early October, 2001, I investigated the suicide death of
his controversial Bush biographer, Jim Hatfield. I went
looking for proof to the rumors that Hatfield had been murdered
for exposing his sources on his Bush cocaine arrest story.
Instead, I received a raw glimpse at the lurid and tarnished
back alleys of U.S. politics, in the South and nation-wide.
"Suicide Diary" was written while riding and living for
10 days in a van through Arkansas and Texas.
30 Manassas, Virginia
journey has officially started. It is a quest for information
about what may have lead up to or inspired the suicide of
Jim Hatfield, American tragedy, amateur con man, antihero,
[and] ironically one of the best biographers of George W.
Bush. Just like at Bull Run, this country is on the brink
of a war of which it has no sense of the full implications.
And how unlucky we are to have as our leader an untested
shivering ex-cheerleader who boasts in slang but doesn't
know right from wrong. He just knows how to serve capital
and to do as he's told.
will be people in Jim Hatfield's hometown who have known
him all his life. Will they know if he was the kind to give
up? I don't think he was.
an outline of my strategy for when I get to Bentonville,
to Springdale, where the police hold (and might share) the
file on Jim’s suicide there.
try to infiltrate the Bentonville police department. There's
a chance that there's a dissident cop there, who fed info
to us indirectly through his mother-in-law in California.
Find out who's married to someone with a mom in California
or west coast."
this because Bev from Online Journal has said that the mother-in-law
has her source of inside information. She told me in late
July that the mother-in-law mailed her a surface mail letter
saying that the official story was false. The letter said
there was no arrest warrant out for Jim Hatfield; there
was a warrant out for George Burt, Hatfield's former coauthor
on six books, his former cellmate, and the plaintiff on
the charges of credit card fraud levied at Hatfield in his
on September 3, I stood at a pay phone and listened to Bev
tell me that the mother-in-law had reported new news: U.S.
Marshals had recently seized the Hatfield files and told
local police to be totally silent about the case.
first is to find out who the son-in-law cop is. Second is
find Bruce Gabbard, Hatfield's "Internet" guru and drinking
partner. Third is go talk to Detective Barrios. See the
suicide note. Fax it to NYC. In Dallas, interview George
Burt. Take whatever other opportunities present themselves
before I run out of money or time.
1 - outskirts of Lexington, Kentucky
of the end of the greed. Into the red, the brown and then
the black and white. I'm sitting on the roof of the van
in the bright and soft misty Kentucky sunshine. I have about
12 hours of driving ahead, to make it into Arkansas by 10
p.m. for a rendezvous with John Sergeant, the Brit from
Channel 4 UK. It's 9:50 a.m.
off to an early start. I drove nine hours yesterday and
it wasn't easy. The V8 engine is holding up well and once
it gets hot doesn't mind cruising at 75 mph. But it's loud,
voracious, at 15 miles per gallon and it fills my body with
tiny tremors. My back injury from ő93 is always with me
on trips like this.
last night with fellow political junkie and playwright Herman
D. Farrell and his lovely wife, Nancy. She is pregnant.
They are having a kid. He's also practicing law part-time
and they are buying a house. We talked about Bush, the crisis
in Afghanistan, the Hatfield situation, and then watched
TV. It was a show about lawyers. The Practice. It
got to move. Final thoughts: I'm wearing a UPS uniform shirt.
Hey Arkansas, the truth is coming today via overnight delivery.
Can you come down and sign? Country music is keeping me
going. It's smart, verbal, thoughtful and emotional. Thank
was flying the flag, a true old school Democrat. It was
his father's flag from Tammany Hall. He explained as soon
as he got there the reasons he was flying the colors - not
because of blind patriotism, anger and fear, but because
America is an unfinished experiment. His thesis is that
it's only become closer to blending "word and deed" in the
last 30 years, with Martin Luther King and Civil Rights
movement - King who so often quoted the core texts of this
fond of a few other things Herman said, which are worth
terrifying (an adventure) to run for office. Herman found
it terrifying that his father was willing to get out there
and pass out flyers or shake hands every morning.
a pattern in this country with politicians like Clinton,
who start young with lots of vigor and idealism, but the
world compromises them (into nothingness?). Herman talks
about the balance the system demands but who benefits from
name for a town, or the Program: Popular Bluff
2 - Rogers, Arkansas
into Bentonville, last night after 13 hours of driving.
I took State Route 60 through most of Missouri as it snaked
through the Ozarks. This van can do 80 mph even going up
sharp inclines and for $850 I got such a deal. I tried to
find John Sergeant from Channel 4 UK, but his place was
delayed. The airport was very non-user-friendly. Hatfield
told me once that Wal-Mart essentially had it built for
this, the town of their corporate HQ. I was so delirious
with fatigue I found myself offering rides to aloof strangers,
people waiting around for their pre arranged rides. I gave
quarters to grateful Latino fathers so their toddler sons
could play the video games.
to get a beer but the whole county is dry. You can't buy
beer in stores. There are no bars, only members-only clubs
in hotels. Great place. It kind of encourages drinking at
home and therefore alcoholism. Was this a factor in the
desperate end of Jim Hatfield?
night was the first I spent in the van. It was actually
quite comfortable. I have a whole futon here in the back.
I woke up early this morning and sat up and got my bearings.
I was parked in a field near the Wal-Mart corporate HQ,
next to landscaping supplies. As I tried to get going, a
yuppie couple walked by on the street next to the field
about 30 yards away. They stared long and hard at this shaggy
dude sitting groggy in his van. I should have waved. Instead
I felt like a degenerate.
was writing the paragraph above, Myra Moran from the local
Democratic Party stopped by, chatted. She thinks Hatfield
was "emotionally destroyed." Good. But can we prove it.
found John Sergeant, in a white Geo, in the lot here of
the Library. Got to get to work.
3 - Bentonville
the suicide note. It's pretty heavy. I was struck at the
rambling desperate nature, but Sergeant was struck at Jim's
bluntness and lack of self-pity. But Jim was nothing but
one pitiful character: $125 thousand in debt but still making
payments on a BMW. Dying with $900 cash in his pocket. Was
that a last grasp at the riches he always dreamed of, withdrawing
cash before dying?
BMW of this former Reagan Democrat strikes me as a metaphor
for his American Dream: a grasping after the bright surface
of sure success and society‚s approval, while on the inside
there lives a truth no one knows until too late: doubt,
debt, insecurity, alcoholism, and failure. The quest to
go up against the political establishment armed with nothing
but the truth ended in foundering. But his version of the
American Dream, keeping up appearances of success no matter
what, showed that Jim was pursuing things that might have
always been beyond his grasp.
the suicide note is like colliding with a building. Mark
Schone from Rolling Stone is down here too. He had dinner
with us at the Ruby Tuesday. He's a hardened New Yorker.
He's like, "What did you think it would be?" I hate being
talked down to. I stuttered and said, "It's the first bit
of proof I've seen."
stuffing down eggs and ham at RJ's Coffee Shop, which is
like a converted Denny's, the interior covered in smoke.
going to the Bentonville Police Department, to get Jim's
criminal file on his fi
fraud allegations. Yesterday, I met with Detective Barrios
in Springdale, who investigated the suicide. Barrios is
a plump, pleasant detective. He's no NYPD. He's kind and
sensitive to people's emotional needs. In the middle of
dealing with the suicide note he asked if I was all right.
I had gone to the bathroom and he thought I was really upset.
In truth, I was flipping the tape on my recording device.
I feel bad. He was so nice. I was so untrusting.
handed me a copy of the full Springdale file on Jim. A big
step towards clarity on this. But getting a copy of the
Bentonville Hatfield file is more important. The mother-in-law
told us this file has been seized by the Feds, or was she
talking about the Springdale suicide file, which I now have?
the Bentonville file exists then the mother-in-law's credibility
is in serious trouble. If there's an arrest warrant for
Jim, and none for George Burt, someone is wrong, and it's
not the cops. I already suspect the mother-in-law is not
Sergeant has a background researching the assassination
of MLK and the death of Danny Cassollarro. He believes that
men in power tend to conspire to keep that power. So when
MLK begins to campaign for the rights of all working people
and the poor, he is silenced. When Danny Cassollarro gets
in too deep researching BCCI, Bush [SR.?], Iran/Contra,
the October Surprise, etc. Then bam! Dead in a motel room
in West Virginia. "A suicide." But
Schone has a different theory: people looking to prove a
pre-conceived conspiracy usually can, but that doesn't mean
it's true. Mark has this annoying habit of asking questions
and then interrupting your answer with his own. He's got
that New York cynical media writer's edge. I don't trust
that vibe. He's also a big Clintonite, so my comments on
Vince Foster's suspicious death were met with a general
dismissal about how all military people are Republican,
so Clinton couldn't have gotten any supporters in the military/intelligence
worlds to kill for him.
the same time I must say that what's good about having Mark
around is that he's covering all the bases, doing a serious
print story about this and interviewing everyone he can.
We're sharing info. He's certain I have a pre-conceived
theory about this investigation, but I'm trying to get him
to understand that new information does have an effect.
I'm sensitive to the ways my mind grew defensive about Hatfield's
ugly past and good book. I'm trying to expose my own bias
as I go.