Vince Foster

Vince Foster

Vince Foster

A team of handwriting experts contend the suicide note supposedly written by Bill Clinton’s deputy counsel was a forgery.

On July 20, 1993, President Bill Clinton’s Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster died unexpectedly. Foster was 48. His body was found in a park across the Potomac River from Washington. Foster had been shot once in the head, the wound was apparently self-inflicted.

At the time of his death, Foster had been implicated in the Whitewater Scandal. The United States Park Police and the FBI concluded that Foster had taken his own life. But journalists raised serious doubts about that theory. Among them was investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy:

“Vince Foster was the highest Federal official to die under suspicious circumstances since the death of President Kennedy. I don’t push a non-suicide theory, I have never said Vince Foster was murdered. I have said that police are trained to treat every suicide, no matter how apparently, as a homicide, as a murder first, until the facts prove otherwise. What is clear in this case is that police procedure was never followed.” 

One of the key clues in this case is a note allegedly written by Vince Foster. The message was unsigned. When found, it had been ripped into 28 pieces. It read, in part:
“I made mistakes from ignorance, inexperience and overwork.  I did not knowingly violate any law or standard of conduct.  No one in the White House, to my knowledge, violated any law or standard of conduct.  I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here, ruining people is considered sport.”

The shredded note was found in Foster’s briefcase four days after his death. Curiously, White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum had searched the briefcase earlier, but never found the note. This put the document’s authenticity in question. 

Experts did a handwriting analysis

Experts did a handwriting analysis

On October 25, 1995, more than two years after Foster died, a team of well-known handwriting experts held a press conference in Washington. Each of the experts examined a photocopy of the alleged suicide note and concluded that it was a forgery. 

unsolved Mysteries invited these same handwriting experts to meet with us in Boston to explain their conclusions. The experts compared the suicide note to 12 other samples of Foster’s handwriting. Ronald Rice, a handwriting examiner who has worked for the State of Massachusetts, is convinced that the note was forged:

“If we compare the formation of the cursive capital ‘I’ here on the questioned document, to the formation of the capital ‘I’ here, on the known document authored by Mr. Foster, we can plainly see it is not the same.  It’s an entirely different letter formation.”

Rice went on to describe other discrepancies. For example, in the suicide note, the letter “O” is open. In the Foster’s samples, it is closed. In addition, Rice claims that the letter “B” in the note was made with at least four strokes of the pen. He says that in the known sample, the letter was written with one continuous stroke.  Rice discovered numerous other discrepancies and believes the suicide note was not written by Foster. 

“My study examination concluded that this was a document that was very skeptical and it was my opinion that it was a forgery.”

Handwriting experts say that Foster’s writing was typified by U-shaped strokes known as “swags.” Reginald Alton of Oxford University in England, believes the forger had a difficult time imitating Foster’s graceful style:

“When Foster writes ‘Clintons,’ the’ n’ is an elegant double swag. When the forger writes “Clintons,” we find the strokes are not easy and elegant, and not really on form at all.”

Experts found discrepancies

Experts found discrepancies

The note also apparently contained an inordinate amount of hesitation dots. Hesitation dots are small blobs of ink left where the pen starts or stops. Forensic handwriting examiner Anthony Iantosca explained that when a document has many dots, it’s a tip off that the penmanship was being copied:

“If we take a look at the capital letter ‘N’ you’ll see four distinct hesitation dots, starting at the top where the pen comes in contact with the paper. It stops. He comes down, and it stops at the bottom. He comes back up and retraces, he comes back down again, you’ll see a third hesitation dot. He stops, he comes back up, and you’ll see a heavy concentration of ink right here for the fourth hesitation dot.”

Retired homicide investigator Vincent Scalice is a certified document examiner. He points to the fact that the words beginning with the letters “TH” are much more crudely written in the suicide note than in the known samples. Some suggest the differences can be explained by stress, the stress of a man about to kill himself.  But Vincent Scalice

“Your handwriting would not change because you were under that type of stress. It might get a little sloppier, it might get a little less clear, but your style of writing normally would not change.”

Our four experts all concluded the note was forged. But at least one other handwriting expert Marcel Matley says it’s authentic:

“There’s nothing in the questioned document that would support any finding of forgery.  And the things that are brought forth, the apparent fragmentation, and those things, are explained by the fact that we have a deteriorated copy and the fact that the man was under some emotional stress at the time.”

Marcel Matley is convinced that the other experts are wrong. He believes that some of the inconsistencies seen on frequently used words like “the” and “to,” were part of Foster’s writing style:

“From comparing these words, the conclusion is, the same person wrote both writings.”

Did Vince Foster write the suicide note? Or, as Clinton critics contend, is the note part of an elaborate cover-up?  There have been three official investigations into Foster’s death. The most comprehensive took three years and was conducted by Kenneth Starr. All three concluded his death was a suicide. 

Yet the doubts still persist.  And if the note is, in fact, a forgery, who wrote it … and why?  These lingering questions may never be laid to rest.