This is a document from RealityStudio’s collection of primary source documents relating to the death of William S. Burroughs’ wife Joan Vollmer Burroughs. This clipping comes from an unknown newspaper, probably published on 11 or 12 September 1951.
Drunk Yankee who murdered his wife put in jail
The drunken American who shot his wife the day before yesterday has been placed in the District Penitentiary. William Seward Burroughs, under the effects of the alcohol, put a bullet in his wife’s head.
Information gathered by the authorities of the Public Ministry have revealed that Seward, his wife, and a number of Americans met in apartment 10 of the calle de Monterrey 122, where he got drunk with Black Bear gin. At one point, William, claiming to be a very good shooter, placed a glass on his wife’s head and told her to stand at a distance of two meters. Then the drunk shot her. It is not clear whether he aimed at the glass or at his wife’s head but the truth is that the bullet hit the unfortunate woman in the forehead, penetrating her and causing her almost instant death.
Still alive, the woman was picked up at the scene by an ambulance of the Red Cross and taken to the hospital of this institution. The woman expired when she was taken to the emergency room, so the doctors were unable to do anything.
At the site of the tragedy the “matador” was arrested and did not resist. On the contrary, he immediately declared himself the author of the homicide, but gave successively different versions of the way in which the facts had developed.
Before the American was interrogated by the authorities, he was interviewed by reporters. He said he was 37 years old, originally from St Louis, Missouri, residing in Mexico as a tourist in the calle de Orizaba number 210. He added that he had been married to Joan for five years and that they always got along.
He continued telling that the day before yesterday he and his wife decided to pay a visit to a friend named John Heally, who occupies apartment 10 of Monterrey 122. In addition to his friend, other Americans were present. Everyone got drunk with gin.
At one point, he took a 38-calibre pistol from a suitcase and showed it to his friends. Immediately, boasting that he was a very good shooter, he called his wife, placed her at a distance of two meters, and put a crystal glass on her head. At the same time he told his friends that he would hit the glass without touching even one hair of his wife’s head.
The subject was very drunk and so was the lady. He aimed for several seconds and finally fired. He did not hit the glass or even nick it. The bullet lodged in the forehead of his wife, who fell dying.
The American was giving this version to reporters when the well-known lawyer Bernabé Jurado appeared. Immediately he forbade the murderer from continuing to testify in these terms. He warned him about what had happened, saying he would have to spend many years in jail. The lawyer instructed his defendant in such a way that soon the story he gave was different.
Indeed, when he testified before the investigative agent of the Public Ministry, the murderer said that in the middle of his drunkenness it occurred to him to take out the gun and show his companions how to handle it. When he was playing with the weapon, a shot was fired and his wife who was sitting in front of him was hit in the forehead.
He stated that he got on very well with his wife and that the case was purely accidental.
Later the “matador,” interviewed by foreign correspondents, gave the following version:
“My wife had a few drinks. I took the gun to show it to somebody. My wife was sitting about eight or ten feet away from me. The gun slipped and fell, hitting a table, and was discharged. When my wife fell, I thought it was a joke. I went to where Joan was. I moved her in the chair. Someone called the Red Cross but Joan did not come around from her fainting. It was purely accidental. The jealousy that journalists have spoken about is absolutely ridiculous. I loved my wife and I had no reason to be jealous.”
“I did not put any glass on her head. If she did, it was a joke, and I certainly did intend to shoot at it. Bernabé Jurado is my lawyer and I hope he will prove that everything has been an unfortunate accident.”
Autopsy results showing the trajectory the bullet took in the head of the woman will be known later today.