A Review of The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, by Christopher Ruddy
by DCDave

On July 20, 1993, Deputy White House Counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr. was found dead in Fort Marcy Park, Virginia. On January 27, 1994, Christopher Ruddy became the first American journalist to write anything about the death that was both based upon actual interviews of witnesses at the park and called into question the official suicide ruling. Now he has reached another milestone. More than four years after the death he has become the first person to have a serious, critical book on the Foster death published by a "mainstream" publisher, in this case The Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster.

The book, like his reporting on the case, first for the New York Post and later for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, is thick with facts that contradict the official version, a version which we have, up to now, only been given by the initial Special Prosecutor, Robert Fiske, in a sparse, double-spaced, 58-page report (We are not counting the numerous journalists, most notably James Stewart in the Simon and Schuster book, Blood Sport, who have also peddled the official suicide-from-depression story.).

Here's an outline of some of the most important evidence that Ruddy reveals to us:

The Body

Foster was laid out as though ready for a coffin with his legs straight and his arms down by his side.

He was neat and tidy. None of the gore that one would expect when a person has blown his brains out with a .38 caliber revolver was present. Only a trickle of blood was seen oozing from the nose and the corner of the mouth. No samples of skull, brain tissue, or hair were collected, or even reported seen, on the ground or vegetation. There was no large pool of blood. There was no blow-back on the barrel of the gun, his hand, or the sleeve of his shirt. His teeth were not chipped nor his mouth damaged from, as we were told, having held the pistol's barrel deep in his mouth when he fired it.

None of the witnesses in the park reported seeing the large exit wound at the crown of the head that is in the autopsy report of Dr. James Beyer, a man with a record of serious mistakes on autopsies resulting in suicide rulings when murder was more likely. On his report, Dr. Beyer checked that he took X-rays and an attending policeman wrote on his report that Dr. Beyer had told him that the X-rays showed no bullet fragments in the head, yet Dr. Beyer later said, and Fiske reported, that no X-rays were taken because the machine was not working. Service records on the X-ray machine, however, belie the claim that it was not working.

An emergency worker at the park has testified to having seen a small wound on the right side of the neck . Ruddy claims to have seen a photograph leaked to him from Kenneth Starr's office that shows a similar neck wound. Recently, a document was uncovered in the National Archives that indicates that medical examiner Dr. James Haut also reported seeing a neck wound. A good part of the Polaroid photographs taken of the scene have disappeared, and it has been claimed that the 35-mm photos taken by the principal police photographer were spoiled by under-exposure.

The Gun

Neither police nor FBI apparently ever showed the gun found in Foster's hand to immediate family members for identification. The gun was an old 1913-vintage Colt made up from parts of two or more guns. The preponderance of evidence suggests that it was not Foster's gun.

The earliest witness said there was no gun in the hand when he saw the body. The next witness, a Park Policeman, also saw no gun, though he claims not to have looked very closely. One of the earliest emergency workers to arrive has given sworn expert testimony that the gun he saw was an automatic, not a revolver.

No fingerprints from Foster were on the gun or the bullet shell casings.

Powder markings on the webbing between thumb and forefinger of both hands indicate either that Foster held the gun in an impossibly awkward position, someone caused the markings to be there after the death, or Foster was trying to ward off a shot by grabbing the gun by the front cylinder gap.

No matching bullets to the two shells (one spent) in the gun were found anywhere.

The supposed fatal bullet was never found.

The police ruled suicide before ever testing the gun to see if it was functional and had been fired. Originally, the Park Police gave erroneous information about the testing of the gun.

The Note

The note that has been liberally interpreted as a suicide note was reportedly found in a briefcase that had been emptied, searched, and inventoried in front of several investigating officials.

Though torn into 28 pieces, none of Foster's fingerprints were on it.

The Capitol Hill policeman to whom it was unaccountably sent for authentication is not a certified handwriting examiner, and he used only one document putatively written by Foster for comparison.

A serious effort was made to keep a photocopy of the note out of the hands of the public.

A trio of respected handwriting examiners, including the world's leading authenticator of literary manuscripts from Oxford University in England, has declared that the note is a forgery.

Senator D'Amato's Whitewater Committee, seemingly forgetting about their subpoena power, refused to look into the authenticity question because "the family would not turn over the note."

One could continue in this vein with equally strong sketches under "The Spurious ‘Depression'," "The Car and the Keys," "Doctored Statements and Intimidated Witnesses," "The Time of White House Notification," and several other categories, but space is limited and we would not want the reader to think that he now has no need to read the book. The book is well worth its price if only for the truly splendidly-rendered morality play described in Chapter 9 (The chapters, unfortunately, are not named; they are only numbered.). Ruddy seems to be the proverbial fly on the wall as "the hero of the story," federal attorney Miquel Rodriguez makes what looks like a serious attempt to get at the truth, grilling witnesses before the grand jury, only to be undercut at every turn by his superiors, Mark Tuohey and Kenneth Starr. Rodriguez eventually gives up and unceremoniously resigns. Properly executed, this chapter by itself would make a very powerful movie.

The first thing that has to come to anyone's mind as he reads these shocking revelations is "Why haven't I heard any of this before? There is information here that would have sold newspapers by the ton and kept people glued to the TV screens. Whatever happened to the aggressive free press motivated, if not by a love of truth, at least by profit, and where are the sleuths of Watergate?" Ruddy has no answer. He doesn't even bother to ask the question. What terrible secret, incriminating to so many, must lie behind the Foster death? He also has no explanation as to why the supposed "opposition" Republicans have rolled over like trained seals. Again, he fails even to ask the question.

Instead, with as powerful a case as he has, Ruddy gives up the moral high ground by choosing to have his book touted on the dust cover by William Sessions, the man who directed the FBI at the time of the Ruby Ridge and Waco outrages. The tone of the endorsement, the first thing that most readers will see, is so timid and defensive that it almost amounts to damning with faint praise: "Mr. Ruddy has carefully avoided drawing undue inferences about the death. It is legitimate to question the process employed by authorities to make their conclusions."

Ruddy, seeming not to recognize the strength of his hand, echoes Sessions' tone near the book's end with a long, inadequate response to the patently spurious and insincere arguments that he has heard against his pursuing the case "not only from media colleagues, but from leading political and law-enforcement figures as well." Does he not realize that it is they, not he, who have the answering to do?

Finally, I am troubled by Ruddy's omission of a number of crucial facts about the case. To cite the worst example, he does not tell us that the witness, Patrick Knowlton, has filed suit for witness intimidation against a number of individuals working for the FBI. Rather, there is only mention in a chronology in an appendix that Knowlton "file(d) suit in federal court alleging the government violated his civil rights." From what we are told it sounds like no more than a trivial nuisance suit, but it is far more than that. Now that Starr has closed the case the Knowlton suit is the public's best chance of learning the truth, but Ruddy would seem to prefer that we know virtually nothing about it.

The other major pressure point is with the Congress, and the Republicans there, particularly Chairman Dan Burton of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, once a lonesome Congressional champion of truth in the Foster case, completely escape censure by Ruddy. These omissions and others, sad to say, are more than enough to make one question Ruddy's motives. Does he, the outsider who started out at the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York tabloid and then fell to the tiny suburban Pittsburgh newspaper owned by that notable funder of conservative causes, Richard Mellon Scaife, want too badly to be accepted by the cozy, thoroughly discredited club of "media colleagues" and "leading political and law-enforcement figures?" Some things, he should recognize, are more important than that.

David Martin, March 1, 1998

The reviewer is author of  "America's Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster."

See also "Fake Clinton Critic Ruddy," "More Ruddy Trickery," and "Cohen on Ruddy."

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