He was 26. He had been working at odd jobs in Connecticut, pumping gas, waiting tables. But he "wanted something better," according to his family, so Friday he put on a jacket and a tie and left for a job interview in Washington.

He never got there.

He got as far as New York City, where he was mugged once and stripped of most of his clothes, mugged again hours later and stripped of his pants, then chased naked through Times Square by a jeering mob. They threw bottles at him and laughed at him.

He ran, past the hookers and junkies on Eight Avenue, across 42nd Street, into a subway for safety. Two police officers grabbed him, but with the mob behind him, he bolted. He jumped onto the tracks and died, and as he died, the mob that had chased him laughed.

The police at first assumed he was a vagrant, a crazy, perhaps, and he lay in the morgue for two days. Then his parents called: he wasn't a vagrant, they said; he was their son.And he had called them for help after he had been attacked the first time.

"Mom, help me get out of here," he had said.

Crime stories are not new to New York City. Neither are stories of out-of-towners attacked when they stray into bad neighborhoods after dark.

But the story of Gerald Coury, from the small town of Torrington, Conn., has shocked New York. Perhaps it is because he was a young man seeking a better life for himself, perhaps because of the nightmarish and sadistic quality of the chase through the streets. At the time of the second attack, he had, after all, nothing left to steal -- he was wearing only a T-shirt and blue jeans.He was chased, naked, hounded by a pack. And when he ran into the subway and died, perhaps of electrocution, perhaps of fright, there was no remorse from the crowd.

"They thought it was a big joke," said a transit patrolman, Edwin Cassar, who had tried to stop Coury.

The case is being investigated by transit and city police, and a number of troubling questions -- such as what, if anything, incited the mob to attack Coury -- are being asked. Coury's parents, exhausted, have refused to talk to the press any more.

"I just can't stand to go over it one more time," his mother, Mary Coury, said this morning.

But the following story emerges from published accounts and talks with relatives:

Gerald Coury, who had been a good student through high school and two years of college, had been living for the past month with an uncle, Dave Coury, in Winsted, Conn., about 10 miles from his hometown.

Gerald had been voted "hardest worker" and "most influential" in high school, had graduated in the top tenth of his high school class, and had made the dean's list two years in a row at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn.

But in the past few years, according to relatives, he had not quite gotten a foothold. He had traveled around the country, to Texas, Florida, and Washington, D.C. He had traveled to Lebanon; he was of Lebanese ancestry.

"He always wanted to get a big job some place," said an aunt who asked not to be identified. Dave Coury, who characterized his nephew as "a normal well-behaved young fellow," said he thought Gerald "wanted to travel mostly."

Last Friday, suitcase in hand, he left his parents' home to look for work in Washington. That evening, from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, he called home to tell his mother he had been attacked, his clothes, except for his trousers, stripped from him, his bag and money stolen. He was from the tone of the conversation, clearly distraught, a kid calling on his mother for help.

"He said, 'Mom, help me get out of here,'" his mother told reporters. "I told him to just stay where he was and everything would be all right."

His mother tried to make arrangements with friends to pick him up. Coury, wearing a T-shirt given to him by Conrail workers, waited a while in a Conrail police office, then told officers that relatives were to meet him and left.

Hours later, at about 5:20 a.m. and about 10 blocks away, Coury again was attacked, this time by a group of about 15 youths, who surrounded him and stripped him of his pants. According to police, the youths then started chasing him. As he fled across 42nd Street, police said, others joined in the chase, throwing bottles and cans.

Coury ran into the subway, jumped a turnstile and was stopped briefly by two transit police.

"He never said a word," patrolman Cassar said. "We tried to hold him, but he rolled away and ducked into the subway."

The mob followed. At the second underground level Coury jumped onto the tracks. Cassar tried to shut off the power but failed. Coury seized, or fell on, the electrified third rail and died.

The Medical Examiner's Office has yet to announce the cause of death. Some reports here said that Coury died of a heart attack caused by fright, others that he was electrocuted. There has also been no information from the medical examiner on whether Coury had been using alcohol or drugs.

So, for the moment, a comment from Coury's brother, Charles, is the only explanation being given of why Gerald leaped onto the tracks and died.

"Whether or not after being accosted, beaten, stripped, and abandoned in New York City he was in control of his faculties, I could not say," his brother told reporters. "I certainly would have freaked out after that."