On 6 September 1951 American writer and visual artist William Burroughs, a prominent figure of the Beat Generation and post-modern literature, killed his second wife, Joan Vollmer, aged 28.
Actually, they had never formally registered their relation as a civil or religious marriage, but they used to refer to themselves as a married couple: a common-law marriage, a marriage in fact.
Both of them had problems with alcohol and drug abuse, and had to flee to Mexico, with their children, to escape possible detention in prison. after Burroughs had been arrested for forging a narcotics prescription.
In Mexico, their life was harsh, and Burroughs, who was openly bisexual, started frequenting Mexican gay bars to satisfy his homosexual urges, while Vollmer, feeling abandoned, started to drink heavily and mock her husband openly.
Their fights were more and more violent.
On the night of 6 September, they went to a party in Mexico City where they both heavily drunk.
At a certain moment, the husband took his handgun from his travel bag and told his wife, “It’s time for our William Tell act.”
Vollmer put a glass of liquor on top of her head at some distance from her husband, and closed her eyes, saying she couldn’t stand the sight of blood.
Aiming over the glass, he fired, but he missed the shot and injured her forehead with the bullet, instantly killing her.
When the Mexican police began investigating the shooting, Burroughs gave several contradictory versions of the events of that night. At first he said he had accidentally shot Joan during a William Tell act, but the next day, in court, he claimed he had dropped his gun and it had accidentally fired, while showing it to a friend to whom he was trying to sell it.
Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs (Feb. 4, 1923 – Sept. 6, 1951) was buried in Mexico City, while her husband fled back to the United States to escape prosecution. He was tried in absence and given a two-year prison sentence because he was found guilty of culpable homicide
He never served his sentence because he never returned to Mexico.
The tragedy made a huge impact on his life and writing: he lived a life of guilt, anxiety, bitterness and substance abuse, and became an appreciated writer.