Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of brutally stabbing his pregnant wife to death, but that wasn’t the end of his love life.
MacDonald’s second wife, Kathryn MacDonald, married the convicted killer behind bars and has spent nearly two decades trying to prove her husband is really an innocent man.
Kathryn has advocated for a husband she can only see in a prison waiting room, talking to the media, working alongside MacDonald’s legal team, speaking to potential witnesses, and even reaching out to President Trump on social media to passionately plead her husband’s case.
“The more I got to know him and love him, it’d be like ‘How could you sleep at night?’” she said. “Some things are bigger than ourselves and I know it’s hard to understand. I wouldn’t wish this situation on anybody but some things are more important than, you know, what’d be best for me.”
MacDonald was convicted in 1979 of the brutal 1970 slayings of his pregnant wife Colette MacDonald and the couple’s two young daughters, ages 5 and 2, in their Fort Bragg home.
MacDonald, a Green Beret surgeon, claimed that four drug-crazed hippies had broken into the home and carried out the attack, which left him with a puncture wound and partially collapsed lung. But investigators soon grew suspicious of MacDonald's story, and felt the physical evidence at the scene pointed to him being the killer.
The controversial case has remained in the spotlight for 50 years with some, including Kathryn, continuing to proclaim MacDonald didn’t get a fair trial.
The crime is the focus of FX’s new docuseries “A Wilderness of Error”.
Kathryn was so committed to her husband’s case, she even got a paralegal degree—in addition to the master’s degree in video and film she had already obtained earlier in her life from American University— to try to better assist with the case.
“I know my husband is innocent,” she told The Fayetteville Observer in 2017. “He is the most honorable person I have ever known. If I ever had one scintilla of a doubt about Jeff ... I wouldn’t be where I am. He is innocent, and justice has to mean something.”
Prison Pen Pals
Kathryn and Jeffrey MacDonald first crossed paths briefly years ago in Baltimore, but the couple wouldn’t reconnect until 1997 when Kathryn wrote to Jeffrey in prison, The Washington Post reported in 2005.
Kathryn asked the former Green Beret what she could do to help his case and a friendship began to blossom between the pair.
Kathryn, who had been married once before, owned a children’s drama school in Maryland and once worked as a performer herself on USO tours and theater productions. At her drama school, she wrote plays for her students, including one about Halloween characters who accidentally wandered into the Christmas season. She also held acting seminars.
It was a stark contrast from MacDonald’s background as an Ivy League graduate, physician and former Green Beret—but the two hit it off, with Kathryn telling The Post they “could talk to each other about everything.”
Kathryn started sending MacDonald photos of her students performing and copies of the scripts she had written, and also began to help him with his legal case.
“Several years into this, we realized we had become basically a couple,” MacDonald told The Washington Post in 2005.
The couple got married at a California prison in 2002.
“When we realized that we were the single most important person to each other, then it seemed like a no-brainer,” MacDonald said of their reason to wed. “We wrestled with this for a long time and it finally came down to, 'What are two decent, sane, normal, loving people going to do in a bad situation?'”
It wasn’t a path Kathryn had imagined for herself but she felt a strong pull toward the man she has described as “so warm,” “so kind,” and “so smart,” according to an interview clip in the FX docuseries.
“I certainly didn’t see myself married to someone in prison,” she told The Post. “There’s no glamour in it. It’s not fun at all. I hate it. But I love the person.”
After the nuptials, MacDonald got transferred from California to a federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland to be closer to his new wife.
Kathryn told the Fayetteville Observer in 2017 that she tries to make the two-hour drive to the prison whenever she can, but she was also battling health problems and had an old vehicle, which made the trips more difficult.
The couple didn't just become partners in their private lives—Kathryn also embarked on a public mission to free her husband, appearing on multiple television programs and speaking to news media on her husband’s behalf.
“I am honored to be married to him and honored to be in his corner and do anything I can to help him through,” she told media during a 2012 evidentiary hearing, according to the docuseries.
MacDonald received the hearing after his legal team filed a motion for a new trial. They said they had discovered what they believed was new evidence in the case that supported MacDonald’s claim that his family had been killed in a Charles Manson-like slaying carried out by a group of hippies.
Former U.S. Deputy Marshal Jimmy Britt alleged that he transported Helena Stoeckley a woman who had repeatedly confessed to being at the MacDonald house the night of the murders with other members of a purported cult, to MacDonald’s 1979 trial and that she had confessed during the car ride.
When she took the stand at trial, however, Stoeckley testified that she had no recollection of ever being in the home.
Throughout the evidentiary hearing in 2012, Kathryn could often be found standing outside the courthouse answering reporters’ questions about how she felt the hearing was going and proclaiming her husband’s innocence.
She even helped collect evidence in the case herself when Stoeckley’s mother, Helena Stockley Sr., was on her deathbed.
Stoeckley had died decades earlier in 1983, but her mother claimed that her troubled daughter had also confessed to her just months before she died.
Her son Gene Stoeckley got in contact with Kathryn, who quickly rushed to the Fayetteville nursing home on March 31, 2006 to get a sworn affidavit from Helena Stoeckley Sr. before she died.
“I sat on the edge of her bed,” Kathryn told the Fayetteville Observer. “It was just like Jeff said, two men knocked him unconscious. She said they went out of their minds, and it had gotten terrible.”
Helena Stoeckley Sr. claimed her daughter’s motivation to go into the home that night had been to try to teach Jeffrey MacDonald a lesson because the group believed he was too hard on drug users on the Fort Bragg military base at the time. Helena Stoeckley claimed the plan had never been to kill MacDonald’s family, but the night got out of hand.
Gene Stoeckley testified about what transpired before his mother’s 2006 death during the evidentiary hearing, but in the end, it wouldn’t be enough to grant MacDonald a new trial.
U.S. District Judge James C. Fox denied the motions in 2014 after determining that Britt’s allegations were “unreliable,” according to a statement from The United State’s Attorney’s Office Eastern District Of North Carolina.
Today, 50 years after the grisly crime, MacDonald’s legal opportunities for a new trial have run out, according to The Raleigh News & Observer, but Kathryn’s efforts to free her husband continue.
This summer, she decided to try a new tactic, sending a tweet directly to President Trump.
“Jeff is an honorably discharged Vietnam Vet. He is 77 & while eligible for parole since 1990, has deferred b/c he will never dishonor his family by admitting to something he did not do....he is sick & I fear for his life due to COVID in the prison petri dish,” she wrote.
Trump never replied.
Oxygen.com reached out to Kathryn through social media, but has not received a response as of press time.
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