It’s not often that a father passes his mistress down to his son, but William Woodward Sr. did just that—hoisting Kansas-born radio actress Ann Crowell into New York’s high society and catalyzing a series of scandals for the Woodwards. When William “Billy” Woodward Jr., heir to a bank fortune and a famous estate, and Ann Crowell met, they had an electric attraction to each other. The two quickly married and began a volatile relationship—plagued with affairs and dramatic fights but full of passion and commitment to making it last.
The year was 1955 and the Woodwards, by then, were considered old money and a well-respected fixture of the upper class. William Woodward Sr. served as chairman of Central-Hanover Bank and was the owner of the renowned Belair Stud, the Maryland thoroughbred farm that had given rise to three Kentucky Derby champions. His wife and Billy’s mother, Elsie, was a queen bee of high society, one of the famously well-married “Cryder Triplets”, and an active philanthropist. Ann—whose first offense was not being born into the Woodwards’ world—hardly did herself any favors by continuously making major faux pas for the era. From wearing red shoes with a blue dress to smoking in public, Ann was seemingly unable to acclimate.
On the night of Oct. 30, 1955, Billy and Ann Woodward attended a party honoring Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Later asked to testify, guests recalled that the couple seemed perfectly happy that evening, albeit quite drunk. At 1 a.m. the pair arrived home to their Oyster Bay, Long Island weekend retreat and retired to their respective bedrooms. Feeling slightly haunted following reports of a prowler in the neighborhood, both slept with loaded guns within reach.
Two hours after they went to bed, the couples’ dog, Sloppy, began to bark. He continued to bark at a mysteriously opened door until Ann emerged, with shotgun in hand. The young Mrs. Woodward saw a shadowy figure near Billy’s room. Spooked, she fired two shots at the moving figure. Almost immediately she discovered it was her husband.
Ann summoned an ambulance, police, and, curiously enough, thought to beckon her attorney, Sol Rosenblatt. Under normal circumstances, a fleet of police officers on duty would have investigated the scene. However, the prominence of the victim called for the Nassau County prosecutor and the Oyster Bay Chief of Police. Ann, in absolute hysterics, was taken to a Manhattan hospital for sedation (at the insistence of her lawyer) where she was spared from investigators for the following 48-hours. All this preferential treatment raised suspicion and served to fuel gossip about the murder and obstruction of justice.
The shooting was front-page news and dubbed “the shooting of the century” by Life Magazine. Many say Elsie had a heavy hand in getting Ann let off by the grand jury—$400,000 is the speculated price tag on sparing the Woodwards from the further trauma and embarrassment of a trial. The elder Mrs. Woodward banished Ann from New York—asking her to take her mourning period somewhere across the Atlantic, where she was most often seen drowning her sorrows in a tumbler at Harry’s bar in Venice. She eventually returned to New York but was hardly received with open arms. Her life continued a spiral of scandal and tragedy, finally halted at her own accord, with a single capsule of cyanide in 1975.
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