This third part of “The Cleaners” is about two different, but related topics: first, and primarily, the case discussed walks us through a perfect lesson on the way Elvis information, and the attendant analysis, is mismanaged; and second, it is about another question pertaining to the “scrubbing” of the upstairs suite at Graceland on August 16, 1977.
Recently I came across a book touting “the TRUTH” (caps not mine) about whether Elvis had been found “lying facedown in a pool of vomit” when his body was discovered on the bathroom floor by his fiancée, Ginger Alden. The question about the vomit must be asked not because such a discovery would be critical for any study of the death or the events leading to the death, but because the cleaning of this spot on the carpet indicates a desire by those present to remove the presence and subsequent traces of this evidence (and by trying to clean this area they clearly indicated that they did believe this was evidence). After all, if they removed the pills and the syringes and the medicine bottles and the drug packets and everything from the medicine cabinet and everything from the black doctor’s bag, then it stands to reason they’d scrub the floor, too, right? But did they? We don’t know. And why don’t we know? Because of conflicting information and accounts. Interesting in this case, though, is not that many people made conflicting claims, but that one person made conflicting claims, and that disparity is important for a reason we will discuss in a few minutes.
“The Death of Elvis” came out in 1991. On page 25 (hardcover), Shelby County Medical Investigator Dan Warlick is quoted as saying that he “detected the odor of vomit and gastric fluid”:
In Alanna Nash’s, “Revelations from the Memphis Mafia (1995), Billy Smith says Elvis, “vomited a little bit.” On page 602 of Nash’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” (2010), there is also mention of vomiting.
In “Down at the End of Lonely Street” (1997), on page 427, we find this: “The linens had been changed, the carpet vacuumed, and one section – the place where Elvis’s chin had landed as he fell – had been scrubbed with antiseptic.” Note that “The Death of Elvis” is listed in this book’s bibliography.
In “Careless Love” (1999), on page 651: “Warlick found a stain on the bathroom carpeting, too, that seemed to indicate where Elvis had thrown up after being stricken…”
Notable here is that just after the passage referring to the stain on the bathroom carpet, Peter Guralnick writes that it appeared Elvis had “stumbled or crawled several feet before he died.” This is a direct quote from “The Death of Elvis,” for which Warlick was a primary source. On pages 650-651, Guralnick summarizes Warlick’s account from “The Death of Elvis,” parts of which are taken from his 1979 deposition. Guralnick specifically refers to this testimony on page 650.
In “Elvis: Day By Day,” Guralnick writes that Elvis was found, “lying facedown in a pool of vomit.” (Take note here, this is a key phrase.)
Nancy Rooks, in her 2005 book, “Inside Graceland,” describes everything that she and Aunt Delta did to clean up the area, but does not mention the carpet.
In Dr. Nichopoulos’s book (2009), on page 10: Warlick told Dr. Nichopoulos that, “the carpets [had been] cleaned and possibly scrubbed, particularly a stained spot where Elvis’s face had rested.” Warlick was a direct source here, and was Dr. Nichopoulos’s attorney at the time.
And finally, Warlick one more time (“The Death of Elvis,” page 391): “…I found a mixture of vomitus and saliva on the carpet.”
Notice in the sources cited above that Dan Warlick’s account is the only direct, first-person information provided. This tells us that Warlick is the only source for the entire question of the vomit/carpet mystery, since he was the only person who looked at this and later spoke about it. Nancy Rooks’s account of what happened at Graceland that afternoon, on the other hand, is notable for the fact that the carpet stain is not mentioned, nor does she mention whether the carpets were cleaned at all. She mentions pretty much everything else, but not that.
So looking over these sources, we find that Warlick did discover a stain or discoloration of some sort on the bathroom carpet, and that this stain indicated (or suggested) that Elvis had vomited at this location. Several sources make the claim, with the source material tracing back to Dan Warlick and “The Death of Elvis.” What about “the TRUTH,” then, regarding the stain on the carpet?
In Elvis World, or any other “world” where truth and accuracy matter, a researcher or author cannot simply take one isolated piece of information, analyze it in a vacuum, and then present it as absolute truth. This approach is not only unwise, but it often comes with an agenda behind it, or some sort of angle. In this case, the angle is an attempt to erase the vomit question and “restore” the dignity of Elvis, or some such lofty goal. However, the writer makes a critical error: he ignores every piece of information that runs counter to his conclusion. This is one of the many reasons Elvis World is such an informational disaster.
The conclusion that the vomit/carpet question has been resolved stems from the testimony Dan Warlick gave in 1979, where he stated the following:
“I looked the carpet over personally in the area in which his mouth would have allegedly been, and in the general area around where his body was alleged to have been found, and I fount no dampness or anything to insinuate there had been any fluids there.”
“No evidence that it [the carpet] had been mopped or shampooed…”
Great, this wraps up the whole vomit/carpet question, right? In a sworn deposition Warlick said he found no indication that the carpet had been cleaned. That’s it…nothing else to look at here. Right? No. If you want to write a book to “restore Elvis’s dignity” and to totally eradicate such an offensive line of inquiry, you can’t just take one source, claim it as the truth, and ignore the rest. As a researcher you’d need to determine if there is conflicting information out there about the carpet question, and if there is, you would need to analyze it and explain it in context. So did this writer not do the required research? Or did he do the research but ignore what he found? I mean, come on…the question of Elvis vomiting on the floor is in at least a handful of popular Elvis books (see above). No reason one would not find it. And even if the sources trace back to one starting point, you’ve still gotta figure out what the real story is, “pool of vomit” or not.
So let’s get back to the key phrase (Guralnick’s “lying facedown in a pool of vomit”) from above:
If Peter Guralnick wrote that Elvis was found “lying facedown in a pool of vomit,” then he obviously was embellishing the story with this visual, but he was nonetheless still sticking to the core point/claim: vomit was found on the carpet. So while this might be difficult to read for some fans, or it might be considered distasteful by some fans, the fact remains that Guralick is not lying, he is merely sticking to what he has presented as a fact, that Elvis vomited on the bathroom floor. And he is basing this assertion of fact on the eyewitness account of Warlick. More to the point, “lying facedown in a pool of vomit,” is not a lie, it is a conclusion reached by looking at the facts. Was there a “pool” of vomit? Maybe, maybe not. But from Guralnick’s perspective, based on the statements from Dan Warlick, there was vomit on the floor. Thus, Guralnick chose his own way to describe it.
The anomaly is not what Guralnick writes. The anomaly is in the differing accounts given by Warlick. That is, Guralnick is not the problem, Warlick is.
To be fair, the fact that Warlick testified about the carpet stain, that is, about not finding any indication of vomit or liquid on the carpet, nor that the carpet had been cleaned, should theoretically stand up to examination. It’s a sworn deposition, after all. And quite often, a sworn statement will stand above conflicting information offered up under different circumstances. And this brings us to the big question: If Dan Warlick said in a sworn deposition in 1979 that he did not find evidence or traces of vomit, then why do sources directly cite him saying the exact opposite years later? And not second- or third-hand accounts; these subsequent accounts came directly from Warlick himself. Why? Because he changed his position. He was the direct source for the account in “The Death of Elvis,” and “The Death of Elvis” was a source for “Careless Love.” While a sworn statement carries weight, so does a first-person eyewitness account, but when the same person offers up both, and the two conflict, we run into a problem.
Consider this: In 1979 Warlick said he found no carpet irregularities indicating the presence of vomit or cleaning materials. In 1989 or so, he said that he did find carpet irregularities indicating the presence of vomit or cleaning materials. In 2009, Warlick said he found a stain and determined that the carpet had been cleaned.
How do we reconcile this? And on top of the 1979 sworn statement, we have a 1989 summary of August 16, 1977, in Dan Warlick’s own handwriting, and what does this summary specifically mention? “Moist discoloration.” This term obviously refers to a stain that has been cleaned and is still damp. This doesn’t line up with his 1979 account, does it?
The difference between Warlick 1979 and Warlick 1989 is stark.
To close, the statement by Peter Guralnick that Elvis was found “lying facedown in a pool of vomit” is not a lie, and it is not false. It is simply a logical conclusion based on Dan Warlick’s own words. If there was vomit on the floor, then it is entirely possible that Elvis was found in the way Guralnick describes. So, even though we cannot say for absolute certain which of Warlick’s statements is correct and true, it is nonetheless intellectually dishonest for a writer to present one piece of information as fact when there are ample and readily-available examples that counter it.