A few weeks ago I posted a review of Deliberate Cruelty by Rosanne Montillo. I subsequently wrote a letter to Ms. Montillo about the book. The letter may have more information then some readers would like before reading the book. I sent a copy of the letter to her. Should she reply I will post her response.
I enjoyed reading Deliberate Cruelty. I was not familiar with the story.
A link to a copy of my review is at the end of this letter.
As I read about Ann’s dysfunctional, abusive, at times violent marriage to Billy Woodward, I thought the threat of a divorce exposing her past was not a credible motive for murder.
Her friends in society knew she was a showgirl from the interior of America.
Divorce, messy or amicable, was not uncommon in her social set.
Her mother-in-law, Elsie, would have been ecstatic, if she ever allowed herself to be in such a state, at having her son freed from Ann. As well, I am sure Elsie would have restrained her son from an expose of Ann to avoid a public scandal for the family.
I was more surprised that Ann did not follow the example of other women of her era such as Babe Paley of divorcing a well-to-do first husband to move on to an even wealthier second husband.
It could not have been because of insecurities that she could not get another husband. She knew she remained attractive. Her affair with Lord William Astor confirmed her continuing ability to beguile men. At 40 had she taken the $2 million previously offered by Elsie and Billy and moved on I consider it a certainty she could have been a “trophy” wife for an older man a generation before the term was in vogue.
Was love enough to keep them together? I accept they continued to care for each other but love does not seem enough to me. However, that she loved him is another reason I do not think Ann murdered Billy.
I believe she recklessly fired her shotgun into the dark with a mind disordered by alcohol, drugs and dread over the prowler. I thought the earlier references to her frightening fellow tiger hunters and servants on the India hunt by her careless handling of guns were important.
I understand the grand jury not indicting her for murder but wonder if the District Attorney put before them lesser charges involving manslaughter or dangerous use of a firearm. Do you know if they were presented with alternative charges?
Elsie was right not to want a trial. Whether intuitively or through information from the police or lawyers she rightly sensed that a trial could have become a circus focused on Billy’s life.
In Canada during World War I a young servant woman, Carrie Davis, shot and killed her employer, Bert Massey. He was a member of one of Canada’s most distinguished families. At trial defence counsel for Davis destroyed the reputation of Massey making Davis the victim who was defending her honour. While Ann could hardly have pleaded she was an innocent, her counsel could certainly have pilloried Billy. (A link to my reviews of a book on the Canadian case are below.)
I did not see in the book whether you thought Ann murdered Billy. Could you share your opinion?
While reading the book I thought of Ty Cobb, the famous early 20th Century ballplayer. In 1905 his mother, Amanda Cobb, shot and killed his father, William Herschel Cobb, with a pistol. (It is a myth it was a shotgun as set out below.) It was night and his father was on the porch roof outside the second storey bedroom window checking to see if his wife was being unfaithful to him. She said she thought he was an intruder. She was charged with voluntary manslaughter and acquitted at trial. Might you be aware of the Cobb story?
With regard to Truman Capote I thought her crude comments on his sexuality and appearance were “reckless cruelty” that reflected a pattern of impulsive behaviour.
On the other hand, Truman was deliberately cruel.
Few in the world, if any, have not engaged in “reckless cruelty” or “deliberate cruelty”. Those with a conscience will regret their words and actions.
I saw in the book Ann did not remember her slights towards Truman. At the same time I did not see if she ever apologized to anyone for her mean remarks about Truman. Certainly Truman had no remorse.
To me Truman’s verbal viciousness reflected a facade of empathy towards his “swans”. Do you think in his mind he actually cared about them?
I plan to post this letter in a few days. If you are willing to reply I would post your reply as part of that post or in a subsequent post if I have already put up this letter.
I hope you will continue to write non-fiction.
All the best.
Charlotte Gray - (2020) - The Massey Murder - A Maid, Her Master and the Murder That Shocked a Country and Comparing a Poor Woman with a Wealthy Young Woman Facing Murder Charges Early in the 20th Century
On the Cobb killing an article, The Georgia Peach: Stumped by the Storyteller, published by the Society for American Baseball Research sets out how a legend was created concerning the claim a shotgun was used. A link is:
I feel like I need to read this book!ReplyDelete
Anon: Thanks for the commentDelete
Thank you, Bill, for sharing your insights on this book. You ask some really interesting questions about it, and you raise some important objections. I didn't know the real story about Ty Cobb's parents. It's an case to compare, if that's the word, to this one. I'd like to read more about this case, and I hope you get a reply to your email.ReplyDelete
Margot: Thanks for the comment. The Woodward death is interesting. I refer to it in those terms since there were neither criminal charges nor a civil action. What happened was never tested in a court. I doubt it would go away today for the authorities as it did in the 1950's.Delete