By Jerry Potter & Fred Bost
Excerpted from Chapter 1 ofFatal
By Jerry Potter & Fred Bost
At the end of a rainy Monday afternoon, February 16, 1970, Green Beret physician
Jeffrey R. MacDonald left his office at Fort Bragg, North
Carolina. For a while, he played basketball with friends, then he stopped
by his apartment to pick up his two little daughters. As they had done nearly
every day for six weeks, they drove out to a farm where he had rented space
for Trooper, the Shetland pony he had bought them for Christmas.
As he approached the small barn he had built, Captain MacDonald saw that the
drizzle had turned the barnyard to mud, so the children didn't ride that day.
Two-year-old Kristen, as usual, held a carrot while the horse's big teeth
munched down toward her tiny fingers. Finally, her father told her it was
time to turn the carrot loose. She did, reluctantly, and reached for another.
Kimberly, delicate and already ladylike at age five, hadn't responded as eagerly
to the horse, so MacDonald and the girls' mother, Colette, added a bunny to
their little "farm." When they had fed and watered both animals,
MacDonald drove his daughters home for dinner.
Within hours, at 3:33 the next morning, telephone operator Carolyn Landen
in Fayetteville, North Carolina, took a strange call. A man's faint voice
gasped, "My name is Captain MacDonald . . . stabbing~ n-eed a doctor
. . . MPs and an ambulance at 544 Castle Drive. . . . Hurry!" (1)
"In that case I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to call the military police
yourself. You see. . . ."
Landen heard a clatter as MacDonald dropped the phone. She kept
the line open and dialed the military police at Fort Bragg, gave the desk
sergeant the address, then waited about three minutes until she finally heard
a noise in her receiver. "Is this Captain MacDonald?" she asked.
"Yes. Don't you understand, I need-"
"Just a minute, sir." She connected the relays and listened to the
conversation. She heard a man's voice ask, "Can I help you?"
"Thank God," MacDonald said. "We've been stabbed. . . people
are dying . . . I may be dying . . . we need a doctor and ambulance . . .
544 Castle Drive "
"They'll be right there!" the man said. The operator heard the desk
sergeant yell to someone, "Get me Womack ASAP!"
But Womack Army Hospital was not sending help. The noncommissioned officer
on duty at the hospital had told the MP desk sergeant that an ambulance would
not be dispatched until the military police first went out to the MacDonald
residence and checked things out.
First Lieutenant Joseph Loy Paulk was the officer in charge
of the military police patrol on duty that night. He and his driver, David
Dickerson, departed the operations building to personally check out
the call. As Paulk left he instructed the radio dispatcher to send support
from patrolling units. But the dispatcher didn't express a sense of urgency,
nor did he inform the MPs that Captain MacDonald had mentioned stabbings.
Instead, at 3:42 A.M., the dispatcher issued a domestic disturbance call to
all cruising MPs: "A DD in progress at 544 Castle Drive." He told
his MPs he would keep the MacDonald phone line open, adding that they should
pick up the telephone at the residence and make an immediate report of the
The Corregidor Courts area of Fort Bragg consisted of single-family and large,
brick, multi-family buildings on grassy yards amid meandering tree-lined streets.
All the units were reserved for warrant and commissioned officers. Military
policemen Kenneth Mica and Dennis Morris
assigned to patrol there that night, responded to the radio call. But the;
understood this was a "domestic disturbance" so they didn't hurry.
The rain had stopped, but the canvas side curtains remained on their jeep
as they eased through a red light on Honeycutt Road at Lucas Drive, about
three blocks from the MacDonald home.
Mica, in the passenger seat, was surprised to see a woman standing alone on
the comer. Although the plastic window of the side curtain was still wet with
mist, he saw she wore a wide, floppy-brimmed hat and a dark raincoat hemmed
above her knees. Mica wondered aloud to his partner what the woman might be
doing there at 3:55 A.M. in such bad weather. He later said that if he hadn't
been responding to a call he would have stopped to check her out.
As the pair braked their jeep in front of 544 Castle Drive, they found a half
dozen other MPs already gathered at that end of the four-family building.
White lettering centered on the front door read:
CPT J. R. MacDONALD
Lieutenant Paulk pounded on the door, but got no response. The apartment was
silent. Paulk told his men to check the back. Sergeant Richard Tevere found
the rear screen door closed but the back door itself open. He entered through
a small. utility room into a master bedroom to see two motionless bodies lying
tangled together on the floor. The room was splattered with blood, and the
unsettling stench of fresh blood stung his nostrils. He turned around, raced
back through the door, charged into the open backyard, and yelled, "They've
Other M.P's rushed through the rear door and into the master bedroom to find
a woman's battered, bloody body, heavy around the middle. She lay face up
and unmoving, one sightless eye open, the bloody soles of her feet toward
the door. At her left side a man lay on his belly, his head cradled on her
left shoulder, his face turned away from hers, his left arm stretched across
her still body. The man wore only blue pajama trousers.
Mica moved forward and knelt beside the pair. The man stirred, and moaned,
"Check my kids. How are my kids? I heard my kids crying."
Mica darted through the doorway into the hall. In the unlighted room to the
left, the sweep of his flashlight revealed the motionless body of a small
brown-haired girl in bed, almost invisible beneath the covers. His flashlight
beam revealed that her head had been smashed. Mica left the room to encounter
MP Williams standing in the hall, his face pale.(3)
Moving on, Mica passed a lighted bathroom on his right. In the room beyond
it he spotted the body of a younger girl on a small bed. Blood dripped off
the bed into a dark puddle on the floor. The child lay still as stone, and
she wasn't breathing. Mica quickly checked the rest of the house, then hurried
back to the master bedroom where he found his fellow MPs standing dumbstruck,
doing nothing to help the injured MacDonald who was now trying to sit up.
Mica forced his way between the two bodies and pushed MacDonald onto his back.
The injured man was trembling and his teeth chattered. "I can't breathe,
I need a chest tube," he gasped. Then he appeared to lose consciousness.
Mica began applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as other MPs looked on:
Tevere picked up the telephone handset from the dresser to report the situation.
Unknown to him, however, the desk sergeant, William Boulware, had already
received a report by radio and had hung up his own phone, thereby closing
the connection. Landen, the telephone operator, had also left the line when
she heard the MPs arrive. Tevere heard no dial tone. Not knowing another phone
in the kitchen remained off the hook, he believed the line was still open.
He spoke into it, but received no response. He said he replaced the handset
where he had found it on the dresser.
Under Mica's ministrations the injured man revived, only to collapse again.
Mica again performed mouth-to-mouth until his patient began to struggle. "Fuck
me, man, look to my wife!" MacDonald gasped, pushing Mica away. "I
tried to find a pulse," MacDonald said. "Check the pulse in her
"Who did this?" Mica asked.
"Check my wife-check my kids," the man pleaded, then groaned,
"Why did they do this to me?"
"Who did it?"
The man's teeth were still chattering, but he was breathing better. He told
"Three men-a woman-one man was colored, he wore a field
jacket, sergeant's stripes-the woman, blond hair, floppy hat, short skirt,
muddy boots-she carried a light, I think a candle-"
Mica looked up at Lieutenant Paulk and told him about the
floppyhatted woman he and Morris had passed only minutes earlier a few blocks
back. He asked Paulk, "Don't you think we ought to send out a patrol?"
But Lieutenant Paulk ignored Mica's suggestion. He continued writing
on his clipboard as the injured man began a bizarre story. "I heard Colette
scream. . . ."
Because of the book Fatal Vision and the television
movie based upon it, many know that the young captain, Jeffrey Robert MacDonald,
still struggling to breathe, told the MPs .a story about drug-crazed assailants
who stabbed him and beat him unconscious. He related his story in an abbreviated
version to MP Mica who had revived him through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Later that day, to CID and FBI agents at the hospital, MacDonald went into
more detail. FBI agent Robert Caverly reported that MacDonald
attempted to tell him what had occurred in his home before the attack. He
and Colette had shared an orange liqueur, MacDonald said, then she had retired
for the evening. MacDonald continued to watch the Tonight Show until Kristen
began crying. He went to her room, then prepared her a bottle. He watched
the rest of Johnny Carson's show, washed the dishes, and checked the windows
in the children's rooms to be sure they weren't open too wide. When he started
to retire, he saw that baby Kristen had crawled into bed next to Colette in
the master bedroom and had wet his side of the bed. He carried the sleeping
baby to her own bed, then moved the covers on his and Colette's bed back from
the wet spot so it would dry. He said he then returned to the living room
sofa and slept there.
When Caverly asked him to talk about his children, MacDonald began to cry
uncontrollably. The agent summoned MacDonald's doctor, who helped to calm
him. Then MacDonald explained that he had struggled with three intruders as
he tried to get off the sofa in response to screams from his family. He said
he had to fight not only the black man's baseball bat, but the fists and blades
of the the white assailants. Somehow his faded blue pajama top had gotten
pulled over his head, trapping his hands. He then used the garment between
his wrists as a kind of shield to try to ward off the blows. He was ultimately
knocked down by blows to the head. As he fell to the floor, just before losing
consciousness, he saw a bare leg and a woman's boot. He said he awoke to sharp
pains in his head, and experienced difficulty breathing. He went to his wife
and tried to revive her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but without success.
Frantic and unbelieving, he went to his daughters and tried to revive them,
then made another round before phoning for help.
The story was widely publicized. MacDonald was a Green Beret captain, a Princeton
man, a physician and group surgeon for his army unit. He was well liked, held
impressive credentials, and had an impeccable college, medical school, and
army record. What's more, according to his neighbors and his in-laws, he had
loved his family very much. On the surface, at least, Jeffrey MacDonald didn't
seem the type to have committed these monstrous crimes.
Yet, William Ivory, the young army investigator who arrived
at the crime scene about fifteen minutes after the MPs, said he found things
which suggested that MacDonald's story wasn't true. That very morning the
CID command at Fort Bragg agreed with the investigator's assessment-the physical
evidence at the crime scene seemed to prove that Captain MacDonald lied about
what had happened in the murder apartment that morning.
MacDonald's in-laws, Alfred and Mildred Kassab, at first
offered zealous support of him. But based upon the army's evidence and upon
MacDonald's own behavior, they said, they eventually lost their faith in him
and joined the army's efforts to bring the popular and highly successful physician
to trial. For the brutal murders of his wife, Colette, and his little daughters,
Kimberly and Kristen, a federal court in 1979, nine years after the crimes,
sentenced Jeffrey MacDonald to three consecutive life terms.
MacDonald's appeals to reverse the verdict, including those based upon his
claims of suppressed evidence, ultimately failed. But his lawyers say that
MacDonald is truly factually innocent. They claim that evidence long suppressed
by the government proves that the assailants were actually in the murder apartment
that night, as MacDonald claimed, and that MacDonald was later dealt a new
gang of assailants-some incompetent and untruthful army investigators, and
an army lawyer who turned Justice Department prosecutor expressly to convict
Surprisingly, given the government's charges and the hard evidence they presented
to prove them, a number of people in law enforcement and criminal justice
have come to believe that, despite the failure of his multiple court appeals,
MacDonald's claims are true, that he is, in fact, innocent. These MacDonald
supporters have been vocal, and they have continually stirred national media
interest. Ted L. Gunderson, a former chief of the FBI's Los
Angeles Bureau, continues to swear that his own reinvestigations show that
MacDonald was framed. Others echoed similar sentiments, many of them calling
to question various aspects of the government's forensic methods. Raymond
Shedlick, Jr., a retired New York City homicide detective, made extensive
inquiries in the MacDonald neighborhood and in nearby Fayetteville and, after
also studying the forensic evidence, insisted, literally to his dying day,
that there was absolutely no evidence against MacDonald, and that he had been
cheated out of a fair trial. Aspects of the. MacDonald prosecution were also
questioned by the findings of Dr. Ronald Wright, Broward
County medical examiner; former l.A. County coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi;
Dr. David Raskin, a leading polygrapher, and professor at
the University of Utah; Dr. Emanuel Tanay, an expert on the
psychiatric aspects of homicide; and many other forensic experts and attorneys.
Much of the work by these supporters and interested parties has been gratis,
or for expenses only, a practice emulated in 1989 and which continues to this
writing by chief MacDonald defense attorneys Harvey Silverglate
and Alan Dershowitz. These two lawyers made the public claim
in 1991 that the mass of evidence the government posits against MacDonald
is "an absolute myth," and is "the product .of prosecutorial
chicanery at its worst."
In a videotaped interview, MacDonald's father-in-law, Alfred "Freddie"
Kassab, was asked why MacDonald generated such support. "That's the sixty-four-thousand-dollar
question," Kassab remarked, then suggested that MacDonald possesses a
sociopathic ability to sway people to believe in him despite the evidence.
Not so, say various defense team investigators and researchers,
each of whom insists the claims are based upon the government's own reports,
upon thousands of documents heretofore held secret. The MacDonald defenders
say these papers were released only when MacDonald's lawyers persuaded senators
and congressmen to force the prosecutors finally to respond to the lawyers'
requests for disclosure through FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act. Not
until 1983 did the prosecutors provide some, but not all, of the requested
information-fully thirteen years after MacDonald was charged by the army and
those charges were dismissed, and four years after his federal conviction
and incarceration. Many documents specifically requested have yet to be provided
fully twenty-three years after the murders and more than thirteen years after
MacDonald was sentenced.
Hence, the questions: Do these gov,rnment files, finally released
by FOIA, really coroborate the defense allega1ions? Did Jeffrey MacDonald
murder his wife and daughters, or were they actually the victims of a group
of drug users, as MacDonald had claimed from the beginning? And, if MacDonald
is innocent, how has the government managed to keep him in prison thineen
years? And why?
When I met retired FBI agent Ted
L. Gunderson in December of 1985, before I teamed up with co-author Fred
Bost, Gunderson was a relic dating from the glory days of J. Edgar Hoover.
The zenith of his career found him serving as chief of the Los Angeles Bureau
of the FBI. He managed 800 people and a $23 million annual budget. He had
supervised investigations into kidnapping, armed robbery, murder, and many
other crimes. He had been especially successful in hostage negotiations with
skyjackers and bank robbers. After retiring from the FBI he supervised security
arrangements for the American team at the troubled 1968 Olympics in Mexico
City. Following that assignment he set up his own security and investigations
business in Los Angeles. When I met him he was looking into the possible ritual
murders of children by a satanic cult in the Seattle area. Therein lay our
mutual interest, for I had co-authored
an article with psychologist Dr. Joel Norris about ritual murder. Joel told
me Gunderson had read our piece and he had a case he wanted to tell me about.
"It involves witchcraft," Joel said, smiling.
"More witchcraft." I wasn't smiling. Joel and I both had interviewed
serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. He was the one-eyed emotionally retarded handyman
who had been convicted of killing a dozen women, including his mother, his
girlfriend, and a sweet old woman Henry and his girlfriend had lived with
in Texas. During my interviews with this killer, the very memory of ritual
murder and dismemberment caused his one good eye to shine with an unholy light.
I wanted no more sordid tales about bestiality and necrophilia. "I don't
think I can handle any more witchcraft," I told Joel. .
'This one is interesting," he said. "But I'll let Gunderson tell
So Gunderson set up a meeting in Chinatown. He asked Dr. Norris
not to spread the fact around because Gunderson was currently a bit shy about
exposure. He had helped convict a man of arranging contract killings eight
years earlier. Now the man was paroled, and word was out that he had contracted
to have Gunderson gutted and dropped into the L.A. harbor.
I would soon learn that Ted wasn't beyond setting a dramatic stage, but he
couldn't have had anything to do with the cold fog rising out of Chavez Ravine
that night to pour over the freeway like a wet ghost slithering through the
Asian business district. Most of the buildings in the area were dark as I
drove around the neighborhood craning my neck straining to see addresses.
As I passed a little mall near the China Gate, the fog danced quickly upward
in a wispy swirl to reveal the restaurant I was seeking. I parked and walked
across the mall, pulling up my jacket collar against the wet night air. A
small, possibly feminine figure shuffled by, head down, arms folded in a dark
coat, socked feet in flip-flops softly slapping the ground.
A naked yellow bulb cast an orange tint on a red door and lighted a sculpted
golden dragon which guarded the place against evil spirits. I entered and
moved on back through a smoky bar where a handful of Asian men leaned over
drinks and watched a flickering -television set. At a scraggly, underdressed
Christmas tree I ducked through an archway into a sparsely occupied dining
A man in the rear stood and waved at me-Ted Gunderson, a broad shouldered
linebacker type, maybe six feet tall. He didn't appear to have given up much
since his football days at Nebraska thirty-five years earlier. With his ruddy
chipmunk cheeks and busy eyes, he could have passed for George C. Scott on
a foggy night. "I'm Gunderson," he said, offering his hand. "You
must be Potter." I found myself believing his Hollywood smile as he shook
my hand firmly
and motioned me into a chair across from him. To get acquainted we drank green
tea and bragged a bit about our best days, sparring, as it were, each perhaps
looking for the real person. Gunderson sat hunched over his tea bowl, as if
ready to spring. From time to time he cast appreciative glances toward the
door, and I realized the old cop had situated himself, no doubt intentionally,
with his back to the wall. After a while Gunderson began to talk about the
MacDonald murders. "You need to write a book about it," he said
in a gravelly voice.
"Joe McGinniss already did that."
"Joe didn't write about this case."
"Well, of course he did," I said. I named Joe's book.
Gunderson smiled coldly. "He didn't write about this case. He wrote about
the government's side and left' out all the'good stuff on the MacDonald
"Which is MacDonald didn't do it," Gunderson said, watching my eyes.
I didn't say anything.
"The guy didn't get a fair trial," Gunderson said.
"Nobody in prison ever got a fair trial," I told him.
"That's true enough," Gunderson said.
"McGinniss lived with MacDonald throughout the entire trial," I
reminded him. "He found out MacDonald's not a nice guy."
'Joe McGinniss isn't a nice guy, which you'll see soon enough. And MacDonald
isn't the asshole McGinniss made him out to be."
"You're asking me to believe that you think that the United States Army,
the FBI, the Justice Department, MacDonald's in-laws, and Joe McGinniss are
all mistaken about this guy?"
"Now, you've got it," Ted said happily.
"So, what you're telling me," I said, "is that you've got a
major conspiracy here."
"No. What we've got is a case gone wrong from the very first moments.
As to any conspiracy, it simply happened that other law enforcement officers,
being on the same team, believed their fellow investigator who misdiagnosed
the crime scene and fed them reports which were less than candid. So the investigator's
teammates, thinking MacDonald's really guilty, join the fray with a vengeance.
This guy MacDonald really killed his kids, you say? Okay, let's get the bastard.'"
I looked at Gunderson's face. Sometimes you can tell people are crazy just
"Listen," he said. "You don't need a major conspiracy to make
something like that work. All you need to do is convince your superiors that
this guy's getting away with murder. All the real evidence is either still
at the crime scene or back in the lab. If some of the evidence is confusing,
that evidence just disappears or gets interpreted in the government's favor.
Maybe your boss will even help. The judge and jury then see a rigged case,
and sometimes the judge even closes one eye and fails to make the government
adhere to the rules. It happens more than any of us would like to admit."
"And you really believe this is what happened?"
"I know this is what happened," Gunderson said. 'Tm staking my professional
reputation on it."
Ted's steady eyes and easy smile told me he believed it like he believed the
floor would still hold him when he stood up. With Gunderson, I perceived,
you either give up, or get the hell out of Dodge. I finally leaned back and
said, "Okay. What have you got?"
He raised his hands palms up as if the whole thing were quite simple. "My
guys kept back evidence," he said.
"My team, or the team I was on for years, the FBI and the prosecutor.
The Justice Department. Army CID, too, far as that goes, the good guys."
I thought about that a minute.
"I'm dead serious," Ted said.
"You're our of the Bureau now."
"Retired. I went back into the field for the MacDonald defense team and
I found some stuff."
"Come to my office on Saturday. You take it home and read it and if you
still think MacDonald got a fair trial, you walk away."
I thought about it. MacDonald already had been in prison for almost five years
when I met Gunderson. The idea that he might be innocent was unnerving. That
somebody in the government could make him look so guilty on purpose was even
more so. Realizing I had nothing more to go on than Ted's word, I nevertheless
told him I'd give it a look.
"Deal," I said.
Gunderson rose so suddenly that I flinched. But as he moved quickly toward
the door of the restaurant I realized there was no danger, he was greeting
an elderly lady helped along by a younger gray-haired woman and a smiling
round-faced man. The older woman's expression brightened and she threw her
arms around Gunderson, who hugged the old girl and planted a kiss on the top
of her head. Laughing, he shook hands with the man and kissed the other woman
on the cheek.
"Come on back," he told his newly arrived guests.
He introduced them as old friends, and we were soon joined by others. An investment
banker from Fort Worth, a television producer, a computer importer. We ordered
family style-a huge steamed fish, a mountain of lemon chicken and rice-and
we drank gallons of tea and white wine. I got to know some of Ted's friends.
Joel Norris said they were just people passing through Ted's aura. And I watched
The man did have a certain charm. He seemed genuinely interested in whatever
anyone was saying at the moment. That's hard to fake for more than a little
while unless you're an absolute sociopath. He was enjoying himself, and I
found myself liking the guy in spite of an apparently skewed judgment about
If ever there was an evil man in the world, I mused, Jeffrey MacDonald had
to be a prime candidate. The crimes for which he was convicted were unspeakable,
even unthinkable, except by a madman. I talked myself out of the trip to Gunderson's
office and back into it a half dozen times before we finished dinner that
Gunderson said his goodbyes to the others, then walked with me through the
fog. "You're still wondering how it could happen," he said, "how
an innocent man gets convicted."
'That's part of it."
"The way the system works," Gunderson said, "and I know it
better than most, is that the government controls the evidence."
"And they're supposed to turn everything over to the defense team so
the defense lawyers can use anything helpful to get their guy off." "Right.
"Well, as I said earlier, the cops or the prosecutors don't always turn
everything over. And, sometimes when they do, the judge, who is really part
of the prosecution-no matter what anybody says-won't let the defense use a
lot of it. The idea is to get convictions. When you even think a guy's guilty,
you keep anything away from the jury that might confuse them. It's a kind
of game, with the defendant putting up the big stakes. They hardly ever send
a prosecutor to jail for holding back evidence." .
"And that's what happened here, suppressed evidence?"
"I think so."
"You think so?"
"It's complicated," Ted said, grinning broadly, pulling his Sam
Spade raincoat together in front. 'Trust me." He walked away quickly,
head down. He put his hand up and waved goodbye without looking back. The
fog wrapped around him and he was gone, leaving only the intrigue of a big
case that might have gone wrong. Driving home I asked myself, could Gunderson
possibly be right?
For a year I had investigated the Lucas case in Texas before it turned into
a political football during an election campaign. One group of law enforcement
officers said Lucas had killed hundreds of people. Another group said Lucas
and the first group were lying. I watched as each side in that case told its
own version lavishly, giving short shrjft to any fact which seemed to support
the other team's claims. Was that happening here? Perhaps there were some
things in the MacDonald case that caused some confusion and Gunderson was
taking advantage of them. That didn't make MacDonald innocent. In fact, it
would be unusual in a triple homicide if everything did fit together perfectly.
So, I asked, as I drove home, were both sides playing mind games with the
evidence? Undoubtedly. To some extent that always happens in anything involving
humans. But, if so, where was the middle? And in that middle, where was the
The Government Case against Jeffrey MacDonald
Before visiting Gunderson's office I reread Joe McGinniss's
book, Fatal Vision, and I dipped into old newspaper reports. And
what I found there made me feel as though Ted Gunderson were either a damn
fool, or he really knew something no one else did.
The MPs who responded to MacDonald's urgent telephone call for help that February
morning fifteen years earlier had found Kimberly and Kristen MacDonald both
dead in their btds in separate small bedrooms in the small, on-post apartment.
Both had suffered multiple stab wounds. Kimberly's head had been crushed,
actually misshapen, by powerful blows With a club.
On the floor of the master bedroom Colette MacDonald, twenty-six, lay on her
back in a pool of her own blood. She was dead from stab wounds and blows from
a club which was found in the backyard where it might have been tossed from
the apartment. The two types of blood on the club matched Colette's and Kimberly's.
Both of Colette's arms were broken. Her tom fingernails further indicated
she'd been in a fight. Her swollen middle and the subsequent autopsy revealed
she was well into pregnancy.
The husband and father of the victims, Green Beret captain Jeffrey MacDonald,
also twenty-six, was the only survivor. Once revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,
MacDonald, apparently unable to breathe well due to a chest wound which had
collapsed his right lung, told the MPs, and later told the army and FBI agents,
that he had been asleep on the living room sofa because baby Kristen had wet
his side of the bed. He was awakened by screams from his wife and older daughter
in the back of the apartment.
He claimed he tried to get up to go to his family's defense, but found himself
under attack by a black man and two white men. The black attacker was wearing
an army field jacket with E-6 stripes.(4)
He struck at MacDonald with a baseball bat. The two white men seemed to be
hitting MacDonald with fists, until he felt sharp pain in his chest, at which
time he realized he was being stabbed.
MacDonald insisted that he had tried to fight off the assailants, but the
black man continued striking at him with the club. The other two intruders
punched at him using bladed weapons as he again attempted to rise from the
sofa, and free his hands of the Afghan blanket he had been sleeping under.
He said he struggled to get his feet under him so he could effectively fight
back, but one of the assailants pulled MacDonald's pajama top over his head
and the garment got around MacDonald's wrists, binding his hands and restricting
his ability to strike blows in return. While he was being stabbed repeatedly
and hit on the head with the club, he caught a brief glimpse of a blond woman
carrying a flickering light. She chanted, "Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs."
He also heard her say, "Acid is rain." She wore a floppy hat, and,
as MacDonald fell unconscious at her feet, he saw that she wore wet boots.
He says he awoke to sharp pains in his head, and had difficulty breathing.
He was face down at the living room end of the hallway leading to the bedrooms,
his legs extended over the two steps into the living room, his arms bound
up in his pajama top as if by a rope. His teeth chattered in the cold, and
he distinctly remembered the smell of Johnson's floorwax.
From where he fell he could see Colette in the master bedroom at the end of
the hallway. She was on the floor, partially sitting with her upper body lying
back against a green chair. He went to her, saw the terrible wounds she had
suffered, and moved her downward so that she lay on her back. He has always
claimed he possesses only dazed, disjointed recollections of what immediately
followed-fighting his arms out of the pajama top, pulling a knife from her
chest and throwing it to the side, trying desperately to breathe life back
into her, knowing he was failing and his wife was dead. Realizing suddenly
that the house was completely silent, he went to his daughters, finding them
bloodied, broken, unmoving. He recalls the surge of sick disbelief, his frantic
efforts during another round through the house to try to help each family
member again, using the bedroom phone to call for help, getting questions
from a telephone operator, finding himself in the hallway on his hands and
knees, gasping for breath, wondering if he himself were going to die, examining
his wounds hastily in the hall bathroom before trying the kitchen phone, moving
once more to his wife, then awakening to a ring of military helmets shimmering
He says he has never been certain about other things. He has a vague recollection
of placing his pajama top on his wife's chest, but he's not certain when he
did it. He thinks it's possible that he also placed a bathmat on her abdomen,
for he might have wanted to. keep her warm, but he has no recollection of
it. He would say later that many of his movements were suggested to him by
investigators and, since their conclusions seemed reasonable, he had agreed,
without knowing whether he was agreeing to fact or to conjecture. (5)
The nation's news media carried MacDonald's disturbing story to doorsteps
and living rooms all over the country. Editions of local papers sold out.
The next day at Fort Bragg and nearby Fayetteville families installed deadbolts
and put heavy locks on their windows, and the sale of handguns and other weaponry
greatly increased. People were careful of strangers, especially hippie types.
Fewer children played outdoors. It was chilling news that a family could be
wiped out in their beds, on an army post, and the murderers simply walk away,
unseen, unheard, perhaps to kill again.
But did these so-called hippies. really exist? The army's Criminal Investigative
Division (CID) at Fort Bragg said they found no debris evidence on the floors
which would have indicated intruders had come into the house from the wet
yard. They also said that queries in the surrounding neighborhood revealed
that no one except MacDonald claimed to have seen or heard intruders in the
are.a, and that nothing unusual had occurred in the neighborhood that night.
The lead army investigator, William Ivory, told his bosses that the arrangement
( ) of certain items at the crime scene caused him to suspect that the murders
did not happen in the manner MacDonald claimed. Things in the living room,
especially, seemed to have been artificially placed, apparently by MacDonald,
to make the investigators believe an attack really had occurred there. MacDonald
claimed he had taken off his pajama top before going to the children's bedrooms,
yet fibers from that ripped pajama top, the agents said, were found in those
bedrooms. How did those fibers get there if he had removed the ripped pajama
top before going to his daughters' rooms?
The CID agents said they encountered evidence that the stab wound into MacDonald's
right lung was self-inflicted, no doubt to make the "attack" on
him seem more real The agents believed that crime-scene evidence proved that
the other, more superficial wounds must have come from a fight between Jeffrey
and Colette, not in a fight with drug-crazed intruders.
Even though the army soon found that MacDonald had apparently loved his family
and had possessed no inoti~e for the murders, Ivory and his team of CID agents
stuck by their guns. Also, the weapons, two knives, an ice pick, and a bloodied,
crude wooden club, were said by investigators to have originated from inside
the MacDonald home-they weren't brought in from outside. And, the CID said,
it seemed that the alleged intruders hadn't stolen anything. Jewelry, guns,
drugs from MacDonald's medicine chest, including some valuable amphetamines
which MacDonald had used in a weight loss program for the troops, all remained
untouched, according to lead investigator Ivory. Everything the investigators
looked at, it seemed, pointed toward MacDonald, not toward outside intruders.
Acid and Rain
The news media weren't the only source of information about
the case. Joe McGinniss's book, Fatal Vision, also fascinated me. I respected
the author's ability to turn a phrase, but even more impressive, under McGinniss's
sharp pen the dark character of MacDonald took brilliant and frightening shape.
John Steinbeck once told his editor that today he was going to sit down and
create Cathy in East of Eden, and that she would be a monster. Such
people do exist, Steinbeck insisted.
McGinniss, too, fashioned his monster. But instead of building the character
out of whole cloth, as Steinbeck had done, it appeared that McGinniss simply
stepped back and let the reader listen to MacDonald's own words from tapes
he made for McGinniss from prison. In this way the author cleverly appeared
to allow a villainous MacDonald to create himself, and MacDonald seemed to
rise out of the pages as the very specter of evil incarnate.
Whether or not he actually had murdered his family, I found I did not like
this Jekyll-and-Hyde Dr. MacDonald, and well into my reading I decided Ted
Gunderson had to be unsound, completely mistaken, or otherwise motivated.
But, as I read McGinniss's book, something gnawed at the edges of my memory.
It was the vague recollection of a tale Dr. Joel Norris had related a few
months earlier when he and I were crossing the East River in New York on the
aerial gondola from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. I had been watching tugboats
working the river barges, and didn't have any reason to be interested in Joe
McGinniss, but Joel was talking at the time about having the same literary
agent as McGinniss.. Remembering this, I put down Fatal Vision and
phoned Joel I asked him to recount the story he had told me while we crossed
the river in New York City earlier in the year.
"Sure," he said. "McGinniss and I both used Sterling Lord."
"But you were telling me something about the MacDonald book." "Oh,
yes," Joel said in a soft and comfy Georgia accent, "at this party,
Sterling was bragging that he made Fatal Vision."
"What do you mean made?" I asked.
"Joe's book was in trouble," Joel said. "McGinniss had signed
with a publisher, and they were going to call the book Acid and Rain, I guess
to tie their title to the flipped-out woman MacDonald said he saw in the house
that rainy morning, and, I guess, the woman the MP saw a few blocks away a
few minutes later, but after MacDonald was convicted, Joe couldn't very well
complete the book with the theme he'd started with"
'That MacDonald was innocent," I said.
"Sure. So when McGinniss changed his mind about MacDonald, the first
publisher was suing, or threatening suit, for the two hundred thousand and
some odd dollars they had earlier advanced to McGinniss."
"Now comes the interesting part. Sterling also became Alfred Kassab's
"Right. And the father-in-law was trying to find a writer to do a book
about MacDonald being guilty, not innocent the way McGinniss had started out.
I think Kassab actually found someone to write it, but I'm not sure they had
a publishing deal yet. That's when Sterling had this flash of brilliance.
He bragged that he brought McGinniss and Kassab together. McGinniss then rewrote
his story, went with MacDonald being guilty, got a new publisher, and the
rest is history."
"And you were there when Sterling Lord said this?"
"Sitting right there. He was damn proud of what he'd done," Joel
"He was talking about it being his idea to make MacDonald the guy in
the black hat and Kassab the guy in the white hat." Joel laughed. "There
was a kind of literary elegance about it, you have to admit."
"How could you prove this?" I asked. "About Sterling being
the agent for both, and bringing the two together?"
"You don't have to," Joel said. "MacDonald's lawyers are right
now trying to get McGinniss into court. I'f that happens it'll all come out.
I heard it with my own ears from Lord himself, and I'm sure it'll be covered
when MacDonald sues McGinniss. If I remember correctly, Sterling also got
Kassab a hunk of change from the movie deal."
Joel's story cast a shadow over McGinniss's book as I continued to read about
the murder trial and tbe conviction. At every turn, however, it seemed McGinniss
had encountered evidence which condemned MacDonald. So, how in the world,
I asked myself, could MacDonald still be innocent, as Gunderson claimed? And
if the man was guilty, he was a monster of diabolical proportions. What, then,
did it matter if McGinniss had teamed up with Kassab to expose him? I continued
reading McGinniss's book.
I learned that no one from the army or the Justice Department could provide
a motive for MacDonald until Joe McGinniss himself turned sleuth. He told
his readers he discovered that before the murders MacDonald had lost a lot
of sleep from working every night in his moonlighting jobs as an emergency
physician, and that he had probably ingested a large dose of amphetamines
taken during a weight loss program. McGinniss said his investigations uncovered
evidence that MacDonald actually exhibited personality changes which, according
to doctors who treated him after the murders, indicated amphetamine psychosis.
McGinniss painted a harrowing picture of a wild, strung-out MacDonald, in
a psychotic state, rampaging through his home murdering everyone in his family.
So, I thought, if MacDonald is innocent, where did McGinniss's amphetamine
theory come from?
In Gunderson's Boxes
As I drove to Gunderson's office in Westwood, an upscale community
just west of Beverly Hills, I told myself that, like McGinniss, I didn't believe
MacDonald's story, and Gunderson, who did seem to believe it, was either mistaken
or there was something in it for him. At that moment I was determined not
to get involved. I had a novel in mind and I wanted to wallow around in it
awhile, unfettered, unowned, like a rich man in his own green garden, breathing
Clean air I got, by Los Angeles standards, that Saturday morning, and even
before I left the San Diego freeway I could clearly see the huge "Monty's"
steakhouse sign atop an office tower a few blocks south of the UCLA campus
and medical center.
I parked in the basement of that building, rode the elevator up, and pushed
open the door to Gunderson's office. I found myself in a room with paper-strewn
desks and cardboard file boxes stacked on the floor, but no Gunderson. I peeked
into the next room, found it vacant also, and walked over to the window. I
visually followed Wilshire Boulevard eastward to the emerald sweep of golf
greens and the expansive fairways of the posh Los Angeles Country Club. High
rent. North of Wilshire I spied the little churchyard where the remains of
Marilyn Monroe lay in a wall crypt. The graves of Natalie Wood and Darryl
Zanuck were there, too, as were the bones and ashes of other lesser lights
of this privileged paradise.
Stepping back from the window, I saw that Gunderson had attained his own fair
measure of fame. The walls displayed photos aplenty of the smiling detective
shaking hands with Olympic champions, with Los Angeles Rams, Dodgers, Lakers,
and with F. Lee Bailey, J. Edgar Hoover, and President Gerald Ford. There
was a picture of Judge William Webster when he was director of the FBI.
"Hey, sorry I'm late," Gunderson said from behind
me. "Had to step out for a minute."
"Nice family," 1 said, pointing toward the wall.
"Lots of turkeys, too," Gunderson said. "People get some
He tossed his head as to dismiss them. "1 like Ford," he said.
"Good man. And Lee Bailey. He's interested in the case, too."
"The MacDonald case."
"Right. He wants MacDonald to take a lie detector test."
"Why won't he?"
Gunderson's face darkened almost imperceptibly, then he smiled. "He
"So, he's going to take one? A polygraph?"
"1 don't know. 1 think he will."
"If he's innocent, why didn't he at least take a sodium amytal test
when the grand jurors asked him to?"
"That's a pretty rough test," Gunderson said. "You relive
the whole murder attack over again. People go nuts from it."
"Better that than go to jail forever."
"Maybe he got bad advice," Gunderson said. He didn't seem to want
to talk about it.
"If he's innocent, why wouldn't he have taken a lie detector test when
the army investigators asked him to?"
'That one's easy. He believed they had lied to him about the evidence in
the crime scene and he didn't trust them."
"Okay," 1 said. "Fair enough. But now, after his appeals
have all failed, why doesn't he take a polygraph to at least corroborate
his own claims of innocence?"
"He will when the time's right."
"Seems to me the time's past right," 1 said.
"1 agree. I sent MacDonald a letter I got from F. Lee Bailey urging
him to do it and clear the air. He's talking with his lawyers about it right
Gunderson motioned for me to sit down. Then he pointed toward one of three
boxes of documents in file folders and notebooks. He sat beside me and picked
up a big blue binder and thumbed through it, and stopped at a picture of
a young woman. "Helena Stoeckley,"
he said. "She was just a kid at the time of the murders. Seventeen.
Self-styled witch. Also the best drug informant the local police had at
the time. Worked for the army, too, and the State Bureau of Investigation
through a multi-departmental narcotics squad-even though they knew the kid
was dealing drugs. You didn't know that, did you?" Gunderson said,
a grin on his face.
"No," I admitted.
"She wore a blond wig the murder night, floppy hat, boots. Just like
MacDonald saw in his living room. You didn't know that either, did you?"
Gunderson showed me several photos of Stoeckley's boyfriend at the time.
He was a lean man with light brown hair. In each picture his eyes were dark
and piercing. "This guy's important," Gunderson said. "Greg
Mitchell. Get this. When Beasley and I found her, Stoeckley confessed
to me, took a lie detector test, and passed it when she said she was in
the murder apartment that morning and could name the murderers.
Government was saying she's crazy, so I asked her to take a battery of psychological
examinations here at UCLA. She wasn't crazy. And Greg Mitchell confessed,
too, to murders at Fort Bragg. So then the government conveniently said
he must be talking about something that happened in Vietnam-not the MacDonald
I found myself wondering, uncomfortably, what were the chances of tWo people
in the same small group confessing to murdering two little girls and a pregnant
mother. Then Gunderson told me, "Still another member of their witchcraft
coven confessed, too. That made three members of that unhappy little family
of dope heads that had implicated themselves in the murders. You didn't
know about any of that, did you?
"No," he answered for me. "And neither does anybody else,
even though McGinniss could have told you, but chose to leave most of it
oUt of his tidy little book."
Gunderson showed me another picture, of the third confessor, a thin girl
named Cathy Perry sitting at a kitchen table with two other
people. She appeared to be small, with straight brown hair, plain featUres
except for heavy eyebrows. "Ten months after the murders," Gunderson
continued, "she stabbed her boyfriend. She stabbed him in the back
with a butcher knife while he slept. And she stabbed her puppy dog till
he was flat, the police report said."
"Nice girl," I said.
"The government said Perry got too many things wrong when she described
the murders." Gunderson laughed and said, 'There's a second verse to
that song, too. You'll see." "If these three confessions were
good," I asked, "then why didn't the government just reopen the
"They don't like to lose. They like to win." "That's
too easy, Ted."
"Okay. Remember, the trial that convicted MacDonald was held nine years
after the murders. Things change. The judge said that all this stuff is
interesting, but MacDonald's still gotta be guilty because they've got all
this evidence against him, hard evidence."
"And you're saying they really don't have that kind of evidence."
"They've got evidence that MacDonald was in the home"
Ted said. "Of course he was. He lived there. But you'll find that's
all they've really got. They manufactured evidence against him, and they
kept back other evidence that showed he wasn't the only one there that morning."
"You're sure of that." .
"You wouldn't be here if I wasn't," he said, smiling. He closed
the binder with a whop and said, "Start with this. Then we'll get the
lawyers to get you the stuff we got from the Freedom of Information Act.
You'll need a U-Haul trailer for it, though, and stuffs still coming in."
So far I had Gunderson's word against McGinniss's book and a handful of
newspaper clippings. I spent a week in Gunderson's boxes, and when I had
finished my pulse was racing from excitement. If only half the stuff in
his files was true, then something incredible had happened. In Gunderson's
boxes I saw actual government documentation that evidence MacDonald could
have used at trial had really existed, then had disappeared. MacDonald's
lawyers had filed post-trial appeals on several of these items in 1983,
but the judge ruled they didn't matter, that these things wouldn't have
changed the 1979 jury verdict even if the jurors had known about them. On
the very surface this seemed selfserving of the judge. And the thing that
bothered me the most was that Gunderson's box also held documents which
showed that this judge, Franklin T. Dupree,Jr., the same
one who ,had presided at the MacDonald grand jury, presided over his trial,
and heard his appeals at the district level, had been the father-in-law
of James Proctor, the Assistant U.S. Attorney into whose
hands the MacDonald case was passed after the army dropped its charges.
That young prosecutor, Gunderson's paperwork said, had clamored for MacDonald's
indictment and even had threatened to resign his post if he were not allowed
to charge MacDonald in the criminal courts. That same judge, Proctor's father-in-law,
Gunderson's report claimed, then ruled with the subsequent prosecutors'
motions to keep key evidence from the jurors.
Gunderson's claims were beginning to sound as farfetched as MacDonaId's
story about drug-crazed intruders. I had wanted to write another mystery
novel-now, I had found myself a true mystery to investigate. While I tried
to grasp the meaning of it all, the detective called my home at 6:30 one
morning. He said he had been out all night on a surveillance and was "in
the neighborhood." I invited him over for breakfast and asked him,
"If all this stuffs real, why didn't the appeals work?"
Gunderson smiled forgivingly the way a grown-up will when a child asks why
things are the way they are. "Appeals aren't really about innocence,"
he said. 'They are about mistakes in the trial. Judge' Dupree ruled he didn't
make any mistakes, and the appeals court ruled he didn't either. They don't
like to make each other look bad, you see."
That sounded a little simplistic, and I guess my face said I didn't quite
buy it. So, Gunderson drove it home. "Same way the judge said he didn't
talk with his prosecutor son-in-law about the case, and the appeals judges,
in turn, said they didn't think good old Judge Frankie Dupree would lie
to them about a thing like that. So they let a judge who was related to
an earlier prosecutor on the same case remain the judge of record."
Gunderson let me think about that for a moment, then said,
'This is just a bad, bad case."
There was no doubt in my mind that Gunderson, at least, believed what he
was saying. He might have been dead wrong; but he had bought into it as
if it were religion. And that bothered me, too.
. As I continued to examine Guriderson's report and McGinniss's
book, the case troubled me day and night. I had witnessed behind-the-scenes
political machinations in the Lucas case, the likes of which I could before
that time only have imagined; so Gunderson's claims, incredible as they
seemed on the surface, intrigued me precisely because they were so extreme.
Why would Gunderson put himself out on the edge for a child killer, if the
detective didn't sincerely feel something was terribly wrong with the conviction?
He was setting himself against his old outfit, the FBI, and aligning himself
with a cruel, sick individual. Why would Gunderson do this for a case that
didn't appear to have a chance in hell of being overturned?
And, if Joe McGinniss had fully researched the story, as he claimed, why
didn't he deal with the questions I encountered in the Gunderson report,
a report which the detective insisted had been given to McGinniss while
the author was writing Fatal Vision?
Meanwhile, I heard about a retired reporter who had followed
the MacDonald case closely and had expressed his own concerns that something
had gone awry. His name was Fred Bost and he happened to live in Fayetteville,
only a few miles from the scene of the crime. Knowing a reinvestigation
would be a mammoth undertaking, I considered flying to North Carolina, to
see if Bost might be someone I could work with.
I phoned ahead, set up a meeting, and asked him if he'd show me the murder
apartment at Fort Bragg. I wanted to start at the beginning. And, since
Joe McGinniss's book hadn't told me much about the crime scene, the first
question that had to be asked was: Why didn't the book tell more about what
was found in the apartment at 544 Castle Drive, for this was the alleged
source of the government's entire case? And, I wanted to know, what did
the first MPs and CID agents on the scene really find there?
1. The narrative action described in this
prologue is from testimony at the army Article 32 hearing in 1970 by persons
involved: Carolyn Landen, William A. Boulware, Kenneth C. Mica, Richard
T evere, and Jeffrey MacDonald.
2. Landen worked for the Carolina Telephone Company, which
serviced some of the housing units on Fort Bragg, ten miles northwest of
3. While describing this at the Article 32 hearing,
Mica failed to fully identify Williams. Two military police with that surname
were at the scene~Edward J. Williams and Donald R. Williams Jr.
. 4. These are sergeant chevrons for pay grade E-6, appearing
as three inverted V's with a single "rocker" at the bottom. These
cloth stripes on the sleeves were seldom seen at the time because they were
being discontinued by the army, to be replaced by metal collar insignia,
and would be illegal to wear following June 30, 1970.
5. MacDonald's claim of having the story molded by investigators
is substantiated in at least one instance by the.transcript of an interrogation
on April 6, 1970, when he was questioned by CID agents. Until that moment
MacDonald had told others that the black man was striking him with a "baseball
bat." Agent Robert Shaw wanted to believe that the
only bludgeon involved in the murders was the splintery shaft found in the
backyard. Consequently, Shaw posed a question by saying, "We think
that this club that you originally thought was a baseball bat or something
might have come from around the house or something like that." When
MacDonald didn't argue about this switch, the CID subsequently used it against
MacDonald by citing a lack of splinters from the club in the living room
where he said he had been attacked.
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