The release of documents from the investigation of Vincent Foster’s death is raising new questions, instead of answering them.
Foster, former White House deputy counsel in the Clinton administration, was found dead in Fort Marcy Park, Va., on July 20, 1993. Several investigations, including one by current Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, have concluded that Foster’s death was the result of suicide.
The FBI, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Accuracy in Media, a national media watchdog organization, released a three-page internal memorandum last week. The memo, dated July 23, 1993, was addressed to the Director of the FBI, from the bureau’s Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Field Office.
The memo reports the initial findings from Foster’s autopsy, when the FBI was cooperating with the U.S. Park Police on the investigation. Page 3 of the memo states that “preliminary results include the finding that a .38 caliber revolver, constructed from two different weapons, was fired into the victim’s mouth with no exit wound.”
The official autopsy report says there was an exit wound in the back of Foster’s head, 1 x 1.25 inches in size.
Foster’s autopsy was conducted by a Fairfax County medical examiner, Dr. James Beyer, on July 21. When contacted regarding the information in the FBI memo, Beyer refused to discuss any specifics about the Foster case. He did say it was “very unusual” for a preliminary autopsy finding to report no exit wound, but then have one appear on an official report. When asked if he had ever seen such an inconsistency before, Beyer said, “I have no comment on those questions.” Beyer has been criticized for his procedures in Foster’s autopsy, primarily because he removed Foster’s tongue and parts of his soft palate prior to the Park Police’s arrival at the examination. This was in violation of Beyer’s own requirements, as he said in his deposition, “any time you have a gunshot wound, and particularly one that might be of a suspicious character, the police have to be present during the autopsy.”
Beyer also worked with an assistant on the autopsy, who was not identified in any of the official reports on Foster’s death, although five other people present were identified. In testimony regarding the autopsy, Park Police Officer Robert Rule said he “asked the name of (Beyer’s) assistant and Dr. Byers (sic) … put me in my place very quickly. He says, ‘You are dealing with me here; you don’t need his name.'”
The assistant’s name has not been revealed.
Dr. Donald Haut, a Virginia medical examiner, was the only doctor to examine Foster’s body while still at Ft. Marcy Park. Haut, who has performed investigations on gunshot wounds since 1982, believed the discrepancy between preliminary findings and final report to be “sort of unusual.”
Haut said that he had seen such inconsistencies before, but stated that “it depends on who generates the report.” He did admit that he “would expect” a preliminary report to determine if there was an exit wound, but didn’t know who generated the initial results from the autopsy.
Haut’s two-page report on Foster had an internal inconsistency of its own. Page 1 of the report describes the death shot as “mouth-head,” while page 2 says the shot was “mouth-neck.”
According to Haut, “there was, in fact, an exit wound in the occipital area of the skull.” He believes the information he had regarding the “mouth-neck” language came from the Park Police, although he couldn’t be sure.
“There were me and two other officers from the Park Police,” said Haut, recounting his examination of Foster’s body at Ft. Marcy Park. “I got down at the foot of the body, and they got up at the top end, and we rolled the body over on to his left side, so I could actually see where the wound of exit was in the back of the head. And there was plenty of daylight left at that time. (The wound) was very, very obvious.”
Haut couldn’t explain how the FBI thought there was no exit wound after the autopsy. “There weren’t any FBI people out (at the park) at the time, so I presume they may have gotten that from somebody else, maybe one of the Park Police, or somebody else on the scene at the time, but that’s speculation on my part.”
When asked if the Park Police should have known in their initial reporting about the exit wound, Haut replied, “I think they should have, yeah.”
Haut believes the most likely source for the FBI’s information would have been the Park Police.
Pittsburgh coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, a nationally known forensic expert, agreed that the inconsistencies between preliminary findings and official report were peculiar. “It depends on what they mean by preliminary,” said Wecht, “there are things you can find out after the body is gone (from the examining room).” Such things would be toxicology reports or other laboratory work.
Wecht said, however, that “an exit wound is not something you’re going to find later. You don’t find a gunshot wound in absentia,” meaning after the body’s been examined and gone.
The FBI memo leaves little room for ambiguity. The statement is clear; the “results” from the “finding” was that there was “no exit wound.”
Susan Lloyd, media representative for the FBI’s Washington Field Office, was unprepared to comment on the memo. “Let me check into this and see if this is something I could, or should, respond to,” she said.
Kenneth Starr’s office had no comment, and referred all inquiries regarding Foster’s autopsy to the FBI.
A copy of the memo can be found on the Internet at: