MacDonald: A Time For Truth
Imprisoned Former Green Beret Doctor Says He Has
New Evidence To Prove He Did Not Kill His Family
(Page 1 of 8)March 17, 2007
Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (Josh Gelman)
(CBS) Three times a week,
a woman named Kathryn MacDonald makes the 140 mile drive
from her home outside of Washington DC, to visit an
inmate at the Cumberland Federal Prison in western
As correspondent Bill Lagattuta reports, Kathryn is the
newest woman in Jeffrey MacDonald's life. They were
married in 2002, in prison, some 23 years after
MacDonald was found guilty of the murders of his first
wife and 2 children.
Kathryn makes her living running a small school for
aspiring young actors, but she has another job as well:
she’s caretaker of the life Jeffrey MacDonald left
behind. Her garage is filled with Jeffrey's belongings –
memories that span back decades.
She was instantly fascinated when she first read
MacDonald’s story. The more she read, the more convinced
she was of his innocence. Eventually she decided to
write him in prison.
"We just became very close very quickly. And she began
visiting. And we began, you know, looking back into the
past and looking forward into the future," MacDonald
It's a future which, because of federal prison rules,
has yet to include a honeymoon.
"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 asks
"No," she says. "I think it's something about him. And
that's that he doesn't belong there. He's innocent."
Innocent or guilty, 27 years in prison is an incredible
waste for someone whose future was as bright as Jeffery
MacDonald’s. He made his mark early on, in high school,
where he was voted "most likely to succeed." From there
he went on to Princeton University, and Northwestern
Medical School, and then, at the age of 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. They were
married while he was still in college at Princeton.
Over the next seven years, as their family grew, it
appears that the MacDonald's were well on their way to a
seemingly perfect life.
But in America, things were far from perfect. The year
"This was an era of shock and counterculture rage in
America," explains Bernard Segal, who at the time was
MacDonald's defense attorney and now is a law school
professor in San Francisco. "I was a lawyer for people
who felt they were not represented by the system and who
were outside the system."
But in 1970, Jeffrey MacDonald, was, in fact, deep
inside the system. Jeffrey, Colette and their daughters
Kimberly, age five, and Kristin, age two, were stationed
at Ft. Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Based on home movies taken on Christmas morning, it’s
easy to believe that the MacDonald family didn’t seem to
have a care in the world. But some two months later, at
3:33 a.m. on Feb. 17, 1970, all of that changed forever.
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,
a mystery story kept alive by its charismatic leading
man, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.
On the morning of Feb. 17, 1970, Army MPs responded to a
call for help at the MacDonald residence. They found the
couple's children dead in their bedrooms; Capt.
MacDonald, wounded and unconscious, lay on the floor,
beside the body of his dead wife.
alive, was rushed to the hospital. "They finally
brought in a doctor who I knew on the staff. And
he is the one, I believe, who told me that
Colette, Kim, and Chris were dead. And you can't
accept something like that. It doesn't make any
sense," he recalls.
In fact, that morning MacDonald wasn’t the only
one having trouble making sense of what
Bill Ivory was in charge
of the investigation to determine exactly what did
happen to the MacDonald family. "I was a CID agent,
which is a criminal investigator for the Department of
the Army," he explains. "We sent agents to interview him
at the hospital…they had been told that he had been
attacked by some hippies."
It’s a story that MacDonald has not wavered from in 37
years. Asked what he remembers of the people he says
attacked him and his family, MacDonald says, "I saw four
people. I saw two white males and one black male, as
they were assaulting me. One glimpse I saw what looked
like a blonde female and she had a floppy hat on. And
there was a light under her face. To this day, I don't
know if she was holding a candle, or it was a light."
"I heard a female voice say, 'Acid is groovy, kill the
pigs.' I heard that several times," MacDonald recalls.
"There became a moment in time where all I was doing was
fending off blows with both my hands wrapped up in my
Suddenly, MacDonald says he felt a chest pain. "Jeff
MacDonald was stabbed right in the center of his chest
with an ice pick, puncturing his skin, puncturing the
layers below," explains his lawyer, Bernard Segal.
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 Kimberly's skull, jaw and
nose were badly broken and her throat was severely cut.
And Kristen, just two and a half, 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.
That’s MacDonald’s version of what happened that night
and he tells a very compelling story and his new wife
Kathryn agrees. "He's not a criminal. If I thought
otherwise, I wouldn't be involved at all. And much less
devote my entire life," she explains.
And with that kind of support, MacDonald did something
he swore he would never do: in 2005, he applied for
parole. "It's possible they might consider the full
record of my conduct, my behavior, my personality, how
I've carried myself through 25 years of imprisonment,
look at that in conjunction with my record as a
civilian," he says.
But there are others who feel that MacDonald is right
where he belongs. For one, former CID agent Bill Ivory
says he's "not buying it."
It has been more than three decades since Ivory first
set foot inside the home of Jeffery MacDonald. But the
memories of that morning are still fresh.
"On the headboard of the bed, the word pig was written
in blood," he recalls.
MacDonald had 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.
Peter Kearns, an Army investigator from Washington DC,
led a follow-up investigation into the MacDonald case,
which included producing and starring in a filmed
presentation of the evidence.
MacDonald tells Lagattuta he believes the perpetrator
was someone he had turned in for illegal drug use.
But the more closely investigators examined the
apartment, the more closely they began to question
MacDonald’s claims. "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," Ivory remembers.
Crime scene investigators will tell you that the real
truth is always found in the evidence, and the evidence
that Bill Ivory and his team found in the apartment,
they say, tells a story very different than MacDonald’s
– a story that points not to a group of hippies but to
an enraged husband.
"The theory that we come 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 him first,"
Ivory tells Lagattuta.
A dull kitchen knife was found near Colette’s body but
this was not what was used to kill the MacDonald family.
It was out there, through the back door, that
investigators found what they believe were the three
murder weapons: an ice pick, a paring knife and a
31-inch length of building lumber, which investigators
believed was at one time part of a slat of Kimberly's
"We believe also the older girl was in the bedroom with
them and got in the middle of the fight between them,"
Ivory explains. "He swatted back and hit her on the side
of the head and dropped her to the floor."
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
the victims. "He went and took the bedding off of that
bed in the master bedroom and believe he wrapped the
older girl in that, getting blood on him from her and
getting her blood on that sheet," Ivory explains.
The trail led them from the master bedroom to Kimberly’s
bedroom, here, 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," Peter
Ivory says MacDonald followed her into that room. "And
he began beating her more there with the club. That's
evidence by blood sprays that were on the wall and on
What the investigators say happened next is what truly
makes MacDonald a monster in their eyes: they say after
he killed his wife Colette and his daughter Kimberly, he
came back and stood to face his youngest daughter
Kristen, who was still in her bed.
"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,'" Ivory argues.
It's at this point they say, with his entire family now
dead, in order to be believed, MacDonald decided he had
no choice but to include himself in the attack.
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 summer of 1969, just six months earlier, the
nation was stunned by a seemingly senseless series of
homicides in southern California – crimes carried out by
the cult-like followers of Charles Manson. An issue of
Esquire magazine, found in the MacDonald home, contained
a detailed account of the murders.
"It described the crime scenes, described the word pig
being written on the walls, described the hippies coming
in and just having mayhem in the house," Ivory tells
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 and his team’s interpretation of the evidence
pointed them to just one suspect: Jeffrey MacDonald, who
was charged by the Army with the murders of his pregnant
wife and their two young daughters.
But, says MacDonald, "I was in the house that night. I
know what happened. To me, it was inconceivable that
anyone, anyone could buy this hypothetical scenario."
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 to court
marshal Jeffrey MacDonald.
Bill Ivory says he was shocked. "Because I knew that
there was enough evidence to put reasonable suspicion in
anybody's mind that perhaps this guy had done that."
Jeffrey MacDonald thought his ordeal was over and
shortly thereafter received an honorable discharge.
While the Army seemed to be done with MacDonald, the
investigators still had no doubt as to who committed
these crimes. But until they could prove it in a court
of law, Jeffrey MacDonald would remain a free man.
"When I first came to represent Doctor MacDonald, I
wondered to myself, is it possible that he murdered his
family?” remembers MacDonald's defense attorney, Bernard
It’s the one question that has always haunted this case
and every one involved in it: was MacDonald capable of
these brutal murders?
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," Segal remembers.
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. 15th, 1970, MacDonald appeared on the popular
late-night program "The Dick Cavett Show," where it
became very clear that MacDonald was fast becoming his
own worst enemy.
"My wife came home and we had a before-bedtime drink
really and watched the beginning of a late-night talk
show," MacDonald told the audience.
Dick Cavett 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 somethin' like, 'Hey,
yeah, isn't that somethin'?' Almost sounded like Bob
Hope. Very like Bob Hope," Cavett remembers.
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. 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," recalls Colette’s older
brother, Robert Stevenson.
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.
"He sat around a table that I still have at home where
you can see the elbow marks as he smoked pack after pack
of cigarettes, trying to decide how this happened,
drawing the diagrams, plotting it with the X's where the
bodies were, the differing blood types," remembers
Colette's brother Robert.
Realizing the government had no plans to indict
MacDonald, Kassab joined forces with Army investigator
Peter Kearns, and together they took matters into their
"It wasn't until Freddie and I went from New York down
to Clinton, North Carolina 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," Kearns
On Jan. 24, 1975, Jeffery 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. "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," Smith says.
When his trial finally began on July 16th, 1979,
MacDonald had little doubt what the outcome would be: he
told reporters he'd be found "not guilty."
During the next six and a half weeks, 60 witnesses
testified, hundreds of items were placed into evidence,
and three verdicts were read: guilty.
MacDonald says he "couldn't believe it."
Almost a decade after the murders of his family, the
government was satisfied that justice was finally
"The sentence and the decision of the jury…we’ve feel
vindicates us completely," Freddie Kassab said of the
Former federal Assistant District Attorney Jim Blackburn
is still asked to talk about the most important trial of
his career. "And the Justice Department thinks we’re
probably going to lose the case that’s why they’ve asked
me to ask you," he recalls.
What made him think he could win this case, when the
military said MacDonald was innocent?
"We didn't think we would win this case. I thought it
would be almost impossible," Blackburn admits.
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 Jeff
And since all the evidence was found in the MacDonald
home, the prosecution brought the jury to the crime
scene, which nine years later, remained untouched, to
see for themselves.
"The strength of our case always was very simple. The
physical evidence, the scientific evidence, his
statements. That was our case," Blackburn recalls.
It was a considerable amount of information that seemed
to be overwhelming the jury. Then the prosecution did
something with a piece of evidence which made every
juror sit up and take notice. It had to do with a pajama
top that MacDonald was wearing that night.
Remember, MacDonald says 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 if MacDonald had told the truth, not only
would he be dead, the pajama top would be shredded.
Blackburn and Murtagh explained to the jury this was
clear proof that MacDonald’s story was a lie and that in
fact, he covered his wife’s body with the top and then
repeatedly stabbed her through it with the ice pick.
For defense attorneys Bernie Segal and Wade Smith, time
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.
"The government's response is 'Doctor MacDonald is not
entitled to receive this evidence now because he didn't
ask for it in time.' O didn't know whether to cry or to
laugh," Segal says.
But Blackburn shrugs off accusations the government
wasn't playing fair. "Well, they lost. That's sour
grapes. They just lost."
Equally frustrating was what MacDonald’s team discovered
when they focused on the investigation of the crime
scene itself, which they still consider a model of
"Twenty-seven different people marched through the crime
scene," Segal explains. "Destroying a great deal of what
was potential evidence there without a doubt."
But Blackburn says the crime scene wasn't destroyed or
bungled. But he does acknowledge it was done perfectly.
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 blond woman in the floppy hat.
Her name was Helena Stoeckely, the daughter of a retired
Fort Bragg colonel and an unlikely savior for Jeff
MacDonald. Just 18 at the time of the MacDonald murders,
Stoeckley lived at the center of the Fayetteville drug
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.
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 MacDonald residence.
"Our dream was that after five weeks in this trial
Helena would come, Helena would at last tell the story,
and she would tell it to a jury," Wade Smith recalls.
But that’s not what happened when she was called to the
stand by the defense. "Her basic testimony was she
didn't know where she was that night," Blackburn
"Just a four hour gap between midnight and 4 a.m., she
claimed to have a lapse of memory. It's absurd," says
Asked if Stoeckley lied on the stand, Segal says, "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 her."
Following the trial, Ted Gunderson, former chief of the
Los Angeles FBI office was hired by MacDonald’s team to
search for any evidence which could be used for an
Gunderson eventually convinced Stoeckley to go on the
record, which she did in 1982, appearing on 60 Minutes.
When she told her story, Gunderson says he believed her.
"Because she said that she tried to ride the rocking
horse in the small bedroom … and she tried to get on it
and she couldn't because the spring was broken."
Asked why that would be significant, Gunderson says,
"Because the only people that knew that spring was
broken on the rocking horse was the family, the
But 1970 crime scene photos, recently obtained by 48
Hours from the Department of Justice, seem to show that
none of the springs on the toy horse were broken. Once
again the courts chose not to believe Helena 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.
"The bottom line is Helena Stoeckley and some friends of
hers, came into my house that night and murdered my
family and left me unconscious," MacDonald insists.
How does he know it was Stoeckley and her friends?
"Because they said so. Because I saw them there. Because
there is evidence tying them to the crime scene,"
It's evidence the defense didn’t even know existed,
evidence that would give MacDonald one more chance for
MacDonald has desperately held on to the goal of proving
his innocence since 1979. But with a new wife and a new
life waiting for him on the outside, MacDonald is
knocking on a different door to freedom: parole.
"I would never go before the parole board if it required
any sort of admission of guilt. They have assured me
that is not the case," MacDonald says.
"He's not gonna admit remorse for something he didn't
do. I think it'd be fair to say he's sorry that he
couldn't save his family. I know he feels that way. But
what's changed that he's thinking of me. That I'm out
here waiting," his wife Kathryn adds.
Tim Junkin and his partner John Moffett are the latest
in a long line of lawyers who’ve been enlisted, without
pay, to continue MacDonald’s fight.
In the years following the trial, using the Freedom of
Information Act, new evidence was discovered 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 points out. "There was skin under the
fingernail of Colette MacDonald that was not turned over
to the defense."
"Black wool fiber found on the bloody murder weapon,
which the government, despite all it’s efforts, couldn't
match to any fabrics in the MacDonald apartment," he
And one piece of evidence in particular, seemed to be
the needle in the haystack MacDonald had been
desperately searching for. "There was a blonde, 22-inch
wig hair, or wig hairs found at the scene, that the
defense attorneys were never told about," Junkin
It's a synthetic hair they say 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 Stoeckley's
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.
In May, 2005, with his appeals exhausted, Jeffrey
MacDonald, with his wife by his side, finally met with
the parole board.
"I was seated at the end of this long table. I got to
look straight and direct at him and at his wife,"
remembers 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
Also at the hearing, a voice was heard Jeffrey MacDonald
probably assumed he would never hear again: Freddie
"In 1989, Fred Kassab, my stepfather had made a tape
knowing that he was in ill health and might not survive
too long," Stevenson explains.
"I want to be sure he serves out his sentence the way it
should be served out. I don’t want him walking around
the streets," Kassab could be heard in the 1989
Once again, Kassab’s efforts would help keep MacDonald
behind bars. The board’s official decision: parole
But Jeffrey MacDonald is not beaten yet, and maybe never
will be. Last winter, a federal court of appeals granted
a motion filed by MacDonald’s attorneys to present new
evidence to the court, including testimony from retired
U.S. Marshal Jim Brit, who claims that Helena Stoeckley
admitted to him and the prosecutors that she was
involved in the murder of MacDonald’s family.
"He heard Helena Stoekley tell Jim Blackburn that she
had been inside the MacDonald apartment, that they were
there to acquire drugs and then specifically and
emphatically remembers Jim Blackburn saying to her, 'If
you testify to the things that you've just told me, I
will indict you for first degree murder,'" Junkin says.
But Blackburn says Stoeckley was never threatened with
prosecution if she were to tell jurors she had been in
the MacDonald home.
"If the court accepts the testimony of Marshal Brit as
true, then James Blackburn committed a fraud on the
court and elicited perjured testimony in front of the
jury of this witness.”
It's a stunning accusation and MacDonald's lawyers
charge that Blackburn's own history gives it
credibility. In 1993, Blackburn, working as a defense
attorney, pled guilty to charges unrelated to the
MacDonald case – charges of embezzlement and fraud. He
resigned his law license and served three months in
"So if the system works correctly, all of this evidence
taken together, I think, should entitle Jeff MacDonald
to a new trial," Junkin argues.
"We're at a point in this case now where I think it's a,
there's a legitimate possibility that I will be winning
this case. And I think that I, there will be a time in
the hopefully fairly near future where I can begin
really rebuilding a life with Kathryn," MacDonald tells
"I know that he'll be back and he'll be back. 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 he's
dead," comments Colette's brother Robert.
MacDonald is confident he will one day leave prison.
"Oh, I'm sure of that. 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 the year 2020. He will be 76 years old.