Diary's blank pages become a tale of terror for 4 victims N.Y. detectives say days were filled with violence

June 16, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- John Royster kept an appointment diary. In it, he diligently noted his job interviews and the other details of his perpetual search for employment. The entry for June 4, however, is blank.

It was on that day that police and prosecutors say Royster committed a brutal assault on a 32-year-old woman in Central Park.

The June 4 entry was not the only blank page from June in the diary, said investigators. And those days were not empty of dreadful consequences, either. Authorities say they were days filled with violence.

The blank page of June 4 began what became a tale of terror for four individuals and their families. As well, it started what has become an acutely disturbing story for the city.

As the assaults piled up from June 4 to June 11 -- a 65-year-old woman was slain on Park Avenue, a woman was beaten into a coma in Yonkers, a race walker's face was disfigured on the East Side -- the city absorbed them as independent heartbreaks.

Then, it was revealed that the attacks were believed to have been committed by one man -- John Royster, 22, a drifter with a bright mind and a nearly clean record. Royster, it turned out, also had a convicted murderer for a father, an appetite for movies of violent sex and a good deal of anger over a failed relationship.

"It appears that it was a brief outburst by this guy," one senior investigator said. "He said these were the only four bad things he had ever done in his life."

For the victims and the city, there was relief at Royster's capture, and shock at the scope of his devastation.

Through eight days of sporadic mayhem, Royster appears to have moved with something approaching casualness, according to neighbors, friends and law enforcement officials.

He stretched out and meditated for hours in his Bronx apartment. He roamed through the arcades in Times Square. He stared at videotapes of violent pornography. When he was arrested, barely 48 hours after Evelyn Alvarez was killed, Royster, according to neighbors, was striding down the block with his dinner in his hands, singing softly to himself.

Meanwhile, relatives of the victims mourned and prayed; a task force of detectives worked nonstop on the Central Park case; Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani struggled to balance demonstrating his concern for the victims with reassuring the public that the city was safer than it had been in years.

The suspect's method of operation, according to detectives, was a hybrid of spontaneous decisions and prolonged, calculated punishment. He would identify a target encountered by chance, then sneak up behind her. He beat his victims and drove their faces into the ground, the police said.

On June 4, a thunderstorm was gathering in the late afternoon. A 32-year-old piano teacher and writer was walking through a section of Central Park regarded as crowded and thus safe. Nearby, Royster had entered Central Park at West 72nd Street. Royster, a devotee of Asian philosophy who had had a relationship with a woman visiting from Japan earlier this year, had meditated near a stream, a place he described to detectives as "Little Japan."

Detectives said Royster described his impulse after his meditation as instant and overwhelming: rage. Soon, he saw the woman on her way through the park.

Royster, the police and prosecutors say, set upon the 5-foot-2-inch, 110-pound woman, tumbling to the ground with her. He brutalized her, then tried to rape her, police said.

The newspapers highlighted the case and ruminated on the special quality of unease provoked by crimes in Central Park. A $10,000 reward was posted as police tried to identify the victim.

The next day, detectives said, with the first victim in a coma and fighting for life, Royster repeated what they described as improvised travels through the city, wanderings that left him on the night of June 5 on an overpass near the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. There, at around 9 p.m., they said, he again meditated, then unleashed his fury.

Shelby Evans, on the eve of her 51st birthday, was out exercising near the East Side heliport.

"When I saw her go by, the rage came over me," Royster told detectives.

Evans, beaten unconscious, awoke in the hospital.

On Friday, June 7, the authorities identified the victim of the assault in Central Park. Roughly 300 people had by then been questioned by the police. There were no strong leads. There were no reports in the news media of the assault on Evans, and police had little evidence of a connection.

That night, on a bridge near the Bronx-Yonkers border, police say, Royster added another assault. A 26-year-old woman was sexually assaulted, her head driven repeatedly into the ground. She wound up comatose in the hospital.

On June 10, a caller to 911 reported hearing two screams near 88th Street and Park Avenue. Evelyn Alvarez, trying to open her dry cleaning store, was found in a pool of blood. She died later at Metropolitan Hospital, of injuries sustained in a beating to the head.

According to the police, Royster, who was scheduled for an interview for a job with the Sierra Club the following day, got off the subway on the East Side near dawn. He walked by the woman in the doorway and doubled back. Detectives say Royster simply described becoming enraged again.

There were fingerprints at the scene that led police to Royster. He was found and brought in for questioning.

Detective Michael Charles, along with detectives working on the Central Park case, suggested an act of purification during their interrogation of Royster. He responded with a confession to all four attacks, police said.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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