Book Review

The Strange Death of Vincent Foster

Christopher Ruddy

(316 pp., Index, ISBN: 0-684-83837-0, The Free Press, New York, NY, 1997.)

"There is no hard evidence for homicide," said Cyril Wecht, M.D. --- at least twice --- "despite egregious conduct at the scene and unanswered questions such as failure to find the slug."

Dr. Wecht, nationally known forensic pathologist and author of Grave Secrets: A Leading Forensic Expert Reveals the Startling Truth About O.J. Simpson, David Koresh, Vincent Foster and Other Sensational Cases, spoke in Atlanta at a meeting of the American College of Legal Medicine on March 10, 2001, on ethics in managed care ("an oxymoron").

My question about his current views on the death of Vincent Foster elicited a well-crafted legal reply, most notable for what it didn't say (for example, "there was --- or there was no --- convincing evidence for suicide").

It is possible that a 33-year-old apprentice machinist has done more to bring the truth to light than prestigious, well-connected, politically dedicated pathologists. Last year, Craig Brinkley filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Criminal Interstate Computer System Administration (NCIC) for the records of trace requests made on the gun found in Foster's hand. There were four: one the night of Foster's death (July 20, 1993); two within four days of each other in March, 1993; and one on April 29, 1993.(1)

The NCIC records should reveal which law enforcement agency made the request and who possessed the gun at the time, although this information has not been released. (All trace requests must be channeled through a law enforcement agency.) The BATF National Tracing Center report obtained by the Park Police showed no owners in the 80 years since the gun was shipped to a hardware store in Seattle.(2)

Despite official efforts to close the case, the questions won't stay buried. Most of them were originally raised by Christopher Ruddy in The New York Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Almost every detail is a puzzle: the neatly laid-out position of the body; conflicting reports on exactly where in Fort Marcy Park it was found; carpet fibers but no soil on the suit; the tardy appearance of car keys and suicide note; the lack of blood; missing X-rays; underexposed photographs; the remarkable distribution of powder burns on Foster's hands; particles of gunpowder on the clothing dissimilar to that in the spent cartridge in the revolver; and on and on. Above all, there is the slovenly investigative procedure, a disgrace in any possible homicide, much more so in the unexpected death of a high White House official.

The book is a documentary, with photographs of the scene, a map of the park, extensive notes, and a detailed chronology. It reads like the first three-fourths of a whodunit. Clouds of witness and clues appear and are sifted, but there is no Lord Peter Wimsey or Hercule Poirot to fit the pieces together in a grand denouement. The fictional blunderers of Scotland Yard look very good in contrast to the Park Police and even the FBI. But there can be no comic relief here because of a profoundly disturbing undercurrent. There is never any doubt about the motives of Agatha Christie's Chief Inspector Japp, however dim-witted he appears to be. But one is forced to wonder whether the FBI really wants to know the whole truth about Vincent Foster --- and if not, why not?

Homicide demands a motive. Why would anyone want to kill a genial person like Vince Foster, a trusted friend and associate of the President and First Lady --- privy to their affairs, including Whitewater, the travel office debacle, and the Health Care Task Force?

Actually, such affairs are cited as a reason for a sensitive man to commit suicide. Investigator Fiske referred to a sarcastic Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Vincent Foster's Victory" in the initial stages of the AAPS lawsuit against the illegal secret operations of the Health Care Task Force. Fiske thought that such criticism was just too much to bear for a man who valued his professional reputation so highly --- the more so for "a man of honesty and integrity."

Two and a half months before his death, Foster gave a commencement address at the University of Arkansas law school, stating: "There is no victory, no advantage, no fee, no favor, which is worth even a blemish on your reputation for intellect and integrity."

Centuries ago, a fictional character named Banquo told King Macbeth, his old companion, "Thou hast it now, ...and, I fear, played most foully for't." Of Banquo, Macbeth said:

...Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be fear'd;
'tis much he dares;
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear: and under him
My Genius is rebuk'd; as, it is said,
Mark Antony's was by Caesar.

Macbeth ordered the murder of his old friend, but the appearance of Banquo's ghost at a banquet spelled his own doom.

Does life imitate art? Vincent Foster, like Banquo, surely carried many secrets with him to the grave. If we ever find out what happened on the day of his death --- and the night after --- we may have a key to many other matters.

If the mystery is ever elucidated, Ruddy's reporting will have played an indispensable role. With new material now coming to light, this book is as timely as the day it was first published.




1. Limbacher C. 'Vince Foster's gun' serial number searched before death. 2001;April 4.
2. Irvine R. Non-smoking gun unravels cover-up. WorldNetDaily 2001;April 7.
3. Shakespeare W. Macbeth IIIi.

Reviewed by Jane M. Orient, MD
Tucson, AZ

Dr. Orient is the Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS),

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2001;6(3):107-108. Copyright©2001 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).