A Wilderness of Error

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Morally Indefensible Key Art

"These guys had taken people who had been killed in combat, Vietnamese, cut their ears off and made a little string out of it."
- Brian O’Neill, MacDonald’s appeals attorney

Morally Indefensible

Chapter 4 | THE CONFESSIONS

Jeffrey MacDonald’s new lawyers uncover some startling new evidence. Could the murderous hippies be real after all?
Jeffrey MacDonald’s new lawyers uncover some startling new evidence. Could the murderous hippies be real after all?
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"These guys had taken people who had been killed in combat, Vietnamese, cut their ears off and made a little string out of it."
- Brian O’Neill, MacDonald’s appeals attorney

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Episode 01 Thumbnail

Episode: 01

Episode Date: 08/18/2020

Episode Duration: 31:11 mins

FEBRUARY 17TH, 1970

Jeffrey MacDonald was the all-American boy. A green beret doctor with the perfect family.

More Details or Play Episode "FEBRUARY 17TH, 1970"


Episode 02 Thumbnail

Episode: 02

Episode Date: 08/18/2020

Episode Duration: 34:35 mins

THE TRIAL

At Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald's murder trial, journalist Joe McGinniss comes face to face with the evidence.

More Details or Play Episode "THE TRIAL"


Episode 03 Thumbnail

Episode: 03

Episode Date: 08/25/2020

Episode Duration: 26:19 mins

PEN PALS

Joe heads home to write his book about Jeff’s case while Jeff sits in prison serving three life sentences.

More Details or Play Episode "PEN PALS"


Episode 04 Thumbnail

Episode: 04

Episode Date: 09/01/2020

Episode Duration: 26:53 mins

THE CONFESSIONS

Jeffrey MacDonald's new lawyers uncover some startling new evidence.

More Details or Play Episode "THE CONFESSIONS"


Episode 05 Thumbnail

Episode: 05

Episode Date: 09/08/2020

Episode Duration: 22:02 mins

FRIENDS BECOME ENEMIES

Joe McGinniss's book finally comes out. It's called Fatal Vision.

More Details or Play Episode "FRIENDS BECOME ENEMIES"


Episode 06 Thumbnail

Episode: 06

Episode Date: 09/15/2020

Episode Duration: 28:36 mins

HOW MANY LIES WOULD YOU TELL TO GET TO THE TRUTH?

Jeffrey MacDonald finally gets his day in court... civil court, that is.

More Details or Play Episode "HOW MANY LIES WOULD YOU TELL TO GET TO THE TRUTH?"


Episode 07 Thumbnail

Episode: 07

Episode Date: 09/22/2020

Episode Duration: 28:55 mins

MORALLY INDEFENSIBLE

Joe McGinniss takes a page from Jeffrey MacDonald's playbook and invites famous journalist Janet Malcolm to write about the lawsuit.

More Details or Play Episode "MORALLY INDEFENSIBLE"


Episode 08 Thumbnail

Episode: 08

Episode Date: 09/24/2020

Episode Duration: 31:33 mins

THE FINAL WITNESS

After more than thirty years in prison, Jeffrey MacDonald is granted a new hearing to present evidence that may finally set him free.

More Details or Play Episode "THE FINAL WITNESS"


Episode Transcript

CHAPTER 4: THE CONFESSIONS

Throughout this episode of Morally Indefensible you’ll hear dramatic recreations of the correspondence between Joe McGinniss and Jeffrey MacDonald taken from letters and transcripts of tapes.

Throughout this episode of Morally Indefensible you’ll hear dramatic recreations of the correspondence between Joe McGinniss and Jeffrey MacDonald taken from letters and transcripts of tapes.

[SFX: typewriter, tearing and crumpling paper, throwing it in waste bin, a frustrated/frazzled Joe sighs]

[SFX: typewriter, tearing and crumpling paper, throwing it in waste bin, a frustrated/frazzled Joe sighs]

[typing restarts]

[typing restarts]

It was 1982 -- three years after Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of murdering his family and sent to prison. Writer Joe McGinniss was racing to finish his much anticipated book about the case… and it wasn’t going very well.

It was 1982 -- three years after Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of murdering his family and sent to prison. Writer Joe McGinniss was racing to finish his much anticipated book about the case… and it wasn’t going very well.

[music in]

[music in]

Joe: Dear Jeff, The crunch of all crunches is upon me…. The next four weeks will be hellish.

Joe: Dear Jeff, The crunch of all crunches is upon me…. The next four weeks will be hellish.

While Joe was searching for the perfect ending for his book, his publisher was losing patience. There would be no more money until Joe delivered. Joe was going into debt.

While Joe was searching for the perfect ending for his book, his publisher was losing patience. There would be no more money until Joe delivered. Joe was going into debt.

Joe: Jeff, One of the reasons it's taking so long, is that I am in the position of trying to catch up with a story which continues to unfold.

Joe: Jeff, One of the reasons it's taking so long, is that I am in the position of trying to catch up with a story which continues to unfold.

Meanwhile, from his prison cell, Jeff was writing to Joe with some important updates about his case...

Meanwhile, from his prison cell, Jeff was writing to Joe with some important updates about his case...

(Pencil scratching)

(Pencil scratching)

Jeff: Joe, I think the enclosed is incredible news. I think it may turn out to be critical.

Jeff: Joe, I think the enclosed is incredible news. I think it may turn out to be critical.

According to Jeff, his new legal team had discovered some startling new evidence about the “hippies” Jeff said attacked him and his family.

According to Jeff, his new legal team had discovered some startling new evidence about the “hippies” Jeff said attacked him and his family.

Jeff: It does, for the 1st time, begin to build a viable case [against] the real intruders. I think I can STILL fight back.

Jeff: It does, for the 1st time, begin to build a viable case [against] the real intruders. I think I can STILL fight back.

And Joe seemed to agree...

And Joe seemed to agree...

[typewriter]

[typewriter]

Joe: Jeff, I tell people it’s my guess that you will receive a new trial. Needless to say, a new trial would be the best possible thing for the book, because of all the publicity it would generate. Depending on timing I might have to work in a new ending .

Joe: Jeff, I tell people it’s my guess that you will receive a new trial. Needless to say, a new trial would be the best possible thing for the book, because of all the publicity it would generate. Depending on timing I might have to work in a new ending .

The idea that Joe’s book would end with the real killers gave Jeff hope. This new book would announce to the world that Jeffrey MacDonald was wrongfully convicted. Jeff would get his life back.

The idea that Joe’s book would end with the real killers gave Jeff hope. This new book would announce to the world that Jeffrey MacDonald was wrongfully convicted. Jeff would get his life back.

[phone dialing]

[phone dialing]

So, to get Joe everything he needed... Jeff asked his new attorney, Brian O'Neill, to give him a call.

So, to get Joe everything he needed... Jeff asked his new attorney, Brian O'Neill, to give him a call.

[Telephone ringing low]

[Telephone ringing low]

BRIAN: He just thought Joe McGinniss was the cat’s pajamas. And he’s, I remember, really raving about him. “He’s looking out, he’s my pal,” and all that.

BRIAN: He just thought Joe McGinniss was the cat’s pajamas. And he’s, I remember, really raving about him. “He’s looking out, he’s my pal,” and all that.

[louder telephone Ringing]

[louder telephone Ringing]

[Click]

[Click]

I’m Brian O’Neill, I’m the lawyer…

I’m Brian O’Neill, I’m the lawyer…

Brian: So I did call him. We probably spoke for an hour and a half on the phone.

Brian: So I did call him. We probably spoke for an hour and a half on the phone.

I’m onto something. Kinda trust my gut on these things.

I’m onto something. Kinda trust my gut on these things.

BRIAN: He was very nice, very ingratiating guy.

BRIAN: He was very nice, very ingratiating guy.

….By somebody other than Jeff MacDonald...

….By somebody other than Jeff MacDonald...

BRIAN: And of course, he’s a journalist and//he could really bullshit with the best of them.

BRIAN: And of course, he’s a journalist and//he could really bullshit with the best of them.

Mm hmm. Okay great. Good to meet ya.

Mm hmm. Okay great. Good to meet ya.

[music out]

[music out]

[phone hang up]

[phone hang up]

BRIAN: It was just something about our exchange. I didn’t trust him.

BRIAN: It was just something about our exchange. I didn’t trust him.

[THEME IN]

[THEME IN]

MacDonald told military police the murderers were three men and a woman who invaded his family quarters.

MacDonald told military police the murderers were three men and a woman who invaded his family quarters.

Jeff (hypnosis): She’s saying, “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.”

Jeff (hypnosis): She’s saying, “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.”

Mica: I had just seen a woman. Two blocks away.

Mica: I had just seen a woman. Two blocks away.

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was found guilty today of murdering his wife and two children.

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was found guilty today of murdering his wife and two children.

Cavett - Not to mention the fact that the perpetrators of the crime are still free.

Cavett - Not to mention the fact that the perpetrators of the crime are still free.

Jeff: Absolutely, there are at least four people running around who have murdered three people.

Jeff: Absolutely, there are at least four people running around who have murdered three people.

ARCHIVAL: Three consecutive life sentences.

ARCHIVAL: Three consecutive life sentences.

[typing] Joe: Jeff, total strangers can see within five minutes that you did not receive a fair trial.

[typing] Joe: Jeff, total strangers can see within five minutes that you did not receive a fair trial.

Jeff: I’ve just been getting a whole sense of positive vibes about the appeal. I think this is the stage now that they’re going to reverse this.

Jeff: I’ve just been getting a whole sense of positive vibes about the appeal. I think this is the stage now that they’re going to reverse this.

Joe: I don’t have to convince you that you ought to be out, but, what do your lawyers say?

Joe: I don’t have to convince you that you ought to be out, but, what do your lawyers say?

I’m Marc Smerling, and this is Morally Indefensible.

I’m Marc Smerling, and this is Morally Indefensible.

Chapter 4: The Confessions.

Chapter 4: The Confessions.

When Lawyer Brian O’Neill first took on Jeffrey MacDonald’s appeal, Jeff was running out of options. To get a new trial, he needed to introduce new evidence. So Brian hired a private detective.

When Lawyer Brian O’Neill first took on Jeffrey MacDonald’s appeal, Jeff was running out of options. To get a new trial, he needed to introduce new evidence. So Brian hired a private detective.

Brian O’Neill: Ray Shedlick was – I think he was from Queens. Spoke like he was from Queens, looked like he was from Queens. Cigarette smoke like a halo. Really smart. Not fancy smart, but really could figure things out. He was really a very good investigator.

Brian O’Neill: Ray Shedlick was – I think he was from Queens. Spoke like he was from Queens, looked like he was from Queens. Cigarette smoke like a halo. Really smart. Not fancy smart, but really could figure things out. He was really a very good investigator.

[music in]

[music in]

Ray Shedlick: I had some trepidation. First of all I believed almost intently that Dr. MacDonald was guilty of these homicides.

Ray Shedlick: I had some trepidation. First of all I believed almost intently that Dr. MacDonald was guilty of these homicides.

[post]

[post]

Shedlick was a retired NYPD detective. He died in 1989, but we’ve got this interview from decades ago. And like almost everybody back then, he’d heard about the MacDonald murders…

Shedlick was a retired NYPD detective. He died in 1989, but we’ve got this interview from decades ago. And like almost everybody back then, he’d heard about the MacDonald murders…

Ray: I told Brian O’Neill, I told Dr. MacDonald, ultimately, that I would conduct this investigation independently. No matter where the chips fell, I would tell him exactly what I had found. So, it is from that point that I commenced my investigation into the MacDonald homicides.

Ray: I told Brian O’Neill, I told Dr. MacDonald, ultimately, that I would conduct this investigation independently. No matter where the chips fell, I would tell him exactly what I had found. So, it is from that point that I commenced my investigation into the MacDonald homicides.

Jeff described his attackers as two white men, a black man... and a blonde woman in a floppy hat. Shedlick wanted to know if anyone else had seen those people that night. So, he placed an ad in a local newspaper…

Jeff described his attackers as two white men, a black man... and a blonde woman in a floppy hat. Shedlick wanted to know if anyone else had seen those people that night. So, he placed an ad in a local newspaper…

Ray Shedlick: And it wasn’t very long after that that I began to receive telephone calls.

Ray Shedlick: And it wasn’t very long after that that I began to receive telephone calls.

[SFX: rotary phone dialing]

[SFX: rotary phone dialing]

... a lot of calls...

... a lot of calls...

[SFX: phone rings]

[SFX: phone rings]

RANDY PHILLIPS: “His eyes looked a little hollow, slightly dazed. He…said he was partly responsible for the MacDonald slayings.”

RANDY PHILLIPS: “His eyes looked a little hollow, slightly dazed. He…said he was partly responsible for the MacDonald slayings.”

ANN SUTTON CANNADY: “He confessed to murdering people. He was asking for God’s forgiveness.”

ANN SUTTON CANNADY: “He confessed to murdering people. He was asking for God’s forgiveness.”

And one name kept popping up...

And one name kept popping up...

DEBRA LEE HARMON: “Greg Mitchell”

DEBRA LEE HARMON: “Greg Mitchell”

ANN SUTTON CANNADY: “Gregory Mitchell”

ANN SUTTON CANNADY: “Gregory Mitchell”

JOE BULLOCK (affidavit recre, 8/23/83): “Greg Mitchell…said let's get on with it… then they took off in the direction of Fort Bragg.”

JOE BULLOCK (affidavit recre, 8/23/83): “Greg Mitchell…said let's get on with it… then they took off in the direction of Fort Bragg.”

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Over the years, even more people came forward with stories of a man confessing to murder.

Over the years, even more people came forward with stories of a man confessing to murder.

Chris Griffin: This was a long time ago but it’s something you would remember ‘cause of the situation of what happened with the murders.

Chris Griffin: This was a long time ago but it’s something you would remember ‘cause of the situation of what happened with the murders.

That’s Christine Griffin. In the early 80s, she and her husband John were at their lake house in South Carolina, trying to install a new high end computer system.

That’s Christine Griffin. In the early 80s, she and her husband John were at their lake house in South Carolina, trying to install a new high end computer system.

John: And computers weren’t the size of your briefcase then. They were the size of a Volkswagen and took a lot more power. // So, we had to find somebody, an electrician type that would come in and jack up the power for it.

John: And computers weren’t the size of your briefcase then. They were the size of a Volkswagen and took a lot more power. // So, we had to find somebody, an electrician type that would come in and jack up the power for it.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

The Griffins heard about an electrician named Greg Mitchell. The day Greg showed up to give an estimate, he took one look at the lake...

The Griffins heard about an electrician named Greg Mitchell. The day Greg showed up to give an estimate, he took one look at the lake...

John: And he said he’d do it really cheap if he could bring his friends out and have them play in the lake. And we said, “Gosh, that sounds like a deal.”

John: And he said he’d do it really cheap if he could bring his friends out and have them play in the lake. And we said, “Gosh, that sounds like a deal.”

[SFX: lake splash]

[SFX: lake splash]

So, the night Greg finished his work, he and his friends went for a swim. Afterward... the drinking started. The Griffins joined the party in their boat house.

So, the night Greg finished his work, he and his friends went for a swim. Afterward... the drinking started. The Griffins joined the party in their boat house.

[people drinking, full on party SFX]

[people drinking, full on party SFX]

Chris: Little did we know, they would stay and drink and drink.

Chris: Little did we know, they would stay and drink and drink.

John: And I think they were all pretty much hooked on drugs.

John: And I think they were all pretty much hooked on drugs.

Chris: Greg// was very dramatic when he talked. He used his hands and head and talked and almost talked like a salesperson. The whole time he was saying stuff, you felt like,“What’s he selling? What’s he selling?” / So that’s how it started. We’re just sitting at the bar, talking. // And he kept saying all through the evening,

Chris: Greg// was very dramatic when he talked. He used his hands and head and talked and almost talked like a salesperson. The whole time he was saying stuff, you felt like,“What’s he selling? What’s he selling?” / So that’s how it started. We’re just sitting at the bar, talking. // And he kept saying all through the evening,

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

(RE VERB) “I’ve done something.” [PITCH SHIFT BEGINS HERE - DARKER]

(RE VERB) “I’ve done something.” [PITCH SHIFT BEGINS HERE - DARKER]

[MUSIC SHIFT]

[MUSIC SHIFT]

GREG RECRE: “Oh I’ve done something so bad, oh it’s so awful.”

GREG RECRE: “Oh I’ve done something so bad, oh it’s so awful.”

Chris: I’m gonna find out what he’s done so awful that you’re not talking about!

Chris: I’m gonna find out what he’s done so awful that you’re not talking about!

John: Chris can get it out of him!

John: Chris can get it out of him!

Chris: As the evening went on, he’s drunk and he’s putting his head down on the bar and he’s boohooing and crying and going on, “Well, I killed some people.” // He got our attention then.

Chris: As the evening went on, he’s drunk and he’s putting his head down on the bar and he’s boohooing and crying and going on, “Well, I killed some people.” // He got our attention then.

John: The drunker he got, the more guilty and bad that he felt.

John: The drunker he got, the more guilty and bad that he felt.

Chris: He said, “Do you remember that Dr. MacDonald?”

Chris: He said, “Do you remember that Dr. MacDonald?”

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Chris: He talked about the children, those precious little children. // ‘bout how he could have done that, he didn’t know or something. I mean, he was just crazy.

Chris: He talked about the children, those precious little children. // ‘bout how he could have done that, he didn’t know or something. I mean, he was just crazy.

John: There’s no argument about what he said. // “The MacDonald murders. We did it.”

John: There’s no argument about what he said. // “The MacDonald murders. We did it.”

[party further in the distance]

[party further in the distance]

[REVERB OUT THE SFX OF THE PARTY]

[REVERB OUT THE SFX OF THE PARTY]

---BREAK ONE--

---BREAK ONE--

Everett Morse: My name is Everett W. Morse. // Grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lived there all of my life other than the time I was in // military service.

Everett Morse: My name is Everett W. Morse. // Grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lived there all of my life other than the time I was in // military service.

In the early 70s, Everett Morse was a student at the University of North Carolina. He went there to study, drink a little beer… And, occasionally... play some golf.

In the early 70s, Everett Morse was a student at the University of North Carolina. He went there to study, drink a little beer… And, occasionally... play some golf.

[SFX: golf swing.. contact... 'FORE!')

[SFX: golf swing.. contact... 'FORE!')

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Interviewer: And you had a neighbor.

Interviewer: And you had a neighbor.

Everett Morse: Yeah, Greg uh – referring to Greg Mitchell...

Everett Morse: Yeah, Greg uh – referring to Greg Mitchell...

Everett Morse: He was a relatively small build. Thin. Blonde hair if you will, with a mustache. Probably, I don’t know, 5’6”, 7”, somewhere along in there.

Everett Morse: He was a relatively small build. Thin. Blonde hair if you will, with a mustache. Probably, I don’t know, 5’6”, 7”, somewhere along in there.

Greg was probably the only person that was not in college at that time. We knew he did a lot of drugs because he offered to get us drugs. And none of us did drugs, we just drank // beer.

Greg was probably the only person that was not in college at that time. We knew he did a lot of drugs because he offered to get us drugs. And none of us did drugs, we just drank // beer.

One day, Greg invited Everett to his apartment.

One day, Greg invited Everett to his apartment.

Everett: He said he had a present for me. So, I went over there...

Everett: He said he had a present for me. So, I went over there...

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[SFX: door opening]

[SFX: door opening]

[SCARY MUSIC IN]

[SCARY MUSIC IN]

Everett Morse: ….. there was nine or ten cats in that small apartment. // I had observed guns and knives in his apartment on numerous occasions. //There were pills, powders, people in and out.// and there was a case of golf balls. // And he said, (PAUSE) // “Do you want them?”

Everett Morse: ….. there was nine or ten cats in that small apartment. // I had observed guns and knives in his apartment on numerous occasions. //There were pills, powders, people in and out.// and there was a case of golf balls. // And he said, (PAUSE) // “Do you want them?”

EVERETT: (IN REVERB) “I don’t have any money, Greg. I’m a college kid trying to make it.”

EVERETT: (IN REVERB) “I don’t have any money, Greg. I’m a college kid trying to make it.”

[SFX]

[SFX]

He got mad / and I just finally / started to leave and he became very, very angry to where I was looking in his face and his eyes and I was not very comfortable in what I was seeing.

He got mad / and I just finally / started to leave and he became very, very angry to where I was looking in his face and his eyes and I was not very comfortable in what I was seeing.

[SFX]

[SFX]

And then he said:

And then he said:

“You take these or I’ll kill you like I did MacDonald.”// His eyes were fire burning…

“You take these or I’ll kill you like I did MacDonald.”// His eyes were fire burning…

(Cat/music symphony... IN THE DISTANCE - COMING OUT OF A MEMORY..)

(Cat/music symphony... IN THE DISTANCE - COMING OUT OF A MEMORY..)

[SFX & ALL OUT]

[SFX & ALL OUT]

EVERETT: I didn’t think anything about it, to tell you the truth, what he was talking about. I didn’t know if he was talking about Old MacDonald.

EVERETT: I didn’t think anything about it, to tell you the truth, what he was talking about. I didn’t know if he was talking about Old MacDonald.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Jeff’s new lawyer, Brian O'Neil, wanted to know who Greg Mitchell was… So he dug up a photograph of Greg when he was a soldier in Vietnam.

Jeff’s new lawyer, Brian O'Neil, wanted to know who Greg Mitchell was… So he dug up a photograph of Greg when he was a soldier in Vietnam.

Brian O’Neill: He’s standing here and the other guy is standing here. Human ears. These guys had taken people who had been killed in combat, Vietnamese, cut their ears off and made a little string out of it. That’s not inconsistent with the sort of person who might get high on drugs and go and kill some people with an ice pick.

Brian O’Neill: He’s standing here and the other guy is standing here. Human ears. These guys had taken people who had been killed in combat, Vietnamese, cut their ears off and made a little string out of it. That’s not inconsistent with the sort of person who might get high on drugs and go and kill some people with an ice pick.

But if Greg did it, he didn’t do it alone. Jeff had described four people. Private Investigator Ray Shedlick needed to find the others.

But if Greg did it, he didn’t do it alone. Jeff had described four people. Private Investigator Ray Shedlick needed to find the others.

Brian O’Neill: Ray Shedlick found witnesses who had seen a group gathered together in a diner. A group of people identical to that Jeff described.

Brian O’Neill: Ray Shedlick found witnesses who had seen a group gathered together in a diner. A group of people identical to that Jeff described.

SHEDLICK: So those witnesses whom I could corroborate, they were the credible witnesses who I would use and forward their reports out to Mr. O’Neill.

SHEDLICK: So those witnesses whom I could corroborate, they were the credible witnesses who I would use and forward their reports out to Mr. O’Neill.

Affidavit of Frankie Bushey: I noticed four hippie type people // They appeared to be high on something.

Affidavit of Frankie Bushey: I noticed four hippie type people // They appeared to be high on something.

Mable Campbell: The black man had his arm around the white female. // The males were all clean cut.

Mable Campbell: The black man had his arm around the white female. // The males were all clean cut.

Affidavit of Joan Green Sonderson: He was wearing an Army fatigue jacket and dark civilian pants. // There was a white man // but I didn't’ get a good look at him.

Affidavit of Joan Green Sonderson: He was wearing an Army fatigue jacket and dark civilian pants. // There was a white man // but I didn't’ get a good look at him.

Army fatigues and clean cut… They sounded like ex- soldiers... Like Greg Mitchell. But these witnesses had also seen a woman... with blonde hair... wearing a memorable hat.

Army fatigues and clean cut… They sounded like ex- soldiers... Like Greg Mitchell. But these witnesses had also seen a woman... with blonde hair... wearing a memorable hat.

Frankie Bushey: Three young men and a woman in a floppy hat.

Frankie Bushey: Three young men and a woman in a floppy hat.

Mable Campbell: She was wearing a floppy hat and boots.

Mable Campbell: She was wearing a floppy hat and boots.

Edith Boushey: ...an off-white floppy brim hat, a three quarter length vinyl coat and clean white boots.

Edith Boushey: ...an off-white floppy brim hat, a three quarter length vinyl coat and clean white boots.

You might remember a woman from episode two… she was known to wear a blonde wig, a floppy hat and boots. Her name was Helena Stoeckley. When she testified at Jeffrey MacDonald’s murder trial, she said she couldn’t remember a thing.

You might remember a woman from episode two… she was known to wear a blonde wig, a floppy hat and boots. Her name was Helena Stoeckley. When she testified at Jeffrey MacDonald’s murder trial, she said she couldn’t remember a thing.

Helena: If I could remember, I would say.

Helena: If I could remember, I would say.

[Plane taking off… tire screech…)

[Plane taking off… tire screech…)

Brian O’Neill needed to talk to Helena. So, he and Shedlick flew to South Carolina to meet the mystery woman in the floppy hat.

Brian O’Neill needed to talk to Helena. So, he and Shedlick flew to South Carolina to meet the mystery woman in the floppy hat.

(seat belt announcement…)

(seat belt announcement…)

From prison, Jeff wrote to Joe McGinniss to tell him the good news:

From prison, Jeff wrote to Joe McGinniss to tell him the good news:

Dear Joe: I’m on edge this weekend - Brian O. & the new investigator are in NC - I somehow feel this trip is critical. (10-31-82)

Dear Joe: I’m on edge this weekend - Brian O. & the new investigator are in NC - I somehow feel this trip is critical. (10-31-82)

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]


"These guys had taken people who had been killed in combat, Vietnamese, cut their ears off and made a little string out of it."
- Brian O’Neill, MacDonald’s appeals attorney

BREAK 2

BREAK 2

[Plane landing… tire screech… gate announcement]

[Plane landing… tire screech… gate announcement]

Thank you for flying with us ladies and gentlemen…

Thank you for flying with us ladies and gentlemen…

Jeff’s lawyer, Brian O’Neill, and Private detective Ray Shedlick had spent months reinvestigating the MacDonald murders, trying to track down the hippy intruders Jeff had said murdered his family. Now they arrived in South Carolina to meet the mystery woman who they thought might finally confess. Helena Stoeckley.

Jeff’s lawyer, Brian O’Neill, and Private detective Ray Shedlick had spent months reinvestigating the MacDonald murders, trying to track down the hippy intruders Jeff had said murdered his family. Now they arrived in South Carolina to meet the mystery woman who they thought might finally confess. Helena Stoeckley.

Brian O’Neil: I remember one thing. It was a gorgeous area and she was sort of nuts.

Brian O’Neil: I remember one thing. It was a gorgeous area and she was sort of nuts.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Brian: She was spacey. She seemed wary. // My take on her was she’s probably the same sort of person who would do this.

Brian: She was spacey. She seemed wary. // My take on her was she’s probably the same sort of person who would do this.

Helena: I had a floppy hat that I used to wear all the time.

Helena: I had a floppy hat that I used to wear all the time.

This...is the real Helena Stoeckley... talking about the night of the MacDonald murders.

This...is the real Helena Stoeckley... talking about the night of the MacDonald murders.

Helena: I had on boots that night and before we left, before I dropped the mescaline I was already smoking marijuana and everything. And as a joke I put on the blonde wig that belonged to my roommate.

Helena: I had on boots that night and before we left, before I dropped the mescaline I was already smoking marijuana and everything. And as a joke I put on the blonde wig that belonged to my roommate.

Helena Stoeckley: At the time of murders, I was involved in a satanic cult. if I went in, my part in the whole thing would be initiation. I entered the house with another member of the cult. We had to struggle with the door, which was the reason I lit the candle to begin with.

Helena Stoeckley: At the time of murders, I was involved in a satanic cult. if I went in, my part in the whole thing would be initiation. I entered the house with another member of the cult. We had to struggle with the door, which was the reason I lit the candle to begin with.

[MUSIC CHANGE]

[MUSIC CHANGE]

There were three members in there already, talking to Dr. MacDonald. He was on the couch.// I thought they were simply asking for drugs or something like that. As it turns out, it turned into violence. I said, “Leave him alone.” Someone knocked him unconscious. After that, I went into the back bedroom. That’s when I saw two other members in there. // Colette was struggling with them, / started screaming something like, “Why are you letting them do this to me or -- [TAPE CUTS OFF] -- something like that.

There were three members in there already, talking to Dr. MacDonald. He was on the couch.// I thought they were simply asking for drugs or something like that. As it turns out, it turned into violence. I said, “Leave him alone.” Someone knocked him unconscious. After that, I went into the back bedroom. That’s when I saw two other members in there. // Colette was struggling with them, / started screaming something like, “Why are you letting them do this to me or -- [TAPE CUTS OFF] -- something like that.

There was a child laying on the bed next to her that I presumed was asleep. But she was bleeding profusely by that time. // I said, “Let’s leave her alone,” that, “this was unnecessary.” And someone called me a do-gooder or something. I had already been called a goodie-goodie two shoes in the front living room. // I went back out front, and by that time, Dr. MacDonald had regained consciousness, and someone was in there beating him.

There was a child laying on the bed next to her that I presumed was asleep. But she was bleeding profusely by that time. // I said, “Let’s leave her alone,” that, “this was unnecessary.” And someone called me a do-gooder or something. I had already been called a goodie-goodie two shoes in the front living room. // I went back out front, and by that time, Dr. MacDonald had regained consciousness, and someone was in there beating him.

Helena Stoeckley: I said, “Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs. Hit him again.”

Helena Stoeckley: I said, “Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs. Hit him again.”

[RING OUT]

[RING OUT]

Beasley: I first met ‘er in the Haymount section of Fayetteville. She was running with a group of motorcycle riders.

Beasley: I first met ‘er in the Haymount section of Fayetteville. She was running with a group of motorcycle riders.

This is Prince Beasley. He was a local narcotics detective in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at the time of the MacDonald murders… He died many years ago, but we found this interview...

This is Prince Beasley. He was a local narcotics detective in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at the time of the MacDonald murders… He died many years ago, but we found this interview...

Beasley: That’s how I first came associated with // Helena. // She was young and she impressed me as being a lonely young lady looking for attention and association with something.

Beasley: That’s how I first came associated with // Helena. // She was young and she impressed me as being a lonely young lady looking for attention and association with something.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Helena was just 17 when she became Bealsey’s drug informant.

Helena was just 17 when she became Bealsey’s drug informant.

Beasley: She was being initiated into this satanic cult, which she called a black cult. // She explained to me that they would go into this // ritual room. // They would hang a cat up by his hind legs. Then, take a knife and slit his throat. Then, they'd get down his blood. They'd rub it all over them, using their LSD or whatever drug. Then, they would go into what they call a sex ritual.

Beasley: She was being initiated into this satanic cult, which she called a black cult. // She explained to me that they would go into this // ritual room. // They would hang a cat up by his hind legs. Then, take a knife and slit his throat. Then, they'd get down his blood. They'd rub it all over them, using their LSD or whatever drug. Then, they would go into what they call a sex ritual.

That's men and women together, // That's what they did. // I asked her if they did humans that way. Later on she did say they did use humans, humans had been sacrificed. But she wouldn't elaborate on that.

That's men and women together, // That's what they did. // I asked her if they did humans that way. Later on she did say they did use humans, humans had been sacrificed. But she wouldn't elaborate on that.

Helena told Beasley about the leader of the cult… An ex- soldier… just back from Vietnam...

Helena told Beasley about the leader of the cult… An ex- soldier… just back from Vietnam...

Beasley: She talked about him all the time and she told me, ‘If you ever stop him, don’t let him get behind you. Don't ever turn your back on him.’

Beasley: She talked about him all the time and she told me, ‘If you ever stop him, don’t let him get behind you. Don't ever turn your back on him.’

He was Helena’s boyfriend.

He was Helena’s boyfriend.

Beasley: Greg Mitchell.

Beasley: Greg Mitchell.

Greg Mitchell.

Greg Mitchell.

Beasley: Greg was one of the most violent ones of the group.

Beasley: Greg was one of the most violent ones of the group.

Christine: (verb): He kept saying, I’ve done something.

Christine: (verb): He kept saying, I’ve done something.

John (verb): There’s no argument about what he said.

John (verb): There’s no argument about what he said.

Greg (verb): The MacDonald murders, we did it.

Greg (verb): The MacDonald murders, we did it.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Brian O’Neil and Ray Shedlick now knew that Helena Stoeckley was connected to Greg Mitchell.

Brian O’Neil and Ray Shedlick now knew that Helena Stoeckley was connected to Greg Mitchell.

[SFX: phone ringing, pickup]

[SFX: phone ringing, pickup]

Bob: Yeah?

Bob: Yeah?

And Ray Shedlick was pretty excited about what they’d found.

And Ray Shedlick was pretty excited about what they’d found.

Bob: Could you just -- first of all, it’s S-H-E-D-L-I-C-H, right?

Bob: Could you just -- first of all, it’s S-H-E-D-L-I-C-H, right?

Here he is on a phone call with a reporter from Newsday.

Here he is on a phone call with a reporter from Newsday.

Bob: C-K?

Bob: C-K?

Ray: Right.

Ray: Right.

Bob: Okay.

Bob: Okay.

Ray Shedlick: I came up with people who – these, now these are grown, mature, non-drinking, non-dope people that have signed affidavits of what they saw.

Ray Shedlick: I came up with people who – these, now these are grown, mature, non-drinking, non-dope people that have signed affidavits of what they saw.

Bob: Okay.

Bob: Okay.

Ray: And without a doubt, two perpetrators have been definitely identified by all the witnesses.

Ray: And without a doubt, two perpetrators have been definitely identified by all the witnesses.

Bob Keeler: All the witnesses?

Bob Keeler: All the witnesses?

Ray: All the witnesses.

Ray: All the witnesses.

Bob: And these were witnesses who saw them in the vicinity of the place that night or what?

Bob: And these were witnesses who saw them in the vicinity of the place that night or what?

Ray: One saw them in the vicinity of the place. It’s so dynamite, it’s unbelievable.

Ray: One saw them in the vicinity of the place. It’s so dynamite, it’s unbelievable.

[RING OUT]

[RING OUT]

[in the clear]

[in the clear]

Dennis Rogers: Yes, the famous Helena Stoeckley.

Dennis Rogers: Yes, the famous Helena Stoeckley.

This is Dennis Rogers. Way back in 1974, just four years after the MacDonald murders, he was a cub reporter for a local newspaper.

This is Dennis Rogers. Way back in 1974, just four years after the MacDonald murders, he was a cub reporter for a local newspaper.

Dennis Rogers: I was looking for a story. I had been assigned to write a big Sunday piece.

Dennis Rogers: I was looking for a story. I had been assigned to write a big Sunday piece.

Rogers had heard about a woman who was telling people she was in the MacDonald house the night of the murders. That woman was Helena Stoeckley. Rogers wanted to write about Helena, but he didn't want to use her name. So he called her ms. x.

Rogers had heard about a woman who was telling people she was in the MacDonald house the night of the murders. That woman was Helena Stoeckley. Rogers wanted to write about Helena, but he didn't want to use her name. So he called her ms. x.

Dennis Rogers: That morning, I got a phone call, and this voice said, “ This is Ms. X, and I’m going to kill you.” That -- that got my attention.

Dennis Rogers: That morning, I got a phone call, and this voice said, “ This is Ms. X, and I’m going to kill you.” That -- that got my attention.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Rogers invited Helena to the newsroom…

Rogers invited Helena to the newsroom…

Dennis Rogers: We sat and talked for, gosh, an hour, two hours. And her story changed over time. At this point, her story was, “I didn’t kill anybody, but I think I might have been there.” // And I said, “Why do you think that?” And she said, “Well, I keep having these nightmares. I keep thinking I might’ve been there when something happened. And I’ve been by there, driven by there, and every time I go there, I have a panic attack. And when I get near the place, I just feel like I have some connection to it.” And I said, // I said, “I’ll tell you what. Let’s go out there. Let’s go out to the house.” And she said, “Okay,” reluctantly.

Dennis Rogers: We sat and talked for, gosh, an hour, two hours. And her story changed over time. At this point, her story was, “I didn’t kill anybody, but I think I might have been there.” // And I said, “Why do you think that?” And she said, “Well, I keep having these nightmares. I keep thinking I might’ve been there when something happened. And I’ve been by there, driven by there, and every time I go there, I have a panic attack. And when I get near the place, I just feel like I have some connection to it.” And I said, // I said, “I’ll tell you what. Let’s go out there. Let’s go out to the house.” And she said, “Okay,” reluctantly.

Rogers drove Helena over to Fort Bragg. He pulled his car to the side of the road right in front of the MacDonald house.

Rogers drove Helena over to Fort Bragg. He pulled his car to the side of the road right in front of the MacDonald house.

Dennis Rogers: Now, at this point, there was still plywood on the windows. It was obviously not an inhabited house. // And I pulled up, and I said, “I’m turned around. Let me look at my map.”

Dennis Rogers: Now, at this point, there was still plywood on the windows. It was obviously not an inhabited house. // And I pulled up, and I said, “I’m turned around. Let me look at my map.”

Rogers rooted around in the glove box, pretending to look for a map, but the entire time... he was watching Helena.

Rogers rooted around in the glove box, pretending to look for a map, but the entire time... he was watching Helena.

Dennis Rogers: And she was // sitting next to me, looking around, looking out the window. If I recall, she was smoking a cigarette. And she was within less than halfway from here to the street from where she said she may have been involved in a triple murder. // I wanted to see her have a panic attack. You know, what kind of reaction did she really have? And there was…

Dennis Rogers: And she was // sitting next to me, looking around, looking out the window. If I recall, she was smoking a cigarette. And she was within less than halfway from here to the street from where she said she may have been involved in a triple murder. // I wanted to see her have a panic attack. You know, what kind of reaction did she really have? And there was…

[music out]

[music out]

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

[music in]

[music in]

Dennis Rogers: I finally said, “I guess that’s it, that must be the house.” And she looked at it and she said, ‘I don’t recognize that one.’” And that was when I finally knew. I don’t know who did kill them, but it was not Helena Stoeckley. It was all bullshit.

Dennis Rogers: I finally said, “I guess that’s it, that must be the house.” And she looked at it and she said, ‘I don’t recognize that one.’” And that was when I finally knew. I don’t know who did kill them, but it was not Helena Stoeckley. It was all bullshit.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[typewriter]

[typewriter]

Joe: Dear Jeff,

Joe: Dear Jeff,

MUSIC IN

MUSIC IN

God, there’s some amazing stuff in what I’ve read / no sense ranting about it here. I’ve got a book to put it in. Please keep me posted on the progress made by O’Neil and investigators. The ending can be altered even after the book is set in type if there is a truly important break.

God, there’s some amazing stuff in what I’ve read / no sense ranting about it here. I’ve got a book to put it in. Please keep me posted on the progress made by O’Neil and investigators. The ending can be altered even after the book is set in type if there is a truly important break.

JOE: At this point you can (and should) tell the world – 60 Minutes, Barbara Walters, and anyone and everyone else, that the book is virtually complete // By all means, hype the book and be sure, in any conversations about it, to get across that I have been operating with complete freedom and independence.

JOE: At this point you can (and should) tell the world – 60 Minutes, Barbara Walters, and anyone and everyone else, that the book is virtually complete // By all means, hype the book and be sure, in any conversations about it, to get across that I have been operating with complete freedom and independence.

Joe: Incidentally — or not so incidentally— the title search is finally over. The book will be called Fatal Vision.

Joe: Incidentally — or not so incidentally— the title search is finally over. The book will be called Fatal Vision.

[MUSIC DIP]

[MUSIC DIP]

Jeff: Joe, Your letter was welcome news.

Jeff: Joe, Your letter was welcome news.

Title: Great, hits me with gut-wrenching impact. It also reads well when you see it typed. The right jacket should be eye-catching. But I’m consumed with interest in your meaning of it.

Title: Great, hits me with gut-wrenching impact. It also reads well when you see it typed. The right jacket should be eye-catching. But I’m consumed with interest in your meaning of it.

[MUSIC POST]

[MUSIC POST]

[typing] Dear Jeff… The title was finally one I chose mainly on instinct and gut feeling. I’m glad you like it. // I...went with one I knew...would work up enthusiasm...and one which could...operate on many different levels -- as indeed it does for you.' (12/21/82)

[typing] Dear Jeff… The title was finally one I chose mainly on instinct and gut feeling. I’m glad you like it. // I...went with one I knew...would work up enthusiasm...and one which could...operate on many different levels -- as indeed it does for you.' (12/21/82)

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Was Joe really going to end Fatal Vision with Helena Stoeckley’s confession? Jeff was about to find out… on national television.

Was Joe really going to end Fatal Vision with Helena Stoeckley’s confession? Jeff was about to find out… on national television.

Wallace: MacDonald first learned of McGinniss’s conclusions when I talked with him in prison…. and he was devastated.

Wallace: MacDonald first learned of McGinniss’s conclusions when I talked with him in prison…. and he was devastated.

That’s next week, on Morally Indefensible...

That’s next week, on Morally Indefensible...

[CREDITS MUSIC]

[CREDITS MUSIC]

If you want to know more about the MacDonald murders, tune into our docu series, A Wilderness of Error on FX September 25th at 8PM, or the next day on FX on Hulu.

If you want to know more about the MacDonald murders, tune into our docu series, A Wilderness of Error on FX September 25th at 8PM, or the next day on FX on Hulu.

Morally Indefensible is a production of Truth Media in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment.

Morally Indefensible is a production of Truth Media in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment.

This episode of Morally Indefensible was produced by Zach Hirsch and Julia Botero with help from Ryan Sweikert, Jesse Rudoy, Kevin Shepherd and Danielle Elliot.

This episode of Morally Indefensible was produced by Zach Hirsch and Julia Botero with help from Ryan Sweikert, Jesse Rudoy, Kevin Shepherd and Danielle Elliot.

Story editing is by me, Marc Smerling, and Danielle Elliot.

Story editing is by me, Marc Smerling, and Danielle Elliot.

Alessandro Santoro is our associate producer. Our archive producer is Brennan Rees. Scott Curtis is our production manager.

Alessandro Santoro is our associate producer. Our archive producer is Brennan Rees. Scott Curtis is our production manager.

Fact checking by Amy Gaines.

Fact checking by Amy Gaines.

Kenny Kusiak did the music and mix. Sound design by Kenny Kusiak and Zach Hirsch.

Kenny Kusiak did the music and mix. Sound design by Kenny Kusiak and Zach Hirsch.

Additional Music by John Kusiak and Marmoset.

Additional Music by John Kusiak and Marmoset.

Our title track is “Promises” by The Monophonics.

Our title track is “Promises” by The Monophonics.

Voice reenactments by Logan Stearns, Jesse Rudoy, Sam Bevet (BEV-it), Gina D’Nardo (duh-NAHr-doh), Natalie Archer, Shelly Shenoy, Victoria Puttman, Emma Sweikert, Ryan Sweikert, Danielle Elliot and Zach Hirsch.

Voice reenactments by Logan Stearns, Jesse Rudoy, Sam Bevet (BEV-it), Gina D’Nardo (duh-NAHr-doh), Natalie Archer, Shelly Shenoy, Victoria Puttman, Emma Sweikert, Ryan Sweikert, Danielle Elliot and Zach Hirsch.

Legal review by Linda Steinman and Jack Browning of Davis Wright Tremaine.

Legal review by Linda Steinman and Jack Browning of Davis Wright Tremaine.

Special thanks to Sean Twigg, Mae Ryan, Luke Malone, Brian Murphy, Joe Langford, Peter Schmul, Diana Decillio, Bob Stevenson, Christina Masawicz, Bob Keeler, and Errol Morris.

Special thanks to Sean Twigg, Mae Ryan, Luke Malone, Brian Murphy, Joe Langford, Peter Schmul, Diana Decillio, Bob Stevenson, Christina Masawicz, Bob Keeler, and Errol Morris.

If you’d like to continue the conversation online, find us on Instagram and Facebook @morallyindefensible and Twitter @morallyindef m-o-r-a-l-l-y-i-n-d-e-f.

If you’d like to continue the conversation online, find us on Instagram and Facebook @morallyindefensible and Twitter @morallyindef m-o-r-a-l-l-y-i-n-d-e-f.

If you've enjoyed Morally Indefensible, don't forget to subscribe! And leave us a review on iTunes. It really helps other people find the show. And thanks for listening.

If you've enjoyed Morally Indefensible, don't forget to subscribe! And leave us a review on iTunes. It really helps other people find the show. And thanks for listening.