February 20, 2009

Fatal Vision: My Journey from Probably Guilty to Possibly Innocent to Absolutely Guilty

Colette, Kimberley and Kristen MacDonald in 1967

Posting a remembrance of Colette, Kimberley and Kristen MacDonald on Tuesday led me to think what a long, strange journey it's been for me since 1985, when I first saw the miniseries Fatal Vision and then read the accompanying book.

Both are about the 1970 slayings of Green Beret doctor Jeffrey MacDonald's pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, Kimberley and Kristen, at Fort Bragg. The murders made big news back in 1970 because they happened only six months or so after the Manson Family murders and they seemed very similar, at least in brutality and the fact that both Colette MacDonald and Sharon Tate were pregnant at the time of their deaths.

The book and miniseries both came to the conclusion that MacDonald was guilty of butchering his family. After seeing the miniseries I believed that he was probably guilty; after reading the book, I felt he was probably still guilty but something about the case didn't sit right with me.

That feeling lasted a handful of years, during which I re-read Fatal Vision many times, also read Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, which suggested that Fatal Vision author Joe McGinniss may have betrayed MacDonald and read Fatal Justice, which claimed to tell the entire story about what happened at Fort Bragg inside the MacDonald residence, complete with many examples of the government's misconduct and MacDonald's innocence.

Based solely on Fatal Justice, and my earlier feelings of unease about what I learned from Fatal Vision, I began to feel that MacDonald could be innocent of the horrible crimes he was convicted of in 1979 (and sentenced to three life terms) and, at the very least, did not get a fair trial.

During that time there was also a program called False Witness that supported MacDonald's account of that terrible evening back in 1970 and it seemed as though he was gaining more supporters and getting closer to a new trial and possibly freedom. I honestly began to believe this was a man who had suffered one of the worst injustices imaginable . . . convicted of a crime you did not commit.

About two months ago, I found a website hosted by Christina Masewicz, who had attended the 1979 murder trial where MacDonald was convicted. She had been interested in the case since 1970. She had posted copies of all the legal documents on her website, and she had written a lengthy book about the case, from 1970 until recently. She too had believed MacDonald innocent of the crimes, until she began reading the many documents connected to the case and the transcript of MacDonald's testimony during his Article 32 hearing, mere months after the murders.

Reading these documents myself on her website and in her book, my opinions toward the crime and, in particularly, MacDonald radically changed.

For example, MacDonald went on The Dick Cavett Show in December of 1970, ostensibly to ask the public for help in solving the murders. It had not yet been a year since his family had been demolished. He spent the majority of his time on air not talking about his loved ones and the terrible acts committed upon them, but about the injustices he had been forced to endure, complete with barbs and criticisms of the Army and making jokes about the Army. Truman Capote, who was in attendance that night, proclaimed him guilty of committing the murders himself. Dick Cavett later said that MacDonald's affect was all wrong.

When the crime scene was processed originally, investigators found a large urine stain on the bottom sheet of the master bedroom bed, which was determined to match the blood type of Kimberley, MacDonald's oldest daughter. MacDonald, however, insisted that it was Kristen that was in bed with his wife that night, forcing MacDonald to sleep on the couch. Even when confronted with the blood typing evidence, showing it was impossible that the fresh urine stain was made by Kristen, he continued to insist it was his youngest daughter. Why lie over something that seems, on its face, relatively minor? Perhaps because that fact isn't so minor . . . perhaps Kimberley being in that bedroom, or wetting that bed, is what started the fatal argument with his wife that night.

I have seen the autopsy reports and pictures from the autopsies, as well as crime scene photos. It was a horrifically bloody scene and all three family members were terribly brutalized. Colette had been bludgeoned so badly she was unrecognizable. Both of her arms were broken, one was broken in two places and she had suffered stab wounds to her chest and upper body from both a knife and an icepick. Kimberley had been beaten so badly about the head and face that bone actually protruded from her face and brain matter was found in the doorway to the master bedroom, where she was initially struck with a club. As she lay dying, or so near to death it was of little matter, she was stabbed 8-10 times in the neck with a knife. Kristen suffered more than 30 stab wounds to her upper torso and back, made by a knife and icepick. One of her fingers had a through-and-through slice where she had held her hand up, in an attempt to defend herself. Jeffrey MacDonald had a contusion (raised bump) on his forehead - - with no broken skin - - a cut or abrasion on his upper chest and an incision to his chest, which necessitated a pneumothorax. Which of these is not like the other?

MacDonald's head "wound" didn't even require a Band-Aid. His 5 year old daughter had brain matter left on the floor. His wife had her skin torn down to her skull. MacDonald's chest wound that required the medical attention was a single wound, a clean incision. Colette, Kimberley and Kristen all suffered multiple stab wounds. Kristen was only 2 years old and sustained more than 30 stab wounds.

Colette had initially been attacked in the master bedroom, had been rendered unconscious by one or two blows to the head by the club, but had then regained consciousness and had gone to Kristen's room, in an attempt to protect her, where she endured a horrendous beating.

MacDonald has always claimed that a band of hippie intruders broke in his house that night and slaughtered his family. If such people had been present and if such people would absolutely destroy small children - - who could not have identified them - - and if such people would bludgeon a woman 5 months pregnant in front of or over the body of her 2 year old daughter, why would they leave Jeffrey MacDonald with only a slight bump on his forehead? MacDonald claims that he was knocked unconscious from this blow. Why not finish him off? Why mutilate children but leave behind the sole person who can identify you? And how is it that Colette could have endured such a horrible beating and yet was still able to attempt to protect her family, while MacDonald, who claimed he only wanted to protect his family, went down with a relatively small blow?

MacDonald also claimed that he awoke on the living room sofa to Colette's and Kimberley's screams, to find himself confronted by four intruders, armed with at least one knife, an icepick and a club. Colette and Kimberley were both attacked with these weapons. If these weapons were in the living room, along with the intruders, who were they screaming at? Kimberley's injury from the club was so severe, she would not have been able to scream; it would have been so massive that she would have slipped into an immediate coma and death shortly thereafter. Further, if Colette and Kimberley had already been attacked, why was none of their blood found in the living room?

For these reasons, I have come to believe that Jeffrey MacDonald is indeed guilty of murdering his family. Such a revelation has left me feeling saddened for Colette, Kimberley and Kristen and angry with MacDonald. He had so much and he destroyed it. Colette, Kimberley and Kristen had so much to live for and they lost it.

They are the real victims in this case. Not Jeffrey MacDonald, who even 39 years after the crime, continues to insist he's a victim.
Colette MacDonald being walked down the aisle by her stepfather, Freddy Kassab, in 1963
Kimberley MacDonald, aged 3
Kristen MacDonald, 1968 or 1969

Jeffrey MacDonald is right where he should be. In a federal penitentiary.
The many faces of convicted triple murderer Jeffrey MacDonald:


Anonymous said...

I've just become aware of this case and I am absolutely baffledd! I was so convinced of his innocence but now I'm beyond torn. This is a deeply disturbing and captivating case. Very sad!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I've never understood how some can overlook the mountains of evidence and conclude that he didn't do this crime. A few years ago, he fought and won a DNA test on a "strange" hair found under one the girl's fingernails... the test came back that it was his hair! This was triveal though, in comparison with the other evidence already against him. Some people won't believe anything unless they see it with their own eyes. It will be a sad day if this wife murderer and baby killer ever gets freedom. God help the publicity seeking lawyers who are fighting to take justice from those victims.

Anonymous said...

I was born in 1969 and when i was a teen back in highschool,I did an essay on this case i read so many articles ,I got the book and watched the movie and yes i know you can't make a descision based on a movie or a book however I read every article on the actual court case i could find!I hope that man never sees the light of day outside prison walls!

John Milchick said...

I worked at Womack hospital when this terrible event occurred. From the very beginning, everyone there that I ever talked to was positive that MacDonald did it. Anyone that thinks that a band of hippies could wander around the housing area of Ft. Bragg in the middle of the night, without drawing attention of MPs, is living in fantasy land. MacDonald is a narcissistic psychopath and a good liar. Nothing more. He'll never gain his freedom because he is guilty and the courts have already entertained his bull for over 40 years. He thinks he is smarter than everyone else, he's not!!The real shame is that he gets all the attention and we tend to gloss over that 3 poor souls were cut so short, remember Collette, Kimberly and Kristin.

Lori Johnston said...

Thank you for your post. I am always interested to hear from people who either knew MacDonald or were somehow familiar with the crimes.
It's sad that MacDonald has received the lion's share of attention over the years for his horrible crimes. I do agree that he will never concede to being guilty because he is too much of a narcissist to do so.
The only consolation is that he can no longer hurt Colette, Kimberley or Kristen.

Anonymous said...

After the Casey Anthony fiasco and reading Fatal Vision again, I've been getting depressed. To me, I always wonder what might have been. Could Caylee or Kristen have been the one to find the cure for cancer or become the first woman president?? I've always been and I guess still am against the death penalty, but these baby killers really get under my skin. This case still saddens me after 40 years since I was stationed at Womack hospital, Ft Bragg and learned of this tradgedy!!!

Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking beyond belief How horrifying for Colette and her little children. In a way it's good she did not survive this because if her children had not then the whole nightmare would be too much to bear. It's one of the worst stories I've ever heard. Her and her/his children were a burden to Mr. Macho-he's pure evil and any attorney that tries to get him released is below contempt.

Anonymous said...

When you have as many as seven intruders some using different objects as weapons possibly having brought just one themselves it makes more sense that varying degrees of punishments could result. The intruders headed to the bedrooms first with the guy using the club then leaving to search for JM in the living room. You have the crazed stabbing attacks on the females possibly involving the psycho woman associated with the suspect group who never got to Jeffery cause three men were on him while she was wielding her ice pick in the bedrooms. In the issuing chaos with Jeffery putting up more resistance the result could have been several intruders rushing the crazed stabber out of the house before she got to Jeffery cause they had determined it was time to get out. Wasn't it Mitchell who later made a statement the JM had just gotten lucky. Makes much more sense with the different weapons used that a group attack the family. Different attackers inflicting different amounts of wounds. Reason thrown out the window when the attackers were all high on drugs we can not judge what might be reasonable to assume about equal damage that should have been inflicted. Earlier Helena wandering off disillusioned by the bloody chaos spotted later by MP Mica standing at the corner alone. Makes perfect sense to me.