After the break is an edited timeline assembled from various timelines featured in A Wilderness of Error. I have omitted various points in the timeline (as listed in the book) that are not immediately relevant to somebody being introduced to the case for the first time, mostly concerning the timelines of Helena Stoeckley and Gregory Mitchell. These two will become important later.
This is nothing you need to study or internalize in order to understand or enjoy the events as they unfold in Fatal Vision. This is intended purely as a reference.
From A Wilderness of Error, p. 6, 78, 154, 258, 339
May 10, 1943
Colette Stevenson is born in New York, New York.
October 12, 1943
Jeffrey MacDonald is born in Jamaica, New York.
September 14, 1963
Colette and Jeffrey MacDonald are married. Both are sophomores in college: he at Princeton, she at Skidmore.
April 18, 1964
Kimberley MacDonald is born.
September 28, 1964
Jeffrey MacDonald’s first day at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.
May 8, 1967
Kristen MacDonald is born.
June 15, 1968
Jeffrey MacDonald graduates from medical school.
July 1, 1968
Jeffrey MacDonald begins his internship at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.
June 20, 1969
Jeffrey MacDonald enlists in the army.
Early morning, August 9, 1969
The Manson family breaks into the home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, killing Tate, Steven Parent, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Jay Sebring.
Early morning, August 10, 1969
The Manson family breaks into the LaBianca residence, killing Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.
October 12, 1969
Charles Manson and his followers are arrested at Barker Ranch in Death Valley. The charge is grand theft auto.
December 24-25, 1969
Colette MacDonald’s mother and stepfather, Mildred and Freddy Kassab, spend Christmas at the MacDonalds’ Fort Bragg residence.
February 15, 1970
Jeffrey MacDonald works an uneventful twenty-four-hour shift at Hamlet Hospital in Hamlet, North Carolina.
February 16, 1970
6:00 AM – Jeffrey MacDonald ends his shift at Hamlet Hospital.
6:20 PM – Colette MacDonald leaves for an evening class in child psychology at Fort Bragg’s North Carolina State University extension campus.
7:00 PM – Jeffrey MacDonald puts his two-year-old daughter, Kristen, to bed.
9:00 PM – After watching the TV show Laugh-In, Jeffrey MacDonald puts his five-year-old daughter, Kimberley, to bed.
February 17, 1970
12:00 AM-1:00 AM – Sometime in the middle of The Johnny Carson Show, Colette goes to bed, leaving Jeffrey alone. Shortly afterward, Kristen begins crying. Jeffrey goes to the kitchen, fixes a bottle of chocolate milk for her, and carries her and the bottle to her bedroom.
3:33 AM – Jeffrey MacDonald telephones for help. The operator tells him he must phone the military police personally. He leaves the bedroom phone off the hook. The operator, now alarmed, calls the military police for another line.
3:42 AM – Military police dispatcher puts out a “domestic disturbance in progress” call.
Circa 3:50 AM – The first military policemen begin arriving at the scene. MPs Tevere, Mica, Williams, Duffy, Morris, Dickerson, and Paulk enter the apartment through the utility room after finding the front door locked and getting no response to their knocking. They find Colette MacDonald dead and Jeffrey MacDonald beside her, wounded. CID agents and MPs will continue arriving for the next few hours.
Circa 4:30 AM – Jeffrey MacDonald arrives by ambulance at Womack Army Hospital. He will receive treatment for a punctured lung, a head bruise, and multiple stab wounds.
Circa 4:35 AM – MPs begin a search of the MacDonald yard and find an ice pick and a club.
April 6, 1970
Jeffrey MacDonald is interviewed by Franz Grebner, William Ivory, and Robert Shaw of the Fort Bragg CID office. The army announces that Jeffrey MacDonald is the chief suspect in the murders of his family.
May 12, 1970
Colonel Warren V. Rock is assigned to be the investigating officer of the Article 32 hearing.
July 6, 1970
The first day of the Article 32 hearing.
October 13, 1970
Colonel Rock releases his final report on the Article 32 hearing.
December 5, 1970
– Jeffrey MacDonald is honorably discharged from the army. He moves to New York City.
– Freddy Kassab [father-in-law to Jeffrey MacDonald] sends a nine-page letter detailing the CID’s mismanagement of the case to every member in Congress.
December 15, 1970
Jeffrey MacDonald appears on The Dick Cavett Show.
January 1, 1971
An investigation begins into Kassab’s claim of CID misconduct. It is led by Jack Pruett and peter Kearns, two agents from the CID’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.
January 5, 1971
The Fort Bragg office of the CID is cleared of all charges
January 15, 1971
The CID formally assumes responsibility for the reinvestigation of the MacDonald murders. Kearns and Pruett are put in charge of the re-investigation.
April 30, 1974
The Kassabs and attorney Richard Cahn file a citizen’s criminal complaint with the chief federal judge of the Eastern District of North Carolina, requesting a grand jury to indict MacDonald for murder.
“Now wait“, you may be asking. “I thought the Kassabs were on Jeffrey MacDonald’s side last time they were mentioned in the timeline (December 5, 1970)?” Well, you’re sure in for a treat! Be looking out for what could have possibly turned Freddy and Mildred Kassab against MacDonald once we start reading Fatal Vision.
August 12, 1974
A grand jury is convened to hear the complaint against MacDonald.
January 24, 1975
The grand jury indicts MacDonald on three counts of murder. He is arrested in his home in Huntington Beach, California.
Not covered in A Wilderness of Error ‘s timeline is the strange legal battle that commences between the indictment and the beginning of the trial. We won’t cover it now, but trust me: it’s a whole thing.
July 13, 1979
Joe McGinniss is retained as a member of the defense team.
July 19, 1979 [four years after the indictment]
The trial of Jeffrey MacDonald begins.
August 3, 1979
Jeffrey MacDonald gives away the rights to his story to Joe McGinniss and agrees not to claim defamation “provided that the essential integrity of my life is maintained.”
August 29, 1979
Jeffrey MacDonald is found guilty of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
August 22, 1979
Jeffrey MacDonald is released from prison after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that his right to a speedy trial has been violated.
September 11, 1979
McGinniss writes to MacDonald: “Total strangers can recognize within five minutes that you did not receive a fair trial.”
January 16, 1980
MacDonald begins recording tapes about his life for McGinniss’ book. [In Fatal Vision, these segments are listed under “The Voice of Jeffrey MacDonald.”]
November 1, 1980
MacDonald returns to work at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California.
October 12, 1980
McGinniss gives an interview to the San Francisco Chronicle. Asked if MacDonald is guilty: “I can’t talk about what I think. At the end of the book, the reader can draw a reasonable conclusion…. This is so sad and horrible, and I’ll be so glad when it’s over…. I didn’t realize I would become so emotionally involved.”
March 31, 1982
The Supreme Court reverses the lower court’s ruling on MacDonald’s “speedy trial” claim [in a 6-3 decision]. MacDonald is returned to prison the same day.
June 9, 1982
MacDonald’s second appeal comes before the Fourth Circuit Court.
August 6, 1982
McGinniss to MacDonald: “By all means, hype the book and (advice from Putnam’s) be sure, in any conversation about it, to get across that while you have cooperated fully, this is not an “authorized” (hence, less believable) version of events…”
August 16, 1982
All of MacDonald’s remaining evidentiary claims are rejected by the Fourth Circuit.
September 16, 1983
Fatal Vision is published by Putnam.
April 5, 1984
The defense files a motion to have the convicted set aside or to have a new trial on the charges based on new evidence.
June 7, 1984
The contents of 544 Castle Drive [the MacDonald residence on Fort Bragg where the murders took place] are destroyed.
August 21, 1984
MacDonald sues McGinniss for fraud and breach of contract.
November 18-19, 1984
The TV movie adaptation of Fatal Vision airs.
About that Fatal Vision TV movie adaptation: you can find the whole thing on YouTube. I will be referring to it on occasion. MacDonald is played by a young Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh from Office Space) and it’s hilarious.
March 1, 1985
Judge Franklin Dupree denies MacDonald’s motion for a new trial on new evidence.
July 7, 1987
MacDonald v. McGinniss begins in Los Angeles under Judge William Rea.
August 21, 1987
MacDonald v. McGinniss results in a mistrial.
November 23, 1987
MacDonald and McGinniss settle out of court. MacDonald receives $325,000, much of which goes to pay legal fees.
And a couple of events I’m adding that are not featured in A Wilderness of Error:
The Journalist and the Murderer, a book that covers the events of MacDonald v. McGinniss, is published by Random House. The first line of the book reads: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
September 4, 2012
A Wilderness of Error is published by Penguin Press. The book argues for the innocence of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.
Again, I want to emphasize that I omitted quite a bit of compelling information in this timeline. Without the proper context, so much of it would sound like weird nonsense.