The Jeffrey MacDonald Case

I have pondered on what true crime case to next discuss.  I have decided to do my next few on cases that I am more knowledgeable in an effort to get the blog going.  After that point I will move on to cases that I have limited knowledge about and will require more research than others before I can feel that the information is accurate.  I have also decided to in general keep the format of the previous entry.  I intend to state the undisputed facts.... the disputed facts ... and then my opinion of the case.  So... on with our story:

UNDISPUTED FACTS:

1. On February 17, 1970 Colette MacDonald, a pregnant wife and mother,  and her two young daughters, Kristen (2) and Kimberley (5) were murdered in their home on Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina.

2. Colette's husband, Jeffrey MacDonald was in the home at the time of the murders.

3.  On May 1, 1970 the Army charged Jeffrey MacDonald for the murders of his family, however in October of 1970 those charges were dismissed.

4.  Colette's step-father, Alfred Kassab, was instrumental in pushing the case against Jeffrey. He maintained that the Army had "blundered" the investigation and pushed for the justice department to continue the investigation.  Initially Alfred was Jeffrey's strongest supporter.  It was not until more things pointed to him that he changed his view, one that he maintained to his death, even going as far as to record a statement that he has been asked to be played at any and all parole hearings.


5. Jeffrey MacDonald appeared in print and on television from that time through the present (2012) maintaining his innocence.


6. In January 1975 Jeffrey was indicted by a grand jury for the murders of his family. After many years of appeals and arguments in May 1978, the indictment was upheld by the courts.


7. In August 1979 Jeffrey was convicted of the murders of his pregnant wife and his two young children.


8. Author Joe McGinniss wrote a book entitled Fatal Vision based on the murders.  Jeffrey later sued McGinniss on the basis that he believed that McGinniss had pretended to believe in his innocence while writing the book and then published a book in which proved differently.  A trial ended in a mistrial but the case was settled out of court.


9. In July 1980 Jeffrey's conviction was overturned stating his rights to a speedy trial and his Sixth Amendment rights were violated due to the delay in bringing him to trial and he was released on bail. In March 1982 this was again reversed and Jeffrey was returned to jail and life sentences re-instated.


10. In March 1991 Jeffrey's did not apply for parole, still maintaining his innocence. He did apply in 2005 to which it was denied. His next hearing is not until 2020.


11. As recently as March 20, 2012 lawyers were still filing motions in the case to enter many things including what they believe to be new information and to prove his innocence.


DISPUTED FACTS:

1. Obviously the main disputed fact is the guilty or innocence of Jeffrey.  As stated above he has always maintained his innocence.  He has openly criticized his father in law, who has since passed away, as all but conducting a witch hunt and being behind his conviction.

2. Jeffrey has maintained that on the night of the murders his daughter, Kristen had crawled in bed with his wife and then had a bed wetting accident.  Jeffrey has said he discovered this when planning to go to bed with his wife, who had gone to bed earlier and after putting Kristen in her own bed went into the living room and fell asleep on the couch.  He has said that he was awakened by the screams of his pregnant wife calling out his name and that when he opened his eyes he saw 3-4 people in the room with him, one of which was a woman wearing a "floppy hat."  He states that he was struck in some manner and struggled with the intruders and passed out.  He maintains that when he awoke he went into the bedrooms and discovered his family had been murdered.  At some point he had gone into the bathroom to look at his wounds and called 9-1-1 for help.


3. It has been alleged that the woman in the "floppy hat" was, Helen Stoeckley.  She was called to testify in Jeffrey's trial.  Throughout the years it was alleged that Helen's story of her actions the night of the murder were contradictory.  There were allegedly times she admitted to being at the scene; there were times she stated she was too "high" that night to recall what she did; and there were times she denied ever seeing Jeffrey until seeing him in court, as she did when called by the defense.  Defense lawyers asked the court to allow witnesses who would testify that Helen told them she was present at the scene but that was denied.  In 2007, after Helen's death, her mother helped in the filing of an affidavit stating her daughter had confessed to her twice that she was in the MacDonald home at the time of the murders.  This was denied by the courts, partly because it contradicted previous statements made. Jeffrey's defense maintains that proper investigation of Helen and her drug addicted friends were not done.

4. Aside from Jeffrey's claims of innocence, the other main issue that he, and his lawyers, have argued is that evidence was hidden from the defense in this trial.  The courts have maintained that this did not happen.  The courts claim that all evidence was available to the defense, hence they had the opportunity to present in trial.  Apparently they have conceded that there may have been a few items that were not available but the court maintains these items were not things that would have determined the innocence of Jeffrey.

5.  Jeffrey's injuries at the crime scene have always been at dispute.   Obviously Jeffrey has stated his injuries occurred during the struggle with the intruders.  Reportedly he was stabbed with an ice pick that was in the home (prosecutors maintain this same ice pick was used in the murders) and that a few short inches in another direction Jeffrey would have suffered from a punctured lung.  Authorities believe Jeffrey's injuries were self inflicted in the bathroom of the home and that seeing as he was a doctor he would have been able to make his injuries be as severe as he could and not actually risk his life.


6. One of many things used against Jeffrey in his trial was a pajama top in which Jeffrey had been wearing in the evening.  Jeffrey maintains that it was removed from him, at one point tangling his hands, preventing him to defend himself.  It has been held by the prosecutors that this same top could be laid across the body of his wife, Colette and that the pattern of holes through the top match with the injuries of her body.


7. In 1997 Jeffrey won the right to have DNA testing done on some of the evidence from the scene as only blood typing was available in the 1970's. Jeffrey has steadfastly stated he believed the results would show that Helen  Stoeckley and one of her known associates were present in the home.  This failed to be proven.  However, there were a few instances where unidentified DNA was present.  Presently there are pending court cases to have them reviewed and entered into court.


My Opinion:

I first recall remember hearing about this case when I saw the movie "Fatal Vision" based on Joe McGinniss' book. I have always recalled a part in which the  character, Alfred Kassab had entered the crime scene after being a long time supporters of Jeffrey's.  Jeffrey had claimed there was a struggle in the room with a coffee table knocked over.  In the scene in the movie a greeting card was on top of a piece of furniture and Kassab jumped on the wood floors and the card fell over.  For dramatic purposes they used this to show at what point Kassab no longer believed Jeffrey's story.  If I recall correctly, that actual even did not happen in real life but it did make an impact.


Sometime after seeing the movie I read the book.  I do not recall knowing the controversy surrounding it but I have always believed that Jeffrey sued because he was convinced that he would charm McGinniss into believing his story and when he did not he was simply mad.  I have not researched the whole issue on it other than to know that McGinniss had complete access to Jeffrey and his lawyers and that when they sued the first jury was hung and the case was settled out of court.  I am assuming, again I do not know for sure, this was based on the fact that he did have so much access to the defense information and since he took the side against McGinniss he felt his defense, for appeal purposes, were damaged.


The information I have, or know about this case, has not solely been based on the Fatal Vision book or movie.  I have read countless articles and have seen numerous television shows dealing with this case.  I have seen several interviews with Jeffrey.  I have seen websites dedicated to proving his innocence as well as those out to prove his guilty.  Just like most cases there have been instances of misinformation, however, much like the court has ruled I do not recall seeing much of anything that has been in dispute that would change my opinion of his guilt or innocence.


I believe Jeffrey MacDonald to be guilty.  I believe he used the woman in the "floppy hat" and some of the other things he claimed at the scene (or he staged) to coincide with the times.  We have to remember that this happened just a few years after the entire country was reeling back from the cases involving Charles Manson and his "followers."  It is early 1970... we were still, at least a little, in the "free love; acid is groovy" era.  You could have found a woman in a floppy hat high on drugs in every town.  There were two things for me that helped bring me to this conclusion.  One is the fact that not just Colette, but those two small children were stabbed repeatedly and there was almost "overkill" and the one person who an intruder would have presumed to be the strongest person in the home was barely injured.  According to his "story" there were 4-5 people in the home... plenty to hold him down to kill him in a savage manner like the others, as well as by his own accounts he was knocked out....why not kill him then?  The second thing that convinced me of his guilty was the pajama top.  Fibers from the top were found on Colette and as stated earlier the top could be folded and laid on top of her and all wounds matched.  One could also use the fact that the murder weapon was found in a bush outside the home.  


What do I think of Helen Stoeckley?  For years I always wandered just what her "deal" was.  I tried to give Jeffrey's theory some merit especially with the reports that she admitted (and then denied) being there.   One time that I really questioned those beliefs was when I heard a report once that she had stated to someone that a toy jump horse in the home was broken and supposedly that was only information someone in the house would know.  I have not discounted the horse was broken (I have seen the pictures... if in fact it was that one... which by the way I had one as a child just like it), but have questioned whether Helen stated this or if it was an issue that someone really would have only known if they were in the house. However, I have since banished any ideas that she could have been in the home since the DNA results were announced.  


Since his conviction Jeffrey has remarried and he proclaims that the only reason he asked for parole was so he could be with her.  I also believe that I heard at some point that he knew his parole would be denied as long as he did not admit he crime and that he supposedly said that he would admit it so that his wife could live a normal life.  Yeah right... whatever!  Rumor is that the wife just insisted that he not admit to something he did not do as she would rather live the life of a prison wife than to have that happen.  Do I believe he offered to admit guilt in order to get out?  Absolutely... however, not for the wife, but for himself.  She squashed those dreams though.. and really... he's been in jail for over 30 years, he is 68 years old now.  He likely does not have another 30 years to live, and you know, even if he got out now he would be "institutionalized," or as I call it "Shawshanked" where some one has spent so much time in prison it has become the only secure and way they will know how to live.  Many could say this is what happened in the infamous West Memphis Three case......


The difference is... They were innocent (oh oops.... did I let out about another future post? :) )

Comments

  1. I dont believe Jeffrey, either. I think Helena was a very disturbed lady, who saw flashes of what "could" have been, if she had continued in drugs. Like when you are the car very close to an accident, and are shaken... I dont think she was there, although she may have feared she was, from JMs description of the "intruders".

    For me, the turning point was, as reading the book, I could see the author really no longer believe JM was innocent. The author was suspicious upon being hired, but really grew to be a friend of JMs during court proceedings... but when faced with the evidence at trial, had to face that his friend was a very disturbed liar and murderer.

    I have actually never seen the movie. I read the book when I was in about the 7th grade, and I remember it scared the crap out of me... I used to not even be able to go to sleep, unless the spine was turned in on the bookshelf, so that JMs military beret wasnt visible- lol. I have also read everything I can on the case, and still am chilled when I see him proclaim his innocence on television. Especially as an aged man, he has a creepy look to him.

    I absolutely agree that his pleas for release are not for his wife, but for himself. He is a classic narcissist. I believe he was abusing drugs, to work long shifts at the military hospitals. I believe he wanted no more part of his pretty wife and growing family. I believe he would have just left them, had it not been for the fact that HE would have looked like the ass for doing so (and had to deal with his father-in_law!). JM staged the crime scene, after brutally killing his beautiful family, and stepped into his new role as pitied widower. Since then, I think his true colors and temper have come through in peeks, but nothing like what he is capable of has been seen by others. That part of himself, he saved for those who loved him the most.

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  2. Very good point about Helen. I think my brain was running faster than my fingers when I did this one and I failed to say that I believe she made the comments because she was so high she did not know... a very common thing of that time, but your point is good. She was known to wear the floppy hat and maybe she heard his story and began to wonder. She did ultimately die and the death was either directly or indirectly related to drugs.

    When researching for this blog I read that Joe McGinniss was given an advance for a book on the OJ trial but that after it ended with the not guilty he returned it and said no, I do not recall but makes you wonder if he worried if a situation such as this would have reoccurred.

    I agree about being a narcissist. These murders put him in the limelight that he wanted... he moved to California.. hit the TV circuit. Ultimately it was his behavior on the Cavett show that got his father in laws blood boiling.

    While making my short list of cases I want to put on here I want to blog about Timothy Hennis, who's case is similar in this one in many, many ways, including location. However, my believe in that case surprises some.

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  3. We also both glossed over the magazine found in the "tossed" living room... wasnt the cover story about the manson hippie murders? A little leisure reading before he hacked his family.... with multiple weapons to support his story.

    I my tender-hearted wrap up I forgot something else....He wouldnt have a leg to stand on if this happened POST-dna technology... They would have SO much on him, and all the steps he took in his elaborate staging would send him to death row, and easily prove pre-meditation.

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  4. Yeah, you are right about the magazine. My initial posts are long enough as they are.... I knew I left things out (like the ice pick in the bushes til the end, but I did forget about the magazine. I remember the writing on the headboard but did not mention it because I would have to look to remember the exact words and was in a hurry to post..lol

    Well.. MAYBE on the DNA... they did run it and that's what he is arguing now. His hair WAS found in his wife's hand but supposedly there was DNA unknown to anyone in the household in a few places. Now of course in my mind I am thinking this is probably investigator's DNA or something since crime scenes were not preserved as they are now.

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