At the age of 20, Robert Angell believes he has himself figured out. "I know that I'd never get anywhere in society. You have to have certain qualities to get along . . . I don't have those qualities, as far as being interested in school or going to a job every day."
Looking back on it now after a year of courts, psychiatric wards and jail cells, with 40 or more years to go, he feels the events of last March were inevitable.
On March 26, 1976, Angell fired two close-range shotgun blasts - fatal blasts - at two Montgomery County police officers as he fled a Potomac bank he had robbed. Eight months earlier, he had lain in wait in woods off Seven Locks Road and shot to death the first person to walk past him and into the nearby light of a street lamp, 16-year-old James Bernard Wilson.
The whole series of events, Angell said in an interview from behind prison bars at Maryland's Patuxent Institution, was the conclusion of his lifelong pattern of losing.
He finally confessed to the Wilson murder after being apprehended for the police slayings. "If I admitted it, I'd have a better chance of getting the death penalty - I thought. But then they did away with the death penalty. Just my luck."
Far from the stereotypical "lower," Angell grew up among the lawns and tennis courts and bright, ambitious professionals of Alexandria and Bethesda. His father is a Ph.D. and his mother has a college education. His two brothers and two sisters lead normal and often quite successful lives, either in school or athletics or both.
"I was different," said Angell. ". . . The way my life was going, I was going to do something like this sooner or later. It would have happened unless I just said 'screw it' by myself and hung it up," he said in the flat tone, without the self pity that characterized his other comments.
"I didn't feel good (after shooting the police officers) and I didn't feel bad . . . The only thing I really felt badly about was that they had families," said Angell, whose black hair, cut to army length at the time of the crimes, now touches his shoulders.
"But that was their job and they lost out. They were trying to get me and I didn't want to get caught . . . I'm sure they went to policemen's picnics and drank beer and had a good time with their friends. But that doesn't really have anything to do with it," he said.
What he did was wrong, Angell says - but it was necessary for him to do it at the time.
Yet, "I don't consider myself a violent person. If somebody does something nice for me, I'll appreciate it. If something nice comes along for me, I'll stick with it. But those things don't happen to me."
In a rambling, two-hour cconversation last week inside the brick institution where he has spent the last few months, Angell continually referred to himself as a "loser," doomed to perpetual worthlessness. "I'm sure I was a lot happier when I was little. I didn't know any better.
"When I was around 13, I looked at the world around me and saw what I had going for me compared to what other people had going for them . . .
"I know that I'd never get anywhere in society. You have to have certain qualities to get along in society. I don't have those qualities, as far as being interested in school or going to a job every day."
After dropping out of high school in the first few weeks of his junior year, Angell worked as a laborer on the grounds of the exclusive Congressional Country Club, and a few months later reported irregularly to his job pumping gast at Mitch and Bill's Exxon station in Potomac.
But he spoke of the jobs, and jobs in general, with scorn - the same scorn he used to damn himself and his failures.
"I've always been different from most people," he said. "I can't get along with most people and do the things they do . . . I can't stand the cities. I hate crowds, I hate the smell of it . . . everybody's moving along real fast, they've got jobs and everything. It all seems kind of degrading. That's not what people were put on this earth for."
In between dropping out of school and dropping out of his jobs, Angell would take long, unannounced trips out West to hunt, camp, and live off the land. At home, behind the wheel of a car or while straddling a motorcycle, he would tear around the winding roads of Potomac and Bethesda. And he would go shooting.
By the time he was arrested, Angell owned a handgun, a shotgun and a rifle - not counting the rifle he stole from a Bethesda home a week before, he shot 16-year-old Wilson, who had left his home in the Scotland area to go out for a walk.
Angell later told court officials he did this to break the monotony of his life.
In December, 1975, Angell enlisted in the Army, and went to Ft. Knox, Ky., for basic training. He was rated a sharpshooter, the second highest of three marksmanship ranks. "But that whole scene was so ridiculous. In training they just create pain-in-the-ass situations that you have to get out of. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to put up with that. Not me."
Only one incentive could have kept him in the Army, he said: the chance to fight in a war.
So he went AWOL from Ft. Sill in Oklahoma after his advanced training was completed. A two-week furlough he says he was promised never materialized; he took off for home anyway. Then, after a few days, he left again, leaving behind a note to his family that said, "I need my freedom too much."
But he didn't go far. And when he needed money about three weeks later, he went back to the Citizens Building & Loan Association branch in Potomac, which he had robbed of $2,900 six months before.
He might have asked for some money from his meterologist father, James, who was the son of a University of Michigan professor, or from his mother, Margaret, whose strictness he told psychiatrists he resented.
"But in that case, if I had to go back to my parents, I would have had to go back to the army, and screw that," Angell said.
Money, he said, was "very necessary," for him to be able to lead the freewheeling existence he wanted.
If I was going to do anything bad, it'd be because it was necessary. Say, like breaking into a house. If I needed money I'd break in. I know it's bad, but I'd do it.
After his capture two days after the police slayings, after his father had, in effect, turned him in by going down to the police station, trying to find some evidence that his middle son had not done the thing he feared, Angell volunteered his confression to the Wilson killing.
From the widows of the two slain officers, Capt. James E. Daly and Cpl. John M. Frontczak, "I expect hatred," he said. He expects the same from the parents and four brothers and sisters of Wilson. "I expect (the policemen's families) to help keep me in jail.
"Getting out? There isn't a very good chance of it. . .
"If the policemen would have killed me, big deal. By rights, they should have killed me. But it didn't work out that way."