Did Bill Clinton influence the Arkansas medical examiner in 1981 to
ignore available evidence and instead make his autopsy findings favor
Clinton’s mother, a nurse-anesthetist embroiled in two accidental
hospital deaths and a wrongful death lawsuit?
A new Arkansas scandal book sheds light on Bill Clinton’s mother,
Virginia Kelley, and the role she played in the deaths of two women at a
Hot Springs hospital in 1978 and 1981.
Laura Slayton died in 1978 while Kelley was providing anesthesia.
Deer died in 1981 because of Kelley’s alleged incompetence.
“The Boys on the Tracks,” written by Arkansas Times columnist Mara
Leveritt, deals with the mysterious murders of two teenage boys in 1987,
but it also focuses on Virginia Kelley’s involvement in two cases of
Leveritt points the finger at Dr. Fahmy Malak, Arkansas’ former
examiner who conducted the autopsies on the teenage boys and also
absolved Kelley of responsibility for the death of Susie Deer. Clinton
had hired Malak during his first term as governor and protected the
medical examiner from being removed — until he launched his
Incompetence and death
Virginia Kelley, now deceased, was a nurse-anesthetist who worked at
Ouachita Memorial Hospital in Hot Springs, Ark. in the late ’70s and
In 1981, Kelley was named in a lawsuit over the death of Laura Lee
Slayton, who died in 1978 while undergoing minor surgery at Ouachita.
Kelley was the anesthetist during the surgery. The surgeon was also sued
for failing to properly supervise Kelley. Eventually, Slayton’s family
dropped the case against the surgeon, while Kelley settled out of court
and paid the family $90,000 in damages.
In June 1981, just two months after the Slayton lawsuit was filed,
Kelley became embroiled in a second hospital death. This time it
involved a 17-year-old mother. Susie Deer had been riding in the back
of a car when someone in the car yelled a racial epithet at Billy Ray
Washington, a black man, and his wife who were walking home. In
retaliation, Washington picked up a chunk of concrete and threw it
through the back window of the car, hitting Deer in the face.
Deer was admitted to the hospital and underwent surgery to repair
teeth and injuries to her face. Three hours into the operation, Virginia
Kelley was asked by her surgeon to transfer an oxygen tube from Deer’s
nose to her throat. According to Leveritt, after Kelley inserted the
tube into her throat, vomit began coming up through the tube. The
surgeons realized she had put the tube down into Deer’s stomach instead
of her lungs. Kelley tried at least twice to correct her mistake, but
couldn’t do it. Dr. James Griffin took over for her. By that time Deer
had gone into cardiac arrest, and died an hour later.
Deer’s death had to be investigated, and the findings of the medical
examiner, “were going to be very important to Virginia Kelley’s career,”
according to Leveritt.
Then-Arkansas Medical Examiner Dr. Fahmy Malak performed the autopsy
Deer and ruled that she had died of blunt trauma to the head. Billy Ray
Washington was arrested and spent two and a half months in jail. Griffin
told the Los Angeles Times in 1992 that Malak should have considered
that Deer’s death was caused by inadequate care, not the blow to the
head. In fact, according to Leveritt, all three doctors who were in the
operating room that day believed that Kelley had caused Deer’s death
because of her negligence.
Malak’s bizarre ruling favored Virginia Kelley, who was already
another lawsuit for negligence in the death of Laura Slayton, says
In spite of Malak’s ruling, however, the medical community in Hot
Springs was through with Kelley, banning her from practicing at the
local hospitals. Leveritt says in her book that the physicians in town
had long been wary of Kelley’s lack of skill as an anesthetist. They
were also concerned about her unprofessional behavior in the operating
“When interviewing members of the medical profession for the book,
of the things I heard several times was that she was known to come into
the operating room carrying a racing form, which she read during
surgery. She had a kind of cavalier attitude about a number of
practices. Sometimes [during an operation] she’d wipe blood off of her
shoes and wore jangly jewelry and bracelets,” says Leveritt. “She didn’t
seem to think reading a racing form was a very serious breach of
operating room conduct.”
After being banned from area hospitals, Kelley fought back by filing
lawsuit against the hospitals and physicians. She wanted her nursing
privileges back. However, a year after the lawsuit, she dropped the case
and never practiced again.
What did Clinton know
and when did he know it?
During a deposition taken during Kelley’s lawsuit against the
attorneys asked her several pointed questions about Susie Deer and
whether Bill Clinton had given her legal advice on the case.
In one part of the deposition, Kelley was asked:
Q. Explain to me how you can keep your eye on the chart as well as
is going on in the operating room while you are reading a racing form.
A. Very easily. Very easily …
Q. Explain to me how you could monitor the appearance of the patient
while you were reading the racing form …
A. Well, you can walk and chew gum, right? I could do two things at
She was also asked about Deer’s death and Clinton’s involvement in
Q. Did you ever have any contact with the medical examiner prior to
autopsy report being filed in the Deer case, any communication with him?
Q. Do you know or have you heard whether Bill Clinton ever had any
contact with the medical examiner?
A. I have no recollection of it.
Q. Do you deny that that occurred?
A. I deny recalling it …
Q. Did you ever have any conversations with Bill Clinton about that?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. All right. What was said in that conversation?
At this point, Kelley’s lawyers objected and told her not to answer,
based on attorney-client privilege. The questioning then resumed:
Q. Have you ever consulted Bill Clinton as an attorney regarding the
subject matter of the autopsy report in the Deer case?
A. Yes, I have.
Q. Did you do that before or after the autopsy report was filed?
A. I don’t recall.
The Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1992, published a story about Malak,
and Kelley. The Times asked presidential candidate Clinton if he had
helped his mother avoid legal liability in the death of Deer. In a
written statement to the Times, Clinton responded:
“There has never been any connection between my mother’s professional
experiences and actions I have taken or not taken as governor of
Arkansas, and I resent any implications otherwise. … In fact, it was
several years after the incident that I became aware, through the media,
that the ruling made by Dr. Malak in this case was controversial.”
This was a misleading statement, according to Leveritt. During the
period when Deer died on the operating table, Clinton was out of office.
He was not governor of the state at the time.
“This was a side step, I think,” says Leveritt of Clinton’s answer.
second statement is also misleading, she said, if we are to believe his
mother’s sworn testimony. Kelly claimed she received her son’s legal
advice — either before or after Malak’s autopsy ruling. So, concludes
Leveritt, either Clinton was lying in 1992 or his mother was lying
during her testimony. If Kelley is to be believed, “Clinton was much
more closely involved in her legal concerns with this case than he ever
Fahmy Malak’s record
Leveritt says Malak was a “peculiarity” within the Clinton
administration and seemed to be protected long after his medical
incompetence had become well known in Arkansas. Even long-time
supporters of Clinton began questioning why he was so protective of
Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported that Malak had been embroiled
more than 20 cases in which his medical competence was questioned. It
was Malak who conducted the autopsies on Kevin Ives and Don Henry, two
boys who were run over by a train on August 23, 1987 near Alexander,
Arkansas. Malak concluded that the boys had been smoking marijuana and
had fallen asleep on the train tracks. According to Leveritt, Malak’s
ruling strained credulity and brought him to the attention of the
Arkansas media from that point on. His ruling was a “bizarre reaction to
these deaths,” according to Leveritt, “and from that point on,
everything about the case became more absurd.”
Pressured by Kevin’s mother, Linda Ives, a court eventually ruled
the bodies should be exhumed and a second autopsy done. The second
autopsy found that Henry had been stabbed in the neck and Ives had been
beaten in the head with a rifle butt. They had been murdered — and then
placed on the tracks so their bodies would be mutilated to cover up the
crime. Linda Ives maintains that the boys were murdered because they
had witnessed a drug smuggling operation near the tracks.
In another strange case, Malak ruled that Raymond P. Allbright had
committed suicide in his front yard. Allbright had been shot five times
in the chest.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Clinton refused to fire Malak in
spite of more than four years of controversy over his medical decisions.
Just three weeks before announcing his candidacy for president, Clinton
quietly moved Malak out of his position and gave him a job as a
$70,000-a-year consultant on sexually transmitted diseases for Dr.
Joycelyn Elders, then head of the Arkansas Health Department.
The Times quoted Max Brantley, editor of the weekly Arkansas Times,
saying, “We may never know why Malak enjoyed such strong support.
Critics will note, accurately, that Malak has made an autopsy finding
helpful to Clinton’s mother.”
Malak’s ruling, noted the Times, “helped Clinton’s mother avoid legal
scrutiny in one patient’s death — while she was defending herself in a
medical malpractice lawsuit stemming from the death of another patient.”
Reporters have found it impossible to access Arkansas records to
discover if there was a close relationship between Malak and
then-governor Clinton. According to Leveritt, Arkansas is one of five
states that allow a governor to keep his official papers out of the
public domain. In “The Boys on the Tracks,” Leveritt notes that when
Clinton launched his presidential campaign in 1991, he removed four
thousand boxes of records from the governor’s office and stored them at
an undisclosed location. This refusal to allow the public to view his
papers has raised suspicions on the part of critics that he may be
Leveritt says there’s no way of knowing for sure if Clinton convinced
Malik to rule in favor of his mother, nor is there any way of knowing
what Kelley may have confided in her son when he was serving as her
legal counsel during the case. However, circumstantial evidence seems to
point to such a connection. Although there’s no “direct line” between
Malak, Clinton and Virginia Kelley, “When you’re looking for an
explanation … that makes sense,” says Leveritt, “we’d be kind of crazy
not to consider it.”
Fahmy Malak is still employed by the Arkansas Department of Health.