Ann Woodward was the Platonic ideal of the High Society arriviste, female version, originally from Pittsburg, Kansas, with the voluptuousness and vivacity to drive men wild and the lack of social graces to drive their wives nuts. She was the kind of woman who’d wear red shoes with a blue dress and didn’t worry too much about smoking in public.
She and her husband, banking heir Billy Woodward (Woodward’s father had originally spotted her, likely exasperating her future mother-in-law, Elsie Woodward, the highest of high-society dames), had a very good time. They both slept with pretty much whomever they wanted to—his conquests included women and men. “Why don’t you just bring a man in our bed,” she yelled at him, in one of their frequent, drunken tiffs. “That’s what you want.” But when they fought, they quickly made up—possibly, it was an upper-class version of true love.
It happened after a particularly boozy party at the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s (she and Wallis Simpson, a fellow arriviste, had a deep bond). In their North Shore neighborhood, there had been reports of a prowler, so husband and wife went to bed half-drunk—in separate bedrooms—with weapons by their sides. In the middle of the night, she saw a shadowy figure and fired both barrels of her shotgun. The police arrived to find her crying next to her husband’s body.
The drama delighted their high-society friends, whose pride and insecurity was that all anyone could see in them was dollar signs—of course, a woman like Woodward would stop at nothing, even murder, to get her hands on her husband’s money (in fact, most of it was kept in trust for her sons). A jury took a half-hour to find her innocent of murder—but her sentence turned out to be much more diabolical than mere prison. She was entangled in a heavy web of gossip. One of her troubled sons wouldn’t forgive her for killing his father and tried to kill himself (he’d later succeed, as would his brother). Shortly thereafter, she heard that Truman Capote’s legendarily unfinished gossip novel Answered Prayers was to feature an account of the killing, essentially convicting Ann of murder. Rather than live through a new round of hounding, she took a cyanide pill, lay down on her bed, and never got up. Her mother-in-law, who’d always believed that Ann pulled the trigger with malice aforethought but had kept quiet so as to minimize the scandal, is said to have remarked, “Well, that’s that, she shot my son, and Truman murdered her, and so now I suppose we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”