"Well, that's that; she shot my son and Truman has just murdered her,
and so now I suppose we don't have to worry about that anymore."

Elsie Woodward, six weeks after her daughter-in-law's funeral

It was ... possibly the most shameful situation that I've ever gotten myself in in my life,
and I've done some pretty dumb things in my life.

— Russell Crowe, on the David Letterman show

This writeup seeks to examine the various ways justice is dispensed in the United States and whether or not one's wealth or status has anything to do with the fairness or lack thereof of the outcome for the accused.


A recent example of all the advantages one has if one is a criminal who's wealthy and privileged

Not too long ago, the tabloids, gossip columns and even the conventional media took great interest in the story of New Zealander Russell Crowe, the actor, and an altercation he had with a New York City hotel concierge. Apparently he could not reach his wife on the telephone in his suite, and determined the telephone was broken. Within view of witnesses, an irate Crowe, wielding said telephone, barged out of an elevator and culminated a heated discussion between he and the hotel employee with an assault on the person of the employee — by throwing the telephone at him, causing lacerations to the employee's face and neck which required a trip to the hospital. Now, Mr. Crowe was charged with a class D felony assault (worth eight years in jail) and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree (the weapon being the telephone; the jail exposure for this misdemeanor being one year). A handcuffed Crowe (calm down, outies) was arraigned and released on bond. Before six months had passed, things worked out fine for the handsome young hellion. Charges against Mr. Crowe were dropped after an out-of-court settlement was made to the satisfaction of all involved parties.
 

If you're not wealthy nor privileged, but comfortable, dealing with criminal charges is still a pain in the ass

In my own state of Connecticut, an assault committed by merely pushing or shoving the victim merits a misdemeanor charge and a potential jail term of up to five years. Add to the assault any sort of weapon (yes, a telephone is considered a weapon) compounded with physical injury on the part of the victim and the charge is that of Felony Assault with a Weapon (no, a telephone is not considered by Connecticut law nor case precedent a "lethal weapon" - just a weapon). Fifteen years is the usual and customary maximum term of incarceration for such a crime.

Had the perpetrator of what we'll now call for the sake of brevity the Hotel Telephone Assault been me, I guarantee you that I'd have at the very least been given a suspended sentence, a Felony conviction (which restricts my right to vote), and hundreds of hours of community service, or worse. You see, for a Felony crime, says my attorney, the legal fees start at $15,000 (not including expenses; court costs, copying, etc.) and escalate in proportion to the diligence with which the State's Attorney pursues the prosecution of the case. So we're essentially talking about a significant financial hardship, plus an investment of time (not to mention the question of whether or not a bond could be arranged to assure my freedom pendente lite). Finally, it goes without saying that the Felony arrest of someone with my rather high profile in the community would be a public relations nightmare for my businesses and could cause me not only loss of face but serious financial losses, as well.

Worse, should the judge wake up on the wrong side of the bed on the day of my sentencing, I potentially could spend time in jail, where the chances of my suffering a serious injury or death are exponentially higher than that of those  who work in a coal mine, and those horrible chances infinitely higher than those of us who lead our lives employed in less hazardous lines of work. The last I heard, one in a hundred inmates in Connecticut's jails are either seriously or fatally injured per year. And there are more than 30,000 souls behind bars in the Nutmeg State.
 

You're poor and don't have access to money nor a lawyer. It sucks to be you.

What if the assailant had been a minimum-wage worker? (Let's continue to use my own State of Connecticut as an example, because I'm much more familiar with the complex morass of squeaky, snail's-pace cogs that constitute the fair state's system of jurisprudence.) The poor soul, absent a wealthy relative to post bail, languishes in a County Jail waiting for his court date. Without question he loses his job because of his inability to show up. He is then assigned an over-worked and under-paid public defender to act as his advocate.

After a court appearance or two (and the recommendation by the public defender that going to trial by a jury of his peers is not an option because he'll probably be found guilty, because of the witnesses, and then the judge will impose the maximum sanctions, and perhaps a little more, for further burdening the state's already severely back-logged courts) our poor humble soul pleads guilty to a D felony (and no misdemeanor) but rather than enjoy the mercy of the Court, nonetheless ends up in the maw of the state's Department of Corrections. For years.

What would you hazard a guess our poor underprivileged soul learns in prison? That crime does not pay? The statistics prove otherwise; once incarcerated, individuals return with alarming frequency for more and more serious crimes. Although an ex-con is nearly always admonished not to associate with criminal elements upon his release, what the heck do you think he's doing prior to his release? Learning how to make money the "easy" way from those who've already learned how. I invite you to argue the matter with me until you're blue in the face; but I'm firm in my opinion that criminals beget criminals.
 

The Old Battleaxe has become boring. You're rich. What do you do? Kill her.

The late 1970s brought us the tantalizing story of crime among the rich and famous (long before Dominick Dunne began broadcasting his popular true-crime television program). One Claus von Bulow was charged with causing his wife to become and remain comatose due to an injection of insulin, with malice aforethought and intent to commit murder.

For those who don't remember the case, Mr. von Bulow was the second husband of "Sunny" Crawford Auersperg von Bulow. Mrs. von Bulow not only was wealthy in her own right, but had succeeded to land millions (and a lovely mansion in Newport, Rhode Island) from her first husband, a European Prince. No Prince, von Bulow was an ersatz-socialite worth a mere couple hundred thousand dollars whose charm, debonair and intellect allowed him entree into the world of the rich and famous. Upon Sunny's divorce, he courted her with all his might, hell-bent on living out his life in the style to which he'd become accustomed. Must be boring; Newport parties in the summer; Palm Beach in the winter; and jet-setting it to Europe in the off-seasons.

Now, the evidence that Mr. von Bulow had caused Sunny's irreversible coma utilizing insulin was somewhat sparse. A bag containing syringes and insulin was found in the Newport house, but a lot of the evidence was garnered from testimony; not only from Sunny's loyal maidservant, but from Sunny's children by her first husband, who, absent von Bulow's viability as heir apparent, stood to inherit a whole lot of dough when the comatose socialite finally succumbed and went up to attend the great, eternal Charity Ball in the sky.

An aside, comics of the time often told versions of the joke "Q: What's Claus von Bulow's favorite song? A: 'When Sunny Gets Blue'."

Despite the complete lack of evidence that it was indeed von Bulow that injected his wife, and despite the fact that two of the prosecution's witnesses were interested parties, von Bulow was convicted by a jury.

Ne'er fear; all was not lost for poor Claus. Jet-setters whom he'd charmed as surely as he had the bedridden, vegetating Sunny, intervened on his behalf. Famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz was hired to represent von Bulow on appeal. And appeal he did. He shot more holes in the prosecution's first case against Claus than a U.S. soldier with an automatic rifle firing at a suspected Hussein-hideaway in Baghdad during Desert Storm. And Claus came away smelling like a rose, innocent of all charges. The cost of Mr. Dershowitz's services remains a mystery, but let's suffice it to say that his fee was large with a capital "L."
 

The Stuff Novels Are Made Of

All the things I wrote about above were merely an appetizerhors d'oeuvres and cocktails, let's say — to get y'all in the mood for what was dubbed in 1955 "the shooting of the Century." The "trial" in this case was held in a venue not made of marble walls and stately wooden appointments, no. This trial took place in the arena of public opinion and the sentence handed down by the "tribunal" if you will, completely ignored the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Evangeline Crowell was born in 1915 in Pittsburgh, Kansas. Her parents soon divorced and she was raised by her mother; her father having run off, not to be heard from. Mom married and divorced again. During the depression, her mother ran a 4-cab taxi agency in Kansas city, and she and Evangeline lived in rooms in back of the hack garage. Evangeline seemed doomed to be part of the pre-Depression human flotsam and jetsam of America. The only thing she had going for her were her breathtaking good looks. She left mom, changed her name to Ann and moved to Kansas City in hopes of finding success acting. She ended up moving to New York City permanently, eschewing the midwest and embracing all that was available to a charming, beautiful young woman in the big city. She was hired by the prestigious modeling agency of John Robert Powers, no easy feat. (Powers himself said that back in the late 1930's fashion houses and magazines wanted "An all-round, wholesome-looking girl," but that by the time of this quote, the mid-'50s, "We don't get calls for them like that any more. Nowadays they want a cadaverous look." — sound familiar?) The model became a starlet, appeared on stage and radio, and changed her name to Ann Eden. By 1940 she won the (peculiar) title of "The Most Beautiful Girl in Radio." (What was that? Oh, yeah; they didn't have television in 1940.)

Already living high on the hog, Ann yearned for more. More celebrity, and more money. She got both by performing as a show girl at FeFe's Monte Carlo, a popular night club. It was in this atmosphere of risque sophistication that, according to hearsay, she met William Woodward, Sr. in 1942. Woodward was a powerhouse banker and entrepreneur who earned world fame as a breeder of the finest racehorses, and first sole owner of the  Belair Stud and Stable, the finest breeding-ground for Kentucky Derby winners for the first half of the 20th century, in Bowie, Maryland. Now, William was a married man, although his wealth and position enabled him to seek the company of young attractive women — it came with the territory. He ended up keeping Ann as a mistress, and when the time came, in classic tradition, passed her down to his son, William "Billy" Woodward, Jr.

Woodward Sr.'s wife Elsie (nee Cryder) came from a good old family — comfortable but by no means approaching the wealth of the Woodwards or any of their peers. Nonetheless, the three girls in her family married "up"; when William Woodward married Elsie Cryder the Astors and the Vanderbilts failed to attend the wedding; how could a blue-blood like Woodward bring a common tart* into the exclusive company of the notorious "400" — the gilded age's highbrow social set. Although the similarity between Elsie's marriage to William Sr. would be a far cry from the difference in status between Ann and William Jr., perhaps the fact that Elsie had to work hard at attaining a position within the world of society could be considered a cause of some of the transgressions she visited upon Ann in later life. And although William and Elsie Woodward moved among them, they were never truly considered by their peers as members of the "400." It's interesting to note that the wives of William Woodwards Senior and Junior shared something beside a lust for the good life; their maiden name initials are both "E.C."

*Remember, a tart is not a cake.
 

Family Stuff - And Ann the Pariah

The Woodward patriarch, James Woodward, joined the board of directors of the Hanover Bank and Trust (later Chase and J.P. Morgan) in the late 19th century. He became the bank's president and bought Belair Stud and Stable outright from the consortium that owned it in its infancy. Woodward the elder built the fabulous Belair mansion in Bowie, and by the 1950s had established the family in the exclusive class of "old money." His son and grandson followed suit.

During college when the rest of his friends dated regularly and would brag about having a woman on each arm, Billy was more of a sportsman. His lack of a date at many affairs sparked hushed rumors of homosexuality. That stopped after he visited the same club his father frequented, and saw Ann Eden for the first time. Although he was one of the most eligible bachelors of the "400," as the highest of high society were then called, he couldn't take his eyes off of the ravishingly beautiful Ann Eden. They married shortly after a two-week engagement. He'd just graduated Harvard and set off on a tour of duty with the Navy. Now, Billy, although raised in a world of wealth and privilege, was nonetheless a pretty tough guy. He earned a purple heart serving his country in the Navy when his ship was sunk. When he returned from the service, he and Ann settled down into what for only a short time would be wedded bliss.

Now, Elsie, William Sr.'s wife, had become the high priestess of Newport and New York society, frequently hosting Vanderbilt and Astor wives, as well as visiting royalty, in the sitting rooms of her many opulent homes. One would think that a mother would only want happiness and prosperity for her son. Nothing was farther from the truth. From the moment Elsie set eyes on Ann, she despised her. Elsie felt that Billy had married a woman well below his social status. Worse, Elsie thought she could see through Ann's sophisticated charm and demure; and what she saw was a gold digger who was after Billy's significant portion of the Woodward fortune. This feeling soon rubbed off on Elsie's friends, all gossipy old-money matrons, and they collectively gave Ann the cold shoulder at any gathering at which she was included. Try as she may, Ann never really earned any appreciation at all from the social set she so desperately wanted to be part of. In fact, even Billy's own sisters shunned her. They repeated stories that amplified Ann's lack of social skills; e.g., wearing red shoes with a blue dress, and worse, smoking in public long before that kind of behavior was tolerated of society girls.

Peculiarly, Ann had a very powerful ally in the world of the international rich and famous; that woman was none other than Wallis Simpson, the divorcee whom King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to wed. On different levels, the two were indeed in similar predicaments when it came to the scorn lashed out at them by self-proclaimed "persons of propriety and status."
 

Trouble in Paradise

Doing her duty, Ann gave birth to two sons, an heir and a spare. With William "Woody" and James by their sides, for all appearances the Woodwards seemed the perfect family. With a townhouse on the Upper East Side and an estate on Long Island's exclusive North Shore, they jumped right into the social swirl Billy never much cared for and had hoped to avoid by marrying a woman who ostensibly (at least to him) wouldn't fit in with the rigors of society life.

Ann loved the gay life, the excitement of being always on the go — and she drew Bill into it. He wasn't as enthusiastic about it as she was, but he went along with it.

— Elizabeth Woodward Pratt, sister of William "Billy" Woodward, Jr.

Ann and Billy began to quarrel with increasing frequency. At first, their quarrels were kept at home. To the shock of relatives and friends alike, it soon became apparent that no white-tie and tails function nor hunt club luncheon was off-limits for their fighting, which occasionally came to blows (well, slaps, anyhow).

To make matters worse, they both had roving eyes. Ann, it was rumored, had had relations with the Aga Khan, as well as with numerous international playboys. Billy was rumored to have shared his bed with myriad debutantes. The rumors of Billy's bisexuality were making the rounds again, as well. One evening, at a party, the guests were nonplussed as Ann threw an ashtray at Billy and screamed, "why don't you just bring a man into our bed, that's what you want, isn't it?!"

In 1947, Billy had fallen in love with an Italian princess, Marina Torlonia, a beautiful rail-thin woman. When Billy approached Ann for a divorce she became hysterical and asked him for so much money that he eventually dropped the idea and the princess. People said Billy was too much of a gentleman to divorce Ann because she wouldn't give him permission. After a brief separation, they decided to stay married for the sake of the children. It became apparent that both were resigned that given the fast life they led the fighting came with the territory. They took their vows "till death do us part" seriously. Nevertheless, the intensely jealous pair often each hired private detectives to spy on the other's doings.
 

The Shot Heard Around The World

William and Ann Woodward would be among the 58 guests invited to gala party honoring the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on Oct. 30, 1955, at the Locust Valley estate of Edith Baker, widow of a wealthy banker. One subject of discussion at the party was a wave of burglaries sweeping North Shore mansions.

Guests at the party would say later that the Woodwards seemed in good spirits. William Woodward had only a few drinks. His wife, then a teetotaler, drank nothing. They left about 1 a.m. Later, party-goers told investigators that both seemed to talk incessantly about the burglaries, mentioning footprints about the grounds, things gone missing, and Ann's dog barking in the middle of the night, awakening her. The Woodwards began putting firearms at their bedside.

The evening of October 30th, William had his revolver on the nightstand in his bedroom. Ann had a 12-gauge shotgun by her side in her own bedroom directly across the hall.

At approximately three in the morning, Ann's dog again woke her. She was surprised to see a figure standing in the hallway outside her bedroom door. She picked up the shotgun and discharged both barrels. The first scattering of shot blasted through one of the double doors; the second hit the figure in the doorway straight on. It was only after she'd fired that she realized that the figure in the night was probably her husband. She called police, an ambulance, and an attorney. William Woodward, Jr. lay dead, the victim of the second round. His body was nude.

When the police arrived, Ann told them straight away that she'd shot him; that she thought it was the "North Shore Burglar" and that she'd made a terrible mistake. Her attorney, a Nassau County power-broker, arranged for her to be taken to a private hospital in Manhattan. She could not be questioned by police investigators until 48 hours after the incident.
 

"There's nothing like a murder in the country to cure what ails you."

The Dutchess of Windsor said that to the press by way of aggregating the sentiments of Ann Woodward's society "friends." Of course, a murder in the family is the ultimate source of shame to any family. But in the world of high society, it's a good way to get off of the A-list, fast. What the society matrons didn't know was that during their separation, most of Billy's money and all of his property was willed to his two children, in trust. They assumed that Ann had killed him to get all of the money. The Dutchess had made the statement without any idea that Ann hadn't been charged with any crime. However, working against Ann was the fact that although the evening of the shooting she was hospitalized for hysteria, she'd had the presence of mind to call her attorney, after calling an ambulance and the police.

Shortly after the shooting, during the investigation, the police discovered a tramp who claimed that he was at the Woodward residence the night of the shooting, and that he was the "North Shore Burglar." He spoke of being inside and seeing a room with a safe, and running to hide outside when the shots rang out, breaking a tree branch as he fell out a window. The police found the broken branch, and it was indeed outside of a room with a safe. How else, unless he was there, could the man have known?

On the other side of the coin, rumors were flying that Elsie Woodward had paid off the tramp, one Paul Wirths, to tell his tale in order to spare the family the humility of a murder trial. Only time would tell.

Shortly after the burial of William Woodward, the district attorney convened a Grand Jury to hear testimony from investigators and from Ann herself. After only half an hour's deliberations, they determined that the shooting was accidental and without malice and that no crime had been committed. Ann was a free woman.

The Woodward boys were sent off to European boarding schools. Although both were asleep in their beds the night of the shooting, they heard nothing; neither awakened until the arrival of the authorities. They had no information to give to investigators. Neither mother nor grandmother offered any explanation as to what had gone on. The two, particularly Jimmy, the younger, suffered deep psychological wounds for the rest of their lives as a result.
 

"Annie Get Your Gun"

While Billy was alive, the society grand dames barely tolerated Ann. After the shooting, their treatment of her was as cold as Beluga caviar in a sterling-silver bowl-icer. She spent most of her time close to Elsie, who one source said "viscerally hated Ann but refused to give up the appearance of civility." Elsie's friends in the teatime and Charity Ball circuit put up with it; even though one rumor had it that Elsie herself had signed checks in the amount of over $400,000 (1955 dollars) to quash the investigation, putting family name before legal justice.

Because Billy had left most of his estate to the boys, Ann had to get by on a mere $500,000 annual allowance. She lost the fabulous homes and the interest in the Maryland farm.

Elsie essentially ordered Ann to go to Europe for an extended period of mourning (to be not fewer than four years). During that time, she engaged in boozy, drug-infused flings with various members of the sordid underbelly of European royalty, many of whom were in similar financial straits as she. Also during this time, her younger son became deeply involved in drugs. He wrote Ann awful letters accusing her of killing his father intentionally. Jimmy ended up in a drug-induced psychosis, at one time attempting suicide but only succeeding in breaking both his arms and legs.

The back-stabbing, rumor and innuendo bore down on Ann like a vise's grip, but she stood fast. She moved from the Oyster Bay estate to a lovely Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan. But, as they say, wherever you go, there you are.
 

Revenge is a Platter Best Eaten Cold

The old cosa nostra saying holds true for writer Truman Capote, who had a motive for revenge. A liquored-up Ann had called Capote "a little faggot" at a debutante ball, after Capote had called her "miss bang-bang." Capote collected every bit of detail and rumor from all his society friends at New York's toney restaurant, Le Cote Basque. He endeared himself to Elsie Woodward, prying ever so cleverly for more torrid details. His European connections gave him enough information to form a character for a short story involving an American woman nick-named "Madame Marmalade" because of her expertise in stimulating the male sex organ with her tongue and a bit of jam.

Capote became an expert on the murder and the Woodward family. He could recite myriad intimate details of Ann and Billy's various rows, and their infidelities. He came up with a fiction piece (based on the real story) that he wanted to peddle to The Ladies Home Journal but in the end it proved far too inappropriate. Ann had little notion of what Capote was up to until one day she received a telephone call from a publishing-industry friend, and later obtained an advance copy of the magazine Esquire. Esquire, it turns out, was going to publish a scandalous story based upon the relationship between Ann and Billy in which the names were changed but little else was. Capote had managed to find out that Ann had been previously married, worse, a divorce had never been finalized. Had Billy (or Elsie, for that matter) ever found out about this delicious little skeleton in Ann's closet, Billy could have got rid of her using bigamy as the charge and Ann would have ended up penniless.

The story, Answered Prayers, ended up being quite factually embellished. In it the female character manages to trap the wealthy heir into marriage by getting pregnant. She is also found guilty of the shooting. But beside these two changes, the rest of the facts rang true and were verified in a factual book written by Susan Braudy in 1992. The impending publication of the litany of scandal that was Answered Prayers finally got the best of the stoic Ann. It was the day before the publication of the story that she was pushed over the edge. Before she got ready for bed, she made up her face; lipstick, eyeliner, shadow and mascara, lay down and took a single cyanide capsule. She no longer had to face the myriad pressures of, well, being her.

"Well, that's that; she shot my son and Truman has just murdered her, and so now I suppose we don't have to worry about that anymore."

— Elsie Woodward, six weeks after Ann Woodward's funeral

So it turns out that Ann Woodward, indeed, received a form of capital punishment for the shooting of her husband. But not via the courts; via a much more sinister route. Sure, life's fine when one's rich and appears in the society columns - but only when one lives a perfect life. And who lives a perfect life? The struggle to the top of the society A-list is a hard one, fought desperately by those who wish to endeavor it. One misstep on the part of a social climber and the rest will trample all over 'em, like theater-goers fleeing a fire trampling each other to get out a single exit door.

Beside Answered Prayers,  writer Dominick Dunne wrote a fictional account of the Woodward affair called The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (Crown, 1985). Dunne had befriended William "Woody" Woodward III, years before its publication, and the two were so close that when Woody asked that the Woodward name not be used in the book, Dunne agreed not to. The book did better on The New York Times best-seller list than did Answered Prayers. It is considered by some Dunne's finest piece of writing.
 

Postscript - The Woodward Curse?

The younger Woodward son, Jimmy, still battling his demons with drugs and alcohol, survived only a year after his mother. The second time he attempted his life by leaping to his death, he succeeded.

Woody Woodward was living a comfortable life in Europe, after having been involved in New York State politics for awhile. His marriage went sour, and his wife filed for divorce in 1996. Until that time he was proof that those who suffer bipolar disorder can lead normal, satisfying lives. By 1999, his destroyed marriage and ongoing custody battle took their toll, and he followed in the family footsteps; he plunged out of a window in his East side apartment to his death. His estate was valued at $35 million.
 

SOURCES:

  • ABC-TV Australia transcript of broadcast: www.abc.net.au/am/content/2005/s1386272.htm
  • LAWCORE website "Russell Crowe Settles Out of Court Following Dispute": http://www.lawcore.com/legal-information/10-13-05.html
  • A real live attorney admitted to practice before the bar in Connecticut.
  • Newsday Magazine Archives: "A Slaying in High Society" by Michael Dorman http://www.newsday.com/community/guide/lihistory/ny-history-hs804a,0,7223234.story
  • "Society Divas: Ann Woodward" http://www.divasthesite.com/Society_Divas/ann_woodward_a.htm
  • "Barbaro's run echoes the faded glory of Maryland stables" by Frank Fitzpatrick, The Philadelphia Inquirer May, 2006: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmtpi/is_200605/ai_n16386135
  • "The Woodwards: Tragedy in High Society" by Mark Gribben: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/celebrity/woodwards/index.html
  • "The Girl From Kansas" Time, November 14, 1955: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823933-1,00.html
  • Books of The Times:  "New and Kinder Conclusion for a Twice-Told Tale" by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times August 6, 1992:  http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CEFDF1E3DF935A3575BC0A964958260
  • That Crazy Little Thing Called Love: The Golden World and Fatal Marriage of Ann and Billy Woodward by Susan Braudy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
  • "Heir to a Fortune, and to Tragedy; Suicide Ends the Life of a Wealthy, and Haunted, Man" by Jim Yardley The New York Times May 8, 1999.
  • See http://www.cityofbowie.org/museum/ for photos and tour information of the Woodwards' opulent Belair Mansion and Horse Farm.

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