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Relatives Ask: Was Obama's Father Murdered?

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama AP

In a new book exploring the history of President Obama's African side of the family, several of the president's relatives cast doubt on the official version of the father's death, according to a New Yorker preview of the book.

Peter Firstbrook's "The Obamas" (Crown), which will be released in the United States this spring, delves into the president's family history in Africa's Luo tribe. It takes a look at the story surrounding the president's fathers death in 1982.

Barack Obama Senior, a "thwarted politician and bureaucrat," as the New Yorker's David Remnick writes, was allegedly killed when he drunkenly drove his car into a tree. (Remnick notes that the elder Obama had a well-known drinking problem - and had earned the nickname Mr. Double-Double in accordance with his Scotch orders around town.)

Passages in the book quoted by the New Yorker, however, indicate Mr. Obama's cousins believe Obama Sr.'s death may have been intentional.

Charles Oluoch, Mr. Obama's cousin, told Firstbrook:

"Malik, his eldest son, told me his father had disappeared. So I rushed into Nairobi and we went up to the police station on my motorbike. We saw the vehicle which he was driving, and it seemed as if it had left the road and hit a tree. The impact seemed to have killed him. We went into the city mortuary and we found him there. And from there we went back to his house and informed the people there....

When our family saw how he was, it was very hard to realize how the accident killed him. Barack had [many other] accidents and they were [potentially] very fatal, but he didn't die. [This time] there was no way anything was broken, but he was dead. Although it looked like an accident, our family suspected that there must have been foul play. I am not a medical doctor, but the way we saw Barack lying there, he didn't look like somebody who was involved in an accident."

Mr. Obama's grandmother, Sarah Obama, echoed these doubts in an interview that appears in the book. "We really didn't believe it was a real accident," she said. "Because his body was never broken, his vehicle was not badly crashed. He was just dead after the accident. Not even much blood was seen."

Firstbrook appears skeptical about the veracity of the claims, and points to a source who described Obama, Sr. as a "serious, fall-down alcoholic."

"While I'm sympathetic to the desire of some to reclaim his reputation and his dignity, I am also very skeptical," said Caroline Elkins, a historian at Harvard who was interviewed for "The Obamas."

"Understandably, there are some Luos who have an interest in making Obama, Sr., out to be a perhaps more heroic and high-ranking figure than he ever was in real life," Elkins added.


Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.