Documents on the Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs

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Primary Source Documents Relating to the Death of William S. Burroughs’ Wife Joan Vollmer Burroughs

AP wire photo of William S. Burroughs after his arrest for the shooting death of his wife Joan Vollmer Burroughs

This is a collection of primary source documents related to the death of William S. Burroughs’ wife Joan Vollmer Burroughs. On 6 September 1951 Burroughs shot her in the forehead during a small party in Mexico City. Though Burroughs changed his story several times at the advice of his lawyer, the shooting was an accident which probably occurred when he tried to shoot a gin glass off her head in a drunken attempt at playing William Tell. The best sources for further details are:

Report on the Death of Joan Vollmer

American Foreign Service Report on the Death of Joan Vollmer

American Foreign Service Report on the Death of Joan Vollmer

1951 News Photos

These original news photos were sold at an eBay auction in July 2017 to an unknown bidder.

William S. Burroughs after His Arrest

William S. Burroughs after His Arrest

Table Littered with Bottles and the Murder Weapon

Table Littered with Bottles and the Murder Weapon

Witnesses Speaking to Police

Witnesses Speaking to Police

American Newspaper Accounts of the Shooting

Mexican Newspaper Accounts of the Shooting

Published by RealityStudio on 10 December 2017. Thanks to Graham Rae for the American Foreign Service Report and to Michael Stevens for the Mexican newspaper accounts.

6 thoughts on “Documents on the Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs

  1. Wonderful resource here, Jed. That last cuttng mentions it’s a .38 … as I understand it this .38 was a Star and if not made in Spain then licenced from the Spanish manufacturers to a Mexican company for production over there. Either way I have read that this model was well known for being ‘faulty’.
    I also read in an auto-bio by an English writer living in Mexico around then that Mexican law required that any witnesses present at the time of a homicide had to be arrested there and then. This would account for the rapid disappearence of all those present. It was safer to re-appear later.

  2. Good stuff. Personally, I don’t believe it was an accident. Burroughs wanted a divorce and got one. Doesn’t that last Burroughs biography by Barry Miles admit as much? If not, why call the gun a ‘murder weapon’ in one of the photos posted here?

    Just a thought.

    An absolute tragedy from start to finish.

  3. Have the Mexican police investigation files re Joan’s death ever been
    made public? Did the FBI at the time gain access that might thus be
    relevant to an FOIA Request?

  4. No, William S. Burroughs May have been a lot of things; including being in a room where several people ODed (simply didn’t stick around to answer useless cop questions). But a cold blooded murderer … on purpose killing Joan? Absolutely NO WAY!!
    Speaking as a woman, and I’m well aware of how odd it is to hold this man as one of my heroes, seeing he didn’t particularly care for females. I guess that makes me even more fascinated by this man. I can’t stand women either.

    “After all women are a different species than men, but you already know this instinctively, Bill.”

  5. I don’t think it was a murder… read the Grauerholz’s article, if you haven’t already. The whole situation was so crazy!

  6. “Accidentally went of When he dropped a newly purchased pistol on a table”.

    That’s the first time I hear of that.

    So that is the statement he himself made.


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