Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Woodwards: Tragedy in High Society

Well That's That...

In time, the stories about Ann Woodward reached author Truman Capote, who ingratiated himself with Elsie's circle and began collecting anecdotes and gossip. The idea for a roman a clef — a novel based on real-life characters — began forming in Capote's mind and Ann Woodward was at the center.

Truman Capote, writer
Truman Capote, writer

The curtain was about to come down on the second act of the Woodward family tragedy.

Capote never let the facts get in the way of a good story and wasn't above using his skill as a storyteller to get back at those who had slighted him. When he and Ann quarreled at a debutante ball and Ann, her tongue loosened by drink, called him a "little faggot," Truman responded by dubbing her 'Miss Bang Bang.'

Mutual friends would recall later that Capote became almost infatuated with Ann Woodward's story and collected every bit of gossip about her he could find. He would recite them at the drop of a hat, friends said, equating his mania for Ann with that of an obsessive-compulsive.

At the request of a friend who edited Ladies Home Journal, Truman penned a wicked story about Ann Hopkins, "a jazzy little carrot-top killer," who resembled "a malicious Betty Grable."

Capote's anti-heroine was a woman of loose morals known as 'Madame Marmalade' by the boys of the French Riviera for a "trick she did using her tongue and jam." The story proved too racy and too controversial for Ladies Home Journal and Capote looked elsewhere for a market.

According to the story, Billy discovered that Ann had been married before and had not gone through with a divorce. The bigamy charge would have allowed Billy to divorce Ann and cast her off without a cent, Capote surmised, and that's why she killed him.

Years later, many members of New York society told author Susan Braudy that Capote's account of the events and motives were "positively factual."

In September 1975, Ann received a shocking telephone call from a friend in the publishing business. Capote had sold his story to Esquire magazine. "In a few weeks, everyone would be talking about the thinly disguised Capote story in which someone very like Ann Woodward turns out to be a bigamist and the former girlfriend of a gangster who traps her rich society husband into marrying her by becoming pregnant," Braudy wrote.

As the publication date of the Esquire issue neared, Ann became increasingly forlorn and depressed.

An argument with Jimmy on the eve of the magazine's publication drove her over the edge. As she prepared for bed, she made up her face with makeup, lipstick, eye shadow and mascara.

"Like the actress she once was, she seemed posed for a lovely death scene," Braudy wrote.

Then Ann Woodward lay down on her side on her bed, took a single cyanide capsule, and died.

Six weeks after Ann's funeral, Elsie Woodward spoke publicly about the tragedy.

"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."

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