Forty-seven years ago, a gruesome murder of Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and children shocked America. The murder case rendered doubts on the participation or innocence of the Green Beret surgeon. The Jeffrey MacDonald murder case is the longest-running criminal case in US history.
In the early morning of February 17, 1970, Fort Bragg, North Carolina received an emergency call. The caller identified himself as MacDonald and reported a stabbing incident. When authorities arrived at 544 Castle Drive,no one answered their knocks. As they circled the house, they learned the screen door was closed but unlocked while the back door was wide open. The military police discovered a brutal murder.
Jeffrey’s wife Colette was lying on the bedroom floor, bathed in her own blood. She was violently hammered with a club, stabbed 21 times with ice pick and 16 times with a knife. Colette was pregnant.
Their five-year old daughter Kimberly suffered the same fate – clubbed and stabbed in the neck 10 times with a knife. Two-year old Kirsten was stabbed 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick. The children were in their own bedrooms.
Military police found Jeffrey beside his wife’s body. He sustained head contusions and multiple stab wounds that punctured his lungs. Responding authorities brought him to Womack Hospital.
According to Jeffrey, he fell asleep on the sofa when screams of his wife and daughters awakened him. Four intruders –two white men, a black man and a white woman – entered their home at around 3:30am then they attacked him. He managed to pull over his pajama top and wrapped in his wrist to deflect lunge from the ice pick. Eventually, his assailants knocked him unconscious near the hallway leading to the bedroom.
However, he remembered one of the intruders carrying a baseball bat or a club, while the other men had a bladed weapon. The woman in a floppy hat was carrying a flickering light. Jeffrey heard her chanting “Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs.” The word PIG was inscribed with Colette’s blood in the bed headboard.
The MacDonald Family
Jeffrey MacDonald grew up in Patchogue, New York. He met Colette Kathryn Stevenson in grade school and dated in high school. They got married on September 14, 1963 while Jeffrey was attending Princeton University. Colette gave birth to Kimberley Kathryn in April, 1964. The next baby Kirsten Jean arrived while Jeffrey attended medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago. The MacDonalds moved to Fort Bragg where he became a group surgeon in the Special Forces (Green Berets).
The Army Investigation
The Army Criminal Investigation Division lead by Franz Grebner, Robert Shaw and William Ivory conducted investigations. After series of inquiries, they declared Jeffrey as the main suspect of the crime.
The investigators argued that a Green Beret army like him could not be easily beaten by three stoned men. Jeffrey was trained for hand-to-hand combat. They added the physical evidence did not support Jeffrey’s story. The living room showed little signs of struggle. In addition, no fibers of pajama top found in the living room. Instead they found the pajama top fibers under Colette’s body and in the children’s bedrooms. Kirsten’s fingernail also had one fiber of the same material.
Authorities recovered the murder weapons – a kitchen knife, an ice pick, and a 3-foot long piece of lumber outside near the back door. The surgical gloves were found beneath the headboard where “pig” was written in Colette’s blood. Moreover, the gloves were identical to a supply Jeffrey kept in the kitchen.
Investigators speculated that Jeffrey attempted to cover up the murder by imitating Manson Family murders. The Army formally charged Jeffrey for the murder of his family.
On July 5, 1970, Colonel Warren V. Rock presided the Article 32 hearing to hear evidence against Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald. Defense Attorney Bernard Segal represented Jeffrey. The defense lawyer reasoned the poor quality of the C.I.D. investigation. He presented the contamination of the crime scene and vital evidence due to negligence and incompetence of the military police.
Colonel Rock recommended to drop charges and discharged Jeffrey from the service.
After the discharged, Jeffrey appeared on the Dick Cavett talk show and criticized the Army. His dreadful connections with the media caused suspicions especially when he talked much of his plight and little of his murdered family.
The Army eventually traced the woman in the floppy hat named Helena Stoeckley. Helena, a drug abuser and professed member of a witchcraft cult allegedly confessed knowledge of the crime. However, the CID dismissed her as a suspect because her prints did not matched with those taken from the crime scene.
The prosecutors maintained Jeffrey killed his family members in a rage and made up the story about the intruders as a cover-up.
A grand jury indicted and arrested Jeffrey on January 1975. He posted bail pending disposition of the charges. In 1975, he pleaded not guilty at the same time he filed double jeopardy complaint in 1979. In August of the same year, the jury convicted him of murder and sent to the federal prison in California. The next year, the Fourth Circuit court dismisses all charges against him, based on the speedy trial issue.
However, on March 1982, Supreme Court reversed the speedy trial win and rearrested Jeffrey. The court sent him to Federal prison in Maryland. Further, the decision ruled a three life sentences for first-degree and two counts of second-degree murder. In 2005, the parole board recommended another fifteen years to be served before another parole hearing.
In 2016, Jeffrey’s lawyer again filed a 64-page appeal asking the court to vacate his conviction. The Green Beret surgeon now 73 seek to overturn a July 2014 decision by U.S. District Judge James Fox denying MacDonald’s bid for a new trial.
As to this day, Jeffrey MacDonald murder case is one of the most celebrated case in the US history.