The Crime Library debates the death of Warren Harding. Beginning with background on Harding, the report goes on to discuss four possible causes of death. There was never an autopsy done on Harding so there has always been some speculation surrounding his death. And Americans love a good mystery!
The article begins with the fact that Harding did not take care of his health. He was a prime candidate for a stroke. It goes on to say that “there were clear indications that Harding had coronary artery disease.” The article also notes that nothing was done to deal with this fact – it went untreated.
Harding has two main doctors at this time. Sawyer, who was his main doctor, was into homeopathic medicine and folk remedies more than any scientific medicine. Boone, the other doctor, was progressive and scientific, but seldom given any credence. Sawyer’s treatment of Harding was “at best, contrary to the best medical practice, and, at worst, bizarre.” The official cause of death was a stroke, but it was only Sawyer who really seemed to believe that. The article states that:
A reasonable conclusion is that Harding was a victim of negligent homicide. The case for this is strengthened by Sawyer's strange behavior at the time of Harding's death. One might reconstruct those last moments in the hotel room in San Francisco as follows: Sawyer, having given Harding another powerful dose of purgative, propelled the president into cardiac arrest. Alarmed at the result, he rushed from the sickroom to get a counteracting stimulant, but returned from his own room too late to save Harding.
Even if this scenario cannot be proved, it is clear that Sawyer was guilty of horrendous malpractice, both in diagnosis and treatment. It is reasonable to conclude that Harding, who might have died sooner or later from a heart attack, was a victim of negligent homicide.
There were many rumors about suicide. Harding was certainly worried about impending problems and challenges to his administration. The article notes that “there were times during the Western trip when Harding was visibly depressed.” But the author notes that:
While one of the rumors floating around after Harding's death was that he committed suicide to avoid impeachment and disgrace, there is little likelihood that he was driven to such an act by ingesting poison. It seems an unlikely method to choose to take one's life, even if he had been clever enough to select a means that would mimic "natural causes." Harding might have been corruptible, but he was not so clever and devious.
There were also many rumors about the possibility of murder floating around. While at first unformed in 1930 a book was published to formalized some of the rumors:
In 1930, the amazing Gaston B. Means published a book entitled The Strange Death of President Harding. It is difficult to determine whether this book contains accurate information or whether it is pulp fiction at its worst. Means cast himself as the hero, a private investigator who can accomplish anything a client requested. The fact that he was working for the F.B.I. under the disreputable William Burns contributes to the unsavory nature of the Department of Justice under Daugherty's leadership…. Means, recently released from a federal prison in Atlanta after serving a sentence of two years for graft, was not a very credible witness.
Means gives two motives for Florence Harding to murder her husband. The first was to keep him from the scandal that was coming and the second was revenge for his latest affair. The second is not hard to toss out because Florence Harding had weathered many worse affairs than this one. But her husband’s reputation was very important to her and could give her a credible motive. But the article goes on:
Nonetheless, for all of the storm clouds hovering around Warren Harding in August 1923, he was still popular and beloved. One gets the impression that rather than hurrying Warren into the Great Beyond in order to protect his good name, the Duchess would have found a way to weather the storm.
So what does the Crime Library conclude about Warren Harding’s death?
The most likely hypothesis about Warren Harding's death is that put forth by Carl Anthony. Warren Harding was a victim of medical neglect, or, to be precise, of negligent homicide. Considering the strange mix of folk medicine and evolving science at the time, that is not a very remarkable fact. Whatever one's view --- critic or apologist --- a significant mystery remains. How did Warren Harding die? Any conclusion must be murky because evidence is either lacking, or, when available, contradictory. Is this simply a case of a genial mediocrity who didn't know how to take case of himself, and paid the price with a stroke? Or is it something more sinister --- a gullible politician who became aware of what was going on around him, and had to be silenced?