Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald claimed 4 intruders brutally murdered his family. CID were adamant the evidence pointed to Jeffrey as the murderer. Others believe the evidence supports MacDonald’s version of events. Innocent or guilty?
WARNING: This post contains graphic images which some readers may find upsetting and disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
Jeffrey MacDonald was the second of three children born to Robert and Dorothy MacDonald. He led a normal and happy childhood in Long Island, US. A popular student amongst peers and teachers, the Senior class president and captain of the football team was voted “most likely to succeed” and “most popular student” in high school. And succeed he did. He went on to win a scholarship to Princeton University where he began dating a former girlfriend, Colette Stevenson. The pair went on to marry and have 2 daughters. Times were tough financially for the young family but in time MacDonald completed his medical studies and after completing an internship at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre, New York, he took up employment as a group surgeon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with the United States Army. Things were looking starting to look up.
On February 16th 1970, Jeffrey MacDonald made the decision to sleep on on the sofa in the living room rather than in the marital bed. This was because his daughter Kristen, 2, had earlier climbed into bed to sleep next to his wife Colette and had wee’d on his side. He awoke a few hours later to his other daughter, Kimberly, 5, and Colette’s petrified and agonising screams – “Jeff, why are they doing this to me?” “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Rushing to his family’s aid, MacDonald was set upon in the living room by 3 men, 2 were white and one was black. He said one was wearing an army fatigue jacket. They attacked him with a club and an ice pick. MacDonald tried to protect himself from the sudden attack and in the struggle his top was pulled over his head and down his arms, which he used to block the blows raining down on him. As he tried to protect himself and his family he was overpowered by the 3-1 fight, succumbing to unconsciousness. All the while a ‘hippie’ type blonde woman, in high heels and a big floppy hat that covered half her face, stood nearby holding a flickering candle and chanting “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs”
When he came round he discovered the bludgeoned bodies of his family. Colette, (who was also pregnant with the couples first son) was on the floor of the master bedroom. An autopsy later determined she had been beaten repeatedly with the club resulting in both arms being broken from trying to defend herself. She had also received 21 stab wounds from the ice pick and a further 16 from a knife. Her husbands top had been removed from him and draped across Colette’s body. Kimberly’s head had been smashed in and she had been stabbed in the neck up to 10 times whilst Kristen had been stabbed 15 times with the ice pick and 33 times with a knife. She had wounds to her hands that suggest she had been trying to protect herself. Both young girls were found in their own beds and the word PIG had been written sideways in Colette’s blood on marital bed headboard.
MacDonald immediately rang the Fort Bragg emergency services, telling them “we’ve been stabbed, people are dying.” Officers arrived at the house and found it was all locked up apart from a door to the rear of the property. Just outside the door was a 3ft wooden club, a kitchen knife and an ice pick. (These were later determined to have been the murder weapons and had originally come from the MacDonald household) Upon searching the inside of the property they discovered the bodies of Colette and the girls, and an injured MacDonald laying beside his wife, his arm around her. He was taken to hospital where he received treatment for concussion, a single clean, sharp stab wound on the left of his torso which resulted in a partially collapsed lung and various other cuts and bruises. MacDonald was released a week later and with the support of his and Colette’s family, tried to move forwards with his life.
When the CID (The army’s Criminal Investigation Division) arrived at the scene they discovered that MacDonald’s version of events didn’t match the evidence at the crime scene.
First off, MacDonald had claimed he’d been attacked in the living room when he’d tried to help his family. However, only a heavy coffee table had been over turned and a plant pot tipped over. This struck them as odd given the living room was relatively small yet nothing else was disturbed. It was almost as is the room had been staged. Also, MacDonald claimed he had used his top to shield him from the swiping of the ice pick and the blows from the club, however fibres from the torn top were not found in the living room but were instead found in abundance under Colette’s body and in both of the girls bedrooms as well as under Kristen’s fingernail. Kimberly’s blood was also later found on the top. All this was especially odd because MacDonald had told police he wasn’t wearing the top when he’d gone into the girl’s room as it had been placed over Colette. MacDonald’s wounds were considerably less than those of his families and he had no defensive wounds, which CID argued he would have had since he was protecting himself from the attackers.
Investigators found the tips of disposable surgical gloves on the floor beneath the head board where the word PIG had been written. These matched in composition to a box of gloves MacDonald kept in a kitchen cabinet. Blood matching MacDonald was also found on the floor next to the same cabinet. A bloody footprint belonging to MacDonald was found exiting Kristen’s room and a drop of her blood was found on MacDonald’s glasses lens, yet he told investigators he hadn’t been wearing his glasses, which were found in the living room. A rare medical anomaly meant that all 4 members had a different blood type so it was easy for comparisons to be made as to who the blood belonged to.
The differences in blood type also enabled CID to piece together a scenario of what likely happened (based on the evidence) at the MacDonald household that night….
They believed that for whatever reason, perhaps an argument or perhaps Colette had discovered one of MacDonald’s extramarital affairs, Colette had thrown her hairbrush at MacDonald, hitting him in the head. (resulting in the concussion) He lost his temper and retaliated by grabbing the wooden club and hitting Colette with it, more than once. Sadly, whilst he was hitting Colette, it is thought that little Kimberly walked in on her father attacking her mother and was inadvertently hit in the head whilst he was swinging the club around. (her blood and brain serum was found on the master bedroom doorway.) Believing Colette to be dead, MacDonald then carried a mortally-wounded Kimberly back to her bed and killed her before going on to kill Kristen. Despite her injuries, Colette was still alive and having regained consciousness she stumbled into Kristen’s room and threw herself over the top of her daughter to protect her from the attack. (Colette’s blood was found on Kristen’s bed cover) Undeterred, MacDonald continued in his frenzy until he had killed his wife and daughter before wrapping Colette in a bed sheet and carrying her back to the master bedroom. A smeared footprint in Colette’s blood was found leaving Kristen’s bedroom. CID suspected MacDonald then messed up the living room a little, disposed of the clothes, placed the weapons outside and caused the injuries to himself, knowing just the right place to stab himself without causing permanent injury, before rang emergency services.
In April 1970 CID interrogated MacDonald. He showed little to no emotion, however he had agreed to take a polygraph, only to change his mind ten minutes later. Believing he had made up the story about intruders after reading an article in Esquire magazine about the Manson Family murders, they charged with the murders of his wife and daughters.
During the Article 32 hearing (similar to a civilian preliminary hearing) it was claimed that the CID didn’t manage the crime scene or conduct the investigation properly…
MacDonald’s defence accused the CID of gross-mismanagement of the crime scene, stating numerous people had trampled through the house, therefore gross contaminating the crime scene, (which hadn’t been sealed off properly,) destroying evidence as they went. An EMT admitted to rearranging the crime scene and to stealing MacDonald’s wallet. Allegedly, a doctor had moved Colette’s body and therefore disturbed the top that had been placed over her.
Alongside destroying the crime scene, CID were accused of losing several extremely important items of evidence that had gone missing after being collected, which may have proved (or disproved) MacDonald’s innocence, including the tips cut of the glove that had been found by the headboard, some skin taken from under Colette’s fingernails and the fibre found under Kristen’s finger nails. Numerous sets of fingerprints were also lost alongside the bloody footprint taken from the bedroom.
MacDonald’s defence attorney had him evaluated by a psychiatrist who reported they were fairly certain that MacDonald was not responsible for the murders of his family. This belief was shared by Colette’s own step-father who supported MacDonald and his innocence.
One of the first officers on the scene reported seeing a woman he later found out matched the female suspect walking away from the direction of the MacDonald residence as he was responding to the call. MacDonald’s defence attorney was contacted by a male that claimed he knew the woman who was the female suspect and that she had been telling people she was one of those responsible for the MacDonald Murders. Furthermore, she was also known to wear a blonde wig and a large floppy hat. That woman was Helen Stoeckley, the daughter of lieutenant colonel and a known drug user. The same witness claimed to have seen Stoeckley exit a Mustang the same night as the murders, accompanied by 3 males – 2 white and 1 black. When interviewed, Stoeckley claimed she had no memory of that night due to being off her head on drugs, but did confirm she had owned a blonde wig and a large floppy hat. She also told police she often hung out and took drugs with a black male who wore an army fatigue jacket. The male caller was later proven to be a drug user and a persistent liar, compromising his authenticity as a witness.
Colonel Warren Rock, who was overseeing the hearing, determined that given there was was a lack of motive, the loss of evidence, the unsecured crime scene and the discovery of Stoeckley, appropriate civilian authorities should be the ones to investigate the case further and therefore charges against MacDonald should be dismissed as not true. He was free to go….
MacDonald returned to work as a surgeon at Fort Bragg and attempted to once again move forward with his life. Eventually he was given an Honorable discharge from the army and moved away, eventually settling in California. He began having interviews and making appearance such as the one on The Dick Cavett Show, where he would make little jokes in regard to the murder investigation. Once an avid supporter of MacDonald’s, Colette’s step father, Freddy Kassab, started to doubt his son in laws innocence after seeing the show. He had also learned that whilst in hospital after the attack, MacDonald had had a drink and laughed with his buddies, just mere hours after his family had been massacred. After reading the transcript of the Article 32 hearing and spotting many inconsistencies, Kassab reluctantly realised he believed MacDonald was in fact guilty. He contacted the CID and together they began to go over the case again, even re-examining the crime scene again. MacDonald’s biggest defender had become his biggest nemesis, determined to bring him to trial.
The CID delved deeper into the lives of Jeffrey and Colette MacDonald and discovered it hadn’t been as a happy a marriage as MacDonald had led them to believe. Colette had in fact known about his numerous affairs, often complaining to people that she had ‘had enough.’ She had even asked her mother if she could move home with the kids, only 2 days before her murder. MacDonald later admitted to cheating on Colette many times, although he played it down as nothing serious and not something that affected his marriage. Neighbours confirmed that Colette knew about the affairs and that she had told them they were working through it.
Kassab didn’t give up, he wanted justice for Colette and the girls. Finally after lots of legal appeals, in 1979 MacDonald was indicted to stand trial for the 3 murders. Although the defence was pretty confident of MacDonald being found innocent, things didn’t go as they anticipated. Amongst all the evidence the prosecution had up their sleeve, one of the most damning was when the jury were shown MacDonald’s top from the night of the murders, (the one that had been place over Colette) which, when folded in a certain way, the 48 holes lined up perfectly with the 21 ice pick wounds in Colette’s chest. It took the jury just 6 hours to find MacDonald guilty of first degree murder for the death of Kristen and second degree murder for each death of Colette and Kimberly. He was sentenced to 3 life sentences to be served consecutively.
Within a year MacDonald had gotten his conviction over turned via the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that he hadn’t received a speedy trial as per the sixth amendment. He returned, free, to California where he continued to practise as a Dr. However, less than 2 years later the supreme court ruled his rights hadn’t been violated and he was sent back to prison to finish his sentence, with his licence to practice medicine revoked. He remarried in 2002 whist incarcerated and was moved to a prison nearer to his new wife. Despite numerous more appeals, numerous false confessions from drug induced hippies, (The FBI looked into each and every confession) MacDonald remains in prison as of 2020, aged 76. He has always maintained his innocence and his lawyers are fighting for a re-trial on the bases of new evidence, including 3 hairs which were found at the crime scene but do not match any of the family members DNA. (One of the hairs was a blonde, synthetic strand that likely came from a wig.)
What do you think? Is Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald guilty of murdering his wife and daughters or has he been wrongly convicted and they were all victims of the blonde in a big floppy hat and her 3 accomplices? MacDonald has supporters for both scenarios.
For more information and “Government documents, trial data, transcripts of testimony, psychiatric evaluations of Jeffrey MacDonald” it’s worth visiting http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/ (Side note: the website is run by Colette, Kristen and Kimberly’s family members so there is a potential bias, however the documents and photographic evidence are the real deal so you can make your own mind up)
References: Vanity Fair: https://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/1998/07/macdonald199807 Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_R._MacDonald Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-lists/5-convicted-murderers-who-might-actually-be-innocent-126697/jeffrey-macdonald-195362/ Thought Co: https://www.thoughtco.com/jeffrey-macdonald-profile-972176 The Jeffrey MacDonald Case: http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/ and http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/html/photo112.html and http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/html/weapons.html Jeffrey MacDonald Case.weebly https://jeffreymacdonaldcase.weebly.com/ Today.com: https://www.today.com/video/jeffrey-macdonald-gets-new-court-hearing-in-fatal-vision-murder-case-861449795957 Military.com: https://www.military.com/off-duty/television/2016/12/05/jeffrey-macdonald-fatal-vision-murder-case-get-tv-remake.html HorrorHistory.net: https://horrorhistory.net/2018/02/17/the-macdonald-murders-extremely-graphic/ Crime Archives: http://www.crimearchives.net/1979_macdonald/bios.html Fayetteville Observer: https://www.fayobserver.com/news/20180110/cid-investigating-body-found-on-fort-bragg Wral: https://www.wral.com/news/state/story/11571669/ MacDonald case facts: https://macdonaldcasefacts.com/html/pjs_sub_pjtop_theory.html People: https://people.com/crime/jeffrey-macdonald-suspects-confessed-murder-green-beret-family/