The Daily

Jeffrey MacDonald

“He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: …”Oh … Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in the Country? Where can you get away from it?”

Not here,” I said, picking up my bag. “Thanks for the drink … and good luck.””

June 4, 1970, Scanlan’s Monthly, Hunter S. Thompson, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved

In the late 1960’s, popular culture took a strange turn: first fun, then dark. The Stones, Beatles and Dylan were taking pop music deeper below the surface. In England, mods and rockers battled each other and the authorities – who described them as ‘long-haired, mentally unstable little Caesers’. One American scene maker is quoted as saying: “A Pop person is like a vacuum that eats up everything, he’s made up from what he’s seen.”

This was the generation that came out of the high spirit of the post-World War West. It also came out under the worldwide dread of nuclear annihilation. In Europe, there were the Provo riots in the summer of ’66. In America, counter culture produced the Diggers in San Francisco – during the week of the Love Pageant Rally, they raised free food from throwaways for the thousands of runaway youth congregating in the Haight Asbury. As the counter culture movement grew, it became more angry and organized – the Weather Underground, the SDS (sources drawn from Jon Savage’s book, 1966).

The best of the SDS organizers  are asking the same questions as Dylan in ‘Desolation Row’, Pynchon in V, and Allen Ginsberg in ‘Howl’. What is sane and what is insane? What is legal and what is illegal? What does it mean to be qualified and who decides? It is all one generation’s revolt against the last one’s definition of reality.” Jack Newfeld, A Prophetic Minority

In 1968, my Family was not a part of the counter culture movement. Quite the opposite. We were on base at Fort Bragg watching Bonanza, which was filmed at the Spahn Ranch where Charles Manson and his family were plotting their crimes.

So when Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald described a group of hippies (three men and one woman in a big, floppy hat and high heel boots), moving freely around the base on a late February 1970 night saying things like “acid is groovy” and “kill the pigs” – that didn’t sound right.

I listened to the radio a lot when I was a kid – especially before I was allowed to have my own stereo and buy music for myself. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t drowning myself in popular music.

Long as I remember
The rain been comin’ down.
Clouds of myst’ry pourin’
Confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages,
Tryin’ to find the sun;
And I wonder,
Still I wonder,
Who’ll stop the rain.

I don’t remember seeing a lot of hippies wandering around the base in 1970. But Jeffrey MacDonald’s story did match neatly the Manson crimes. With “Pigs ” written on the wall in his pregnant wife’s blood – over her murdered body. Daughters Kristen and Kimberly were also dead from multiple stab wounds (15-21 each) in their bedrooms, some matching an ice pick found at the scene.

My Father was brought to the MacDonald crime scene and immediately recognized that the Military Police were fouling the scene and compromising the investigation. He said some hell was raised about that. He also said that MacDonald asked him to represent him – or to be part of the defense team. Dad refused MacDonald’s request he said because he felt compelled to work the Army’s case, as best it could be put back together. Which, in the end, was imperfectly.

In any case, MacDonald did not go unpunished. He is guilty. But Dr. MacDonald’s consistent position – to this day – is that he is innocent. He says he slept through the initial attack and then struggled with the intruders.

I sat around a lot of tables over the course of the ensuing decades with my Dad and his JAG colleagues whenever they got together, listening to them argue the merits of the conviction. But the DNA tests MacDonald believed would exonerate him never did the trick. Even with new technology, he apparently will not be one of the exonerated. He is guilty.

There was a box of evidence that Dad kept in the attic: witness statements, photos …. gruesome stuff. I’d crawl into the attic and look at it. I’m not sure he was supposed to have it. I don’t even know why he kept it. Maybe he thought if he looked at it long enough it might all pull itself together in a way he could understand.