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Clinton’s Wild Family Tree - Another Branch?

June 21, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton’s family tree is more like a wild bush, with branches going every which way and some roots buried so deep they’re lost.

His natural father died young and his mother married three other men, one of them twice. The family says he has six step-siblings and at least one half- brother, fledgling singer Roger Clinton.

Now there’s talk of an older half-brother he never knew about, a retired janitorial service owner who says he and the president had the same father. Although marriage and birth records support the claim of Henry Leon Ritzenthaler, some of the president’s family don’t think he’s related.

Without confirming the report, Clinton said he tried to call Ritzenthaler, 55, on Monday. ″I placed a call but there was nobody home. I don’t think I should say anything until I’ve talked to him,″ Clinton told reporters.

Clinton’s father, W.J. Blythe of Sherman, Texas, died in a traffic accident a few months before the future president was born. Blythe’s widow, Virginia, moved to Hope, Ark., to live with her parents.

She gave birth there to William Jefferson Blythe in 1946 and married car dealer Roger Clinton in 1950, when Bill was 4.

The family later moved to Hot Springs, Ark., a raucous gambling town, and Virginia, an avid horse player, had her second son, Roger Clinton. Although only half-brothers, Virginia’s two boys were close. Bill, who took his stepfather’s name, is 46, Roger 35.

Roger spent a year in federal prison after pleading guilty in 1984 to distribution of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute it. As ″older brother″ moved into the White House, Roger’s singing career improved.

Their mother divorced the elder Roger Clinton, an abusive alcoholic, then remarried him before he died of cancer in 1968.

He had had two children by a previous marriage, George Murphy and Roy Murphy, both of Hot Springs. The president is not close to either man, although he knows both politically, his mother says.

Virginia’s third husband, Jeff Dwire, had two daughters, one of whom has been jailed on drug and burglary charges in Texas. Clinton had little contact with that daughter over the years, family friends say.

Virginia was married to hairdresser Dwire for six years before he died of complications from diabetes.

Her current husband, retired food broker Dick Kelley, has two children by a previous marriage. Dick Kelley Jr. works for a Little Rock engineering firm and Kathy Ferrar lives in Hot Springs.

Clinton was an adult by the time his mother married Dwire and Kelley.

On the Blythe side, Clinton’s aunt, Ola Hall of Sherman, said last year that Clinton still ″is a Blythe. He’s our boy.″

Several members of the Blythe clan in eastern Texas visited Clinton each year at Christmas, and they attended the inaugural ball this year.

Dale Drake, a 78-year-old maternal cousin from Hope, Ark., said she and her family kept in touch with the Blythes, especially when Clinton was young.

″I guess it is kind of unusual for him to have all these families, but I never thought of it like that because we’ve all been so close,″ she said.

Virginia’s parents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, raised Clinton while his mother finished nursing school after Blythe’s death.

Until recently, Clinton was thought to be Blythe’s only child. But The Washington Post reported Sunday that records show he married Adele Gash Coffelt 11 years before Clinton’s birth. The couple divorced a year later, then Ritzenthaler was born in 1938.

W.J. Blythe was listed on his birth certificate as the father.

Clinton’s mother said Monday she did not know if the Ritzenthaler’s claim was true. ″I just don’t know. He (Blythe) didn’t say anything to me,″ said Mrs. Kelley, 70, in a telephone interview from her Hot Springs home.

However, Blythe’s sister, Vera Ramey, told The Post that the father actually was a member of W.J.’s family, a married man whom she would not identify. She said Clinton’s father accepted responsibility to avoid a family scandal.

Denying Ritzenthaler’s claim, Mrs. Ramey, of Denison, Texas, told The Associated Press: ″If they want to make a big deal out of it and bring charges, I will be there to testify. That’s all I’m going to say.″

Coffelt herself told The Post that Blythe fathered her son, Ritzenthaler. She said he also married her sister, Faye, after getting another woman pregnant.

Drake, whose father was the half-brother of Virginia’s father, called the reports about Blythe ″a bunch of you-know-what. Don’t you quote me in the paper, but that’s just how I feel about it.″

Why would a Cassidy from Hope defend a Blythe from Sherman?

″I may not be related to the Blythes, but they’re family just the same,″ she said.

P-DS-06-21-93 1902EDT

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