Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald

The Army Plans Revenge

Captain MacDonald before the hearing
Captain MacDonald before the hearing

After six weeks of hearings, Col. Rock completed his report and recommendation.  He urged the Army to dismiss the charges against MacDonald because "they were not true."   He also recommended that allegations regarding Helena Stoeckley be investigated by the local authorities.  While MacDonald and his defense team were thrilled, General Flanagan was reportedly unhappy with Rock's report and recommendation.  Flanagan reluctantly dropped the charges on the basis of   "insufficient evidence" an act which would allow the Army to revisit the case at a later date.

Afterwards, some powerful people at Fort Bragg, stinging from the humiliation of the hearing, Col. Rock's report and the very embarrassing publicity, vowed that they would carry on their campaign to get MacDonald convicted.

MacDonald after case was dismissed
MacDonald after case was dismissed

MacDonald, oblivious of the powerful enemies he had made, applied for a discharge.   Not surprisingly, the enthusiasm with which the young doctor had enlisted in the Army had pretty well vanished after his recent experiences.  Not only that, he had to get back into civilian life to earn some money.  His mother had sold her home to pay for his legal bills and he needed to pay her back. 

After his discharge, MacDonald made a few very serious mistakes in judgment that would haunt him for years to come.  He welcomed his newfound celebrity status and continued to publicize the Army's incompetence on national television with Walter Cronkite and Dick Cavett.  Rubbing the Army's nose in the dirt simply energized his powerful enemies.  Smiling and chatting on superficial talk shows about something so grave as his wife and children's murders diminished him in the eyes of many people, including his in-laws.  He would pay very heavily for these errors in judgment. 

The efforts of MacDonald and his father-in-law to punish the Army for its conduct resulted in formal complaints and possible charges of perjury against the CID investigators who had mishandled the murder investigation.  The Army treated the investigation was a mere formality and the charges against the CID investigators were refuted.

By this time, the CID had located Helena Stoeckley, who had already told some Nashville police officers that she believed that she was a witness to the MacDonald murders.   She sought immunity from prosecution, but was denied.  The man who gave her the polygraph test told the CID, "Miss Stoeckley is convinced that she was physically present when the three members of the MacDonald family were killed."

Despite this, the CID decided that because they could not match Stoeckley's fingerprints with the few remaining prints that had not been obliterated from the murder scene, she was cleared as a suspect.  The Army then turned its attentions back to Jeffrey MacDonald as the main suspect.


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