Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, in his own words

Back in the 90's when Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was in the federal correctional institution in Sheridan Oregon Fatal Justice author Jerry Allen Potter went to visit him. In this excerpt you hear about his life in prison, his ability as a doctor and the case laid out in his own words.

“Joe McGinniss convinced the world that I’m not only guilty, but I’m
nuts, like some hideous monster. I loved my wife and children. I did not
kill them.” -Jeffrey MacDonald

Page 385 of Fatal Justice

Jeffrey MacDonald

After the Fourth Circuit justices refused him an evidentiary hearing, I
made arrangements to visit Jeffrey MacDonald at the Sheridan Federal
Correctional Institution in western Oregon. I cleared the four security
gates and followed a guard through the visiting room where scores of
inmates sat with their families. I had been there so many times that I had
learned how not to hurt so bad when I saw a little child sitting on the
lap of a father who would be locked up for as long as it took his child
to graduate from high school. I simply avoided eye contact and headed
toward the tiny interview cubicle where I would meet with MacDonald.
In prison they call him “Doc,” because he has saved several lives in
cases of heart attack or drug overdose, and the intramural athletes come
to him with their twisted knees, sprained ankles, and aching shoulders — 
even though this is considered improper due to Bureau of Prison guide-
lines prohibiting inmates from practicing their civilian careers.
I waited a long time for MacDonald that day. This was not unusual,
for my journalist’s paperwork at prisons was often lost in the control

office. Sometimes the warden’s people even forgot to take the release form
to MacDonald’s cell, then later said, “Sorry, MacDonald didn’t sign for you
to interview him.” This required some scrambling on my part, phoning an
assistant warden, or someone else with whom I had chatted on earlier
Finally, fifty minutes late, MacDonald came in, smiling. He shook my
hand and accepted the coffee I had gotten for him in the vending machine,
black, no sugar. He hadn’t changed much from the time I had met him.
He still looked strong, lean, and fit. But his hair was fully white now and
he had dark circles under his eyes. Sometimes when we visited we talked
about advances in medicine — he still subscribes to his medical journals
and reads new editions of books in emergency medicine and orthopedics.
He seems to believe he’ll be a licensed doctor again. He keeps preparing
for his board examinations, but, year after year, it has a way of not
happening for him.
To keep his sanity in the face of failure, he meditates every day, lifts
weights, and runs five to six miles around and around inside a small
cage. He listens to classical music and learns about the composers, and
he reads the books he never had time for when he was doctoring. He
once sent me a copy of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, with a note that
said, “I sometimes forget how rich and wonderful some of these old
classics can be. Enjoy.” Another time he phoned me and told me to pick
up a tape of Max Bruch’s “Violin Concerto in D.” MacDonald said that
Itzhak Perlman’s recording, which he had just listened to on a Portland
station, was the best piece of music he’d ever heard in his life.
This was unlike the MacDonald McGinniss described, yet, in reading
the transcripts of the tapes MacDonald made for McGinniss, he was the
same caring person toward McGinniss that he now seemed to be toward
me. Everyone I had ever met who had known MacDonald before the
conviction had expressed the same admiration for him. When I had
interviewed those doctors and nurses who once served with him, they
assured me he was a warm person and a “great” doctor. One physician
who had worked closely with MacDonald in the trauma center for years
told me MacDonald’s diagnostic ability was so accurate as to be “uncanny”.
David Yarnell, a movie producer in Southern California, told me that his
stepdaughter had lost part of a finger in an accident. All the doctors who saw
her immediately after it occurred advised that the severed part couldn’t
be reattached. Not Dr. MacDonald. He performed the surgery and saved
the finger. Yarnell’s brother had been in and out of hospitals with symptoms

for which no physicians had found a cause. Yarnell was married to
a woman who had decorated MacDonald’s condominium years earlier.
she suggested Yarnell send the man’s medical records to MacDonald in
prison. MacDonald looked at the information and diagnosed a dangerous
tumor in the brain. The man immediately entered the hospital, and further
tests detected the tumor in the brain formation where MacDonald said it would be.
Dr. Jerry Hughes, a former Green Beret physician who had served at
Fort Bragg at the same time as MacDonald, offered him the job at long
Beach, in part because Hughes witnessed Dr. MacDonald’s very first tra-
cheostomy on a bucking, fighting patient. Against great odds, Hughes said
MacDonald pulled the operation off and saved the man’s life. “He’s
got great hands and he can think on his feet. That’s why he’s a good
emergency physician. He really listens to his patients, too,” Hughes said,
after relaying several examples. “That’s what makes him a great doctor.”
I was to hear many, many more stories about his lifesaving efforts. The
Long Beach Police Department made him a lifetime honorary officer for
performance “beyond the call” when he saved the life of an officer
wounded in a shoot-out. A retired nurse told me, “As handsome as Jeff
was, and as much attention as the young nurses paid to him, he always
went out of his way to make me feel good about myself. I’m not pretty,
never was, but with Jeff I felt pretty.” She told me, during the civil trial
in Los Angeles, that she would forfeit the remainder of her days if she
could only get him back into the trauma center again. “No one was ever
better there,” she said.
Even Alfred Kassab said he had charisma. The CID said that six months
after his wife’s death MacDonald had bedded down one of the army’s
civilian secretaries at his BOQ. That is true. What the army investigators
didn’t reveal is that, when they interviewed her, the woman insisted that
it was she who approached MacDonald, and the affair was her idea. And
when they asked her how often it had happened, she replied, proudly,
“As often as possible.”
Talking with MacDonald, observing his ability to bounce back from
defeat after defeat, it is easy to understand Kassab’s warning about his
charisma, and the secretary’s claims, and the nurse’s lament. I came to
believe there is a depth to him that a superficial relationship doesn’t
reveal. He asks about Fred Bost, or Gail and Bob Boyce, who for many
years had manned an office for his defense efforts in California, or about
Donna Bruce Koch who worked on the McGinniss trial. He remarks that

Barbara Gallagher, his secretary at St. Mary, is doing well; he
speaks warmly of Lucia Bartoli, a close friend and defense team member
searching saran fibers in wig hairs manufactured in the sixties; or MacDon
ald wonders if I’ve seen Gunderson and has Gunderson lost weight like
he had promised after that little scare with his heart.
But there’s also a refreshingly boyish side still there, too, for after
MacDonald has bored you with stories about the great composers
spent a half hour explaining the medical reasons for a baseball pitchers
arm to fail, he lets go on football. He’s an avid fan, and keeps detailed
files on college players as if he were a pro coach considering them
the NFL draft each summer. His team is the New York Giants. But Mac-
Donald wasn’t winning football games, or much of anything these days.
The Fourth Circuit had just turned him down when I went to see him
“Now, what?” I asked
“Supreme Court,” he said, “but don’t expect anything from them after
all, they are the ones who wrote McCleskey that let them kill me in
“If the Supreme Court won’t give you a hearing, then what?”
“I’ll just stay here in my little concrete condo,” he said, but his eyes
showed pain. “Hah!” he said, pushing it away. “How’s the book?”
“Soon,” I said. “What’s Silverglate got up his sleeve?”
“Congress. That’s the next step. They should have written a decent
habeas law in the first place. One that works, one that lets the bullshit
appeals be heard quickly, then really looks hard at those appeals where
real evidence has been found, especially when the government hasn’t
turned over evidence we asked for.”
“So you think it’s going to take an act of Congress?”
“You tell me,” he said. “Nothing else has helped. Think about it. You want me to explain it all again?”
I told him to go ahead. He had it down by heart by now, but sometimes
during my interviews he’d get started and flash on another dark irony,
which always pleased him.
“That morning,” MacDonald said, “I awoke to my wife and daughter’s
screams and I saw a black man wearing a field jacket with E-6 stripes
it, and two drugged-out white guys and a white woman with blond hair.
I saw a light flickering on the woman’s face I thought it was a candle.
Then, lo and behold, an MP actually sees a woman with a floppy hat
what ungodly hour?”
“3:55 A.M., I believe.”

“Yeah, just moments after I phoned. And, hey, she’s standing on a
street corner, where? You got it three blocks away. And then we find a
woman who actually has a black friend wearing a field jacket with E-6
stripes. What a coincidence! The guy’s real. And we learn later that the
son-of-a-bitch walks around with what? A God damn baseball bat. Ah,
but we then learn that the young woman has other friends in the drug
trade and some of them had actually kidnapped and attempted to murder
a fellow user-dealer who snitched on them. And, what do you know, the
young woman just happens to have a cheap blond wig which she wore
that very night, and a floppy hat which she wore that night, and boots
she wore that night. And she had no alibi for, guess what, just
those few hours in question — hey, big surprise. And, poor thing, she even
thinks she was in my house that night, watching Colette struggling with
Greg Mitchell, and Mitchell’s a, guess what? A brown-haired, left-handed
guy and the experts say Colette was killed by a left-handed guy. And
Stoeckley’s neighbor sees her arrive home that morning in, guess what,
a blue Mustang like the one Prince Beasley saw her in the night before,
and like the Mustang my neighbor saw drive by my house the night of
the murders. And when this Helena Stoeckley’s neighbor presses her she
says she didn’t kill anybody, hey, she loves children, but she might have
held the light while someone else murdered them. Jesus!
“Then they find fresh candle wax, and not just anywhere, mind you.
They find it where? On the coffee table, and in Kimmie’s room. And,
guess what else? Another one of my neighbors saw people carrying candles
toward my house. Candles! A guy at Dunkin’ Donuts sees a woman and
a black man come in to wash blood off their hands that very morning.
A newspaper woman sees a young woman she identified as Stoeckley in
the company of a black man in a grocery store across the street from a
trailer where Prince Beasley would find drugs later that day. And guess
who told Beasley the drugs would be in the trailer? Yeah, Stoeckley.
“Also that morning a carhop at a drive-in restaurant sees someone
dressed like Stoeckley, with, guess who, a black man and a white guy,
and the woman tells the carhop MacDonald’s family are dead and he’s
hurt and in the hospital. And Stoeckley’s friends, who aren’t questioned
for a year, mind you, have no alibis either. But Stoeckley doesn’t just
admit her involvement to her neighbor, Mr. Posey. She also tells a cop,
Prince Beasley, who calls the CID. Ah, but they don’t come get her and
her friends and break the case. Too busy. But they do go get her, secretly,
mind you, and Ivory talks to her. Then instead of bringing her in when

she professes no alibi, and admits she wore a blond. wig, boots, and a
floppy hat that night, or instead of going after her murderous God damn
friends, they fail even to make a report about her, or even take notes
about the interview with her. Then they give her, or somebody gives her
to the FBI under an alias without telling the FBI that the CID agents
themselves, and a city cop, think she’s the woman I saw, and the FBI use
her as an informant to give them names of people who Stoeckley absolutely
knows weren’t there that night. Now, the army lab techs find a bloody
syringe, a piece of skin on Colette’s fingernail, four bloody gloves, blond
wig hair, all kinds of unmatched fingerprints, and a hair in Colette’s hand
that isn’t mine, hey a brown hair, by the way, and I’m blond, but they
cover all this up, tell the MP to keep his mouth shut about seeing the
woman in the floppy hat, then the army CID agent makes up this bullshit
staged-scene theory and accuses me, but Colonel Rock sees through it
when they change the report about the brown hair in Colette’s hand.”
At this point MacDonald, who had already done twelve years in prison
over this, started laughing. “Jesus, this isn’t funny,” he said, “but the
assholes were so bad!” MacDonald abruptly stopped laughing, and said,
“Wait. It gets worse!”
“I know, but it’s not — 
“No, wait, listen, it gets really bizarre.”
Tired of it after nearly eight years in this myself, I let him go anyway,
knowing it’s the stuff his faith is built upon. Someday, he always says,
people are going to know.
He continued his litany of horrors. “While the army CID is under fire
for screwing up the investigation and covering up Stoeckley, guess what
happens? That’s right! An army lawyer, mind you, working for the CID
who screwed me in 1970, this weird little guy named Murtagh, takes this
box of jimmied evidence to the Justice Department. Now, guess what?
There’s a head hair from Colette, wrapped around a what? A pajama fiber!
It’s brand new, wasn’t there when the CID looked at it time and time
again. How creative! And the foreign hair they found in Colette’s hand,
the one thing that clobbered them in the army hearing, has now become
nothing. Somebody had cut it till it’s too small to test. Who did that?
Somebody did it, but who? The CID had even written notes on how
different it looked from other hairs they checked. But now, surprise,
surprise, not only is it too little to lab-test anymore, they hide the fact
that this was the hair they tested against me so Segal can’t challenge them
at trial! Say, bye bye to still another piece of evidence. Wonder who set

that up? Wonder who carried the evidence up to Stombaugh? You got it, Murtagh himself.
“But you can’t prove Murtagh changed the evidence.”
“Can’t prove anything until you can get your hands on it, and get him
on the stand in an evidentiary hearing, which they aren’t going to let me
“So,” MacDonald says, his eyes tearful, “now they get a grand jury
hearing, then an indictment, then a trial in which we can’t lab-test the
evidence, can’t even see the ‘damned lab notes. And Dupree won’t allow
the Rock report, or psychiatric evidence, or the seven Stoeckley confession
witnesses. I’m convicted because the jurors, who still don’t believe I did
it, ask to see the blood chart, and, what did Murtagh arrange? The chart
he gives the jurors shows no blood in the hallway. Hey, MacDonald must
be lying, these twelve people say. Murtagh couldn’t be lying; he’s the God
damn government.” MacDonald’s voice cracks, and I realize there really is
no fun in this for him.
“So I’m convicted,” he says, softly. “Then four years after trial we
finally get the FOIA material, but we were all excited about Stoeckley’s
confessions then, thinking she would send me home, and we didn’t take
time to figure it all out and analyze every line in the lab notes until after
we had filed the Stoeckley appeal. That Stoeckley appeal was turned down
because we had ‘no corroboration’ at the crime scene, corroboration they
had actually lost or destroyed or just kept quiet about! And now, by the
new McCleskey rule, it’s too late to use it in court, even though by this
time we’ve found four people who heard Mitchell confess, and Cathy
Perry confessed, and we now learn that Stoeckley even confessed to the
FBI and to Murtagh himself.” MacDonald let out a hollow laugh. “And
do you know the most macabre irony in the entire case?”
“Go ahead.”
“Murtagh said we should have known about the black wool and wig
hair sooner.
“Yeah. “
“We’re supposed to have known about it, then he claims that he didn’t
even know about it. So I go back to jail — go directly to jail, do not collect
the hundred dollars. Think about that. How am I supposed to know
about something, under penalty of spending my life in here, when he
says he didn’t even know about it, and when it’s locked away in his own
files! Good God! Is that insane?”
“Why do you think the courts-continue to rule against you?”

“Joe McGinniss convinced the world that I’m not only guilty, but I’m
nuts, like some hideous monster. I loved my wife and children. I did not
kill them. But the power of the printed word, in the form of Fatal Vision
appears to legitimize my conviction, and in so doing, I believe, legitimizes
the court’s refusal to allow an evidentiary hearing. I find it horribly humor-
ous, macabre, in fact, that the only way Joe could convince the world
that I was guilty, even with the conviction, was to convince them that I
was on drugs and committed the mayhem and overkill that only a drug-
wasted mind could have committed. He totally ignored Stoeckley, Colonel
Rock’s request to investigate her, and all her murderous friends. Then,
to convince his readers that I was on drugs he went to ridiculous lengths,
made up doctors’ opinions, misquoted medical books, and, in short,
invented a theory which he finally admitted, under oath, mind you, that
he didn’t even believe himself. Kafka would have had a field day with
this. “
“So next stop Congress,” I said.
“The courts won’t listen, so, hell yes, it’s going to take an act of Con-
“But the Supreme Court isn’t made up totally of conservatives. There’s
still a chance.”
“Forget that,” MacDonald said, “they’re the ones who wrote the
McCleskey decision In the first place.”
“You have absolutely no hope in the Supreme Court?”
MacDonald was right. On November 30, 1992, the Supreme Court
released a statement that it wouldn’t review the case. They turned him
down, without comment.

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