For a long time I kept up with Watergate-related news very closely. And by "news" I mean little things like the release of some new tape transcripts, or the publication of a book. Not exactly page-one kind of stuff, but interesting to me.
But now I have just learned that Jeb Magruder -- one of the main cogs in the entire drama -- died at age 79 back on May 11th. Don't know how that slipped by me. Ironic that he died in Danbury CT, which was the site of a federal prison where some Watergate defendants (Gordon Liddy, for one) were held.
Magruder was clearly traumatized by Watergate. His wife Gail said later (in 1987, after they were divorced) she was convinced that both of his parents (and both of her parents, too) all died prematurely because of the notoriety/shame/anxiety of the whole thing. The Magruders had three sons and one daughter; Gail said Watergate's shadow would remain with them as long as they live. I don't doubt it.
Magruder first gave testimony under oath about Watergate to a federal Grand Jury in 1972, and then at numerous trials, depositions, congressional hearings, etc., beginning in 1973. For more than 30 years, he claimed that the order to break-in at Watergate came from John Mitchell. Magruder never offered any proof of that, but that was his story, and it was generally accepted as true. To the extent that there was an "official version" of Watergate, it was definitely rooted in the premise that Mitchell gave the order.
Then in 2003 -- after Mitchell was dead, after Nixon was dead, and after many other important personalities in the affair were dead -- Magruder appeared in a TV-documentary and said for the first time that he had heard Nixon speak over the telephone and personally instruct Mitchell to go ahead with the break-in plans. To say that this accusation was "explosive" would be an understatement. (If Magruder had said this in 1974, I honestly believe Nixon would have been arrested. A delicious thought for some.) Magruder said (in 2003) that the reason he had never said that before was because "nobody asked me." Even the most reflexive Nixon-haters scorned Magruder for coming up with such a preposterous story. Then Magruder was arrested a few weeks later. A policeman in Columbus Ohio found him laying prone (but awake) on a public sidewalk and refused to move when asked. I wonder if, in some way, his weird actions were not the result of his conscience nagging him. Then Magruder had a stoke a short while later. Reportedly, he never fully recovered. A sad life in many ways, and one that would easily justify a full-length biography.
Possibly, Magruder has left behind some sort of "final testament" or other writing that will answer some of the long unanswered questions about his role, but that seems doubtful. The questions of (1.) Whose idea was it, in the first place, to break into Watergate? (2.) What was the specific motive and intent (not necessarily the same thing) behind the crime, and (3.) Who instructed Magruder to make it all happen? These questions and others will possibly never be answered.