The Two Faces of Jeffrey MacDonald – Raleigh’s National Murder Case
In the early morning of February 17, 1970, Fort Bragg police arrive at the MacDonald house in response to an emergency phone call from Jeffrey MacDonald. What they find is murder and mayhem, a scene so brutal as to be found only in a horror movie. But this is no movie, it’s a nightmare.
Colette, Kimberley, and Kristen MacDonald are all dead in their respective bedrooms. Butchered. The scene aptly described by first responders simply as “horrific”. These are the facts, and they are not in dispute. Since that nefarious day in February, MacDonald has worn two public faces, one of ultimate evil and one of ultimate injustice.
Which ever face you decide rightfully belongs, keep this in mind: the outcome of either is the same for Jeffrey MacDonald — unfathomable horror.
Face #1: Princeton scholarship doctor and Green Beret Captain with no penchant for violence has a complete sanity lapse and break from reality, during which time he brutally butcher’s his pregnant wife and two young daughters. His choice of weapons? A knife, ice pick and club.
Face #2: Princeton scholarship doctor and Green Beret Captain, faithful husband, father of two lovely girls, a new baby on the way. Unlimited and bright future in front of him, loses his entire family to unspeakable violence. Then is falsely convicted of the heinous act itself.
These two faces, completely opposite of the other in every way imaginable, belong to the very same man.
One is the face of a monster, the brutal killer of his pregnant wife and young children. The other, a face of innocence, the victim of two unimaginable and horrific injustices.
The murder scene
Colette MacDonald, pregnant with her third child, is found in the master bedroom, written on the headboard of the bed, with her own blood, is the word “PIG”. Colette’s body has been violently punctured 21 times by an ice pick. She has been repeatedly clubbed, to the point that both her arms are broken, her torso, lacerated and gutted from 16 stab wounds inflicted by a large butcher knife.
Five-year-old Kimberley is found in her bedroom, still in bed. She is nearly decapitated, having been ruthlessly clubbed in the head, then stabbed in the neck with the same butcher knife at least eight times.
Two-year-old Kristen is found in her own bed. Her small body has been stabbed with the butcher knife 33 times, in additional to being punctured 15 times by an ice pick.
Jeffrey MacDonald is found next to his wife Colette. He is the only survivor of the home invasion, and has numerous cuts, slashes, and bruises covering his face and chest. In addition to a brain concussion, he has a penetrating stab wound that has collapsed his left lung. He is alive and will make a full physical recovery.
Having fallen asleep in the living room, he awakes to the sounds of screaming. As he makes his way to the master bedroom he is viciously attacked by three men. Accompanying the men is a woman wearing a wig and white floppy hat. She is repeatably chanting: “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs”. A struggle ensues between MacDonald and the three male attackers, who attack him with a knife, club and ice pick. MacDonald, ripping off his pajama top, uses it as a make shift shield in an attempt to blunt the knife and ice pick attack.
MacDonald is eventually overcome and knocked unconscious in the hallway leading to the master bedroom.
He awakens to the horrific scene surrounding him, and immediately places a call for help to the military base police.
From the beginning, C.I.D. investigators theorized that MacDonald’s story was a cover loosely based on the Manson Family murders. This was backed up by the discovery of an issue of Esquire magazine found in the family living room, which featured a story that detailed the recent event in California. Additionally, they concluded that MacDonald’s injury’s were superficial in comparison with the deadly injuries inflicted on his family. In May of 1970, the Army formally charged MacDonald with the murder of his family.
MacDonald, represented by Bernard Segal, a civilian attorney, concentrated his defense on the poor quality of the C.I.D. investigation and the existence of other suspects, mainly Helena Stoeckley, who they theorized was the woman wearing the white floppy hat. In addition to evidence that the C.I.D. improperly managed the crime scene, Segal claimed to have located Helena Stoeckley, the woman MacDonald claimed to have seen in his apartment the night of the murders.
Not only was Stoeckley a known drug user in the Fayetteville area, but witnesses were produced that testified Stoeckley had admitted involvement in the crimes and was seen dressed similar to how MacDonald had described the female intruder.
In October 1970, after one of the lengthiest hearings in U.S. Army history, the Army recommended that charges be dismissed against MacDonald because they were “not true”.
In addition, a recommendation was forwarded to the civilian prosecutors office to open an investigation into Stoeckley. MacDonald was granted an honorable discharge.
Raleigh trial and conviction
The case against MacDonald did not end with the Army’s findings. In 1975, a grand jury indicted MacDonald for the murders. The trial played out in downtown Raleigh during the summer of 1979, bringing with it daily national news coverage, echoing the future era of “super” cases, as witnessed by the O.J. Simpson and George Zimmerman trials. What was planned as a prominent role in MacDonald’s defense, is the testimony of Helena Stoeckley, who had previously confessed to being in the MacDonald home the night of the murders. However Stoeckley, with a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, testified that she had no involvement in the murders. It was alleged at the time, that the prosecution had encouraged Stoeckley to alter her testimony to avoid her own prosecution for murder.
Stoeckley was crucial to the defense because she injected the critical “reasonable doubt” element required to unravel the prosecutions case, and gave all reason to believe that MacDonald was telling the truth. It is generally agreed upon today that by pressuring Stoeckley to change her story, the defense collapsed, and the verdict was sealed. Stoeckley died in 1983. Jeffrey MacDonald, Princeton graduate, medical doctor, Green Beret officer, father and husband, was convicted of the murders in 1979 and sentenced to life in prison.
Many today remember back to that summer in 1979 and recall when the sleepy city of Raleigh had the focus of the nation. At that time Raleigh was a very different place. Terms like “home invasion” didn’t exist. Crime and violence, especially crime of the horrific nature of these killings was simply unheard of. Was MacDonald a maniacal serial killer, who butchered his pregnant wife and young daughters, or was this actually a prelude to the home invasions and sick murderous acts which have become much more “normal” in this day and age?
The Innocence Project had this to say on the case
Since MacDonald was convicted of the murders in 1979, considerable evidence of his innocence has come to light. Most recently, retired US Marshall Jimmy Britt came forward with information that another suspect in the case, Helena Stoeckley, admitted to the prosecutor that she was in the house on the night of MacDonald’s murder and that he threatened to indict her for first degree murder if she admitted that in court. In addition, DNA testing on evidence that was recovered from the fingernails scrapings of one of the victims and a hair found under another victim did not match MacDonald. Earlier, evidence came to light that a FBI forensic examiner mislead the jury about synthetic hair evidence. MacDonald claimed the hairs were from the wig of one of the murders, but the forensic examiner incorrectly claimed they were from one of the children’s dolls.
Jeffrey MacDonald has always maintained that he did not kill his wife Colette or their children. He has steadfastly maintained that Charles Manson-like hippies doped up on acid killed his family after breaking into their home. On Sept. 17, 2012, his most recent appeal was heard in Wilmington, N.C. MacDonald now waits to see if a federal judge will vacate his 1979 homicide conviction and resulting life term sentence. He is currently scheduled to remain in custody until April 5, 2071.