State News

'Fatal Vision' author calls MacDonald a 'psychopath'

Posted September 21, 2012

— The author of the best-selling book "Fatal Vision" testified Friday at a hearing for Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters at their Fort Bragg home in 1970 and is asking a judge for a new trial.

Joe McGinniss, who was embedded with MacDonald's defense team during the 1979 trial, read excerpts from his book about the case and called MacDonald a "psychopath."

The author testified that he was present for the entire defense interview with Helena Stoeckley, a known drug addict who claimed off and on that she was in the MacDonald home the night of the murders.

MacDonald murders MacDonald murder case photos

McGinniss says he watched defense attorneys try for three hours to coax Stoeckley into saying that she was involved in the murders. Instead, she told them no, "I can't help you," McGinniss recalled.

That contradicts what MacDonald's then-attorney, Bernie Segal, told the judge during a bench conference at the 1979 trial – that Stoeckley had confessed to being inside the house.

McGinniss appeared shocked by that revelation Friday and said if he had known that Segal "stood there before the judge and lied," that he would have included that in his book.

"I don't mean to speak ill of the dead, but to stand before the judge and make up stuff, this is ridiculous," he said.

McGinniss was given special access to MacDonald and his defense team in order to write the book, which MacDonald had hoped would show his innocence. McGinniss, who originally thought MacDonald was innocent, changed his mind and wrote that he thought MacDonald had committed the crimes.

"Psychopaths are very charming people, but it was a tough fight between my head and my heart," McGinniss said Friday.

MacDonald eventually sued him for breach of contract, and the two reached a $325,000 settlement.

On cross-examination, defense lawyers questioned McGinniss about why he wrote letters to MacDonald and said "total strangers could see that you did not get a fair trial."

"I knew he would break off contact if he knew what the book was really for," McGinniss testified. "My commitment was to the book and the truth."

The defense hammered on how much money McGinniss made writing about the MacDonald case and asked if anyone else has profited more. No, McGinniss said, because no one has done as much work as he has covering the case.

McGinniss also testified Friday about a letter he received from MacDonald, which he included in his book, saying that MacDonald had been taking a drug called Eskatrol to lose weight, as required by his boxing coach.

The author said he researched the drug and found that it was an "upper and a downer" that had dangerous side effects, including "uncontrollable bursts of anger," that could lead to psychosis if large amounts were taken.

In his letter to the author, MacDonald said he had possibly taken the drug the night of the murders. Defense attorneys pointed out that McGinniss omitted MacDonald's words, "I do not think I had one," in the book and instead put ellipsis in its place.

The author's testimony came on the fifth day of the hearing, which could last up to 10 days, and hinges on DNA evidence that wasn't available in 1979 and witness testimony that MacDonald's defense team says proves his innocence.

U.S. District Judge James Fox will determine if he gets a new trial.

MacDonald – now 68, remarried and still in prison – has never wavered from his claim that he didn't kill his wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen.

He has maintained that he awoke on the sofa in their home as they were being attacked by four hippies – three men and a woman, who was wearing a blond wig and floppy hat, chanting "acid is groovy, kill the pigs."


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  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Sep 24, 2012

    jjsmith1973 - "indecisive no it doesn't prove that and you are thinking as a person that has already made up your mind that you know exactly what happened as though you are there."


    There's evidence that has never been allowed to be admitted in a court of law. Without that, only fools would claim to know the full story of exactly what happened.

  • jjsmith1973 Sep 21, 2012

    @Kidsrn, I love how people claim how clever he was to just happen to inflict his wounds to look like an attack. Although he was stupid enough to leave all his blood and evidence just laying around the house.

  • jjsmith1973 Sep 21, 2012

    @ indecisive no it doesn't prove that and you are thinking as a person that has already made up your mind that you know exactly what happened as though you are there.

  • IzzMad2016 Sep 21, 2012

    "Name any other hippy group who slaughtered a 2 yr old and a 5 yr old in their beds. Not even Manson did that."

    Forgetting about Sharon Tate's 7-month old fetus?

  • foghat001 Sep 21, 2012

    He did it. Those of you fringies who for whatever reasons just can't accept it need to come to reality.

  • kidsrn Sep 21, 2012

    MacDonald had no life threatening injuries. He had a partially collapsed lung from his self-inflicted puncture and that was not life threatening. He had superficial stab wounds, none of which required stitches. He had a bruise on his forehead that didn't even break any skin. His vital signs were perfectly normal: BP 120/70, pulse 78, temp 99, respiration 26. A bandaid was all he needed. He had no concussion.

    And as a physician he would know exactly what to do to himself to make it appear as he was attacked yet the injuries inflicted would not do any serious or long term damage.

  • In Decisive Sep 21, 2012

    "Acid is groovy" "Kill the pigs" So laughable even by 1970 standards. Name any other hippy group who slaughtered a 2 yr old and a 5 yr old in their beds. Not even Manson did that. MacDonald lied about which daughter slept in the master bed that night and had an accident. He kept claiming it was the youngest who he picked up and put back in her own bed. Scientific testing of the urine stain proved it was the eldest daughter. After beating his 5 yr old's skull in, which left blood and other matter near the doorframe of his bedroom door, he put her back in her bed, stabbed her a bunch of times in the chest, neck and back, beat her some more with the club, then pulled the covers up and tucked her in. His bare bloody footprint in his wife's blood was found in his youngest daughter's bedroom. He finished his wife off in the baby's room then picked her up and carried her body back to the master bedroom. The fabric pattern from his top in Collette's blood on the sheet proved that.

  • jjsmith1973 Sep 21, 2012

    @ Rachel yeah, because the odds of falling asleep on the couch like my father often does is so improbable. Not to mention the odds of individuals worshiping Manson is highly unlikely it isn't like he had people worship and follow him. Then the very high unlikely hood anyone would ever copy cat in some way a highly publicized event like the Manson murders. That would never happen in the real world you live in.

  • rachel Sep 21, 2012

    the odds of a group of four going to the doctors house, just happening to be there the night he slept on the couch instead of in bed, just happened to say the same thing as the widely publicized Manson murders, just happened to viciously slaughter his family but only wound him does not add up. If this group was that high and that angry, he would not have been able to fight them off because people under the influence of drugs often have hyper strength and hyper tolerance to pain coming back in their direction and they would surely after murdering his family that way have done a much more thorough job of inflicting pain on him. I do think he is beginning to realize he is coming to the end of his life in prison and he cannot stand to be simply forgotten there and he desperately needs to see his face and name splashed all over the papers before his story is over. Sociopaths and pyschopaths can stand just about anything but anonymous obscurity.

  • jjsmith1973 Sep 21, 2012

    Wow all of you seem fine with throwing the constitution, and civil liberties down the toilet. Some on here admit the horrible evidence collecting practices and tainted evidence by investigators. Also ok with blood typing being enough to convict. When there are millions with the same blood type as you. A lot on her are willing to say that evidence collecting was horrible but they got the right person so who cares. Well, I hope you don't end up in the realm of close enough in this state.