Monday, 29 December 2014

The Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald Case - 44 Years On

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald in May, 1970

I was a mere twinkle in my mother's eye when Colette Macdonald and her two daughters were brutally murdered in their own home. The person responsible - Colette's husband and father of her girls, Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald. Despite not being born until ten years after the murders, it was this case that kick-started a life-long fascination (and career) for me in true crime. I remember watching an American true crime show that covered the case when I was around 15 years old. It moved me to tears and I was absolutely convinced of the good doctor's innocence. Twenty years later, and goodness knows how many hours, days and years spent poring over every website and trial record relating to his case - I am not so naive.

Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald and his beautiful wife appeared to have it all. Jeffrey was a. U.S Army officer for the Special Forces Green Berets, a practising physician and medical doctor. The family were stationed at Fort Bragg, California. The couple had two beautiful daughters, Kimberley 5 and Kristen 2 and Colette was around four months pregnant with the couple's first son. However, in the early morning hours of Febuary 17th, 1970, Fort Bragg dispatch received a 911 call from 544 Castle Drive that would see the start of a story that is still being discussed some 45 years later. 

Initially, only four military police, who believed they were going to settle a domestic dispute,  were dispatched to the Macdonald home that fateful morning. The officers noted the house appeared empty, in complete darkness and their knocks on the front door went unanswered. A quick look around the back however, led the four officers into the home through the open back door and straight into complete carnage. Colette Macdonald lay dead in the master bedroom, Kimberley and Kristen lay dead in their beds in their respective bedrooms. Jeffrey Macdonald lay next to his wife, injured but alive. Macdonald was rushed to the nearby Womack hospital where it soon became apparent his injuries were far less serious than those suffered by his wife and daughters. In fact, Dr. Macdonald had bruises and cuts on his chest, face and head, as well as mild concussion. He had a 'small, sharp' incsion wound to his chest that had left him with a partially collapsed left lung. In comparison, Colette had suffered 37 stab wounds and received a vicious clubbing. Kimberley had also been clubbed and received approximately ten stab wounds to her neck and head. Baby Kristen had received a staggering 48 stab wounds.

Macdonald told police that, after falling asleep on the sofa in the lounge, he had woken to the sounds of Colette and Kimberley screaming. As he ran to help, he was attacked by three male intruders, a fourth - female - intruder stood by watching, holding a candle and chanting 'Acid is Groovy. Kill the Pigs'. Macdonald went on to describe how the male intruders pulled his pyjama top over his head and down his arms, restricting his view. He went on to describe how he used the top to defend himself from three different weapons, a club, a knife and an ice pick. Eventually, Macdonald claims he succumbed to his attackers and he fell unconscious on the floor of the hallway.  When he came around, he ran to check on his family and found each one dead in their respective bedrooms. The word 'PIG' had been daubed in Colette's blood on the left side of the couple's bed headboard. Having returned to the master bedroom and covering Colette with his pyjama top and a towel (to 'keep her warm') he called 911 and then collapsed next to his wife. 

It became obvious to investigators straight away that there was huge inconsistencies in the evidence found at the crime scene and Macdonald's version of events. For starters, the lounge where Macdonald insisted he had fought off a brutal attack by three male intruders, showed little signs of disturbance. An overturned coffee table and plant pot, as well as Macdonald's glasses under the couch were the only irregularities. Soon enough, physical evidence began to tell a different story also. Fibres from Macdonald's pyjamas were not only found under Colette's body, fibres were also retrieved from both little girls' rooms as well as one stray fibre from under Kristen's finger nail. A 3-foot piece of wood, a knife and an ice pick were found by the back door. All three were later proven to come from within the MacDonald home. But perhaps the most damming evidence was the evidence that the word 'PIG' on the couples' headboard had been written by someone wearing surgical gloves. The same surgical gloves that Dr. MacDonald used at work and which were also found, in a box, under the sink in the kitchen of the MacDonald's home. On May 1st 1970, MacDonald was formally charged of the murders by the Army. 

An Army Article 32 hearing, designed to determine MacDonald's guilt, was held on June 5th 1970. Despite the investigators findings, the Army believed the accusation against MacDonald to be 'not true' and they recommended civilian authorities chased up possible suspects and witnesses. MacDonald was then given an honourable discharge from the Army and he decided to move back to his home state of New York. MacDonald spent the next nine years working as a physician and become something of a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and organising book and movie deals. He concentrated on how HE was a victim, both of the four intruders and the police who had tried to accuse poor him of such a heinous crime. Thankfully, the State, the family and countless other individuals did not forget Colette, Kimberley, Kristen and the unborn baby. They worked tirelessly processing evidence, lobbying officials, keeping the MacDonald case in the spotlight for the real victims' of the crime and, it was to pay off. On January 24th, a North Carolina Grand Jury indicted MacDonald and less than 60 minutes after the indictment, MacDonald was in custody. Initially scheduled for a May 23rd 1975 trial, a series of double jeopardy arguments, dismissals and appeals saw the actual trial moved back and back again. However, on July 16th 1979 in Raleigh North Carolina, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald went to trial for the brutal murders of his wife and two young daughters. 

During the trial it was theorized that on the morning of the murders, MacDonald and Colette most probably got into an argument over Kimberley wetting MacDonald's side of the marital bed. It is believed MacDonald saw red after possibly being struck on the head by Colette with a hair brush. In the middle of beating Colette with the wooden plank, it is further theorized that Kimberley ran into the room and MacDonald swung round and hit her with the wooden plank accidentally. He then made the split second decision to 'finish' Colette and Kimberley before walking into Kristen's room and killing her. It is believed MacDonald's injuries were self inflicted in the hope it would further support the intruder story. There was never any evidence any other individual had been in the home on the morning of the murder. ALL evidence pointed to MacDonald. On August 29th, 1979 the jury agreed after just six hours of deliberations and MacDonald was found guilty of one charge of first degree murder for the death of Kristen and two counts of second degree murder for the deaths of Colette and Kimberley. MacDonald received three life sentences for each count, with all three to run consecutively. 

MacDonald has NEVER admitted guilt for the deaths of Colette, Kimberley and Kristen. In fact, he long refused to request parole because he said he would NEVER confess to crimes he did not commit. However, in 2005 MacDonald, now newly married to a young woman he claimed to have met just after the murders, did apply for parole. He was promptly denied. MacDonald cannot request parole until May 2020. Jeffrey MacDonald's official release date is April 5th, 2071, where he will be a rather sprightly 128 years old. To this day he still claims he is not responsible for the brutal murders of his wife and young daughters.

Jeffrey MacDonald in May, 2014


  1. This case has more rabbit holes than a wild bunny farm. If you read the McGinniss book Fatal Vision, you are left convinced of guilt. If you review the trial transcripts of the MacDonald v. McGinniss suit, you are left convinced McGinniss was biased and you can discard everything he says. If you review the Morris book A Wilderness of Error, you are left questioning EVERYTHING.
    Did you know the prosecutor Blackburn was disbarred and jailed about ten years later for "unethical conduct"? (to be disbarred is one thing, to be jailed means this was especially egregious)
    As usual, I prefer the trial record and subsequent appeals. MacDonald does not have much hope for a reversal. He has exhausted all trial issues (and some really do deserve review but were not properly preserved.) He has recently exhausted all appellate issues, and his only hope for release was parole.
    My opinion is that his conviction raises a ton of questions, not including a while side investigation into the motivations of Blackburns office to bring this case to the grand jury.
    Is he guilty? Will we ever know the truth? In this case the only truth we may ever know is the "story" we believe, sadly the rest of the people involved in that night cannot speak.

    1. why was HE spared? Why is there no physical evidence of anyone else being in that house that night?

  2. I have read Fatal Vision and wasn't impressed, the writing (in my opinion) is shocking. I haven't read Errol Morris' A Wilderness of Error' but I have seen interviews with Morris and I am familiar with The Thin Blue Line - the Morris docu-film that played a huge part in a person residing on Death Row being found innocent. So I can well believe his book poses many questions re the MacDonald case. I knew that prosecutor Blackburn had been accused of intimidating Helena Stoeckley but I had no idea he had been given prison time and disbarred. There are many things in this case that I believe point to MacDonald's guilt but the main two for me are -

    1) MacDonald was a Green Beret, as well as a young, fit male in his prime. Yet despite this, when he was fighting off the three intruders, he didn't manage to injury any of them, not even in a small way. There was literally NO blood found in that house that didn't belong to the family. So not only did MacDonald suffer the least injuries, three meth addled intruders managed to have a brutal fight with him and walk away without a scratch - not leaving even a spot of blood behind. It has been proven that Colette fought like a tiger, so surely MacDonald would have had the same instinct - especially knowing his wife and daughters were under attack. If what he said is true, there would be trace evidence.

    2) MacDonald's bloody footprint was found in Kristen's room - under analysis it was proven that the footprint was exiting the room, not entering. Further tests proved that because the print was flat (it didn't show the foot's arch) it was highly likely that MacDonald was carrying something heavy as he left the room. It has long been said that, due to the sheer amount of Colette's blood in Kristen's room, that she probably died in that room - desperately trying to protect her baby. MacDonald then had to carry Colette's body, wrapped in a sheet, back to the master bedroom so the scene matched his version of events.

    I could go on, the pyjama fibres, the surgical gloves used to write the word 'PIG' and blood evidence is all very compelling. However, it is the above two points that, for me anyway, prove MacDonald is guilty. As for Helena Stoeckley, I think she may have been in the MacDonald house at some point BEFORE the night of the murders but I don't believe she was there when the family were murdered. I am not making excuses for Blackburn, intimidating witnesses is a huge no no and whatever else he has done, but I believe the prosecution were bothered Helena Stoeckley, a witness with zero credibility, would end up causing either a mistrial or a hung jury. Something that would be incredibly frustrating when you have as much blood evidence etc as they did and Stoeckey is an unreliable drug dependent witness, constantly changing her story. I don't know if you are familiar with this site - but it is the most comprehensive site detailing the case that I have found. It has trial transcripts, copies of letters between MacDonald and major players in the case, as well as photos etc. It is where I got the above information, there is a Facts Vs Claims section that is fascinating.

    1. Very good points. I have seen the site, however not much is explained about the justice system that would do anything more than sway your opinion.
      During trial the jury instructions included a "contradictory evidence" instruction. In essence that means if there is contradictory evidence swaying away from the prosecutions theory, weight must then be given to the defendant. He is presumed innocent until verdict.
      Had it just been Helena testifying (her credibility destroyed or not) the testimony would have been corroborated with the MP testimony that he saw a "woman in a floppy hat" in the neighborhood around the time of the murders. The prosecution had every reason to be concerned about this testimony.
      The foot print was actually part of an appeal. During the appellate process the evidence is always viewed in a light most favorable to the jury verdict, there is conflicting expert testimony concerning the foot print to include position of exit. Had both of these points come out at trial, MacDonald might well have walked.

    2. Thanks for another great comment - you are obviously familiar with the MacDonald case. I am still making my way through transcripts - I have just read a photocopy of a letter Fred Kassab sent to the prosecution (he was Colette's stepfather who fought tirelessly for justice for ten years) where he spoke of a conversation between himself and MacDonald that had seen MacDonald tell him that he and a friend had hunted down one of the intruders. They proceeded to beat this person into answering their questions, then when satisfied they had the right person - MacDonald killed him! Quite rightly, Kassab was upset.....IF that was true why did MacDonald not take the individual to authorities - to 1)get them off his back and 2) so authorities could get the identity of the others. It was this conversation, along with the article 32 hearing transcript, that convinced Kassab his son-in-law was guilty.

      While I am aware there has been accusations of withheld evidence and it would appear, there has been some leading of the jurors - I can't get away from the evidence. How on earth do four intruders, three of them male, manage to brutally stab and beat a woman and two children and yet leave the male - the biggest threat - barely injured at all. How does a small room (that has no light on) show no signs of four men fighting? besides an overturned coffee table. MacDonald's statement said he never left the sitting position, making him an even easier target surely? He claims he was woken by his wife and elder daughter's screams to be met by three intruders - given that Colette and Kimberley both had neck wounds, how were they making any noise at all?

      I guess this case is one of those that fascinates me and although I am convinced MacDonald is guilty, I am not going to hold my breath that something or someone won't change my mind.

    3. he wasn't a real Green Beret. He was a doctor assigned to that SFG. He was in no better shape than the average Soldier. It is a fallacy that Soldiers are all hard core killers who are trained in hand to hand combat to a level that the average person should be in feat.

  3. Over the years I've kept up with this case. I remain as convinced as ever that Macdonald is guilty. At the time, Bragg was an open post. Though never mentioned in any of the books or articles, it is likely that Macdonald may have seen "a woman" dressed in a floppy hat on post. His description is general. And as a med/surg ER doctor it is plausible that he received threats for his anti-drug status. NEVERTHELESS, several things stand out, at least to me-
    1. Why would assailants who, as the defense claimed were drug addicts high on mescaline (a hallucinogenic, able to distinguish between his wife and the children, yet leave him alive?
    2. In a Larry King interview, Jeff errs and calls the wood stick a baseball bat twice, saying "I knew it was a baseball bat because it was smooth." He damn well knows it wasn't a baseball bat. Further, in THAT interview, for the first time, he says he has a comforter over his lap. IN previous interviews, he never mentions this.
    3. At various times he says he has 12, 19, 21 stab wounds, and the puncture wound to his lung. He had none of these other than the lung puncture.
    4. Paul Staumbaugh (sp?) does a good job tracking the blood types through the house. His family had unique blood types- but Jeff's blood was not found in the front room- NOR was there any blood spilt or found from his assailants.
    5. In the Fatal Vision book, as reflected in the movie, the question remains unanswered: If Colette could cry out "Jeff why are they doing this?" and at least one of the children cries out "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy" there had to be at least one, or two more (they= two) assailants. Macdonald early on said he saw FOUR assailants in front of him. IN the Larry King interview he said he saw three. So now we have between 3 and at most 6. That's quite a few.
    6. The wood stick is known to have come from the officers quarters, as well as the other weapons.
    7. Why would "hippies" not known for being sticklers in shooting up, use a surgeon's glove to write "pig"? How did they know where to find the gloves?
    8. In the Larry King interview Jeff-boy says he was hit in the head twice with the club, and at least once or twice in the arms. Womack hospital records only have record of a small scrape on his forehead. Collette's arms were broken, both of them apparently in a fit of rage. But it was supposedly Jeff's refusal to give methadone to the druggies that instigated this. Three men, standing over a guy with a club, a knife or two, and they don't break his skull or arms?
    9. So they leave him passed out on the steps to the bedrooms and supposedly go into the bedrooms and wreak havoc on his two children and wife, 21 stab wounds to her, cracking her skull, 33 plus wounds to the child, and somehow manage to get fibers from his pj's (either tops or bottoms) under her, by the bed where PIG is written, and NO go-go boot prints in the child's bedroom where supposedly Stokely entered and saw the broken hobby horse, no combat boot prints, no shoe prints in blood... just Jeffies' bare prints, in blood, which show that he carried his wife's body.

    I could go on... but this just defies explanation... it attempts to pin EVERYTHING, his entire defense on one story- I saw a person... for a fraction of a second who said acid is groovy... though there isn't a slick bit of evidence that she was inside of the apartments at all.

  4. I often wondered if Bragg was an open post at the time of the murders. I remember that APG was not back in the 1980s.
    I went to Bragg a few days ago with my children and we went to 544 Castle Drive (where the new rec center is) and the house is a good distance from the GCP.
    The only thing that makes me question his guilt is the issue of motive. Army guys are notorious for infidelity, but was HE screwing around? And how good was the relationship he had with Colette? Just because they look happy in photos doesn't mean that they were. Why would a man with such intelligence (dont think idiots become doctors that often) do such a thing knowing how hard it can be to cover it up?
    And the idea that hippies high on acid would kill a woman and two small children has always bothered me too. Their injuries were so severe, yet he escaped with little in comparison.
    Also, no sign of forced entry? Was the back door unlocked? And when did these hippies plan this murder? And how did they know where MacDonald lived?
    I can tell you that if something like this happened to a fellow Soldier, I would tell him "we're going into Fayetteville to every bar, every hang out, and we are going to find out what people are saying and see if we can get some information on who did this to your family"
    I know of no statements where he went into town to look for these people.