the world's not better off because he's dead."
Prior to the sexual assault charges, Gregory's arrest record in Maryland involved nothing more serious than a traffic offense. Police targeted him as a suspect in the rape cases mainly as a result of the blue pickup truck he drove, which several victims identified.