The woman in the floppy hat, Helena Stoeckley died in 1982 from liver failure. What MacDonald’s lawyer also didn’t know at the time of the trial was that she had contacted the FBI and informed them that she was involved in the MacDonald killings. She had even confessed to Prosecutor Brian Murtagh just before the trial, but this had been withheld from the defence team.
Additionally, an Army polygraph expert confirmed that Helena said she was present at the crime scene and had explained that her companions chose to punish MacDonald for refusing to give out methadone to drug addicted soldiers. It is this admission that adds considerable weight to speculation about what really happened that night.
In a highly contentious book ‘Fatal Vision’, written about the case, the author Joe McGinnis suggested that the reason why MacDonald, a pillar of the community and family man killed his family, was due to him developing psychosis after taking amphetamines, namely slimming pills.
A few years later MacDonald, feeling heavily betrayed by the author who benefited from large sales and a movie deal, instigated a civil suit against him for breach of contract. The original suit seeking up to $15m in damages was finally settled when McGinnis agreed to pay just over $325,000. Most of this went to pay MacDonald’s legal fees.
An alternative theory on the killings emerged that supported the defence’s case that MacDonald was innocent of the brutal murders of his family. It was one based on the fact that during the late 60s drug addicted soldiers were becoming a problem together with a local ‘hippy’ community, in the area where the MacDonald worked.
New Army policies required physicians to report soldiers who were using drugs and MacDonald was known for his unsympathetic attitude towards drug users.
Many addicts felt threatened by these new enforcements. Helena Stoeckley’s admissions that she and her drug addicted friends were aware of MacDonald’s endeavours to make accessing drugs more difficult, add credence to the suspect’s original claims that he was attacked by several people, one of them including a woman fitting Stoeckley’s description.
One of Stoeckley’s friends, and the man she implicated in the killings was Greg Mitchell, a drug addicted teenage soldier who served in Vietnam. Stoeckley claimed that Mitchell targeted MacDonald and killed his wife Colette. However, Mitchell also died of liver failure in 1982.
Since 1997 new forensic evidence has come to light to support MacDonald’s case, but a request by the lawyers for hair strands to be subjected to DNA testing has been refused by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite this order from the federal court, the government is still refusing to turn over the evidence on the grounds that it is a violation of the writ of habeas corpus.
MacDonald and his supporters continue to claim his innocence and collect evidence to present to future judges.