Forensics Case: Finding Fibers on Jeffrey MacDonald
At 3:40 a.m. on February 17, 1970, U.S. Army Captain Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald summoned military police (MPs) to his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When the MPs arrived, they found Dr. MacDonald lying on his bedroom floor next to his wife, Colette. He wore only blue pajama bottoms. A matching pajama top lay across the chest of his wife, who had been brutally and repeatedly stabbed to death.
Above them on the bed’s headboard was the single word “Pig” written in blood. Down the hall, the bodies of the MacDonalds’ two children, 5-year-old Kimberly and 2-year-old Kristen, lay in pools of blood. Only Jeffrey MacDonald was alive, having suffered just a single knife wound to his chest.
MacDonald said he’d fallen asleep on the living room sofa only to be awakened by screams from Colette. He was immediately attacked by three men and a woman, whom he described as hippies chanting, “Acid is groovy” and “Kill the pigs” as they slashed him with a knife. They tore his pajama top, which he then wrapped around his hands, using it to parry the thrusts from the knives.
He was ultimately knocked unconscious, later awakening to find his family slaughtered. He attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on each of his daughters before finding Colette with a knife protruding from her chest. He removed the knife, covered her with his pajama top, and phoned the MPs.
The MPs immediately were suspicious, questioning why MacDonald’s injuries were minimal when his family had been severely brutalized; why the living room, where MacDonald alleged he’d been attacked by four people, was so neat; and how MacDonald, who needed glasses to correct his poor vision, could provide such detailed descriptions of four assailants he’d seen only in the dark. They also wondered why the torn fingertip of a latex surgical glove was found in the MacDonalds’ bloodstained bed.
Interestingly, the MPs found a copy of Esquire magazine with an article on the recent Manson family murders in the living room. In those murders, the murderers wrote messages, including the word “pig,” in blood at the crime scenes.
Unfortunately, the investigation was less than perfect, evidence was lost, and charges against MacDonald were dropped. The story might have ended there, except that MacDonald went on a television talk show, berating the military and accusing the MPs of gross incompetence. The television appearance led to a renewed interest in Captain MacDonald.
The FBI entered the investigation and turned up a wealth of new information. First of all, in a coincidence that defies odds, each family member had a different blood type. This factor enabled investigators to track the movements of each person and particularly those of Jeffrey MacDonald.
His blood was found in small quantities in only three places: on his glasses in the living room, on a cabinet where a box of surgical gloves was stored, and on the bathroom sink, where investigators believe he inflicted his own minor wound.
Neither blood nor fingerprints were found on the two phones MacDonald used to call for help, and no prints were found on the knife MacDonald said he removed from his wife’s chest. Furthermore, no prints were found on the knife and ice pick that were discovered outside near the back door. Had they been wiped clean?
Blue fibers from MacDonald’s pajamas were found everywhere. Almost everywhere, that is. They were in the two girls’ rooms and all over, around, and even beneath Colette’s body. Yet, none were found in the living room where MacDonald said he was attacked and his pajama shirt was ripped.
The most damning evidence, however, came from the FBI crime lab. Analysts showed that 48 holes in the blue pajama top exactly matched 21 wounds to Colette when the garment was folded over her chest. More importantly, each puncture was round and smooth, an indication that the garment was stationary when the blows were struck. Had the pajama top been in motion, the way it would have been with MacDonald using it for defense, the punctures would have been ragged with irregular holes.
To top matters off, Collette’s blood stained both pieces of the torn pajama top. When the two pieces were placed side by side, the stain patterns matched, suggesting that the staining occurred before the top was torn; moreover, it directly contradicted Capt. MacDonald’s statement that he’d placed the top over his wife’s body after it was torn.
In July 1979, nearly a decade after the murders, Jeffrey MacDonald went to trial for the triple murder. His conviction resulted in a sentence of three consecutive life terms.