*Warning – The information you are about to read may include discussions of true crimes, graphic details, and crime scenes, this may be too graphic for some people, please use discretion when reading*
Before John List, before Chris Watts, before Ronald Gene Simmons, there was Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald. Jeffrey was convicted of murdering his wife, Colette, and his two daughters, Kimberley and Kristen in 1970. His case remains one of the most litigated cases in American criminal history. Here is the story of the MacDonald familicide.
Jeffrey MacDonald was born in 1943 in New York. He met Colette Stevenson in eighth grade, and eventually they married in 1963, Colette was pregnant with their first child, who was born in 1964, named Kimberley. Colette left college to raise their child, and Jeffrey became the sole supporter of the growing family. Their second child was born in 1967, while the family resided in Chicago for Jeffrey to attend medical school.
In 1969, Jeffrey joined the army and opted to become a Green Beret physician. Jeffrey was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and had his wife and children join him, they resided at 544 Castle Drive, a section of the base reserved for married officers. Near Christmas of that year, Colette was three months pregnant with their third child, and first son. She had written letters to college friends stating that her life, was “never (being) so normal or happy.”
February 17, 1970, at 3:42 am, dispatchers received an emergency phone call from Jeffrey, who spoke faintly: “Help! Five forty-four Castle Drive! Stabbing! Five forty-four Castle Drive! Stabbing! Hurry!” Then the phone clattered to the wall or floor.
Within 10 minutes, military police arrived and found the house dark and locked. There was no answer at the door, so they went to the back of the house and found the screen door closed but unlocked. The back door was wide open. The police entered the home.
They discovered Colette in the master bedroom, sprawled on the floor, one eye open and one breast exposed. She had been repeatedly clubbed about her body, both forearms were found to be broken. Colette was stabbed 21 times in the chest with an ice pick, and 16 times about the neck and chest with a knife, her trachea was severed in two places.
Jeffrey was found lying face down, alive but wounded, with his head on Colette’s chest and one arm around her neck. His first words were whispered: “Check my kids! I heard my kids crying!”
Five year old Kimberley, and two year old Kristen were found in their beds, they were stabbed a total of 58 times between the two of them.
Jeffrey was taken to the Womack Army Medical Center. Medical staff discovered that the wounds Jeffrey had suffered were much less numerous and severe than those inflicted on his wife and children. He had cuts, bruises, and fingernail scratches to his face and chest. He also had a mild concussion, a “clean, small, sharp” incision between two ribs that caused his lung to partially collapse. He was released from the hospital, nine days later.
Questioned by investigators with the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Jeffrey relayed the events that happened on February 17, 1970:
- Around 2am he had washed the dinner dishes before deciding to go to bed.
- He moved his daughter Kristen to her bed, and as she had wet his side of the bed, took a blanket and went to sleep on the living room couch.
- He was later awakened by Colette and Kimberley’s screams, and heard Colette shout; “Jeff! Jeff! Help! Why are they doing this to me!” As he rose to go to their aid, he was attacked by three male intruders, one black and two white. A fourth intruder was a woman.
- He was knocked unconscious after fighting the intruders and being attacked.
- He regained consciousness and attempted mouth to mouth resuscitation on each of his daughters to no avail, before discovering his wife.
- Then he phoned for help.
During the investigation, CID quickly came to disbelieve Jeffrey’s account. The evidence they found did not support his version of the events. As Jeffrey was trained in unarmed combat; the area he claims to have fought for his life, showed little signs of a struggle. There were no hairs, fibers, fingerprints, or blood from the intruders. And after attempting resuscitation on his children, who were found on their sides in their beds, there was no blood on the phone that Jeffrey used to call for help.
Based on the evidence, this is what investigators believe occurred that night:
- An argument between Jeffrey and Colette began in the master bedroom, which may have turned physical.
- Kimberley may have walked into the room hearing the commotion and may have been struck at least once in the head, possibly by accident.
- Believing Colette dead, Jeffrey carried the mortally wounded Kimberley back to her bedroom. After stabbing her, Jeffrey then proceeded to Kristen’s room.
- Before attacking Kristen, Colette, after regaining consciousness, and covered her daughter with her own body to protect her. After killing them both, Jeffrey carried Colette back into the master bedroom.
- Disposing of evidence and cleaning up, Jeffrey then stabbed himself in the chest before calling for help and laying beside Colette.
April 6, 1970, Jeffrey was relieved of his duties and placed under restriction, pending further inquiries. The following day he was assigned an army lawyer. He also retained a civilian defense attorney. On May 1, the Army formally charged Jeffrey with three counts of murder.
In October 1970, the charges were dismissed against Jeffrey as insufficient evidence existed to prove his guilt. He was honorably discharged from the Army and then moved to California, practicing medicine at the emergency room of St. Mary Medical Center. Originally Jeffrey had the support of Colette’s parents, however after his dismissive demeanor and casual attitude, their suspicions grew, and they publicly turned against him.
The case went back to court in 1979. Jeffrey was tried in a civilian court. The trial lasted over a month, and after six and a half hours of deliberation, the jury found Jeffrey guilty of first degree murder in the death of Kristen, and second degree murder in the deaths of Colette and Kimberley.
During the lengthy appeals process, Jeffrey was released on bail in 1980. His appeal was later denied, and he was returned to prison to serve his original term. He continued to appeal his case on various grounds, and is serving his sentence at a federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland. In 2002, Jeffrey remarried a woman named Kathryn Kurichh, she lives in Maryland, where Jeffrey is incarcerated.
That my friends, is the brief story of the MacDonald familicide. What are your thoughts? Do you think Jeffrey did the crime? Do you think he had gotten away with murder for ten years before being sentenced to life in prison? Leave your comments below and share any ideas you may have.
Please be ever alert, make good choices, and stay safe