Saturday, November 12, 2016

HISTORY’S RICH WITH MYSTERIES: "ROSEANN QUINN – The Looking for Mr. Goodbar girl" by Earl Staggs

Texas author Earl Staggs is back this month with his latest “History’s Rich With Mysteries” guest blog. This time he considers the case of ROSEANN QUINN – The Looking for Mr. Goodbar girl.


When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery.

ROSEANN QUINN – The Looking for Mr. Goodbar girl
by Earl Staggs

Twenty-eight-year-old Roseann Quinn, a school teacher of deaf children, met a man in a neighborhood bar on the evening of January 1, 1973, and after conversation and a few drinks, invited him to her apartment on New York's West Side. Two days later, when she hadn't shown up for work, hadn't called, and was not answering her phone, the school sent someone to check on her. The building's superintendent opened the apartment door where they found Roseann's body. She'd been beaten and had more than a dozen stab wounds to her neck and abdomen.

Roseann's death inspired the 1975 novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner which was adapted into a movie starring Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Tom Berenger, and Tuesday Weld two years later. There were other books and movies based on the story as well. 

The investigation quickly revealed that Roseann led a double life. While on the surface, she was a quiet, intelligent, and reserved girl from a fine Irish Catholic family and a gifted and caring teacher, she also indulged in casual sex with men she met in bars. Apparently, she liked it rough, and the men she met seemed on the rough side and lacking in education.

Neighbors would later say they often heard Roseann fighting with men in her apartment. One neighbor reported hearing screams coming from the apartment. The neighbor saw a man running away yelling obscenities and found Roseann beaten and bruised.

The 1970's was a period of change in America during which women exhibited more freedom than ever before. The mainstream population, however, was not ready to accept some of those freedoms. Men had always been able to openly prowl for casual sex partners (“one night stands”), but women who did so were looked down upon. As a result, once Roseann's story became known, she became a tabloid favorite. Many people were quick to dismiss her as a sex-crazed single woman who willingly put herself in danger. Some people felt she had “asked for it” and got what she deserved. Her murder was a punishment for her actions.

There was nothing in her early life to indicate how she would turn out. She was born in the Bronx in 1944. She had two brothers and a sister. She was eleven when her family moved to New Jersey. Her father was an executive with Bell Laboratories in Parsippany. When she was 13, she spent a year in a hospital recovering from polio, which left her with a slight limp. She graduated high school in 1962. Her yearbook said she was "Easy to meet” and “Nice to know."

After high school, she enrolled in Newark State Teachers College, graduated in 1966, and moved to New York City to begin her teaching career. A spokesman for the school where she worked said, "The students loved her." A classmate said she had "a terrific sense of humor and was down to earth. She had no phony pretenses. Also, she was very generous. No matter how much she had, if you needed it, she'd share with you.”

Her neighbors liked her too. "We get some weird people around here," said the owner of the local dry cleaner, "but this girl was different. She was very nice and quiet and shy. She wore skirts and blouses, not this hippy stuff."

Acquaintances and neighbors said Roseann would sit by herself and read books at bars on the West Side. Police Captain John M. McMahon said, "She was an affable, outgoing, friendly girl. She knew teachers and artists and her circle of friends was a very large, interracial group. She knew an awful lot of people." She attended night courses at Hunter College, and by By December 1972, was halfway to earning a masters degree in her specialty of teaching deaf children.

The last man she took home was John Wayne Wilson. They left the bar together and went to her apartment where they smoked marijuana and attempted to have sex. He would later tell his attorney that when he was unable to perform, she insulted him and demanded he leave. They argued and fought and he picked up a knife and stabbed her multiple times. Once she was dead, he said he was then able to perform and had sex with her dead body. He shoved a candle inside her, covered her with a bathrobe, showered, wiped his prints off everything he had touched, and left.

He had been roaming the country since he dropped out of high school after two years, and had been arrested at least five times in Florida and Kansas City. On January 11, 1973, police arrested twenty-three-year old Wilson for the murder of Roseann Quinn.

He was a complex and conflicted man. He had been married and was the father of two children. At the time he met Roseann Quinn, however, he was in a homosexual relationship with a man.  Although Wilson had been arrested numerous times, there was nothing in his past to indicate he was a violent and dangerous man. On May 5, 1973, five months after Roseann's death, he hanged himself with bed sheets in his jail cell.

There will always be people who feel Roseann Quinn's death was the result of the lifestyle she led. Given the kind of men she chose and the things she did with them, it was only a matter of time until one of them killed her. Others will feel John Wayne Wilson was a sexually confused and tortured man who was destined to kill someone. When Roseann berated him for being unable to perform sexually, she pushed him over the edge.

I think it was a combination of the two. Between the two of them, they had all the elements of a catastrophe needing to happen.  When all the right components of stormy weather converge at one point, forecasters call the disastrous result a “perfect storm.” I think Roseann Quinn and John Wayne Wilson were two badly damaged people who possessed all the components for the perfect murder. If either one of then had been a different person, they might both be alive today.

Earl Staggs ©2016

Texas author Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.

He invites any comments via email at

He also invites you to visit his blog site at to learn more about his novels and stories.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Earl,

I remember the case as well as the novel and movie based on it. You've researched this well.

Unknown said...

Hi Kevin and Earl, I too remember this case and all of the news coverage. Once again, Earl . . . a good post. Thanks, Joe

Larry W. Chavis said...

I remember the news coverage. Good post, Earl.

jrlindermuth said...

I remember the case, read the book and saw the film. As always, you provide a good perspective on the event. Good stuff.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I remember the news story well, and the movie, but it still gives me chills to think of these two people (and others like them) drifting through life waiting for the spark to set off the storm. Good post.

Kaye George said...

Another story behind the story. Excellent! Thanks for the background on this sensational murder.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for coming by, Jacqueline. It's amazing how a little extra digging reveals more about a story.

Earl Staggs said...

Hi, Joe. Glad you liked it. The things some people do fascinate the hell out of me.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks, Larry. I appreciate your comments.

Earl Staggs said...

John, I'm finding no matter how many times we visit a case, there's always more out there to discover.

Earl Staggs said...

Susan, it's definitely chilling to think that people we may pass on any given day can do the most incredible acts. All it takes is the right spark.

Earl Staggs said...

Thank you, Kaye. I always appreciate your thoughts on these things.