"Well, that's that; she shot my son and Truman has just murdered her,
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
— 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
The Old Battleaxe has become boring. You're rich. What do you do?
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 appetizer — hors 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 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
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
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,
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
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
"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
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.
- ABC-TV Australia transcript of broadcast:
- LAWCORE website "Russell Crowe Settles Out of Court Following Dispute":
- A real live attorney admitted to practice before the bar in Connecticut.
- Newsday Magazine Archives: "A Slaying in High Society" by Michael
- "Society Divas: Ann Woodward"
- "Barbaro's run echoes the faded glory of Maryland stables" by Frank
Fitzpatrick, The Philadelphia Inquirer May, 2006:
- "The Woodwards: Tragedy in High Society" by Mark Gribben:
- "The Girl From Kansas" Time, November 14, 1955:
- 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.
http://www.cityofbowie.org/museum/ for photos and tour information of
the Woodwards' opulent Belair Mansion and Horse Farm.