Real Name: Jeffrey MacDonald
Date: February 17, 1970
Location: Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Details: Jeffrey MacDonald has been at the center of one of the most infamous murder trials in the twentieth century. He and his wife, Colette, had been high school sweethearts from Long Island, New York. They were married during his junior year at Princeton. Seven months later, they had a daughter named Kimberley. By the time he was finished with medical school, they had a second daughter named Kristen. They had some financial problems, but things began to change for the better when Jeffrey joined the army. They moved to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He later became a member of the Green Berets and was considered an excellent doctor with a promising career.
However, everything changed on February 17, 1970. The following is Jeffrey's account of what happened that night. By 2am, Colette, Kimberly, and Kristen had been asleep for hours; he was getting ready for bed. He went into the master bedroom and found that Kristen had wet his side of the bed. He put her into her bed and then went to sleep on the living room couch. The next thing he remembered was waking up and hearing the sounds of Colette, Kimberly, and Kristen screaming. He saw three people, a black male and two white males standing over him.
The black male started to hit Jeffrey with an object. He put his arm in front of his head in an attempt to stop the object. Another assailant struck him in the head with a baseball bat. As he tried to get up, the two white males punched him repeatedly. He then saw a woman with long, stringy blond hair wearing a floppy hat and holding a candle. He heard her chant, "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." While being attacked, his pajama top was pulled over his head, but it held onto him by his wrists.
A few minutes later, Jeffrey woke up in the hallway and went to check on his family. He found Colette laying on the floor in the master bedroom. He tried to give her CPR, but the air came out of her chest. He gave up and covered her with his pajama top. He then went to Kimberly's room and found that she was in her bed, covered in blood. He also tried to give her CPR, but the air came out of her neck. Finally, he went to Kristen's room and found her in her bed. She was in the same condition as Kimberly. After that, he went to the phone and called for help.
Jeffrey told the operator that they had been stabbed and needed help. However, he couldn't make her understand. He then went to the bathroom and started washing his hands. Three minutes later, he tried again to call for help. When he picked up the phone, the operator was still on the line. The next thing he remembered was a military policeman giving him CPR. Sgt. Kenneth Mica was the first MP on the scene. He recalled that several times Jeffrey would lose consciousness but come back when he gave him CPR. He had never seen that happen before with anyone else.
By daybreak, the crime scene was swarming with military police and agents from the army's criminal investigation division. Witnesses claim that at one point, fifteen people were in the living room where Jeffrey was allegedly attacked. According to him, the army investigators did not preserve the crime scene and may have destroyed critical evidence. Investigators collected evidence from all over the house and yard. They quickly began to suspect that the scene had been faked.
In the living room, where Jeffrey claimed he fought three attackers, investigators say only a flower pot and a coffee table were overturned. They were surprised that so many weapons were left behind. They found a knife in the master bedroom; the same room where the word "Pig" was scrawled in the victim's blood. Three more weapons were found outside: another knife, an ice pick, and a 2X2 board. The knife and ice pick had been wiped clean.
Investigators noted that, compared to the other victims, Jeffrey's injuries were quite minor. He only suffered from a punctured lung, a contusion on his forehead, a slash on his stomach, and several stab wounds on his upper body. At first, investigators assumed that he merely did not have "his story straight". However, he continued to tell the same story to other investigators. They noted that his story was not matching what was found at the crime scene.
Six months later, Jeffrey was formally charged with the murders. Four months later, however, the military court concluded that the charges "weren't true". They suggested the Army investigate a woman named Helena Stoeckley who had allegedly been seen near the MacDonald house on the night of the murders. All charges against him were dropped. He decided to go public with his grievances against the investigators. He agreed to a television appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in which he talked about the investigation. His appearance on the show backfired; according to some sources, the army investigators became so angry that they started a new investigation into the case.
After the murders, the crime scene was boarded up and preserved. Jeffrey left North Carolina and started working as an emergency room doctor in Long Beach, California. He lived in an exclusive beachfront condo, drove a Mercedes, and bought a boat. In 1974, the FBI made a detailed study of the house and developed a scenario which purported to show and how and why he murdered his family. The theory was based on the location of each family member's blood type in the home. Colette's blood was found in massive amounts in both the master bedroom and Kristen's room. Kimberly's blood was mainly in her bedroom; however, there were several drops at the entrance to the master bedroom. Kristen's blood was limited to her room.
The FBI diagram shows that Jeffrey's blood was found only in the bathroom and the kitchen. It was not found in the living room, even though he claimed that he was attacked there. Army CID reports showed that his blood was in the hallway, but the FBI did not chart it. Prosecutor James Blackburn had an elaborate hypothesis regarding what happened that night: Jeffrey and Colette had an argument about Kristen's bedwetting which turned violent when he beat her with a piece of wood from their bed; her blood was found sprayed across the ceiling and splinters from the club were found in the room.
After hearing Colette screaming, Kimberly ran into the room, only to be hit in the head with the club; her blood was found in the entrance. Jeffrey then took her to her room, placed her on her bed, and stabbed her to death; her blood was found sprayed on the wall. At that point, an injured Colette went to Kristen's room to protect her. He clubbed her repeatedly on Kristen's bed; large amounts of her blood was found in the room. He then took her body back to the master bedroom and laid her on the floor. He then stabbed her to death with an ice pick and knife.
Jeffrey returned to Kristen's room and stabbed her at least thirty times with an ice pick and knife. For some reason, he also put a bottle of chocolate milk in her mouth. Then, he spent about fifteen minutes staging the crime scene to look like intruders had been in the house. Finally, he went into the bathroom and stabbed himself repeatedly. The blood evidence backs this; although he claimed he had blood on him from trying to save his family members, only his blood was found in the bathroom. In mid-1974, a North Carolina grand jury indicted him for the murders. However, he was not actually brought to trial until 1979.
During the four years between indictment and trial, Jeffrey's defense attorney, Bernard Segal, repeatedly tried to gain access to the evidence used to construct the prosecution's case. However, he claimed that the government blocked them from viewing the evidence for nine years. Finally, a few weeks before trial, he implored the judge to force the government to let them see it. The judge granted his request. A nine-year accumulation of evidence had been boxed up and stored in a jail cell. Segal had only two weeks to examine thousands of exhibits. He knew the task was impossible.
Before the trial began, Segal had Jeffrey put under hypnosis and videotaped the session. In detail, he described the four individuals who attacked him. The description of the female attacker matched that of a woman seen by an MP on the night of the murders. Many believed that she was Helena Stoeckley, a drug addict, police informant, and daughter of a Fort Bragg retired colonel. Nine people reportedly heard her confess to participating in the murders. The defense subpoenaed her to testify, even though the CID had interviewed her earlier and dismissed her as an unreliable, drug-addicted liar.
Jeffrey's attorneys hoped that Helena's account of what happened that night would clear him. However, while on the witness stand, she claimed that she could not remember where she was on the night of the murders. According to Segal, she claimed that she would only testify if she was given immunity from prosecution. However, the government would not offer her immunity. The judge decided that testimony from the other witnesses who had heard her confessions would be hearsay. This was a major blow for the defense's case.
Meanwhile, the prosecution continued to maintain that there was no evidence of intruders and overwhelming evidence that Jeffrey's story was a lie. Prosecutor Blackburn noted that the physical evidence introduced at trial completely contradicted with his story. He pointed out that none of his blood or any parts of his pajama top were found in the living room. Over forty blue threads from his pajama top were found in the master bedroom, indicating that a struggle had occurred there. In his summation, Blackburn emphasized two fibers from the pajama top that were found on the club that killed Colette and Kimberly; according to him, the only explanation for those fibers was that Jeffrey was the killer. The jury was convinced; he was convicted on three counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
However, new evidence found after the trial began to suggest that he may have been innocent. Through the Freedom of Information Act, the defense received 10,000 pages of government documents, including a memo indicating that one of the prosecutors knew that he had evidence that might have helped Jeffrey's case. The defense was stunned to find that the evidence had been available to them in 1979, buried in stacks of cardboard boxes. However, at that time, they only had two weeks to examine it.
Long after the trial, the defense found hairs and fibers that could not be matched to any person or other source inside the MacDonald house. Two were blond synthetic hairs commonly used in wigs; another was a human hair found in Colette's hand. Five black wool hairs were also found on her body and the club that killed her. Jeffrey's pajama fibers were also found on it. The defense noted that he claimed to have been attacked by it, so it would make sense that the fibers were found on it. Furthermore, neither he nor anyone in his family owned black wool.
The defense was certain that Helena was involved in the murders, and was probably the woman that Jeffrey allegedly saw. In 1970, she was heavily involved in the Fort Bragg drug scene. She was also the main informant for Prince Beasley. She told him that she was once involved in a cult that practiced witchcraft and animal sacrifice. She, her boyfriend, Greg Mitchell, and other members of the group were heavy drug users.
During an interview for a documentary, Helena claimed that she met Jeffrey shortly before the murders. One of her group members had overdosed on heroin and was taken to the hospital where he worked. She and her friends allegedly believed that he was involved in several drug-related arrests. They believed that he needed to be stopped.
Helena claimed that on the night of February 17, 1970, she put on a blond wig and floppy hat and went with Greg and two other men to the MacDonald home. She claimed that they found Jeffrey asleep and then began attacking him and his family. She said that she chanted "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs" and watched the assault unfold. However, investigators did not believe her account and believed she was unreliable.
Despite Helena's credibility issues, one person corroborates her account. At 2am on the night of the murders, Jimmy Friar planned to call a man named Richard MacDonald. However, he was given the wrong phone number and called Jeffrey's house instead. A woman answered the phone; when he asked for Richard the woman began laughing. Another voice said "hang up the damn phone" and the call disconnected. Helena claimed that she was the woman that talked to Jimmy.
Approximately two hours later at 4am, Sgt. Kenneth Mica was responding to Jeffrey's call for help. He specifically recalled seeing a woman with long stringy blond hair and a floppy hat standing on a street corner two blocks from the MacDonald home. Moments later, Jeffrey would describe a similar woman. Prince Beasley had staked out Helena's home; at 2am the following night, a car pulled into the driveway. There were two women and three men in it. When he went over to talk to her, she told him that Greg and several others had committed the murders.
However, prosecutor James Blackburn claims that Jeffrey had not identified her in a photo line-up, despite her allegedly being just feet away from him while he was being attacked. She died of cirrhosis in 1983 at age thirty-two without ever being charged in the case. Greg Mitchell also confessed to several people that he was the killer. He made an especially tearful confession to his best friend, Bryant Lane. However, he could never be charged in the case because he also has since died.
The defense has attempted to appeal the case several times, but each time it has been denied. To this day, Jeffrey continues to maintain his innocence.
Suspects: Jeffrey claimed that four individuals attacked him and his family. He described them as one black male, two white males, and one white female. The female had long, stringy blond hair and was wearing a floppy hat. If they exist, they have never been identified.
The defense believes that Helena Stoeckly, Greg Mitchell, and two other men were responsible for the murders. Helena was reportedly seen near the MacDonald house around the time of the murders. She confessed to the murders on multiple occasions; however, she did not testify at trial. She claimed that they killed Colette, Kimberly, and Kristen because Jeffrey had been involved in drug-related arrests. A witness who accidentally called the MacDonald home corroborated her story. Greg also reportedly confessed to his involvement in the murders. However, they both have since died.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the premiere episode of Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries on September 18, 1992. It also became the basis of the movie, "Fatal Vision", which also starred Karl Malden. It was also documented on 48 Hours, American Justice, and People Magazine Investigates. The case was also referenced on an episode of Unusual Suspects, which documented the Eastburn family murders.
This was one of the longest segments featured on the show, lasting over thirty minutes. It was excluded from Film Rise episodes.
Results: Unresolved. New forensic evidence continues to suggest that Jeffrey was indeed guilty and that there was nobody else in the house other than Colette, Kimberly, and Kristen. Neither Helena nor Greg's DNA was found at all in there. Their confessions were contradictory and repeatedly considered unreliable. The evidence also did not match their statements. DNA believed to have belonged to intruders was determined to come from either Jeffrey or the victims. The hair found in Colette's hand was determined to have come from him. Other hairs not identified as belonging to the MacDonalds are believed to have been naturally shed (as no root was found). It is believed that the "wig hair" found at the scene was actually from one of Kimberly or Kristen's dolls.
A federal marshal named Jimmy Britt later came forward, claiming that Helena had confessed to him while he transferred her to North Carolina for the trial. He also claimed that a prosecutor had threatened to charge her with murder if she testified. However, records were found that showed that two other marshals had transferred her that day and that he had apparently never met her. The reasons for him lying are not known, as he died before the story came out.
Other evidence not mentioned in the segment seemed to point towards Jeffrey being responsible. A piece of surgical glove was found near where the word "Pig" was written in blood; it is believed that the glove was used to write the word. It was discovered to match gloves found underneath the sink in the MacDonald home. Wounds found on Kristen's body indicated that the killer stabbed her with "anatomical precision". Furthermore, the evidence showed that the killer had lifted up her shirt before stabbing, presumably to better identify the location of vital organs.
When Jeffrey's pajama top was folded in the same manner as it was found on Colette's body, it was shown that the pattern of puncture holes through it was strikingly similar to that of ice pick wounds suffered by Colette. Moreover, the pocket was found in the master bedroom, and it was shown at trial that it had been stained with Colette's blood prior to being torn off.
Following the murders, Jeffrey told Colette's stepfather that he had found one of the murders and killed them himself. He later admitted lying about this because he wanted his stepfather-in-law to "stop bothering" and move on. He also apparently lied about who wet his bed. He claimed Kristen had done it, but testing on the urine indicated that it belonged to Kimberly. He also allegedly said that he felt "relief" that Colette, Kimberly, and Kristen was gone. A separate group of four people were located that matched the description of the alleged intruders. The people were friends of Jeffrey's brother but had no ties to North Carolina. It has been suggested that he used their physical descriptions for his descriptions of the intruders.
The 4th Circuit Court denied Jeffrey's motion for additional DNA testing in 2016. Jeffrey has an appeal pending of his request for further DNA testing. He will be eligible for parole in 2020. He continues to maintain his innocence.
- Jeffrey MacDonald on Wikipedia
- United States vs. MacDonald (1991)
- Jeffrey MacDonald seeks new trial, citing 'perjured' analysis of murder scene
- Vanity Fair - The Devil and Jeffrey MacDonald
- Jeffrey MacDonald: Time For Truth (48 Hours)
- Since 1979, Brian Murtagh has fought to keep convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald in prison
- Timeline of events in the Jeffrey MacDonald case
- North Carolina Man Continues to Fight his 1979 Murder Conviction
- Ex-Army surgeon pursues appeal, insists he's innocent in "Fatal Vision" killings
- MacDonald Case Facts Website