On February 17, 1970, a man named Jimmy Friar needed to make a phone call. He was an AWOL soldier who, for reasons not made clear, needed to speak to Dr. Richard MacDonald. So he called around to some hospitals before one of them gave him the residence number of Dr. MacDonald. The wrong MacDonald. Our MacDonald.
From A Wilderness of Error:
Friar then called the operator at the same pay telephone and told her that he had just lost 10 cents in the telephone, and requested her to dial the telephone number which Womack Army Hospital had given him. The operator dialed the number and a female answered the telephone. Friar asked for Dr. MacDonald and the female broke into hysterical laughter. Friar asked again to speak to MacDonald and this same female continued to laugh…The only words which Friar could recall being said were, “Hang up the goddamn phone.”
The woman on the other end of the phone is believed to be Helena Stoeckley, the woman Jeff MacDonald believes to have seen in his house burning a candle on the night his family was murdered.
From her interview with Ted Gunderson, which was recorded in an interview with 60 Minutes.
TED GUNDERSON: [after hearing Stoeckley describe her time in the MacDonald house] Where did you go after you went into the living room?
HELENA STOECKLEY: At that time, the phone rang. Everyone was standing around and said who should answer it, and I was designated as the person to go answer the phone. I picked it up, and someone asked for Dr. MacDonald, well, by that time, I was pretty high on mescaline, and I just giggled and said he wasn’t there, or something like that. They accepted that, and that was it, so I hung up the phone.
This isn’t hard evidence that she was in the house that night, but this is eerie, right? Eerie in the same way that her existence at all is eerie. Helena Stoeckley already exists in my mind as somebody who MacDonald seemed to conjure out of thin air, somebody whose existence should have been an ace in the hole for MacDonald’s defense. She fits the description, has no alibi, and has even offered up suspiciously vivid recollections of being in the MacDonald household. Take, for instance, the hobbyhorse, pictured below:
This was a detail she kept recalling, something that stuck out to her. While it is true that a picture of the hobbyhorse was shown in the Fayetteville Observer, Stoeckley never admitted to having seen the picture in a newspaper but instead waffled on whether or not she had or hadn’t seen it at all. Additionally, she provided a specific detail about the hobbyhorse not apparent from the picture in the Observer: the hobbyhorse had a broken spring. Only the MacDonalds would have known the hobbyhorse had a broken spring.
Her description of the crime scene is also eerily specific, especially for somebody masked with drug-induced delusions of committing a random act of murder:
HELENA STOECKLEY: I entered the house with another member of the cult. We had to struggle with the door, which is the reason I lit the candle to begin with. We went in. There were three members in there already, talking to Dr. MacDonald. I thought they were simply asking for drugs or something like that. As it turns out, it turned to violence. I said, “Leave him alone,” and they asked him to go to the telephone and call someone and see if he could get a prescription or to get the drugs themselves. He said he would, he tried to, and we realized he was calling the MPs. That’s when-they forced him back to the couch, 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. There was a child laying on the bed next to her that I presumed was asleep. She had already been beaten several times, and was calling out to her husband to help her. I presume he was still unconscious or something like that, so I don’t know if the child was dead or not. I said, “Let’s leave her alone,” that this was unnecessary and someone called me a do-gooder or something. I’d already been called a goodie-goodie two shoes in the front living room, and I left the room. [There was] a hobbyhorse, like a rocking horse. I backed up against it but the spring was broken, so I moved away from it. In the room, there was a child’s toy, there were children’s books, things like that. I don’t know whose bedroom it was but there was another child in there asleep. There was no blood in there or anything at that time. I went back out front and by that time. Dr. MacDonald had regained consciousness and someone was in there beating him. I know who it was but, like I said, I’m not going to give names or anything because of my own safety and the safety of my family and the threat of personal danger.
What an intensely lucid description of a night she otherwise has zero recollection of. For a girl who is portrayed as too strung out on drugs to connect two coherent thoughts, this version of events offers the cleanest, most logical explanation of events, definitely more clear than the state’s timeline with MacDonald acting alone. (Worth noting that even this description isn’t perfectly clean, I feel more at ease hearing it than any of the other theories).
But what you’ll say here is, what about the evidence? The four hippies didn’t leave any behind, keeping in mind all of the work the CID seemed to put into disrupting and improperly preserving the crime scene. But as it turns out, there are two key pieces of evidence that were withheld from the jury (either physically or in interpretation), and both of these pieces of evidence point to people other than MacDonald as having entered the house.
These pieces of evidence were unsourced black wool fibers and twenty-four inch strands of saran fiber found on hair brushes within the house.
First, we’ll start with the black wool. Obtained by the defense through an FOIA request in 1983 (Fatal Vision‘s publication date), the defense became aware of evidence of black wool fibers found in Colette’s mouth and pajama top. (Jeff MacDonald frequently described one of the assailants as wearing some sort of black outfit). Investigators were unable to source the black wool fibers to anything else in the house. Unless Colette had a habit of eating black wool for dinner, it’s hard to reconcile where exactly this wool came from except from intruders that night.
Another bit of (seemingly) suppressed evidence comes in the form of twenty-four inch saran fiber left on hairbrushes in the house, one of which was found next to the kitchen phone (where Stoeckley may-or-may-not have spoken to a confused soldier in the middle of a convoluted mess of hospitals, operators, and transfers). During the trial, the prosecution had assumed the saran fibers ended up on the hairbrush because Kimberley and Kristen, known to have owned dolls, used them to brush the hair of said dolls (which were no longer available to test against the saran fibers). But two facts contradict this narrative:
- The length of the saran fibers was too long to have come from any doll. Having spoken to doll experts, it was determined that no manufacturers used twenty-four inch saran fibers for their dolls. Additionally, saran fibers were sewn onto the head of the doll in such a way that would prevent it from being tugged out like a normal human hair while being brushed. To pull one strand out would risk pulling them all out.
- While it would have been more likely for a twenty-four inch strand to come from a wig, like the blond wig Stoeckley was believed to be wearing at the time of the murders, saran fibers did not look like natural human hair, so it was often not used in creating human wigs. However, MacDonald’s defense team was able to find wig manufacturers who used saran fibers in the production of their wigs.
Of course, this isn’t proof that Stoeckley did anything (just as much as the blood typing or clean/ragged holes in a blood-soaked pajama top isn’t “evidence” that MacDonald did anything). Without Stoeckley’s own black wool or wig to test the samples against, there’s no way to prove Stoeckley’s involvement. But why was this kept from the jury? Why was the saran fiber evidence so willfully misinterpreted?
From A Wilderness of Error (emphasis added):
The government investigators may have believed that the saran was not used to make wigs and that the twenty-four-inch fibers came from a doll, but if so, why did they mischaracterize the evidence they had obtained from the doll experts? Indeed, the wig-fiber evidence may never speak to Stoeckley’s presence at the crime scene, but it did speak to the government’s willingness to ignore information favorable to the defense.
There’s a lot of information pointing to the possibility that Stoeckley had more involvement than McGinniss and Fatal Vision would imply, so I will be doing this post in multiple parts. Not that I’m done with Stoeckley, but for now, this’ll do. Next week, we’ll get into the mystery surrounding Greg Mitchell.