Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Woodwards: Tragedy in High Society

Life without Billy

James (left) and William Woodward III
James (left) and William Woodward III

The Woodward boys were whisked off to European boarding schools shortly after their father's death. They had slept through the shooting and could offer no helpful information to investigators. The move would have profound ramifications in later years, as neither boy was ever given a satisfactory explanation by mother or grandmother about the events leading to their father's death. For the younger boy, Jimmy, Swiss boarding school would become a hellish place of self-loathing and undeserved guilt.

Ann continued to stand up in the face of a withering storm of scorn heaped on her from all sides. Elsie made it clear that Ann would have a hard time winning support from the Woodward family unless she bowed to the family's demands and unfortunately, Billy had last amended his will when he and Ann were separated, leaving her relatively little property. Ann would have to make do on a $500,000 annual allowance and lost control of the racing stables and heirloom properties.

Ann Woodward crying
Ann Woodward crying

When Elsie made it clear that it was in Ann's best interests to leave the United States for an extended period of mourning (not to be less than four years), she retreated, as so many do, into drugs, alcohol and meaningless relationships with some of Europe's many titled but impoverished nobles. There had always been allegations of drug use by Ann and Billy, and their extramarital affairs were well-known, but Ann's open cavorting set tongues to wagging.

Time passed, Ann grew older and eventually returned from Europe. The reception was still chilly.

It was 1975 — two decades after the shooting — that Ann was finally pushed too far. She had not had a good life in the intervening years and the entire Woodward clan had suffered as a result of the killing.

Le Rosey campus at Rolle
Le Rosey campus at Rolle

Jimmy Woodward managed to make it through Switzerland's exclusive Le Rosey school (its alumni included Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Shah of Iran and the King of Belgium) and volunteered for service in Vietnam so he could serve with a friend who had been drafted. When his friend was killed, Jimmy eased the pain with drugs and drink. In his drunken stupor, he wrote his mother terrible letters accusing her of deliberately killing Billy.  Jimmy's delicate psyche continued to deteriorate as his drug abuse worsened.

Ann visited him once in a detox clinic. The visit was unpleasant. "Why did you shoot my father?" he asked. "Leave me in peace!" Braudy reports that Ann fled from the clinic in tears.

Jimmy became paranoid and convinced that people were spying on him through his television set. He attempted suicide by jumping out the window of a friend's apartment and succeeded in breaking his arms and legs. It was while Jimmy was convalescing that he started seeing notorious prostitute Xaviera Hollander, author of the book The Happy Hooker. Hollander included several stories about Jimmy in her second book, Xaviera, Her Continuing Adventures, in a chapter called "Jimmy, Don't Jump Again."

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