Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald

The pajama Folding Experiment

The most important part of the new evidence presented at MacDonald's trial became known as the "pajama folding experiment."  Stombaugh had been asked by Brian Murtagh to carry out this experiment.  Essentially, Stombaugh had folded MacDonald's pajama top so that the 48 ice pick holes in the fabric matched the 21 wounds in Colette MacDonald's chest.  Stombaugh claimed that he had folded the pajama top "precisely" the way that the MPs described seeing the pajama top covering Colette.  Considering the chaos at the crime scene and the intervening time between the murder and the FBI's involvement, "precisely" could hardly have been a correct statement.  To drive this theory deeply into the minds of the jurors, Stombaugh had photographs of metal skewers, which represented the ice pick wounds sticking out of a mannequin form.

Again, without access to the laboratory notes from either the original CID investigation, or Stombaugh's analysis, Segal was at a severe disadvantage.  Segal was able to get Stombaugh to admit that the photos of the pajama top position on Colette's body in his experiment and the crime scene photos of the pajama top on Colette's body had important differences.  In other words, Stombaugh had changed the position of the pajama tops from what was the actual position in the photographs taken at the time of the murder.

Furthermore, Dr. Thornton, the defense's forensic expert, pointed out that loose fabric like pajama tops when subjected to violent, persistent stabbing would certainly move the first wound marks out of alignment with any subsequent wound marks.

Also, incredibly, the FBI experiment failed to take into consideration the 30 puncture wounds and 18 cuts that appeared on Colette's own pajama top which lay between MacDonald's pajama top and Colette's chest.  When quizzed on this critical question, Stombaugh claimed he had not been asked to analyze Colette's pajama top.

Segal and Thornton continued to hammer away at the credibility of the government's key piece of evidence the evidence that allegedly was the basis of the entire indictment.   This unscientific and unsupportable experiment which, after the lab notes were finally received from Freedom of Information Act documents, showed that the Army CID's forensic investigator had attempted the folding experiment, but found it couldn't be performed so that it suggested MacDonald's guilt unless they abandoned certain scientific measurements that Stombaugh had given them. Apparently, however, Stombaugh himself had no qualms about throwing out his own measurements to arrive at the results the prosecutors wanted.

Here then was the proof that government prosecutor said absolutely demonstrated that MacDonald was guilty.  This was the "new" evidence that the prestigious FBI laboratory had used to demonstrate its prowess in solving this old murder case.   Potter and Bost go into minute detail on the many ways in which the experiment was discredited, initially in the trial and even more so when the lab documents were finally released. 


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