Who Killed Colette MacDonald and Her Daughters?

The MacDonald homicide is one that has fascinated America’s interest over the past few decades. The murder of a pregnant Colette MacDonald and her 2 daughters in their house in Fort Bragg shook the country. At the time of its occurrence, it was one of the most violent crimes that had ever been witnessed. So, what exactly happened that night and who was the culprit? In this article, we revisit the crime.

How Did Colette MacDonald and Her Daughters Die?

Before we discuss the person incriminated for the felony, let us review the facts of the case. The day was February 17, 1970, and Colette’s husband, Jeffery MacDonald called the military police informing them about the stabbing. When they arrived on the scene, they saw that the husband was alive but his wife, who was 4 months pregnant at the time, had passed away. 

Image Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Colette was found in the master bedroom. She had been stabbed 21 times with an ice pick and 16 times with a knife. Furthermore, she received blows that crushed her arms and skull. The word “pig” had been smeared in blood across the headboard. In their bedrooms nearby, the MacDonald children had also met the same fate as their mother. Kimberly, who was 5, was found in her bed and had been stabbed in the neck 8-10 times. She was also clubbed in the head. Her younger sister, 2-year-old Kristen, had been stabbed an astonishing 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick. 

The father and Green Beret doctor was the only survivor of the incident. Jeffery had suffered a puncture wound to his chest, which led to a collapsed left lung. He had a mild concussion, but the severity of his wounds was far less in comparison to his family. He was taken to Womack Army Medical Center for treatment.

Who Killed Colette MacDonald and Her Daughters?

Captain Jeffery MacDonald was under investigation by the Army as a possible suspect. The doctor told the Criminal Investigation Division that Kristen had wet his side of the bed that night, and so he decided to sleep on the couch. But he woke up to his daughters screaming and was himself attacked by 3 men (2 were Caucasian and the third was a Black male).

A white female with blond hair, brown heeled boots, and a floppy hat that somewhat covered her face was also present. He alleged that she was holding a candle and was saying “Kill the pigs. Acid’s groovy.”  He stated that he fought the hippies off until he eventually passed out himself. It must be noted that an MP also saw a similar figure at an intersection half a mile away from the residence at 4 in the morning (around 20 minutes after Jeffery made the call). He thought that it was quite unusual to see a woman that early in the morning, especially in the rain. She was later identified as Helena Stoeckley.

Then, in Jeffery’s version of events, when he regained consciousness, he found that his family had been mercilessly killed. He had tried to give Colette mouth to mouth breathing but to no avail. He checked on his daughters but found them in the same condition as his wife. Then, he proceeded back to his bedroom and put his pajama top across Colette’s chest. He passed out yet again. 

The murder weapons had been located. One knife was found in the bedroom, whereas a club, an ice pick, and another knife were discovered in the backyard. Former Hope Mills Police Chief, John Hodges, was the first man to arrive at the scene of the crime that night. He is now deceased, but his son, Hope Mills Fire Chief Chuck Hodges, said, “I think they pretty much saw — at least the CID investigators — pretty much saw right away that some stuff wasn’t adding up.” 

But before we discuss the conclusion of the investigation, it is imperative to note that there were serious allegations against authorities for not preserving the crime scene properly. There is no denying that they were working hard to solve the case, however, some critical mistakes were made, as reported in The Fayetteville Observer. Some examples include failure to collect fingerprints from the deceased children, the disappearance of a piece of skin collected from under Colette’s fingernails, and letting people roam on the property before all of the evidence was processed.

Image Credits: The Fayetteville Observer

The Army investigators felt that if a home invasion had occurred, then Jeffery would have been a bigger threat to the attackers than his wife and children. Moreover, they believed that the surgeon knew exactly how to self-inflict wounds to make it look staged but without any fatal consequences. A copy of an Esquire magazine was also found with an article on the Manson murders. The scene at the MacDonald residence was quite similar to it to be a coincidence. Therefore, after considering all available evidence, the conclusion reached was that the Captain was responsible. 

But by October 1970, following an Article 32 hearing, all charges against Jeffery were dropped by the Army. However, this was not the end of the legal road for him. Colette’s stepfather, Alfred (aka Freddy) Kassab, who was once his son-in-law’s strongest supporter, had changed his opinion. In 1972, Freddy felt that Jeffery’s story seemed implausible, and he said, “We reconstructed the murders using what McDonald said. We even came back at night so we would have the same lighting conditions as the night of the murders. And absolutely nothing fit.”

Following a lengthy legal battle initiated by Freddy, Jeffery was found guilty on one count of first-degree murder for Kristen’s death and two counts of second-degree murder for Colette’s and Kimberly’s death. The prosecution argued that after Kristen wet the bed, the father was inflicted with homicidal rage that resulted in the gruesome crimes. Each member of the MacDonald family had a different blood type, and this anomaly allowed detectives to trace Jeferry’s path that night. Therefore, prosecutors stated that his story did not align with the evidence. Judge Dupree gave him a life sentence (to be served consecutively) for each of the murders. However, Jeffery has always maintained his innocence. 

Even though Jeffery was convicted, there is much debate still surrounding the case. You see, Helena Stoeckley was a drug addict who had confessed multiple times that she was present in the MacDonald residence that day. ABC News reported that she had confided in her mother that Jeffery was innocent. Her brother even stated that she reiterated her presence at the would-be crime scene on her deathbed. Greg Mitchell, Helena’s boyfriend, also reportedly told people that he was involved with the murders.

But their testimony was wishy-washy, and at the trial, Helena stated that she was too high to remember what had happened. Consequently, she was not treated as a credible witness. Moreover, the police had no evidence of their presence at the MacDonald dwelling that night. FX’s docuseries, ‘A Wilderness of Error,’ looks into all these claims (and more) that are relevant to the Jeffery MacDonald case, and lets the audience form their own conclusions.

Read More: Who Were Freddy and Mildred Kassab? How Did They Die?