Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vincent Foster

Damning Evidence

Book cover:  A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm
Book cover: A Washington Tragedy:
How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited
a Political Firestorm

With the floodgates of speculation now open, questioning the suicide verdict, the press and Republican members of Congress began an open assault on the three-week investigation that had ruled Foster had killed himself. An invaluable guide to how this process unfolded is Dan Moldea's book A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm. As Moldea recounts in day-to-day specifics, Ruddy and others in the press begin to highlight what they saw as deficiencies in the Park Police conclusions. Ruddy's reporting earned him the respect of William Sessions, the former FBI chief fired by Clinton, who wrote the Post reporter a letter detailing how Foster had been involved with a power struggle between the Justice Department and the FBI. Because of this conflict, Sessions wrote, the FBI was not allowed to investigate Foster's death. Ruddy's article revealing Session's claims only fanned the cover-up flames. As the story gathered speed and mass, papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post began their own forays into questions of whether Foster was murdered.

But it was the right-wing elements of the press that pushed hardest on the various threads of conspiracy. Their arguments boiled down broadly to questions and allegations concerning these five elements: the gun; Foster's car; his body condition; whether Foster actually suffered from depression; and the Whitewater/Arkansas connection.

The Gun

The gun
The gun

The most damning charges for an alternate explanation for Foster's death concern the gun in his hand. The first people to view Foster, Kyle and Fornshill, saw no gun. No one in his immediate family could identify the black .38 Colt, though his wife Lisa was aware of a silver handgun Foster kept in their bedroom. None of Foster's guns were registered with Washington, D.C., officials. Made in 1913, the Colt was too old to trace, leading the Post's Ruddy to charge it was a "drop gun," i.e. a weapon left at a crime scene that can't be traced. The way Foster's thumb was jammed into the gun's trigger was also viewed as odd by forensics experts. There was a lack of gunpowder on Foster's tongue, strange for someone who shot off a gun in his mouth. The bullet was never found. Forensics tests were only completed on the gun after the Park Police and FBI investigations had closed.

The Car

Photo of gun under hand
Photo of gun under hand

Other visitors to Fort Marcy Park claim the only other car in the parking lot was brown, not the grey of Foster's Honda. Judith Doody and Mark Feist, who were at the park together that afternoon, told investigators that a shirtless man was sitting in a brown Honda while another man worked on its engine. According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's book The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, The Unreported Stories, Doody and Feist watched as the man working under the hood walked off into the woods. Patrick Knowlton, who'd also stopped at the park to urinate that day, saw a brown Honda with Arkansas plates as well. He also reported a man sitting behind the wheel of a Japanese car who "glowered" at him as he walked past, according to Evans-Pritchard. In the brown Honda, assumed to be Foster's car, he said he saw a briefcase, though Park Police never found any case. Foster's car was also never logged in or out of the White House parking lot that day, Evans-Pritchard writes.

The Body

Shirt identified as that of foster's on the day of his death.
Shirt identified as Foster's on the day of his death.

Four of the emergency workers first on scene with Foster's body testified before Congress that they saw a wound on his neck, with two describing it as a gunshot wound. The way the blood collected around his shirt collar and shoulder was observed by some as unusual, as was the overall lack of blood seen by rescue workers as strange. Even though he'd walked hundreds of feet into the park, no soil samples were found on Foster's shoes.

Was He Depressed?

Evans-Pritchard questions whether Foster was truly depressed, as none of the initial interviews with his friends and family indicated that they thought he was feeling low. The White House changed its story on the possible motive after Foster's note came to light, saying he'd been in a deeply depressed state. And while he'd sought the names of psychiatrists, he hadn't thought it so bad that he'd even made an appointment yet. Foster surely was a man who kept to himself. And the verdict of depression, as Evans-Pritchard puts it in his book, certainly makes for a good cover story on a suicide.

"I do not know whether Vincent Foster was depressed before his death. It is irrelevant," Evans-Pritchard writes. "The hard evidence indicates that the crime scene was staged, period."

Whitewater/Arkansas

Book cover: The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, The Unreported Stories
Book cover: The Secret Life of Bill
Clinton, The Unreported Stories

Another sturdy leg in the conspiracy theory was Foster's connection to Whitewater. After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the scandal faced a fresh set of investigations. As the Clinton's personal attorney on the case, Foster has been accused of knowing too much about the intricate dealings. The White House stonewalled outside investigators and went through Foster's papers as Park Police only observed. Surely they were hiding something.

An Arkansas connection is attributed to Foster's death through the indictment on the same day Foster died of David Hale, the owner of a finance company that had loaned Susan McDougal, a business associate of the Clintons, $300,000 in 1986. McDougal was another investor with the Clintons in the Whitewater deal. Later, Hale alleged that Bill Clinton had pressured him to make the loan to McDougal. Foster is suspected of knowing of the indictment, causing him to take his own life rather than face the legal troubles to come.

These threads are discussed in much greater detail in Evans-Pritchard's book and in Christopher Ruddy's The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, An Investigation. Moldea's A Washington Tragedy, in turn, subjects almost every charge to deep reporting and lengthy explanation. For example, the FBI investigation did find mica particles on Foster's shoes that match those in Fort Marcy Park, according to the Fiske report.

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