Jeffrey R. MacDonald

Jeffrey R. MacDonald

Jeffrey Robert MacDonald, M.D. (b. October 12, 1943), is an American doctor tried and convicted in 1979 for the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters in February 1970.

Early life

Jeffrey Robert MacDonald was born in Jamaica, Queens. In Patchogue high school, he was voted both "most popular" and "most likely to succeed", and won a scholarship to Princeton University. While at Princeton, MacDonald resumed a romantic relationship with Colette Stevenson, whom he had dated while in high school. In the fall of 1963, upon learning of her pregnancy, the couple married. Their first child, Kimberley, was born in April 1964.

After three years of attending Princeton, he and his family moved to Chicago, where he had been accepted to and attended Northwestern University Medical School. A second child, Kristen, was born in May 1967. The following year, upon his graduation from medical school, MacDonald completed an internship at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He then decided to join the Army and the entire family moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. MacDonald was appointed to the Green Berets as a group surgeon in 1969. [ Trial testimony of Colette's mother, Mildred Kassab] . ]

The murders

At 3:42 a.m on the morning of February 17, 1970, dispatchers at Fort Bragg received an emergency call from MacDonald, who reported a "stabbing". Responding officers arrived to find Colette, Kimberley, and Kristen all dead in their respective bedrooms.

Colette, who had been pregnant with her third child, was lying on the floor of her bedroom. She had been repeatedly clubbed (both her arms were broken) and stabbed 37 times with a knife and ice pick. Her husband's torn pajama top was draped upon her chest. On the headboard of the bed the word "pig" was written in blood.

Kimberley, age five, was found in her bed. She had been clubbed in the head and stabbed in the neck with a knife between eight and ten times. Her younger sister Kristen, age two, was also found in her bed. She had been stabbed with a knife 33 times and stabbed with an ice pick 15 times. [ Police report of finding crime scene and victims] . ] [ Trial testimony of physician who conducted autopsies of Kimberley and Kristen] . ] [ Trial testimony of physician who conducted autopsy of Colette] . ]

MacDonald was found next to his wife, alive but wounded. He was immediately transferred to a nearby hospital. His wounds were much less severe than his family's injuries. In addition to various cuts and bruises, he had what a staff surgeon referred to as a "clean, small, sharp" incision that caused one lung to partially collapse. He was admitted to the hospital, where he was released after one week. [ Hospital narrative summary of Jeffrey MacDonald's injuries] . ]

MacDonald's account

MacDonald told investigators that on the evening of February 16, he had fallen asleep on the living room couch. He told investigators that he was sleeping on the couch because his youngest daughter had been in bed with his wife and had wet his side of the bed. He was later awakened by the sounds of Colette and Kimberley's screams. As he rose from the living room couch to go to their aid he was attacked by three male intruders. A fourth intruder, described as a white female in a white floppy hat, stood nearby with a lighted candle and chanted "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." The three males attacked him with a club and ice pick. During the struggle, MacDonald claimed that his pajama top was pulled over his head and he then used it to ward off thrusts from the ice pick. Eventually, MacDonald stated that he was overcome by his assailants and was knocked unconscious in the living room end of the hallway leading to the bedrooms. [ April 6, 1970, investigators' interview with Jeffrey MacDonald] ]


The army's Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) did not believe MacDonald's version of events. As they studied the physical evidence, it did not seem to support the story told by MacDonald. The living room, where MacDonald had supposedly fought for his life against three armed assailants, showed little sign of a struggle apart from an overturned coffee table and plant. [ ] Fibers from MacDonald's torn pajama top were not found in the living room, where he claimed that it was torn. Instead fibers from the pajama top were found under the body of Colette and in Kimberley's and Kristen's bedrooms. One fiber was found under Kristen's fingernail. [ The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site: CID Record 3 - 16 ] ] The murder weapons were found outside the back door, all three were determined to come from the MacDonald house. The tips of surgical gloves were found beneath the headboard where "pig" was written in blood; they were identical in composition to a supply MacDonald kept in the kitchen.

The MacDonald family all had different blood types — a statistical anomaly that was used to track what had happened in the apartment. Investigators theorized that the fight began in the master bedroom. Colette, they speculated, hit her husband in the forehead with a hairbrush. As MacDonald retaliated by beating her with a piece of lumber, Kimberley — whose brain serum was found in the doorway — was struck, possibly by accident. Believing Colette dead, MacDonald carried the mortally wounded Kimberley back to her bedroom. After stabbing and bludgeoning her (Kimberley's blood was discovered on the pajama top MacDonald said he hadn't been wearing while in her room), he went to Kristen's room, intent on disposing of the last remaining witness. Before he could do so, Colette — whose blood was found on Kristen's bedcovers and on one wall of the room — regained consciousness, stumbled in, and threw herself over her daughter. After killing them, MacDonald wrapped his wife's body in a sheet and carried it back to the master bedroom, leaving a footprint of Colette's blood on the way out. [ [ The Devil and Jeffrey MacDonald: Classic VF: ] ]

C.I.D. investigators then theorized that MacDonald attempted to cover-up the murders, using articles on the Manson Family murders that he found in an issue of "Esquire" in the living room. He then took a scalpel blade from a supply in the hallway closet and went to the adjacent bathroom and stabbed himself once. Putting on surgical gloves from his supply, he went to the master bedroom, where he used Colette's blood to write "pig" on the headboard. Finally, he laid his pajama top over Colette and repeatedly stabbed her in the chest with an ice pick. MacDonald used the phones to summon an ambulance, discarded the weapons, and lay by the body of his wife while he waited for the military police to arrive.

On April 6, 1970, Army investigators interrogated MacDonald. Less than a month later, on May 1, the Army formally charged MacDonald with the murder of his family. [ [ Article 32 Report] ]

Article 32 hearing

An initial army Article 32 hearing into MacDonald's possible guilt, overseen by Colonel Warren Rock, convened in July 1970 and ran through September. MacDonald was represented by Bernard Segal, a civilian defense attorney from Philadelphia. Segal's defense concentrated on the poor quality of the C.I.D. investigation and the existence of other suspects, specifically Helena Stoeckley.

Segal presented evidence that the C.I.D. had not properly managed the crime scene and lost critical evidence, including skin found under Colette's fingernails. In addition, he claimed to have located the woman that MacDonald had seen the night of the murders in his apartment. Her name was Helena Stoeckley, a well-known drug user in the area. Witnesses claimed that Stoeckley had admitted involvement in the crimes and several remembered her wearing clothing similar to what MacDonald had described.

In October 1970, Rock issued a report recommending that charges be dismissed against MacDonald because they were "not true", and recommended that civilian authorities investigate Stoeckley.

MacDonald received an honorable discharge from the Army and returned to his home state of New York. [ Trial testimony of Jeffrey MacDonald] ]

Justice Department

After the Article 32 hearing MacDonald returned to work as a doctor, briefly in New York and then in Long Beach, California, where he was an emergency room physician at the St. Mary Medical Center. He also made media appearances, most notably "The Dick Cavett Show", during which he made jokes and complained about the investigation and its focus on him as a suspect.

Between 1972 and 1974 the case remained trapped within the Justice Department as they struggled over whether to prosecute. [ Transcript of Dept. of Justice Memorandum regarding MacDonald case] ] In April 1974, after much persistence in pursuing the prosecution of MacDonald, [ [ Kassab Letter to Judiciary Committee] ] [ [ Kassab Letter to U.S. Attorney General] ] Alfred and Mildred Kassab, Colette's stepfather and mother, filed a formal complaint against MacDonald for the murders. [ [ Complaint Filed Against MacDonald by Alfred and Mildred Kassab, Part 1] ] [ [ Complaint, Part 2] ] [ [ Complaint, Part 3] ] As a result of the complaint, a grand jury was convened in August 1974.

Trial and conviction

A grand jury in North Carolina indicted MacDonald on January 24, 1975 and within the hour MacDonald was arrested in California. On January 31, 1975 he was freed on $100,000 bail pending disposition of the charges. On July 29, 1975, District Judge Franklin T. Dupree Jr. denied MacDonald's double jeopardy and speedy trial arguments and allowed the trial date of August 18, 1975 to stand. On August 15, 1975, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the trial and on January 23, 1976, a panel of that court, in a 2-1 split, ordered the indictment dismissed on speedy trial grounds. An appeal on behalf of the Government led to an 8-0 reinstatement of the indictment by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 1, 1978. On October 22, 1978, the Fourth Circuit rejected MacDonald's double jeopardy arguments and, on March 19, 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review that decision.

The trial began on July 16, 1979 in a Raleigh, North Carolina courtroom. Although MacDonald’s lawyers, Bernard Segal and Wade Smith were confident of an acquittal, from the first day, one thing after another went badly for the defense. It began when Dupree refused to admit into evidence a psychiatric evaluation of MacDonald, which suggested that someone of his personality type was unable to kill his wife and children. Dupree explained that since no insanity plea had been entered for MacDonald, he did not want the trial bogged down by contradictory psychiatric testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses. Dupree allowed the prosecution to admit into evidence the 1970 copy of "Esquire" magazine, found in the MacDonald household, part of which contained the lengthy article of the Charles Manson murders in August 1969. The government attorneys, James Blackburn and Brian Murtagh, wanted to introduce the magazine and suggest that this is where MacDonald got the idea of blaming a hippie gang for the murders.

Government lab technicians testified that MacDonald’s blue pajama jacket had 48 small, smooth and cylindrical ice pick holes through it. In order for this to have happened, the jacket would need to remain stationary, an unlikely occurrence if MacDonald had wrapped the jacket around his hands to defend himself from the blows from an attacker wielding an ice pick. Also, by folding the jacket one particular way, the government demonstrated how all 48 tears could have been made by 21 thrusts of the ice pick, the same number of times that Colette MacDonald had been stabbed with the ice pick and in an identical pattern, implying that she had been repeatedly stabbed through the pajama jacket while it was lying on top of her. [ Trial testimony of government technician who conducted analysis of pajama top holes] ] Brian Murtagh and James Blackburn staged an impromptu re-enactment of the alleged attack on MacDonald. Murtagh wrapped a pajama top around his hands and tried to fend off a series of blows that Blackburn was inflicting on him with a similar ice pick. The prosecution made two points to the demonstration. First, the ice pick holes in the pajama top were jagged and torn, not smoothly cylindrical as the holes in MacDonald’s pajama jacket. Also, Murtagh received a small wound on his left hand. When MacDonald had been examined at Womack Hospital, he had no wounds on his arms or hands which was consistent to a struggle. The inference was obvious and highly damaging to the defense.

Another piece of damaging evidence against MacDonald was an audio tape made of the April 6, 1970 interview by military investigators. The audio tape of the interview was played for the jury. On this tape, they heard MacDonald's matter-of-fact, indifferent recitation of the murders. They heard him become emotional in response to suggestions by the investigators that he had committed the murders, asking the investigators why would they think he, who had a beautiful family and everything going for him, could have murdered his wife and two daughters. The jury also heard the investigators confront MacDonald with their knowledge of his extramarital affairs, to which MacDonald calmly responded, “You guys are more thorough than I thought.”

During the defense stage of the trial, Segal called Stoeckley to the witness stand, intent on extracting a confession from her that she had been one of the intruders MacDonald claimed had entered his family's apartment, murdered his family and attacked him. Over the past nine years, Stoeckley had made several contradictory statement regarding the murders - sometimes saying she was involved, other times stating she had no recollection of her whereabouts the evening of the murders. Just prior to her testimony, separate interviews had been conducted by the defense and the prosecution, during which she denied ever being in the MacDonald apartment or ever seeing MacDonald before that very day in court. Afterwards, Segal argued for the introduction of evidence from other witnesses to whom Stoeckly had confessed. Dupree refused in the absence of any evidence to connect Stoeckly to the scene, and noting her history of long-term drug abuse.

MacDonald's defense called forensic expert James Thornton to the stand. He unsuccessfully tried to rebut the government's contention that the pajama top was stationary on Colette's chest, rather than wrapped around MacDonald's wrists as he warded off blows, by conducting an experiment wherein a similar pajama top was placed over a ham, moved back and forth on a sled, and stabbed at with an ice pick. [ [ Trial Testimony of James Thornton] ] The defense also called several character witnesses. MacDonald took the witness stand as the last defense witness. Under Segal’s direct examination, MacDonald tearfully denied committing the murders. [ [ Trial Direct Examination of Jeffrey MacDonald] ] When Blackburn cross-examined him, however, MacDonald could offer no explanation against the evidence. [ [ Trial Cross-Examination of Jeffrey MacDonald] ]

On August 29, 1979, MacDonald was convicted of one count of first-degree murder in the death of Kristen and two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Colette and Kimberley. Dupree gave MacDonald a life sentence for each of the three murders, to be served consecutively. He also revoked MacDonald's bail. Soon after the verdict, MacDonald appealed Duprees's bail revocation ruling, asking that bail be granted pending the outcome of his appeal. On September 7, 1979, this application was rejected and an appeal on bail was further rejected by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on November 20, 1979.

"Fatal Vision"

In June 1979, MacDonald chose Joe McGinniss to write a book about the case. He was given unfettered access to MacDonald and the defense during the trial. MacDonald expected that the book would be about his innocence in the murders of his family. However, McGinniss' book, "Fatal Vision", first published in 1983, portrayed MacDonald as a sociopath who was indeed guilty of killing his family. The book contains excerpts from court transcripts and sections entitled, "The Voice of Jeffrey MacDonald", which were based on tape recordings made by MacDonald following his conviction.

MacDonald subsequently sued McGinniss in 1987 for fraud, claiming that McGinniss pretended to believe MacDonald innocent after he came to the conclusion that MacDonald was guilty, in order to continue MacDonald's cooperation with him. [ MacDonald's filing of his lawsuit against McGinness] ] After a trial, which resulted in a mistrial on August 21, 1987, McGinniss and MacDonald settled out of court for $325,000.

"The Journalist and the Murderer", written by Janet Malcolm and published in 1990, is about the relationship between journalists and their subjects, and explores the relationship between McGinniss and MacDonald as an example of the author's thesis that, "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."



On July 29, 1980, a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed MacDonald's conviction in a 2-1 split on the grounds that the delay in bringing him to trial violated his Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial. On August 22, 1980, MacDonald was freed on $100,000 bail. He returned to work at St. Mary's Medical Center in Long Beach, California as the Director of Emergency Medicine. His job had been held open during the year he was incarcerated.

On December 18, 1980, the Fourth Circuit Court split 5-5 to hear the case "en banc" and thus the earlier decision stood. On May 26, 1981, the United States Supreme Court accepted the case for consideration and on December 7, 1981, heard oral arguments. On March 31, 1982, they ruled 6-3 that MacDonald's rights to a speedy trial were not violated. MacDonald was rearrested and returned to prison. Defense lawyers filed a new motion for MacDonald to be freed on bail pending appeal, but the Fourth Circuit refused. MacDonald's remaining points of appeal were heard on June 9, 1982 and his convictions were unanimously affirmed on August 16, 1982. A further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was refused on January 10, 1983.

On March 1, 1985, Dupree rejected all defense motions for a new trial. Lawyers for MacDonald appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Dupree's ruling and refused to reopen the case. On October 6, 1986 the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision.

In July 1991, Dupree, after hearing arguments that MacDonald should be granted a new murder trial on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, denied the petition.

The courts ruled that Dupree had acted correctly when he refused to let the jury see a transcript of the Article 32 military hearing, and, because this was not an insanity trial, had also acted properly in not allowing the jurors to hear any of the psychiatric testimony. Had he done so, the jurors would have learned that none of the doctors hired by the defense or who worked for the Army or government at Walter Reed Hospital, concluded that MacDonald was psychologically incapable of committing the murders. The courts have also ruled that Stoeckley's confessions were unreliable and at odds with the established facts of the case, and that her treatment at trial was correct. During trial, she was arrested under a material witness warrant and testified before the jury that she could not remember her activities on the evening of the murders due to substantial drug use; witnesses to whom she had confessed were not allowed to testify.

MacDonald was granted leave to file his fourth appeal on January 12, 2006. This latest appeal is based on the recent sworn affidavit of Jimmy Britt, a decorated retired United States Marshal who worked as such during the trial. Britt states that he heard the material witness in the case, Helena Stoeckley, admit to the prosecutor of the case, James Blackburn, that she was present at the MacDonald residence at the time of the murders and that Blackburn threatened her with prosecution if she testified. Stoeckley, however, met with counsel for the defense prior to this alleged meeting with Blackburn, and she told them that she had no memory of her whereabouts the night of the murders. Defense Attorney Wade Smith advised Dupree that Stoekley had testified on the stand essentially the same as she had stated in the Defense interviews. Also, she contacted Dupree during her retention as a material witness to claim she was terrified, not of the prosecutors, but of Bernie Segal, the lead defense attorney.

On April 16, 2007, MacDonald's attorneys filed an affidavit of Stoeckley's mother, in which she states that her daughter confessed to her twice that she was at the MacDonald residence on the evening of the murders and that she was afraid of the prosecutors. Her past statements concerning her daughter are at odds with the details contained in her affidavit. [ CID Summary Re: Contact with Helena Stoeckley's Parents ] MacDonald has requested to expand the appeal to include all the evidence amassed at trial, evidence which he claims was discovered subsequent to the trial (e.g., alleged prosecution threats against Stoeckley) and the recently completed DNA results. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals granted MacDonald's motion for a successive habeas petition and remanded the matter back to the District Court Eastern Division for a decision. The petition is under consideration by Judge James Fox.

Allegations of suppression of evidence

MacDonald supporters claim that the prosecution suppressed evidence. In the years since the trial, defense lawyers have used the Freedom of Information Act to find evidence that the government did not present at trial. However, all of MacDonald's claims regarding suppressed evidence have been rejected by the courts, citing evidence that many of the items were indeed available to the defense and, even if they weren't, the items do not indicate his innocence and would not have changed the verdict of the jury. [ 1998 Court of Appeals decision regarding withheld evidence claims] ]

Unidentified fingerprints and fibers found in the apartment were never matched to anyone known to have been in the house prior to or after the murders. However, fingerprint exemplars of the children were not obtained and Colette's fingerprint exemplars were of poor quality, as they were taken subsequent to embalming. Two unidentified 22" long synthetic hairs were found in a hairbrush, but not pointed out specifically to the defense. A spot of blood that was either type O or type B (MacDonald's blood type) was found in the hallway. MacDonald supporters continue to insist that this was not disclosed to the defense, despite the existence of the trial transcripts online which clearly show this spot was indeed disclosed and discussed. Supporters of MacDonald also point to black wool fibers found on Colette MacDonald's mouth and shoulder as evidence of intruders that the government deliberately did not report.

In 1995, two MacDonald supporters, Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost, wrote "Fatal Justice", a book meant to both refute McGinniss' "Fatal Vision" and present the evidence they claimed had been hidden by government prosecutors.

DNA testing

Lawyers representing MacDonald were given the right to pursue DNA tests on limited hair and blood evidence in 1997 by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Testing began in December 2000. Defense lawyers were hopeful that the results would tie Stoeckley and her associate Greg Mitchell to the scene.

DNA test results released by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory on March 10, 2006, showed that neither Stoeckley's nor Mitchell's DNA matched any of the tested exhibits. A limb hair found stuck to the left palm of Colette MacDonald matched the DNA profile of Jeffrey MacDonald. MacDonald's DNA profile also matched body hairs found on the multi-colored bedspread from the master bed and on the top sheet of Kristen MacDonald's bed. A hair found in Colette's right palm was sourced as her own. Three hairs, one from the bedsheet, one found in Colette's body outline in the area of her legs and one found beneath the fingernail of Kristen, did not match the DNA profile of any MacDonald family member or known suspect. [ Government Chart regarding DNA results] . ] A judicial response to the DNA results is pending.


MacDonald is currently imprisoned in Cumberland, Maryland at a Federal prison. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout the years. At the urging of his second wife (whom he married in 2002) and his attorneys, he had a parole hearing on May 10, 2005. He did not admit guilt at this hearing. Parole was denied, with the recommendation that 15 more years be served before another hearing, or two years if new circumstances were to arise in the meantime.


* McGinniss, Joe. "Fatal Vision". Signet, 1984. ISBN 0451165667
* Bost, Fred and Potter, Jerry. "Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders". W.W. Norton, 1995. ISBN 0393030008
* Malcolm, Janet. "The Journalist and the Murderer". Vintage, 1990. ISBN 0679731830

External links

* [ The Jeffrey MacDonald Case] This website is maintained by friends and family of Jeffrey MacDonald
* [ The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site] This website presents trial transcripts, grand jury testimonies, depositions, declarations, CID reports, FBI reports, psychological and psychiatric evaluations and other documents pertaining to the case.
* [ Crime Library feature]
* [ The Jeffrey MacDonald Interview] This website analyzes the first interview Jeffrey MacDonald gave to the authorities.

MacDonald case discussion forums:
* [ Crime & Justice / Jeffrey MacDonald] This site is an open message board for discussion about the case.

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