The Death of Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs

Jennifer Berube
4 min readFeb 24, 2011

Due to trouble with the law, mainly for drug possession and distribution, William S. Burroughs, his wife Joan and their children moved many times, ending up in Mexico City.

One night Bill and Joan attended a party and, while drunk, it is argued that they decided to play a game of William Tell. While accounts of the events and conversations leading up to Joan’s death differ, it is a fact that Bill did attempt to shoot a glass off Joan’s head and missed. Whether or not they had attempted this trick before is also up for debate.

On Sept. 6, 1951, Bill and Joan visited the apartment of John Healy in Mexico City. A few hours later, Joan arrived at Cruz Roja (Red Cross) where medics began emergency life-saving measures for a bullet wound to the head. Joan had been shot by Bill and pronounced dead at the hospital. She was only 28.

As James W. Grauerholz wrote in his essay, The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened, “At first the killer declared that in the said gathering, after there had been a great consumption of gin, he tried to demonstrate his magnificent marksmanship, emulating William Tell, and to that end, he placed a glass of liquor upon the head of his wife, and aiming over the glass, at a distance of two meters, he fired, but as a consequence and result of the state of drunkenness in which he found…

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Jennifer Berube

Photography Writer, Editor & Content Strategist | Owner of Jennifer Berube Writing Services — jenniferberube.com