Controversy Was President Warren G. Harding Murdered Part 2

About the controversy surrounding the death of President Warren G. Harding and whether or not he was murdered.




Official Version: Five doctors--Sawyer and Boone, as well as Ray Lyman Wilbur, Charles Minor Cooper, and Hubert Work--signed a statement asserting the apparent cause of death to be "some brain evolvement, probably an apoplexy"; in other words, a sudden stroke. The official version of Harding's death, generally accepted by historians, is that distress over the treachery of his friends and the rigors of a transcontinental tour combined to break down an already overworked cardiovascular system. Harding suffered from high blood pressure, and previous examinations had revealed an enlarged heart. His Voyage of Understanding was a grueling undertaking. He delivered 85 speeches in six weeks. At outdoor events he often spent hours hatless under the broiling summer sun. In Tacoma, Wash., he spoke in the rain. During a speech in Seattle he flubbed his lines and at one point dropped his text to the floor and grabbed the lectern for support. Contributing to his failing health was a growing awareness that his administration was rotten and scandal-ridden. In Kansas City he met for almost an hour with Emma Fall, wife of his corrupt secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, and was said to have left the meeting visibly shaken. To newsman William Allen White he complained, "My God, this is a hell of a job! I can take care of my enemies. . . . But my God-damn friends, they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights." And on the way to Alaska he asked Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover whether a president ought to expose or cover up any scandal discovered in his administration. This stress and strain, plus his known medical history, supported the official version of his death.

Theories and Unanswered Questions: The exact cause of Harding's death was never learned because Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy. She also declined the casting of a death mask. And the body was embalmed immediately, before it ever left the hotel. All this led to rumors that Mrs. Harding had poisoned the President while they were alone together shortly before his death, perhaps with the help or knowledge of Dr. Sawyer. In 1924 eyebrows once again were raised. Dr. Charles Sawyer died suddenly--and his death was strikingly similar to that of President Harding--while Mrs. Harding was visiting the Sawyer home. Had she slipped something into Sawyer's drink, too, perhaps to ensure his silence? Mrs. Harding herself died in November, 1924, before the ugly rumors of her role in the President's death ever reached print. In 1930 Gaston Means, an unscrupulous detective and convicted swindler, published The Strange Death of President Harding, in which he claimed he had been hired by Mrs. Harding to serve as her personal investigator. One of his most important tasks was to follow Harding's longtime mistress Nan Britton, who had borne the President's only child, out of wedlock. The widely read book broadly hinted that Mrs. Harding, seeking revenge for this affair and for Harding's many other infidelities during their marriage, had poisoned her husband. Means also suggested that Mrs. Harding had another motive, a more compassionate one: to spare the President the disgrace of the political scandals about to be disclosed. "My love for Warren has turned to hate," she supposedly told Means. "The President deserves to die. He is not fit to live . . . and he knows it." Means claimed that after the President's death Mrs. Harding confided to him, "Warren Harding died in honor. . . . Had he lived 24 hours longer he might have been impeached. . . . I have not betrayed my country or the party. . . . They are saved . . . I have no regrets. I have fulfilled my destiny."

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