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Jeffrey MacDonald: Chilling case of convicted murderer who brutally killed his wife and young kids

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The ‘horrific’ crimes of a former Army doctor who was convicted of killing his wife and two young daughters have been detailed in a gruesome documentary.

‘Unspeakable in its brutality,’ Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted in 1979 for the murders of his pregnant wife and high-school sweetheart, Colette, and their daughters, five-year-old Kimberley and two-year-old Kristen, at his family home at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg in February 1970.

A federal grand jury indicted MacDonald in 1975. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his convictions in 1980, but the US Supreme Court reinstated them in 1982.

Despite being handed three life sentences, MacDonald has maintained his innocence for five decades, spending years launching appeals and requests for a new trial.

'Unspeakable in its brutality,' Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted in 1979 for the murders of his pregnant wife, Colette, and their daughters, five-year-old Kimberley and two-year-old Kristen

‘Unspeakable in its brutality,’ Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted in 1979 for the murders of his pregnant wife, Colette, and their daughters, five-year-old Kimberley and two-year-old Kristen

The former Army doctor married his high school sweetheart, Colette. The couple are pictured in 1969

The former Army doctor married his high school sweetheart, Colette. The couple are pictured in 1969

In a documentary shared over the weekend on YouTube channel Real Women/Real Stories, MacDonald declared: ‘I never hurt my family and I certainly never murdered them. I never harmed Colette, Kim or [Kristen] in any way.’

His life before the murders was described as ‘almost a fairytale existence’ with a ‘beautiful’ wife and two ‘adorable’ daughters.

Growing up in a middle-class suburb on Patchogue, Long Island, his high school yearbook inscription reads:  ‘He’s full of fun, plus noise and vim, there’s really no one quite like him.’

At the start of their marriage, MacDonald and Colette (née Stevenson) weathered ‘financial pressures and hardships,’ but by 1970, having settled in Fort Bragg, the couple seemed to have come out the other side.

‘We were in love, we were happy together. Matter of fact, Colette was pregnant with our third child, so we had, what we thought, was a very, very excellent life. We enjoyed it, it seemed safe,’ the convicted killer said.

The prosecution believed the couple's oldest child, Kimberley (pictured), tried to stop the fight

The prosecution believed the couple’s oldest child, Kimberley (pictured), tried to stop the fight

They had two children together, Kimberley and Kristen, who were five and two when they died

They had two children together, Kimberley and Kristen, who were five and two when they died

The Fort Bragg home where Colette, Kimberley and Kristen were murdered in February 1970

The Fort Bragg home where Colette, Kimberley and Kristen were murdered in February 1970

In a documentary shared on YouTube channel Real Women/Real Stories , MacDonald declared:'I never hurt my family and I certainly never murdered them.'

In a documentary shared on YouTube channel Real Women/Real Stories , MacDonald declared: ‘I never hurt my family and I certainly never murdered them.’

Colette’s sister-in-law Vivian Stevenson said the mom-of-two put everyone in her life before herself.

‘What Colette truly believed in was marriage, making babies and happily ever after,’ she said.

But it soon turned into a nightmare in the early hours of February 17, 1970.

Prosecutors at trial said MacDonald, then a captain, used a knife and an ice pick to kill his wife and children at their house before stabbing himself with a scalpel.

MacDonald maintains he was wrongly convicted, pointing to ‘drug-crazed hippies’ as the killers. 

But prosecutors said he donned surgical gloves and used his wife’s blood to write the word ‘PIG’ over their bed to imitate the Charles Mansion murders that also occurred that same year.

The ice pick that prosecutors submitted as evidence during the MacDonald trial

The ice pick that prosecutors submitted as evidence during the MacDonald trial

A harrowing photo from the crime scene in the wake of the triple murder in 1970

A harrowing photo from the crime scene in the wake of the triple murder in 1970

A handcuffed Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald is led away from Federal Court in Raleigh in 1979 after he was found guilty of the murders

A handcuffed Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald is led away from Federal Court in Raleigh in 1979 after he was found guilty of the murders

MacDonald (right) is pictured chatting with his father-in-law, Alfred Kassah

MacDonald (right) is pictured chatting with his father-in-law, Alfred Kassah

Prosecutor James Blackburn said in the documentary the couple had got into a fight, but they did not know why.

‘We know that she was unhappy and he was unhappy,’ he said.

‘At some point in the master bedroom, his youngest child, Kristen, had wet his side of the bed… she (Colette) got up and they had to change the sheets.

‘During the changing of those sheets of the bed, the fight erupted, and Colette and Jeffrey got into a tremendous life and death struggle.’

According to the documentary, the prosecution believed the couple’s oldest child, Kimberley, tried to stop the fight and was ‘accidentally knocked senseless by a blow so powerful it left her brain serum on the door frame.’

‘At that point he has a wife on the ground, he has his little girl on the ground and he’s saying, “Oh, this is getting out of hand,” former Army investigator William Ivory said.

The prosecution then alleged MacDonald carried a ‘dying’ Kimberley back to her room where she was stabbed ‘multiple times.’

It is thought that during this period Colette got up and went to Kristen’s room, ‘probably to protect her,’ before being followed by her husband.

Blood seen on the carpet of one of the bedrooms in the Fort Bragg house

Blood seen on the carpet of one of the bedrooms in the Fort Bragg house

Prosecutors at trial said MacDonald, then a captain, used a knife and an ice pick to kill his wife and children at their house before stabbing himself with a scalpel. Pictured is the family home

Prosecutors at trial said MacDonald, then a captain, used a knife and an ice pick to kill his wife and children at their house before stabbing himself with a scalpel. Pictured is the family home

Footprints seen on the wooden floor boards A'powerful' argument against his claim that'drug-crazed hippies' were responsible for his family's deaths was that he was the only one left alive

Footprints seen on the wooden floor boards A ‘powerful’ argument against his claim that ‘drug-crazed hippies’ were responsible for his family’s deaths was that he was the only one left alive

Despite being handed three life sentences, MacDonald has maintained his innocence for five decades

Despite being handed three life sentences, MacDonald has maintained his innocence for five decades

‘There are blood splatters that are on the far wall in that bedroom where he hit her numerous times, you could see the overhead swings of this club,’ Ivory said.

Kristen was the final family member to die, the only victim whose killing investigators believed was premeditated.

‘[He was] very cool, very cold. The only time he had a little bit of wavering in him was when he talked about Kristen,’ Ivory said.

Later in the documentary he says: ‘It’s terrible what he did to her. She was stabbed in the chest, again very straight stab wounds with a knife, and then with the ice pick, and then she was pulled probably over his lap, and stabbed in the back.’

A ‘powerful’ argument against MacDonald’s claim that ‘drug-crazed hippies’ were responsible for his family’s deaths was that he was the only one left alive.

A view down the hallway into one of the rooms where the killings happened

A view down the hallway into one of the rooms where the killings happened

A police sketch of how one of the bodies were found in the south bedroom

A police sketch of how one of the bodies were found in the south bedroom

Another sketch showing where another body was found, this time in the north bedroom

Another sketch showing where another body was found, this time in the north bedroom

A master bedroom sketch that shows where Colette and MacDonald were found

A master bedroom sketch that shows where Colette and MacDonald were found 

‘Jeffrey MacDonald is hardly injured at all. His wife has both arms broken, her face crashed (sic)… the rest of the family totally destroyed,’ Blackburn said.

‘MacDonald walks to the funeral, they’re carried in the caskets.’

During the trial, Blackburn demonstrated how MacDonald allegedly stabbed his wife with an ice pick, which was entered into evidence.

He used a replica of MacDonald’s pajama top in an attempt to ‘recreate and disapprove’ the doctor’s version of events from that February 1970 night.

One of the suspect sketches shows a female with long hair and a floppy hat

A second police sketch of one of the suspects of a man

Suspect sketches show a woman in a floppy hat (left) and a man (right)

Two more police sketches of suspects that MacDonald claim were responsible

Two more police sketches of suspects that MacDonald claim were responsible

The prosecution concluded that ‘the circular holes in the pajama top had been caused by MacDonald puncturing as it lay across Colette’s dying body.’

‘They backed the claim up by another demonstration, one that purports to prove that the holes in the top perfectly line up with the wounds in Colette’s chest,’ the documentary says.

But the defense did not agree. 

Years after MacDonald was convicted, Fatal Vision, a true-crime book MacDonald invited Joe McGinniss to write to demonstrate his innocence, is published. 

In it, McGinniss instead makes a case for guilt. MacDonald eventually wins a $325,000 breach of contract settlement. Most of the money is put in a trust. 

While in jail MacDonald remarried in 2002 to the owner of a children’s drama school, Kathryn Kurichh.

While in jail MacDonald remarried in 2002 to the owner of a children's drama school, Kathryn Kurichh (pictured)

While in jail MacDonald remarried in 2002 to the owner of a children’s drama school, Kathryn Kurichh (pictured)

In 2006, DNA testing later shows that MacDonald’s hair was found in Colette’s hand, and hair from an unidentified person is found under a daughter’s fingernail.

MacDonald most recently appealed his conviction in 2021, but it was dismissed.

‘MacDonald has filed numerous unsuccessful challenges to his murder convictions, which have been repeatedly rejected by federal courts at every level,’ US Attorney’s Office said at the time.

‘MacDonald’s latest appeal stemmed from a motion he filed in November 2020 requesting that the Court grant him “compassionate release” and reduce his life sentences. 

‘The United States vigorously opposed the motion in briefing and at a hearing held on March 11, 2021, arguing that MacDonald was not eligible for compassionate release and should not be let out of prison early.’

As it unfolded: The conviction and appeals of Jeffrey MacDonald 

February 17, 1970: Colette, Kimberley, and Kristen MacDonald — the wife and daughters of Army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald — are beaten and stabbed to death in the family’s apartment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

December 1970: The Army gives Capt. MacDonald an honorable discharge after dropping all military charges against him.

1975: Jeffrey MacDonald is indicted on three counts of murder in federal court at the persistence of Colette’s stepfather, Alfred Kassab, an early supporter of MacDonald’s who became convinced that he killed them.  

1979: MacDonald is convicted of all three murders and sentenced to life in prison.

1980: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses his convictions, ruling the nine-year delay violated his speedy-trial rights.

1982: The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the 4th Circuit; MacDonald is rearrested and returned to prison.

1984: Fatal Vision, a true-crime book MacDonald invited Joe McGinniss to write to demonstrate his innocence, is published. In it, McGinniss instead makes a case for guilt. MacDonald eventually wins a $325,000 breach of contract settlement. Most of the money is put in a trust.

1990: The Journalist and the Murderer, by Janet Malcolm, accuses McGinniss of immorally tricking MacDonald.

1991: MacDonald, now eligible for parole, maintains his innocence and doesn’t apply.

1995: “Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders,” written by MacDonald supporters Fred Bost and Jerry Allen Potter, is published.

2006: 4th Circuit allows MacDonald to introduce evidence that Jimmy Britt, a retired deputy U.S. marshal, said he heard prosecutor Jim Blackburn threaten witness, Helena Stoeckley. DNA testing later shows that MacDonald’s hair was found in Colette’s hand, and hair from an unidentified person is found under a daughter’s fingernail.

2008: U.S. District Court Judge John C. Fox dismisses MacDonald’s appeal.

2011: 4th Circuit orders the U.S. District Court to consider new evidence.

2012: A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, by Errol Morris, argues that the criminal investigation was botched and MacDonald was wrongly convicted. A hearing on new evidence is held.

2014: U.S. District Court denies bid for new trial.

2015: U.S. District Court rejects MacDonald’s request to change his 2014 decision.

2017: MacDonald again asks the 4th Circuit to overturn his convictions based on the statements from Britt and Stoeckley and evidence about three hairs at the crime scene whose DNA hasn’t matched anyone involved.

2021: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issues an order dismissing an appeal filed in November 2020 by MacDonald, requesting that the Court grant him ‘compassionate release.’

SOURCE: Associated Press/US Attorney’s Office  

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