MacDonald: Time For Truth
(Page 1 of 4)
Nov. 6, 2005
Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (Josh Gelman)
“My hopes are to be legally vindicated and walk out of
prison a free man.”
(CBS) During the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970,
the wife and two children of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald were
brutally murdered in the family’s home at Fort Bragg.
The case gained national attention, leading up to the
1979 conviction of Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Army
doctor with the elite Green Berets.
Imprisoned for the past 25 years, MacDonald has never
waivered from his claims of innocence.
Correspondent Bill Lagattuta reports.
“Prison is difficult for everyone. It's very difficult
for the guilty, and it's very difficult for the
innocent,” says Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.
"Innocent" is a word tossed around a lot behind prison
walls, but for inmate MacDonald it’s the only word that
has ever mattered.
“My focus for all these years has been to prove my
factual innocence, and walk out of prison with my head
held up,” says MacDonald, 61. He has desperately held on
to that goal since 1979, when he was convicted of one of
the most notorious murders in recent history.
Jeffrey MacDonald had a bright future. He made his mark
early on in high school when he was voted most likely to
succeed. He went to Princeton University, and
Northwestern Medical School. At age 25, he got a
captain’s commission as a doctor in the Army’s elite
Along the way, MacDonald managed to capture the heart of
his high school girlfriend, Colette Stevenson, and they
were married while he was still at Princeton.
During the next seven years, as their family grew, it
appeared that the MacDonalds were well on their way to a
seemingly perfect life.
But in 1970, life in America was far from perfect.
“This was an era of shock and counterculture rage in
America,” says Bernard Segal, a law school professor
who, at the time, was MacDonald’s defense attorney. “I
was a lawyer for people who felt they were not
represented by the system and who were outside the
MacDonald though, was, in fact, deep inside the system.
Jeffrey, Colette and their daughters Kimberley, age 5,
and Kristin, age 2, were stationed at the largest
military base in the country, Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville,
The happy times at Fort Bragg ended during the early
morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970.
What happened in the MacDonald house that night is one
of America’s most enduring murder mysteries, the subject
of a best-selling book, a sensational TV movie, and a
mysterious story kept alive by its charismatic leading
man, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.
Army MPs arrived at the MacDonald home, responding to a
call for help, and found the couple’s children dead in
their bedrooms. Jeffrey MacDonald was found wounded and
unconscious, beside the body of his dead wife.
“I realized someone was breathing in my mouth. And I
opened my eyes, and I could see a ring of military
police helmets circling me,” MacDonald says.
He was taken to the hospital, where a colleague told him
his family had been murdered. “You can't accept
something like that. It doesn't make any sense,” says
In fact, that morning MacDonald wasn’t the only one
having trouble making sense of what happened.
“My gut told me that what he told the investigators and
what he told the military police, could not possibly
have happened in that house,” says Bill Ivory, who was a
criminal investigator for the Army and in charge of the
Ivory says MacDonald told his agents at the hospital
that he had been attacked by some hippies. It is a story
that MacDonald has told again and again, for the past 35
MacDonald says he remembers seeing four people,
including two white men, a black man and what he thinks
was a blonde woman wearing a floppy hat.
“I heard a female voice say, ‘Acid is groovy, kill the
pigs.’ I heard that several times,” says MacDonald.
“There became a moment in time where all I was doing was
fending off blows with both my hands wrapped up in my
pajama top. I suddenly had a chest pain. The right side
of my chest hurt.”
MacDonald had been stabbed in the center of his chest
with an ice pick, puncturing his skin and the layers
But the attack on his family was considerably more
vicious as revealed by their autopsies. Colette suffered
two broken arms, a fractured skull and was stabbed more
than 30 times. Five-year-old Kimberley’s skull, jaw and
nose were badly broken and her throat was severely cut.
And Kristen, just 2˝ years old, was stabbed repeatedly
in her chest and back.
The autopsy also revealed one last devastating detail:
Colette was five and half months pregnant with a son.
MacDonald tells a very compelling story of what happened
that night but there are others who say the evidence
found in the apartment says something very different.
Jeffrey MacDonald: Time
(Page 2 of 4)
Nov. 6, 2005
Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (Josh Gelman)
Bill Ivory, for one, says he is not buying it. He
remembers seeing the body of Colette MacDonald.
“I looked at that and saw how everything was laid out,"
he says. "I saw a weapon over to the side. And the
position of her body. On the headboard of the bed, the
word ‘pig’ was written in blood."
MacDonald told investigators that these brutal murders
were committed by hippies, who had broken into his
house, a story, that in today’s world, seems a little
tough to swallow.
“Fayetteville at that time did have a big drug problem.
A lot of hippies here,” says Peter Kearns, an army
investigator from Washington, D.C. Kearns led a
follow-up investigation into the MacDonald case, which
included producing and starring in a filmed presentation
of the evidence.
“A lot of GIs were using drugs then and he had a job
where he counseled them,” says Kearns.
“If you were a physician, an Army physician, you were
under orders to turn in drug-abusing patients,” says
MacDonald. Asked whether he thought someone he turned in
might have been involved, he says, “Sure, that’s one of
the thought processes we immediately went through, of
But the more closely investigators examined the crime
scene, the more closely they began to question
“The coffee table was laying on its side but other than
that there was no sign of any monumental struggle with
him and three or four other people,” says Ivory.
For one, Ivory says MacDonald had drugs and medical
equipment, items drug-crazed hippies would have grabbed.
Bill Ivory says the evidence pointed to a different
story. “The theory that we came up with was that there
was an argument. Something started in the master
bedroom. He may have hit her first or she may have hit
A dull kitchen knife was found near Colette’s body but
this was not the murder weapon. Police found what they
believe were the three murder weapons outside the back
door: an ice pick, a paring knife, and a 31-inch length
of building lumber, which investigators say was at one
time a part of a bed slat on Kimberley’s bed.
“It was about a 2-by-2 that was finally grabbed on and
he started swinging. He just lost all control,” says
“We believe, also, the older girl was in the bedroom
with them and got in the middle of the fight between
them,” says Ivory. “He swatted back and hit her on the
side of the head and dropped her to the floor.”
“We know this because there is a large amount of her
blood right at the entrance to the master bedroom,”
Because each member of the MacDonald family had a
different blood type, investigators were able to follow
the blood evidence like a trail of breadcrumbs left by
“He went and took the bedding off of that bed in the
master bedroom and (we) believe he wrapped the older
girl in that, getting blood on him from her and getting
her blood on that sheet,” says Ivory.
The trail led them from the master bedroom to
Kimberley’s bedroom, where investigators say MacDonald
placed his daughter’s body back in her own bed.
“While he's doing that, his wife regains consciousness
and goes to the baby's room and lays across her on the
bed, obviously in an attempt to protect her,” says
“He followed her into that room,” says Ivory. “And he
began beating her more there with the club. That's
evidenced by blood sprays that were on the wall and on
The investigators believe MacDonald picked up his wife’s
body in the same bedding already bloodied by his
daughter Kimberley and brought her to the master
bedroom, but not before leaving a clear and important
clue along the way.
Investigators found a bloody footprint leading from
Kristin’s bedroom. “There are no ridge marks here. So,
we can't say it's his. But all the configuration fits
his foot,” says Ivory.
Investigators say after he killed his wife and his
daughter Kimberley, he came back in and stood to face
his youngest daughter, Kristen, who was still in her
“And then he killed her. And the only reason in the
world that he killed her was because she was a witness.
And she was old enough, she could say, ‘I saw daddy
hitting mommy,’ ” says Ivory.
It’s at this point, investigators say, that with his
entire family dead, MacDonald decided to include himself
in the attack in order to be believed. Kearns believes
MacDonald stabbed himself, collapsing a lung.
Now a victim himself, investigators say MacDonald then
went about setting a stage to fit his story of an attack
by drug-crazed hippies, a story they discovered
MacDonald may have borrowed from some very recent
In the apartment, investigators found a copy of Esquire
magazine, which included articles about the Tate/LaBianca
In the summer of 1969, just six months earlier, the
nation was stunned by a seemingly senseless series of
murders in southern California. On Aug. 9, actress
Sharon Tate and four houseguests were brutally murdered
in the middle of the night. The following night, Leno
and Rosemary LaBianca were slaughtered in their home.
Both crimes were carried out by the cult-like followers
of Charles Manson and the issue of Esquire found in the
MacDonald home contained a detailed account of the
Ivory says the article described the crime scenes,
described the word "pig" being written on the walls, and
described the hippies coming in and causing mayhem in
Investigators also found a finger smudge, in blood,
along the edge of the magazine. While it could not be
positively linked to MacDonald, it worked with Ivory’s
theory of the crime.
Bill Ivory believes MacDonald looked up the articles
after murders “to get his story straight.”
Ivory and his team’s interpretation of the evidence
pointed them to just one suspect, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.
But MacDonald says he had nothing to do with the murder.
“I was in the house that night. I know what happened. To
me, it was inconceivable that anyone could buy this
In fact, MacDonald was right. After a three-month
military hearing, the Army’s official position was that,
despite the significant efforts of their own
investigators, there was not enough evidence for a court
MacDonald thought the ordeal was over and received an
honorable discharge shortly thereafter.
While the Army seemed to be done with MacDonald,
investigators still had no doubt as to who committed
“He's 100 percent guilty. There's no mystery to me,”
says Kearns. "He knows he did it. I know he did it."
But until they could prove it in a court of law,
MacDonald would remain a free man.
“When I first came to represent Dr. MacDonald, I
wondered to myself, ‘Is it possible that he murdered his
family?’ ” says Bernard Segal.
It’s the one question that has always haunted this case
and everyone involved in it. Was MacDonald capable of
these brutal murders?
Segal says when he finally met MacDonald, he encountered
“a remarkably appealing, likable young man.”
Segal defended MacDonald when the Army tried and failed
to indict him due to a lack of evidence. “He was now a
man who had no family and who wanted to try and start
his life over again.”
And MacDonald did just that. Like a lot of young, single
men at the time, he headed west to southern California.
MacDonald found a new career in emergency room medicine
and a new lifestyle, which included all the spoils of
With the Army’s case dropped and civilian authorities
not particularly interested in prosecuting, MacDonald
might simply have faded from public view. But he
couldn’t seem to let it go. Apparently enjoying his
new-found celebrity, MacDonald continued to try his own
case in the court of public opinion.
On Dec. 15, 1970, MacDonald appeared on the popular
late-night program "The Dick Cavett Show," where it
became very clear that he was fast becoming his own
“He knew how to do it, as we say in the talk show trade.
He knew how to handle himself,” says Dick Cavett, who
remembers well the night he was face to face with
MacDonald. “His affect is wrong, totally wrong. My
affect was, ‘Gee, to find your wife and kids murdered.’
And even his answer to that was something like, ‘Hey,
yeah, isn't that something?’ Almost sounded like Bob
Hope. Very like Bob Hope.”
During the show, MacDonald took barbs at the Army,
saying he was angry and critical about the way the Army
had handled the case.
Watching the show that night, Colette’s family was
extremely disturbed by MacDonald’s appearance.
“All he spoke about was how his rights had been
violated,” says Colette’s older brother, Robert
Stevenson. "I don't think he once mentioned about let's
get the murderers. My family's been killed. But I
remember him grinning like a Cheshire cat."
And Colette’s stepfather, Freddy Kassab, who had at
first sided with MacDonald in his defense, was so
incensed at his son-in-law’s behavior that it became the
seed of an obsession to bring him to justice.
“It never occurred to me that Alfred Kassab would turn
on me, to be quite honest,” says MacDonald.
“When I was faced with the evidence, put together with
what I knew he had told me, nothing fit. Absolutely
nothing,” Kassab told the CBS News program 60 Minutes in
Stevenson says Kassab spent countless hours recreating
the crime scene and trying to solve the crime.
Realizing the government had no plans to indict
MacDonald, Kassab joined forces with Peter Kearns.
Together, they took matters into their own hands.
“It wasn't until Freddy and I went from New York down to
Clinton, N.C., to swear out a citizen's arrest. That's
when the federal government got off their duffs and got
an indictment and a grand jury,” says Kearns.
On Jan. 24, 1975, Jeffrey MacDonald was arrested once
again, this time by the federal government.
Wade Smith, one of the top trial lawyers in North
Carolina, was chosen to partner with Bernie Segal. Their
defense strategy was a simple one: that a man like
MacDonald is not capable of committing these crimes.
“Is it possible for a person to live a good life and all
of a sudden, in one moment, slaughter and mutilate his
children, stab his wife many, many times, and then live
out his life and have nothing like that happen again?
And it suggests to me a reasonable doubt about whether
he did it in the first place,” says Smith.
When his trial finally began on July 16, 1979, MacDonald
was confident he would be exonerated.
During the next six and a half weeks, 60 witnesses
testified, hundreds of items were placed into evidence.
Eventually, he was found guilty.
Almost a decade after the murders of Colette, Kimberley,
and Kristin MacDonald, the federal government was
satisfied that justice was finally served.
Jeffrey MacDonald: Time
(Page 3 of 4)
Nov. 6, 2005
Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (Josh Gelman)
Twenty-five years later, former federal assistant D.A.
Jim Blackburn is still asked to talk about the most
important trial of his career. He admits that the
prosecution didn’t think it could win the case. “I
thought it would be almost impossible.”
But Blackburn and his co-consul Brian Murtagh achieved
the impossible, convincing the jury that there was no
one in that apartment that morning except MacDonald.
Since all the evidence was found in the MacDonald home,
the prosecution brought the jury to the crime scene,
which remained untouched nine years later.
“The strength of our case always was very simple. The
physical evidence, the scientific evidence, his
statements. That was our case,” says Blackburn.
It was a considerable amount of information that seemed
to be overwhelming the jury. But the prosecution did
something with one piece of evidence that made every
juror sit up and take notice.
It had to do with the pajama top that MacDonald was
wearing that night. MacDonald had told investigators he
was asleep on the couch when he was attacked. During the
struggle, he says, the pajama top was pulled over his
head and that it somehow became entangled in his hands
and that he held it up to fend off the deadly blows of
the ice pick. But the prosecution maintained all along
that the pajama top itself told a very different tale.
Blackburn says MacDonald would be dead, if he were
telling the truth. “If you fold that pajama top, you
will see that there are 48 non-tearing holes in that
pajama top. There are 21 ice-pick holes in Colette's
chest that form a pattern.”
Blackburn and Murtagh explained to the jury this was
clear proof that MacDonald’s story was a lie and that he
had covered his wife’s body with the top and then
repeatedly stabbed her through it with the ice pick.
For Bernie Segal and Wade Smith, 25 years has done
little to ease the frustrations they encountered trying
to defend MacDonald, even with something as basic as a
request to examine the evidence.
“I was stunned to get the government's response,” says
Segal. "The government's response is ‘Dr. MacDonald is
not entitled to receive this evidence now because he
didn't ask for it in time.’ I didn't know whether to cry
or to laugh."
But Blackburn rejects claims that the government wasn’t
playing fair as “sour grapes.”
MacDonald’s team also says the Army’s handling of the
crime scene was a model of incompetence. “The crime
scene handling by the Army CID in 1970 is now taught in
military police and investigation schools as a primary
example of a crime scene investigation gone mad. This is
the worst example they could find,” says Segal.
Witnesses testified that fingerprints were lost,
evidence was moved, and the morning of the murders the
MacDonald apartment was overrun with military and
“Was the crime scene destroyed? No. Was it bungled? No.
Was it done perfectly? Absolutely not,” says Blackburn.
Regardless of the condition of the crime scene, the
defense believed they had something that would clear
MacDonald once and for all: an eyewitness to the
murders, the mysterious blonde woman in the floppy hat.
Her name was Helena Stoeckley, the daughter of a retired
Fort Bragg colonel and an unlikely savior for MacDonald.
Just 18 at the time of the murders, Stoeckley lived at
the center of the Fayetteville drug community.
Her story was astonishing. She believed she was actually
in the MacDonald house that night with a group of
friends, all drug users, who killed the MacDonalds.
“I had a floppy hat that I used to wear all the time, I
had on boots that night and as a joke I put on the
blonde wig,” Stoeckley said.
In fact, an MP, Ken Mica, testified that while
responding to MacDonald’s call for help, he saw someone
fitting Stoeckley’s description standing on a corner not
far from the crime scene.
MacDonald’s defense team hoped that Stoeckley would tell
the story to the jury but that is not what happened when
she was called to the stand. “Her basic testimony was
she didn't know where she was that night,” recalls
“Just a four-hour gap between midnight and 4 a.m., she
claimed to have a lapse of memory. It's absurd,” says
Segal. “She lied about whether she remembered what was
going on, but she lied out of a defensive need to
protect herself. She knew the government was looking at
But Blackburn says Stoeckley was not threatened with
Following the trial, Ted Gunderson, former chief of the
Los Angeles FBI office was hired by MacDonald’s team to
search for any evidence that could be used for an
“Helena said that she was there. She was chanting ‘Acid
is groovy, kill the pig,’ ” says Gunderson.
He eventually convinced Stoeckley to go on the record,
which she did in a 1982 60 Minutes segment. “I chanted
‘Acid is groovy, kill the pigs,’ ” she said during the
Gunderson says he believes Stoeckley because she talked
about trying to ride a rocking horse at the crime scene
but that the spring was broken.
Why was that significant? “Because the only people that
knew that spring was broken on the rocking horse was the
family, the MacDonald family,” says Gunderson.
But once again the courts chose not to believe Stoeckley
and MacDonald’s early appeals were denied. In 1983, at
the age of 32, Stoeckley died of cirrhosis of the liver
but the question of her involvement in the MacDonald
murders is still very much alive.
MacDonald is convinced Stoeckley and her friends entered
his home and murdered his family.
“And how do you know that she and her friends were the
ones?” Lagattuta asked.
“Because they said so. Because I saw them there. Because
there is evidence tying them to the crime scene,” says
It was evidence the defense didn’t even know existed,
evidence that would give MacDonald one more chance for
Jeffrey MacDonald: Time
(Page 4 of 4)
Nov. 6, 2005
Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (Josh Gelman)
Three times a week, Kathryn MacDonald makes the 140-mile
drive from her home outside Washington, D.C., to visit
Jeffrey MacDonald at the Cumberland Federal Prison in
Kathryn married Jeffrey MacDonald three years ago.
At 44, Kathryn MacDonald makes her living running a
small school for aspiring young actors but she has
another job as well, taking care of the life Jeffrey
MacDonald left behind.
She was instantly fascinated when she first read
MacDonald’s story and says the more she read, the more
convinced she was of his innocence. Eventually, she
decided to write him in prison.
“I wrote just a little typed paragraph, you know, saying
if I could be of any help, you know, please let me know.
I was a very fast typist, I think I said that,” she
Jeffrey MacDonald says they grew very close very
quickly, and the couple had a wedding ceremony behind
bars on Aug. 30, 2002.
“People are fascinated, I think, by women who reach out
to men in prison. Is there something about you that had
you go that direction in your life?” Lagattuta asked.
“No. I think it's something about him,” she replied.
"And that's that he doesn't belong there. He's
Now with a new wife and a new life waiting for him on
the outside, MacDonald has done something he swore he
would never do. He applied for parole.
“I would never go before the parole board if it required
any sort of admission of guilt,” says MacDonald.
“He understands that if he does not admit his guilt it
will probably harm his opportunity for parole,” says Tim
Junkin, who, with his partner John Moffett, are the
latest in a long line of lawyers who have been enlisted,
without pay, to continue MacDonald’s fight.
In the years following the trial, using the Freedom of
Information act, they discovered new information in the
government files that had never seen the light of day.
“There was wax found in places in the apartment that
didn't match any of the candles found in the MacDonald
apartment,” Junkin says. There was skin under the
fingernail of Colette MacDonald that was not turned over
to the defense and black wool fiber found on the murder
weapon, which couldn’t be matched, he added.
And one piece of evidence, in particular, seemed to be
the needle in the haystack MacDonald had been
desperately searching for: a blonde, 22-inch wig hair
found at the scene.
It’s a synthetic hair the defense says is too long to
match any of the children’s dolls in the house and
therefore could only have come from a wig. Was it Helena
“It's evidence that clearly relates to MacDonald's
innocence, that supports his innocence. And the jury
never heard about it,” says Junkin.
More appeals were filed based on this new-found
information. In fact, MacDonald’s case has been appealed
to the United States Supreme Court more than any other
in history. But as far as the government was concerned,
one hair and a few fibers were not enough to get
MacDonald a new trial.
Now, with his appeals exhausted, this past spring
MacDonald, with his wife by his side, faced the parole
board, which would not be judging the evidence but the
man and his remorse.
“I was seated at the end of this long table. I got to
look straight and direct at him and at his wife,”
recalls Robert Stevenson, who represented his sister’s
family at the hearing. “I said to him, ‘My joy in you,
Mr. MacDonald, is that you are the complete sociopath
that you are. And that you're never going to admit what
you did. And that I'm going to have the pleasure of
knowing that you're going to stay here and rot in jail
for the rest of your life.’ ”
Also at the hearing, a voice Jeffrey MacDonald probably
assumed he would never hear again was part of the
hearing: Freddy Kassab.
“In 1989, Fred Kassab, my stepfather, had made a tape
knowing that he was in ill health and might not survive
too long,” explains Stevenson.
Once again, Kassab’s efforts would help keep MacDonald
behind bars. The board denied MacDonald’s parole
But MacDonald is not beaten yet and maybe never will be.
Currently, DNA testing is being done on some of the hair
and blood evidence from the MacDonald apartment that may
give him yet another opportunity to plead his innocence.
“He just continues to fight,” says Kathryn MacDonald.
"Very methodically, very thoughtfully but very
patiently. And that's how we go about our lives until
that day, you know, happens. But I know that it will."
“I know that he'll be back,” says Robert Stevenson.
"That's why when someone said to me the other day, ‘Will
this ever end?’ Sure, it'll end for me when I'm dead or
And MacDonald is confident he will leave prison one day.
“I'm positive of that. I've never wavered on that. I've
had bad days, bleak moments. But I'm sure of that.”
Jeffrey MacDonald will be eligible to reapply for parole
in 2020. He will be 76 years old.