CRIME: Colin Ferguson: A Mass Murderer's Journey Toward Madness

Speaking with a Jamaican accent, Colin Ferguson said he was from Louisiana and needed a room. The India-born general manager of the Royal Motel in Long Beach, California, looked at his would-be guest, a bulky black man who admitted to being unemployed, and said, "O.K., but if you're not good I won't let you stay here." "But," Nick Bhakta recalls, "he was good. Every day he did not stay in the room. He came only in the nighttime." Bhakta charged $35 a night; Ferguson stayed three weeks. In retrospect, all he really needed was 15 days -- the time it took to clear his application to buy the 9-mm Ruger semiautomatic handgun he used last week on a rush-hour commuter train in New York.

Last spring, when Colin Ferguson traveled from Brooklyn to California and back, he had already meandered through misfortune and failure and was perhaps on the brink of madness. Family, school, work, health, everything seemed to have withered away. "He had the 'American Dream,' and when it fell apart, he looked to blame somebody," his landlord told the New York Daily News. In the end, all Ferguson had left was rage.

He was born with many advantages. In his native Jamaica, Ferguson attended the exclusive Calabar boys' high school, an academy that numbers among its alumni Percival Patterson, the island's Prime Minister. The Fergusons lived in a two-story home protected by walls and wrought-iron gates in Kingston's elite suburb of Havendale. His father Von Herman Ferguson was one of the most prominent businessmen in Jamaica. When the elder Ferguson died in a car accident in 1978, his funeral was attended by government and military luminaries. However, that passage -- and the subsequent death of Ferguson's mother from cancer -- shattered the family's fortunes. In 1982 Ferguson, then 24, left for the U.S. He was never able to re-create the life he had led on the island.

At first, though, there had been hope. He met Audrey Warren, an American of Jamaican descent, married her in 1986, and qualified for permanent U.S. residency. The couple moved into a house on Long Island and had a son. Enrolled in a local community college, Ferguson made the dean's list three times. But that approximation of bliss collapsed in 1988, when Warren sued for divorce and won custody of their child. By last week, Ferguson was jobless and living in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, in a tiny $175-a-month room with a communal bath down the hall.

His descent was precipitous. At the time of his divorce, Ferguson began working for Ademco, a burglar-alarm manufacturer. A year into his job, however, he fell from a stool, receiving a back injury that led to his termination. He sued for compensation, won a $26,250 judgment but, for some reason, tried to reopen proceedings with the New York State workers' compensation board. He complained that he was a victim of racial prejudice and rejected state-appointed doctors sent to examine him because their surnames sounded ethnic and not black. Eventually, Ferguson, who wrote and called incessantly, was put on a list of possible troublemakers security guards at the board were to watch out for.

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