Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs

[Joan Vollmer, Morningside heights, NYC, ca 1944. c Allen Ginsberg Estate]

[W.S. Burroughs and Joan Vollmer, East Texas, August 1947. c Allen Ginsberg Estate]

[La Prensa September 1951]

So much to post, so little time! But, since September 6, a few days ago, was/is the (58th) anniversary of Joan Vollmer's death, we wanted to draw some attention to James Grauerholz' excellent, & meticulously researched, essay on the subject - the event which marks one of the most, if not the most, pivotal points in William Burroughs' life (for Joan, that goes without saying!) Joan's role in the early days of the Beats cannot, in any way, be overstated - it was her apartment where Allen first met Kerouac, and her wit and intelligence easily matched those around her, (as both Herbert Huncke and Allen himself would later recall). At any rate, kudos to Grauerholz for some amazing work here.

More recently, Jed Birmingham's take on the "William Tell act" posted on Reality Studio dissects it's symbolism as well as the Burroughs family dynamic from (father) Mort down to (son) Billy Jr.


  1. Has anyone managed to get at actual Mexico City police investigation files about Joan's death? To interview in long retirement anyone involved with the investigation? Was information provided Mexican investigators by agencies of the U.S. government? Getting at raw facts seems to often sidestepped.

  2. This is an excellent inquiry. Indeed, it seems improbable that once Burroughs' background was understood by the police that they would have done anything other than a sound and effective investigation. And it seems especially improbable that the FBI presence in Mexico City would not have been in effective communication about all this.

  3. Mention of the police charges has been often broad brush as have been notation of the behavioral characteristics of Burroughs that very well might have converged into an enraged, momentary impulse to kill her. For example, it is helpful to know the background of the few weeks preceding the event. And it is critically important to know the brutal "knife jab" that was perceived by all who knew them when
    she said, "You know I can't stand the sight of blood". This matter has not been dealt with in detail, at arm's length objectivity.

  4. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does permit Requests involving
    the files for prominent, deceased persons. I have never heard of an effective third party FOIA Request re Burroughs/Vollmer having been made (e.g. to FBI, DEA, etc. ) and followed up with legal action to require an in camera inspection of Information denied. It is extremely unlikely that the FBI would not have been among U.S. agencies in communication with Mexican police.