Primary Source Documents Relating to the Death of William S. Burroughs’ 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:
- William S. Burroughs, Introduction to Queer
- Barry Miles, Call Me Burroughs: A Life
- James Grauerholz, The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened?
- Rob Johnson, The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs: Beats in South Texas
- Jed Birmingham, William Burroughs and the William Tell Legend
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.
American Newspaper Accounts of the Shooting
- 1951.09.08 Albany Times Union
- 1951.09.08 Jamestown Post Journal
- 1951.09.08 Knickerbocker News
- 1951.09.09 Albany Times Union
- 1951.09.11 Albany Times
- 1951.09.11 Niagara Falls Gazette
- 1951.09.11 Schenectady Gazette
Mexican Newspaper Accounts of the Shooting
- 1951.09.07 Un Guillermo Tell Mato a su Esposa
- 1951.09.09 Un Americano, Mal Tirador, Mato a Su Mujer
- 1951.09.10 Sewar Quiere Burlar a las Autoridades
- 1951.09.11 El Nacional
- 1951.09.11 Fué internado en la Peni el yanqui borrachín que asesinó a su mujer
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.
7 thoughts on “Documents on the Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs”
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.
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.
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?
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.”
I don’t think it was a murder… read the Grauerholz’s article, if you haven’t already. The whole situation was so crazy!
“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.
No doubt he purposely murdered her. Go read all the newspaper accounts.
Putting it all together I get that he wanted a divorce going on a year at that point. It appears she may have been romantically involved with the guy who lived at the apartment, Johnny Healy. Healy claimed to have no friendship with the couple but according to others Joan had visited him in his apartment plus he was good friends with her and her husband. Burroughs had just returned from Ecuador 3 days ago to reunite with his wife in Mexico.
Burroughs tells 3 different versions of the event.
The gun dropped and fired.
He tried to shoot a glass off her head.
The one the witnesses affirm and he also said; he stood up to check if the gun was loaded and accidently fired.
I go with the witnesses one of whom affirmed that that would not be a way to shoot someone if that was the intent.
However………….Burroughs was a well known gun enthusiast and quite adept at their use.
No everyone over 8 years old should be able to figure out the rest of the story.