The Magazine


Oct 27, 1997, Vol. 3, No. 07 • By BYRON YORK
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When Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr finally released his report concluding that deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster committed suicide -- the same conclusion reached by previous investigations -- he immediately came under fire from leading Foster conspiracy theorists. "This is a joke, and a bad joke," Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media told the New York Times. "It's far worse than the Fiske report," produced by the first Whitewater independent counsel. Christopher Ruddy, a journalist who has devoted three years to questioning the official findings and has now published his own version of events in The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, wrote that Starr's report "carries little credibility" and "will only propel arguments that a government cover-up of Watergate proportions has taken place."

Such criticism is hardly a surprise; Ruddy, Irvine, and others have made a career of accusing Starr of being part of a Foster cover-up. What's surprising is the relative silence that has greeted Starr's report in the mainstream media. While most newspapers reported the story briefly, few if any closely examined the evidence Starr has gathered.

They're missing something. Not only does the report contain crucial information never before made public, it also adds a powerful storyline to a massive body of physical and circumstantial evidence. Taken as a whole, this evidence leaves the conspiracy theories in ruins. What follows is a look at some of Starr's key findings, based on the report itself and on lengthy interviews with sources inside the investigation.


The Gun and the Oven Mitt

Virtually all the theories challenging Vincent Foster's death by suicide " rest on an assumption that the gun did not belong to Mr. Foster," the Starr report says. Ruddy, for example, cites a firearms expert as saying the antique .38 caliber pistol found with the body "sounded like a 'drop gun,' an old, untraceable gun left at a crime scene to confuse investigators." Indeed, if the gun wasn't Foster's, anything could have happened. But if the gun did belong to Foster, it is very difficult to accept the various murder theories that have grown around the case. How could the killer or killers have gotten Foster's gun? Did they break into his house and steal it? Hold him up on the street when he just happened to have it in his possession? No homicide theory makes sense if the gun was Foster's.

With that in mind, Starr's staff went to great lengths to investigate the gun. Like previous investigators, they were unable to prove beyond all doubt that the gun belonged to Foster. But they built a detailed and convincing case that it did.

Foster's mother, Alice Mae Foster -- never interviewed by any previous investigators -- told Starr's staff that her husband, the late Vincent Foster Sr., kept a revolver in his bedside table. He also kept other guns at their home in Hope, Arkansas. In 1991, as the elder Foster was suffering from a long and ultimately fatal illness, Mrs. Foster asked her daughter, Sharon Bowman, to gather up the guns. Bowman told Starr's investigators that she collected some handguns -- it's not clear how many -- put them in a shoebox, and placed the box in her mother's closet (Bowman later found some .38 caliber ammunition owned by her father, suggesting that at least one of the guns was a .38). After Vincent Foster Sr. died, Mrs. Foster gave the box to Vince Foster, a fact confirmed by both Bowman and another sister, Sheila Anthony.

Lisa Foster, Vince Foster's widow, told Starr's investigators that the family took a box of guns with them to Washington, keeping it in a bedroom closet (Foster could not register the guns in the District of Columbia, where their possession is illegal). Lisa Foster specifically recalled two guns: a . 45 caliber semi-automatic and a silver-colored pistol that she called a " cowboy gun." She told Starr that after she learned of her husband's death, she went upstairs to check the box. She found the .45 but not the second gun.

Early investigators showed Lisa Foster a photo of the gun found with Foster's body in Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993, to see whether she could identify it as the one belonging to her husband. She could not. In May 1994, Fiske's investigators showed her the actual gun; according to the FBI interview report, she said it might be the one she had seen in her houses in Little Rock and Washington. In a 1995 interview with Starr's staff, she was again shown the gun; she was more definite that it could be the one, but did say she remembered the pistol in the house as being lighter in color.