August 14, 1944, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs were arrested as a material witnesses in the murder of David Kammerer.
The story goes, Kammerer was infatuated with their mutual friend, Lucien Carr, and had been stalking him since Carr was in high school–following him from city to city. When Kammerer turned agressive, Carr stabbed him in the heart with a Boy Scout knife (in self-defense, naturally) and rolled him into the Hudson River. He went to William Burroughs, who gave him money and encouraged him to turn himself in; Carr then went to his pal Kerouac and talked him into helping him dispose of the remaining evidence.
Carr did turn himself in, by the way–though the authorities did not believe his story until someone found the body floating in the river. Ere go how Burroughs and Kerouac became material witnesses.
Burroughs’ family bailed him out, and made him move back to his hometown. Since his father refused help, Kerouac did the only thing to do–he agreed to marry Edie Parker, so she could pay bail. They were married at City Hall, August 22, 1944, with Kerouac handcuffed to a detective. So romantic.
In an interesting twist, earlier on the day of the murder, Kerouac and Carr had attempted to stow away on a merchant marine ship bound for France. Their guises–Carr a deaf-mute and Kerouac his translator–were uncovered at the last minute, and they were thrown from the ship.
The rest, as they say, is history.
You can read all about the sordid affair in the collaboration between Kerouac and Burroughs titled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (you do not want to know from whence the title originated). For each chapter written by Kerouac, there’s an alternating chapter by Burroughs. It was never published in their life times. In the words of Burroughs, it’s “not a distinguished work.” Still, it’s worth a spot on your shelves, as a backstage peek at the Beat generation, if nothing else. It’s also a real-life intrigue, proof that truth can, indeed, be stranger than fiction.