Jeffrey MacDonald biography
New York physician Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted in 1979 for the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters, but many questions remain about his guilt. An army hearing and later a grand jury in North Carolina both found that MacDonald was guilty, but the bizarre circumstances and a badly botched initial investigation has left many open questions.
Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald seemed to have everything going for him: good looks, charm, a commission in the Green Berets, a pretty wife, and two young daughters.
Jeffrey and his wife Colette were the perfect American sweethearts who had married after an early courtship. MacDonald had excelled both on the sports field and in his studies at Princeton. After graduation his stellar career trajectory continued with an internship at the prestigious Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.
The massacre that took place in the MacDonald's family home a few weeks after Colette had written a letter to a friend describing their happiness, was to become one of the most protracted cases in legal history.
In the early hours of February 17, 1970, the harmonious lives of the MacDonald family was to be shattered when the entire family, except Jeffrey, were slaughtered.
MacDonald claimed that he had woken after hearing his wife and one of his daughters screaming. He then found himself being attacked by three intruders armed with a club, ice pick, and knife.
When the military police and ambulance arrived, including officers Kenneth Mica and Lieutenant Joesph Paulk, they discovered a grisly scene. In the master bedroom 26-year-old Colette, who was pregnant, lay on her back covered in blood with her legs spread. Her face had been battered and part of her chest was exposed, while one half was concealed by the top half of a man's torn blue pajamas.
Next to Colette lay Jeffrey MacDonald himself. He had made the call to the police, but was now unconscious. After resuscitation his first concern was for his wife and children. Screaming to the police to check on them, officer Mica first entered the bedroom of the eldest daughter, five-year-old Kimberly. To his horror Mica discovered that she had stab wounds to the neck and that her skull had been smashed. Across the hall another gruesome sight greeted the officers when two-year-old Kristen was found dead on her bed with stab wounds in her chest and back.
Later, while being questioned by the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI, a distraught MacDonald described how he had been attacked by a black man wielding a baseball bat while he slept on the sofa. Two white men also attacked him, and MacDonald used his pajama top as a shield to fend off the blows. He also recalled a blond woman, with a floppy hat, standing by and holding a candle. He heard her say "kill the pigs" and "acid is groovy".
The description of the woman in the floppy hat resembled a similar figure that officer Mica had recalled just a few blocks away as he rushed to the crime scene.
Despite this revelation no patrol car was sent out to search for the mysterious woman.
During the Army hearing it became clear that the preliminary investigation at the murder scene had been a fiasco, with vital evidence contaminated due to negligence and incompetence by the military police. The catalogue of mistakes was staggering.
It was reported that the ambulance man had not only moved items at the crime scene, but had also stolen MacDonald's wallet. Fingerprints had been wiped from the telephone and a hair strand taken from MacDonald turned out to be from a pony that he had bought for his eldest daughter.
But worse for MacDonald was the fact that a young Army investigator, William Ivory, believed that MacDonald had invented the whole story about the attack by crazed hippies. As a consequence the army put its focus on finding MacDonald guilty.
Colonel Warren V. Rock was assigned to head up what is known in military terms as 'Article 32,' which relates to when a member of the armed services is charged with a crime. On the defense side, Bernie Segal was assigned as MacDonald's attorney.
Freddy Kassab, MacDonald's father-in law-and stepfather to Colette MacDonald, was incensed that his son-in-law was being accused of the crimes. In response, he started a publicity campaign to prove MacDonald's innocence. Kassab was also dumbfounded by the fact that the army authorities chose to keep the hearing closed.
The woman in the floppy hat who had been seen by officer Mica and Lieutenant Paulk was now identified as Helen Stoeckley. She was known to be a heavy drug user who also had a keen interest in witchcraft and the occult. However, the defense accused the Army's investigator, William Ivory, of carrying out an inadequate investigation of the woman and her associates. By the time she was asked to testify she could not be found.
Medical witnesses testified to MacDonald being a man of sound personality with no obvious mental health problems or issues. They did not believe he had lied about events on the night of the murders.
Apart from the revelation that MacDonald had participated in a few extra marital flings, the majority of military and medical witnesses testified to him being a loyal family man who loved his wife and children.
After six weeks of public humiliation for the army, the case was dismissed and Colonel Rock ordered further investigations into Helen Stoeckley. According to the defense team, the Army was still determined to convict MacDonald.
MacDonald discharged himself from the Army. Around the same time he committed a grave error in judgment began to talk on chat shows about his experiences and worse, criticize the Army further. His celebrity appearances only helped to undermine his cause and personal loss.
Helena Stoeckley was eventually traced, interviewed and given a polygraph test. She told the Army that she 'believed' she was present during the murders. However, due to the fact that her prints could not be matched with any of those remaining from the crime scene, she was dismissed as a suspect.
Jeffrey MacDonald began to rebuild his life, returning to work in medicine and receiving praise for many initiatives he brought about in that field. He proved he was well-liked and admired and was even made an honorary lifetime member of the Long Beach Police Department.
After several years, a grand jury was presented with a new theory about MacDonald, and subsequently indicted him.
After studying the Article 32 transcripts, MacDonald's father-in-law had become convinced of his guilt and began a successful campaign to have him brought to trial. A grand jury in North Carolina indicted him on January 24, 1975, and within an hour MacDonald was arrested in California.
MacDonald was unlucky in that Judge Franklin T. Dupree Jr. who was to preside over the case, was also a close friend and in-law of a government official who was out to get a conviction. It appeared the odds were stacked against the suspect. MacDonald was indicted over a period of five years, but not charged. His trial was finally set for mid-1979, nine years after the murders had occurred.
Throughout a litany of anomalies committed during the trial, the most glaring was the Amy's alleged holding back of evidence and not allowing the defense to test vital evidence in the laboratory. In addition, the Army's mishandling of the investigation, as well as positive testimonies of MacDonald's character were kept from the jury.In fact, years after the trial, the defense were able to scrutinize through the Freedom of Information Act lab notes that disclosed important findings that were never presented to the jury.
Vital pieces of evidence that were held back involved several strands of long blond hair that were found in the hand of Colette, the murdered wife. These fibers were traced to that of Helena Stoeckley's blonde wig, which she admitted she wore and disposed of shortly after the murders.
Similar hairs were also discovered on the deceased's hairbrush and Stoeckley later also admitted that she had used the hairbrush on her wig.
The prosecution also claimed that the club used to beat Colette revealed two dark fibers from MacDonald's pajamas, was sound evidence incriminating the key suspect. Years later this was found to be false.
In fact, the fibers were discovered to have come from Colette's own mouth, most likely when she was hit by the club. The fibers themselves did not match any clothes found in the house or worn by Colette or MacDonald. Furthermore three wax droppings were discovered in the house, but they did not come from any candles the MacDonalds owned. Helen Stoeckley was known to use candles for her rituals and the evidence supported MacDonald's claim that he saw a woman holding a lit candle.
Other pieces of evidence that were held back from being reported to the jury at the time included evidence of a burned match in one of the children's bedrooms and a number of bloody gloves and a syringe that was lost by the CID lab before they could be tested.
More disturbing was the amount of evidence that was simply not presented to the defense team.
In other cases, uncorroborated evidence against MacDonald was held back and only presented during the trial, therefore preventing the defense from being able to address the issues.
What the jury also never heard was that no hairs from any of the victims were found entwined with fibers from MacDonald's pajamas.
Various pieces of evidence against MacDonald proved highly damaging, but the greatest was perhaps the 'character assessment' of the suspect presented by Dr. James Brussel. Brussel was selected by government officials and was known as a celebrity psychiatrist who used 'psychic' abilities, often without even seeing the prisoners or suspects in custody. Brussel claimed that MacDonald was a psychopath.
Despite various psychiatric reports on MacDonald's personality, including one by the respected forensic psychiatrist Dr. Seymour Halleck, stating that the suspect was stable and a non-pathological personality, none of these testimonies were presented in court. Brussel's analysis, however, was admitted for the jury to hear.
The jury delivered its verdict on one of the most protracted court cases in American legal history. MacDonald was convicted of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. He was given three life sentences.
MacDonald was imprisoned at a federal prison in Maryland. In 2005, the parole board recommended another 15 years to be served before another parole hearing.
The woman in the floppy hat, Helena Stoeckley, died in 1982 from liver failure. Years after the trial concluded, MacDonald's defense team claimed to have discovered that Stoeckley had contacted the FBI and informed them that she was involved in the MacDonald killings. However, Stoeckley had given contradictory accounts throughout the case.
In a highly contentious book, Fatal Vision, written about the case, the author Joe McGinnis suggested that MacDonald killed his family in a drug-induced rage. MacDonald had agreed to be interviewed for the book, not knowing the influential book would play a role in turning public opinion against him.
A few years later MacDonald, feeling heavily betrayed by the author who benefited from large sales and a movie deal, instigated a civil suit against him for breach of contract. McGinnis agreed to pay just over 325,000 dollars, the bulk of which went to pay MacDonald's legal fees.
One theory proposed by MacDonald's supporters is that Stoeckley and her companions chose to punish MacDonald for refusing to give out methadone to drug addicted soldiers. Army policies required physicians to report soldiers who were using drugs and MacDonald was known for his unsympathetic attitude towards drug users. Around the time of the murders, Fort Bragg had been experiencing problems and crime associated with with drug-addicted soldiers returning from Vietnam.
One of Stoeckley's friends, and the man she implicated in the killings was Greg Mitchell, a drug addicted teenage soldier who served in Vietnam. Stoeckley claimed that Mitchell targeted MacDonald and killed his wife Colette.
However, Mitchell also died of liver failure in 1982.
MacDonald and his supporters continue to claim his innocence and collect evidence to use in a future appeal.