The troubled author of a biography accusing President Bush of hiding a three-decade-old cocaine arrest committed suicide Wednesday. James Howard Hatfield, 43, was found in a hotel room in Springdale, Ark., and appeared to have died from a overdose of prescription drugs, police said.
Hatfield wrote "Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President" in 1999. The book cited unnamed sources in claiming that Bush was arrested in 1972 but that his case was expunged. Bush, who was campaigning for president when the book was published, denied the allegations.
Soon after "Fortunate Son" was released by St. Martin's Press, the company discovered that Hatfield had been convicted in 1988 of attempted murder of his former supervisor. It recalled 70,000 copies in October 1999 and left an additional 20,000 books in storage.
Police went to Hatfield's house Tuesday morning to arrest him on charges of credit card fraud, but Hatfield wasn't home, said Detective John Hubbard of the Bentonville, Ark., Police Department.
His body was found around noon Wednesday by a hotel housekeeper. Hatfield left notes for his family and friends that listed alcohol, financial problems and "Fortunate Son" as reasons for killing himself, police said. He is survived by a wife and daughter.
After the book had been dropped by St. Martin's, it was picked up a month and a half later by Soft Skull Press, a small publisher on New York's Lower East Side. Sander Hicks, the head of Soft Skull, said yesterday that he joins the family "in feeling this deep loss."
"He did have a past that he was working very hard to put behind him," Hicks said.
In "Fortunate Son," Hatfield said three unnamed sources claimed a judge had expunged Bush's case and given him community service as a favor to his father, who was ambassador to the United Nations at the time. The incident raised questions of how well publishers screen the credentials of authors and check facts in their books.
Hatfield was convicted in 1988 of paying a hit man $5,000 to murder his former boss with a car bomb. Both passengers in the vehicle, the intended victim and a colleague, escaped unharmed when the bomb malfunctioned. After news of that conviction surfaced, it was also discovered that Hatfield had pleaded guilty to embezzlement in 1992.