On The Death of Joan Burroughs

Allen Ginsberg in Galveston, Texas to Neal Cassady in San Francisco, September 7, 1951

Dear Neal,

Claude (Lucien Carr) and I went to Mexico and returned to the US a few days ago. Bill was in  South America on some expedition. We took Joan and the kids riding all over to Guadalajara and Mazatlan – Mex Pacific Coast
Car broke down near Houston. I spending week in Galveston on beach, Claude flew to New York. He returns in 4 days by plane to pick up me and car and dog.

Note in newspaper tonight says Bill killed Joan in accident with gun last night  “An American tourist trying to imitate Wm. Tell killed his wife while attempting to shoot a glass of champagne from her head with a pistol, police said today”.
“Police arrested Wm. Seward Burroughs, 37, of St Louis, Mo., last nite after his wife Joan, 27, died in a hospital of a bullet wound in her forehead  received an hour earlier.”
That’s all I know.

I am sitting in a broken down shack across the street from the Gulf of Mexico, I have spoken to no-one since I’ve been here, slept much, bathed a lot, walked around town, have an icebox.

Kells Elvins is in Mexico City, He’s a great man and on the scene so there is someone around to help Bill and take care of kids.

Claude and J(ack) played games of chance with drunken driving, egging each other on at times suicidally while we were there. I left with him from NY at last moment after Jack dropped out to go to hospital for leg and finish book.

Hope everything ok by you. Write me 149 W(est) 21 Street, N.Y.C.  care of Claude. I am nowhere as usual, not doing anything though this summer I worked for a month as a book reviewer for Newsweek magazine.

My imagination of the scene and psyches in Mexico is too limited to comprehend the vast misery and absurdity and sense of dream that must exist in Bill’s mind now – or whatever he feels

All my love


ps – spent several days in Houston this trip- remembering 1947 – but didn’t visit Hotel Brazos – went to look at Shamrock Hotel, drunk

The awful defining moment in William Burroughs’ life. Like Allen observes here, impossible to imagine or comprehend.  We draw your attention to  the collection of primary source documents gathered together by Jed Birmingham for Reality Studio, regarding the event  and the bibliography that accompanies it – here 

and another collection of materials (including Allen’s June 8 1955 Dream Record) – here 


Joan Vollmer (Burroughs) (1923-1951)


  1. “You never understood that it ain’t no good,
    You shouldn’t let oher people get your kicks for you…”
    That’s the dumbest thing…
    Shooting dead your dear wife.
    Why the gun, Bill…

  2. Not a word for the poor Joan😭 this lettera soumds quite unsympathetic and cold, mixing a tragedy with inconsistent details about other people and places…quite disappointing, dear Allen!

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