This morning Shyboy Tim and I were talking about a documentary we'd recently watched about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the description of that film as having been on of the first to remove the supernatural element from the horror genre. What you see in that film is technically a very dysfunctional family - not a ghost story - but simply people behaving at their worst. To me this is even more frightening then a good old fashioned monster flick. I just finished reading a new book by the film maker Errol Morris about a man accused of killing his wife and two children in 1970. It is called A Wilderness of Errors: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald and it is focuses on how the media can dictate our beliefs to the extent of discounting facts and disregarding evidence, using only what fits their preconceived idea of what happened. It is a fascinating read.
Jefferey MacDonald has proclaimed his innocence for almost as long as I have been alive, yet has been serving three consecutive life sentences for the murder of his family. His story was the topic of a best selling book, Fatal Vision and a popular TV mini-series. Although much of the Fatal Vision book is based on presumption, it is none the less what many believe to be true. Morris looks into the details tossed aside by police, detectives and the government - tossed aside for not fitting into the scenario they concocted to explain why a Green Beret Doctor would viciously stab and beat his family to death.
I've been a fan of Errol Morris for many years, and his documentaries are some of the finest ever made (see The Thin Blue Line and The Fog Of War just to name a few). His subject matter does not steer clear of the uncomfortable, whether it be Abu Ghraib, the electric chair, or pet cemeteries. I had been completely in the dark about these murder trials, even though Fatal Vision was and is a best seller. But after reading this book I want to know more. Fortunately in this age of you-tube, you can find anything. It is all out there to be seen .
This clip shows MacDonald's appearance on The Dick Cavett show not long after his Army trial that concluded that he was not responsible for any of the murders. Jeffery MacDonald stated from the get go that he and his family had been attacked by 4 to 5 "hippies". He himself suffered from life threatening stabs that collapsed his lung and just missed piercing his heart as he fought to go to the aid of his family. The judge in that initial Army trial believed that the government was barking up the wrong tree, but many point at this TV appearance as a turning of the tide in regards to his guilt or innocence. His in-laws, the Kassabs, had been staunch supporters of MacDonald, but soon after this they became his biggest enemies. Even Errol Morris says there is something a little off about his delivery - a smirk, the complaints about his treatment, and the fact that he never mentioned his family is what bothered most viewers. Watching this clip, I can see what they are getting at.
One of the key players in this story is Helena Stoeckley. MacDonald described one of his attackers as being a female with a floppy hat and go-go boots. While responding to the police call that night, one MP saw a female matching that description just a few blocks from the crime scene. Upon the MP's arrival he overheard MacDonald describe the intruders - and when he mentioned the woman bells starting ringing in the MP's head. He mentioned to his superiors that he'd just seen a woman fitting that description several minutes ago but surprisingly nobody bothered to go and look. Did I mention that the crime scene was handled by rookies and amateurs? Nobody knew what they were doing. Helena Stoeckley was a snitch for the police department and the officer working with her thought the description fit her description too. I'll leave the story telling to Errol Morris, but to make a long story short, Stoeckley spent the rest of her days admitting to family, friends and strangers that she was in the house the night of the murders, high on drugs, and she knew who was with her. The clip above is from a 60 Minutes interview that never aired. You can clearly see her strange behavior. The Judge in MacDonald's trial dismissed her as reliable, stating that she was a drug addict and not to be believed, i.e. her story doesn't fit our story so we will suppress it!
This story has so many unbelievable twists and turns that you really do need to read this book. I have never read Fatal Vision form Joe McGiniss, and after reading this I know how he manipulated the facts to make a good book, but I do want to watch the hours and hours of documentaries that have aired over the decades. Here is one that the BBC did in 1989 that has quite a few of the key historical figures involved. It is called False Witness.
I cannot recommend this book enough folks. It does fall into the True Crime section of the bookstore - but it is more than just a gruesome murder story. Errol Morris's writing is very similar to his movie making style, and it is a very quick read, primarily due to how difficult it is to put it down!
ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NOTE..........................
Tomorrow is Halloween and you are all invited to join us at the station for trick or treats! We will be handing out candy from 6 to 9 a.m.and playing Lux Interior's Purple Knif Radio Show along with a ton of music from The Cramps. Don't miss it! Tune into 89.7 fm or listen on-line at www.kmsu.org