William Woodward, Jr.

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William Woodward, Jr.
File:William "Billy" Woodward, Jr. and his wife Ann.jpg
Billy Woodward with his wife Ann
Born (1920-06-12)June 12, 1920
Died October 30, 1955(1955-10-30) (aged 35)
Oyster Bay, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Gunshot
Resting place Woodlawn Cemetery
Residence Oyster Bay, New York
Nationality American
Education Groton School
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Banker, horse breeder
Spouse(s) Ann Crowell (m. 1943–55) (his death)
Children 2
Parent(s) William Woodward, Sr.
Elizabeth Ogden "Elsie" Cryder

William "Billy" Woodward, Jr. (June 12, 1920 – October 31, 1955) was the heir to the Hanover National Bank fortune (later Manufacturer's Hanover), the Belair Estate and stud farm and legacy,[1] and a leading figure in racing circles before he was shot to death by his wife, Ann Woodward, in what Life magazine called the "Shooting of the Century".

Early years and career

Woodward was the only son of William Woodward, Sr., and his wife Elizabeth Ogden "Elsie" Cryder. His mother was one of the "Cryder triplets" of New York society fame. His father was president and director of the Hanover Bank of New York, and was secretary to the Ambassador to the Court of St. James's during the reign of Edward VII. Woodward Sr. frequented the race track with the King and they developed a close friendship, beginning the Woodward equine legacy.[2]

Woodward was educated at the Groton School and graduated from Harvard University. After graduation, Woodward fought in the United States Navy during World War II. There, he received a Purple Heart after a torpedo attack on his ship.[3] After leaving the Navy, Woodward became a director of Hanover Bank. A young, tall, wealthy man, he was considered by some to be the most eligible bachelor in America.[2] He eventually became one of America's finest horse breeders. On the senior Woodward's death in 1953, Woodward inherited Belair Mansion and stud farm in Collington, Maryland,[1] the oldest in America, along with the thoroughbred horse Nashua.

Personal life

During his naval stint, Woodward met Ann Eden Crowell (born Angeline Lucille Crowell),[4] a Powers model and stage and radio actress who also danced as a showgirl in upscale New York nightclubs.[5] There were rumors that Ann was initially Woodward, Sr.'s mistress and that he passed her along to his son. Woodward, Sr. did in fact set his son up with Ann much to the displeasure of his wife Elsie who thought Ann was a gold digger.[3] The couple announced their engagement on March 6, 1943 and were married two weeks later. They had two sons, William "Woody" III (born July 1944) and James "Jimmy" (born January 1947).[6]

The Woodward marriage was reportedly turbulent. Both had affairs, drank frequently and often argued publicly.[7] Ann also began abusing prescription drugs.[3]

Shooting and death

After attending a dinner party for the Duchess of Windsor on October 30, 1955, Woodward and his wife returned to their home in Oyster Bay, New York. Both were nervous about reports of a prowler roaming nearby estates, including their own. The Woodwards were both avid hunters, although Ann was considered a terrible shot, and each went to their separate bedrooms that evening with loaded shotguns. A few hours later Ann heard a noise on the roof and went into a darkened hallway with her gun where she saw a shadowy figure standing in front of William Woodward's bedroom door. Believing the figure to be a prowler, Ann fired the gun killing her husband.[8] Upon arriving at the home, police found Ann Woodward holding her husband's body and sobbing. She immediately confessed that she had shot her husband thinking he was a burglar. Police later arrested a man named Paul Wirths who admitted that he had attempted to break into the Woodwards' house on the night of the shooting.[3] Wirth claimed that he had been scared off by the sound of gunshots.[9] Woodward's mother, however, believed that the shooting had been deliberate but publicly supported her daughter-in-law in order to avoid further scandal.[10] There was speculation that Elise Woodward had paid Paul Wirths to say he had attempted to break into the home in an effort to exonerate Ann.[3]

Three weeks after the shooting, Ann Woodward testified before a grand jury and maintained that the shooting was an accident and she thought her husband was an intruder. The grand jury determined that no crime had been committed.[11][12]


The shooting of William Woodward, Jr.'s immediately became a cause célèbre and was detailed extensively by the mainstream media and tabloid newspapers. Life magazine called the episode "The Shooting of the Century".[13] The story was also frequently gossiped about by the Woodwards' high society friends who speculated that Ann Woodward intentionally shot her husband to get his money.[7] Despite the fact that she was never charged and was cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury, Ann Woodward was banished from high society. The tale followed Ann everywhere and people continued to speculate about her guilt.[13] She spent her remaining years traveling and having relationships with younger men.[3]

The case was brought back to public attention when, in 1975, chapters of author Truman Capote's novel, Answered Prayers were set to be published in Esquire magazine's November issue. The book features thinly veiled characters that are based on Capote's high society friends.[14] Capote was an acquaintance of Ann's and had become convinced that she was guilty of murder (he nicknamed Woodward "Bang Bang").[3] Capote created a character based on Ann Woodward named "Ann Hopkins". She is described as a bigamist and "cold blooded murderess" who shoots her husband after the two arrive home one night from a party. Ann Hopkins also tells police that she mistook her husband for a burglar when, in reality, she kills her husband because he confronted her with evidence that she was having an affair and asked for a divorce.[15] Upon learning of the impending publication of Answered Prayers, Ann Woodward consumed a cyanide pill on October 9, 1975.[3] "Well, that's that", said her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Woodward, "she shot my son, and Truman just murdered her, and so now I suppose we don't have to worry about that anymore."[16] However, Ann Woodward's friends said that she was already suffering from severe depression and Capote's story furthered it.[15]

Both of the couple's children, William "Woody" III and James "Jimmy" Woodward, were asleep at the family home at the time of the shooting. Neither were awoken by the gunshot. Like their mother, gossip and speculation about their father's death followed them for the rest of their lives.[13] After their father's death, they were sent to boarding school in Switzerland. Both would later commit suicide by jumping from windows. As an adult, James Woodward joined the United States Army where he served as an MP during the Vietnam War. While in Vietnam, he became addicted to heroin. After his Army stint, he returned to the United States where he continued to use heroin and was admitted to a mental institution. While high on heroin in 1972, he attempted suicide by jumping from the window of a friend's apartment.[3] On September 1, 1978, he jumped from the window of the Mayfair House Hotel where he was living.[17][18] Woody Woodward went on to attend Harvard University and, in the 1960s, became a journalist for The New York Post. He later became the publisher of More magazine which featured media criticisms. After leaving the magazine, he worked for Hugh Carey and New York City Mayor Ed Koch. In 1978, he ran for the New York State Senate but lost. On May 2, 1999, Woody Woodward died after jumping from the window of his New York City apartment. According to friends, he was manic depressive and had grown despondent over the contentious divorce and custody battle he was going through with his ex-wife.[13]

William Woodward, Jr., his wife Ann and their two sons are buried in the Woodward family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.[19]

In popular culture

Truman Capote's novel Answered Prayers features a character based on Woodward's wife Ann and includes a fictionalized account of Woodward's death. Dominick Dunne's novel The Two Mrs. Grenvilles is also a fictionalized account of the shooting. The case was detailed in the 1992 non-fiction book This Crazy Thing Called Love by Susan Braudy.[5] The series A Crime to Remember on the ID Network featured the story of Ann and Billy Woodward in an episode named "Who Killed Mr. Woodward". [20]


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