Vince, We Hardly Knew Ye
Being a recap of the death, and various ongoing investigations into same, of White House aide Vincent Foster, jr.
(With apologies to his family, who prefer to "let sleeping Fosters lie.")
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With the U.S. about to invade Bosnia in order to promote peace ("War is peace"); with things getting a little hot in Washington (and not just the weather) for that big, lovable clown from Arkansas; with investigations heating up; with the "special people" beginning to panic -- how convenient for the comfortable classes that the situation in Bosnia should heat up just about now.
So that the commissar class doesn't get too comfortable, I thought I'd offer a bit of a history lesson on the death, as well as the on-and-off investigations into same, of Vincent Foster, jr.
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FORENSIC EXPERTS DOUBT FOSTER SUICIDE FINDING
By Christopher Ruddy
in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review
January 18, 1995
Leading forensic and firearms experts have cast serious doubts on the official suicide ruling in the case of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. in July 1993 - strongly suggesting that Foster might not have fired the gun that is said to have killed him.
Based on the FBI's analysis of the death weapon's residue-emitting characteristics and on such residue found on Foster's hands, the experts concluded that if Foster fired the fatal shot, he would have had to have held the gun in a highly unusual position, with both hands on the forward part of the gun - neither hand being on the grip when it was fired.
Earlier this month, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr convened a grand jury to review the Foster case. The Associated Press reported that Starr has been reviewing the "thoroughness and competence" of the investigation into Foster's death in a top-to-bottom review of the case. Such a review, according to law enforcement experts, should touch upon discrepancies involving the apparent suicide weapon.
Foster's body was found in Fort Marcy Park, Arlington, Va., with an antique 1913 Colt Army service revolver in his right hand. He had supposedly placed the gun's 4-inch barrel deep into his mouth and fired it using his right thumb and hand. This was suspicious in itself, according to some experts, since Foster was left-handed.
Massad Ayoob, who heads the Lethal Force Institute, noted that holding a gun with neither hand on the hand-grip constitutes "an extremely unnatural and awkward grasp totally inconsistent with what both experience and logic show us to expect of a suicidal person."
Ayoob, who has served as a forensics expert for the states of California and Michigan, said that gunpowder residue found on Foster's hands indicate he wasn't a "deliberate suicide."
"It looks like someone faked it," he said, suggesting that a gun may have been placed in Foster's hands and then fired, in order to leave "gunpowder residue on his hands." This, he said, might lead relatively inexperienced investigators to conclude Foster had fired the gun himself.
Ayoob conducted a detailed analysis of the shooting using a replica of the death weapon wielded by someone with hands comparable in size to those of the 6-foot-4-inch tall Foster.
Ayoob concluded that not only would the gun have been difficult to fire according to the scenario suggested, but that Foster's hands would have interfered with the guns operation. With his hands pressed across the cylinder he would have inhibited its necessary rotation, and the fourth and fifth finger of his right hand would have likely prevented the hammer from striking the bullet.
Dr. Richard Mason, who specializes in firearms forensics, and is the pathologist for Santa Cruz, Calif., is similarly bothered by the unusual residue deposits on the deceased's fingers. It "doesn't make any sense," he said. "I wonder if they came to erroneous conclusions."
Challenges to the findings on the part of experts have been prompted largely by their readings of the report of Special Counsel Robert Fiske and FBI findings in the case.
When the apparent death weapon was fired in the FBI laboratory, soot and smoke-blast were emitted from the gap between the front of the cylinder (referred to as the front cylinder gap) and the gun's frame, as well as the muzzle.
| |<------ 4" ------>| |
| _ ______|__ _| |
| \\/\/______ \_____________/_| |
| \ /| || | | |
| // | || |_______________| |
| _</ | |\ |______%%% |
| /| |______||\/ |
| / | --------+/\ |
| / |____________/ \__ Front cylinder |
| /( ) /\\ (( || gap |
| / | \\____// |
| / | \____/ |
| | | |
| | | |
| | | |
| | | |
| | | |
| |______| |
| Colt .38 Service Revolver found in Foster's hand. The FBI|
| lab found that gun powder is discharged from the barrel's|
| muzzle and the front cylinder gap when the gun is fired. |
| Residues on Foster's index fingers indicated both hands |
| were in the vicinity of the front cylinder gap when the |
| gun was fired. |
Because the muzzle was deep in Foster's mouth, any visible residue found on his hands could not have come from the muzzle but, rather, from the front cylinder gap.
This was established in an "Independent Pathology Report" that was appended to the Fiske Report of June 30, 1994.
"With the barrel of the revolver placed into the decedent's mouth," the report noted, "the only source of such gunpowder would be the gap between the cylinder and frame of the weapon. Multiple test firings of the revolver in the FBI laboratory conclusively demonstrated that gun powder residue escapes from its cylinder gap."
According to the autopsy and its photographs, a heavy deposit of soot was found on Foster's right index finger and the web area between it and his right thumb.
Because of these deposits, Fiske's pathologist panel was prompted to conclude "that Mr. Foster's index fingers were in the vicinity of the cylinder gap when the weapon was fired" - meaning that neither hand could have been on the weapon's grip.
Similarly, an FBI analysis attached to the Fiske report states that soot marks on Foster's right hand are consistent with circumstances "when this area of the right hand is positioned near the front of the cylinder..."
| GRIP USED BY FOSTER |
| (Based on location of powder burns) |
| __ _____ Third Finger |
| Little Finger ---->/ / / __ |
| /_/ __/ /| |
| / / / /_/ | __ |
| /_/_/_/ /|_| / |<--Index Finger |
| / / / /_/\ \/_/|_________/_| |
| /\ / / /_/_ |\ | | |
| /_\/ / | /| | \|_______________| |
| \\/ | | |\ | \______%%% |
| / |_| |_\| /\ |
| / / | \ / \__ Second Fiinger |
| / ____/ |___\ |
| / /|||/ /| \ |
| / | \\\__/// \___ Thumb |
| / | \____/ |
| | | / |
| | | / |
| | | / \ |
| /| | / \__ Wrist |
| |______|/ |
| Based on residue deposits, Foster's hands were likely |
| configured in a manner similar to this. Neither hand is |
| on the hand grip making the gun unstable. The palms of |
| the hands, pressed against the cylinder of the gun, would |
| interfere with the cylinder's rotation. Foster's large |
| hands would likely have put his two smallest fingers in |
| jeopardy of the gun's hammer when it was fired. The thumb |
| would have to depress the trigger in an unnatural movement.|
This indicates that Foster pulled the trigger with his right thumb, his four right fingers, which are usually placed on the back of the hand grip to stabilize the revolver, were instead inexplicably wrapped around the cylinder and the top of the gun frame.
A visible line of gunpowder residue was also found on Foster's left index finger, indicating that the left hand was also near, or on the gun's cylinder. Strangely, the FBI laboratory analysis omitted any mention of the heavy soot found on Foster's left index finger.
Dr. Vincent Di Maio, medical examiner for San Antonio, Tex., is regarded as one of the nation's leading firearms forensics experts. He pointed out how difficult it would be to fire a weapon with both hands forward of the grip and trigger. "It would be such an awkward way, you'd have to contort yourself to do this. It is not consistent with suicide."
Another expert who questioned the suicide scenario was Dr. Martin Fachler, who headed the U.S. Army's Wound Ballistics Laboratory in San Francisco for 10 years before retiring. "It's almost impossible to pull the trigger without some counter pressure," he said, referring to the need to brace the weapon against the force of the trigger pull.
| A TYPICAL SUICIDE GRIP |
| _________ _ |
| /______ \_____________/_| |
| /\ /| | | | |
| /_\ / | | |_______________| |
| _ \\/ | | |_______%%% |
| | \ / |\ |______| / |
| Fingers _\ \ | \ / |
| of right | \\ | \ \_______/ |
| hand ---> _\ \\_| /|\ \ || |
| | \\ \ | /\\__|_//<-- Trigger guard |
| \ \\ \ | \_\__/ |
| _\ \\_| | / \ |
| | \\ \ | _/\ \___ Thumb |
| \ \\_| | \ |
| \ \ | \ |
| \_|_____| \ |
| \ |
| \ |
| A typical suicide will fire a gun in this manner. The |
| fingers grasp the gun's handgrip to stabilize the gun, |
| and allow for a natural pull on the trigger. |
Fachler said he could "not see how any person left to their own devices" would use the weapon in this manner. "If you ask is this an indication of foul play, I have to say yeah, maybe it is."
Still another expert with similar misgivings was Robert Taubert, 33-year veteran of the FBI who conducted extensive research on weapons as a firearms expert with the FBI Swat Team. "I never heard of anyone gripping the gun like that," he said.
Taubert reviewed both the FBI analysis and the review of that analysis conducted by Ayoob. In re-enacting the shooting as it supposedly occurred, he noted that he "had a lot of problems actuating the trigger" because of "the awkwardness of the grip."
Taubert concluded that the both-hands-up-front scenario was "completely unnatural." Only someone who'd never seen a gun fired, even in a movie, might try to do it that way, he said.
Vincent Scalise was yet another expert who found the gun residues, and the grip they implied, "not consistent with suicide."
Scalise spent 35 years with the New York City Police Department, where he worked major homicide cases as a crime-scene expert. He was a consultant to the House Committee on Assassinations, which debunked a number of theories relating to the death of John F. Kennedy.
All four forensic pathologists who served on Fiske's team were contacted about the gunpowder residue discrepancies. Calls were referred to the Independent Counsel's office or went unreturned.
Scalise faulted the U.S. Park Police, who handled the Foster investigation, for not following standard police procedure. which is to treat such a death as a homicide until established otherwise.
The Park Police, an agency that investigates only around 35 deaths a year, has asserted that it followed such procedure.
But Scalise said the testing of the gun and powder residue on the hands would be "critical" aspects of a homicide investigation. He added that, had he worked on a case involving the type of residues in the Foster death, he would have assumed that there was a "strong possibility that it was an actual homicide."
The Park Police did not send the gun for testing until two days after they officially declared Foster's death a suicide, on Aug. 10, 1993.
Homicide experts say that killers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in staging suicides, including the deliberate firing of a gun to leave powder marks on the victim's hand to fool investigators.
"In some parts of the country, it's become a license to kill," said Vernon Geberth.
Geberth, author of the authoritative police text Practical Homicide Investigation, said experienced investigators look for "inconsistencies" with what one would expect from a typical suicide.
In the Foster case, not only does the powder residue not fit, but there are a number of other inconsistencies involving the gun alone: no fingerprints were found on it; the fired bullet was never found; the gun could not be positively identified by Foster's family; no matching ammunition was found for the gun in either of the victim's two homes; and no visible blood or blowback material was found on the gun.
The then-Republican minority report to the Senate Banking Committee report on its Whitewater hearings noted "variances" in Park Police procedures, assigning blame for them on "interference by staff from the White House."
Among the lapses in police procedure noted in that minority report and by law enforcement experts:
(*) Failure to retain as evidence Foster's beeper, turning it over
to the White House within hours of his death. (A Park Police officer in an interview in January 1994 said Foster's beeper was found in his car, but the Fiske report stated it was found on his body.
(*) Similar failure to retain other critical evidence such as
personal belongings and papers found at Fort Marcy Park the day after his death, returning this evidence to the White House.
(*) Failure to conduct a standard canvass of residences
surrounding Fort Marcy Park and failure to interview individuals who frequent the park.
(*) Failure to immediately secure Foster's office as a crime
(*) Delay in testing of the gun, and failure to conduct a vacuum
sweep of Foster's clothing and shoes.
Coming to you from Illinois -- "The Land of Skolnick"