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on October 10, 2017
I am a late-comer to this story. When the MacDonald murders were committed in February 1970 I was a mere child. Over the intervening years (nay, decades) I had heard numerous references to the name (and the crime), but never really paid much heed, and although I was an avid television-watcher in the 1980s, had never even seen the four-hour mini-series of the same name based on this book. So I can honestly say that I opened up Fatal Vision with an unprejudiced mind.

I doubt if I can add anything constructive to the discussion here. I mean, what more can be said about this crime that hasn’t already been said in the almost 50 (!) years since its commission? [….And yet, this was still new territory to me….]

But one thing I can say is this: The book that I just finished reading was such an engrossing page-turner and so gripping and so riveting, that I almost feel like it has spoiled me for all other books to come. Now that is saying a lot!

In short, Fatal Vision tells the by-now infamous and well-known story of how Jeffrey MacDonald, seemingly the perfect husband/father, awoke in the middle of a rainy winter night to find a bunch of Hippie intruders in his home on the Fort Bragg military base who had, in Manson-like fashion, butchered his wife and children in their respective bedrooms (while he was asleep on the living room couch). Or so he claimed....

Bereft of evidence and with no leads as to MacDonald’s contentions, the law turned its gaze to him as a suspect. Truthfully, the mere suggestion that this seemingly upright, clean-cut individual could be accused of such a heinous crime had me believing at first that he was being scapegoated or railroaded by a system that was simply too inept to find the “real” killers. I soon changed my thoughts on that.

After an acquittal by a military grand jury, it was still possible to believe that this man was innocent of these horrible accusations. But the story picks up steam by the time (incredibly, several years later) he is brought to trial in a civilian court. By book’s end I felt convinced that he was indeed the perpetrator of these unspeakable crimes.

Until about half-way through I kept thinking that if I had been on the jury I would have a difficult time convicting this man. After all, he was the All-American guy: Movie star handsome, intelligent, over-achiever, a surgeon, a Green Beret, with a promising career and dreams of the future, and a perfect family. But Joe McGinniss did an extraordinary job of convincing me otherwise.

Fatal Vision is extremely well-written and exhaustively detailed. (I wish I had kept notes while I was reading of some of the author’s more artful turns of phrase.) At almost 1000 pages long, reading this book is a thoroughly immersive experience. For one thing, it will tell you everything you could ever possibly want to know about the events surrounding these brutal murders and MORE than everything you could ever possibly want to know about not only Jeffrey MacDonald’s background but his psychological make-up as well. Not only is the crime dissected, but so is his psyche. Even at this length, I finished the book in a matter of days, including an intense period of reading over a long holiday weekend when I simply COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN, and I feel like I lived this story and became intimately acquainted with all the characters - including the victims - whose portrayals by this author were nothing short of masterful.

The book takes the reader all the way through the serpentine legal history of this case: military investigation, tortuous (and torturous) indictment, lengthy trial, a series of appeals leading all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, etc. Remarkably (and owing to the author’s special privilege), interspersed throughout are long narratives in MacDonald’s own words.

At several points while reading I audibly gasped at something the author revealed – relating either to a development in the story line, or, in some cases, to something perfectly outlandish or outrageous spoken by MacDonald, who is portrayed as the ultimate narcissist and martyr.

One advantage that this author had over other authors who may have written other books on the same subject is that he actually lived with MacDonald and accompanied his defense team during the days of his trial and afterwards (after the conviction) had access to personal written materials that were not publicly obtainable. It was not only the closing arguments of counsel (memorialized verbatim here) that got me to change my mind, but also McGinniss’ equally adept post-mortem based in part on his access to these materials.

I just ordered a copy of A Wilderness of Error by a different author, which purports to take an opposing viewpoint to this book. I am very curious to see if this book will go to any length in changing the opinion I have formed from reading Fatal Vision.

An awesome, impressive read. An outstanding true crime story. Highly, HIGHLY recommended.
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on June 16, 2013
Joe McGuinnis has done an amazing job writing a book that is honest and has certainly withstood the test of time.
I have read everything on this case and what stands out for me is the hold this has on almost anyone who chooses to become aware of the story. I completely understand Mr McGuinnises feelings about Jeffrey MacDonald....the questions one askes : if he did this how can I like him? The doubt one might have, even in the face of so much physical proof.
It is not the facts which cause one to doubt MacDonalds is MacDonald himself. It is our faith in ourselves and our own goodness which causes us to doubt that he could be guilty of such a thing.
Rod Stewart sings a song with the lyrics:
If i listen long enough to you,
Ill find a way to believe that its all true.
Knowin that you lied ,straight faced, while I cried.
Still I look to find a reason to believe.
And that is the thing about jeffrey MacDonald, he is the kindof guy who makes you look to find a reason to believe he is innocent. So much about him appears , at least on the surface, like us. So much about him looks good, looks in some cases, even better then us.
After reading Fatal Vision I realized I know Collette MacDonald and what went on in the MacDonald family much more. Throughout the book Jeff MacDonald gives examples where he, in a sense, abandons his wife and children. He leaves her living at his parents home while he works and goes to school. He leaves her while he is working and in medical school, he doesnt attend the birth of their 2nd child, he joins the army, he joins the Green Berets, he joins the boxing team.....all things that will take him away from his wife and family. What wife would be happy about that? He is constantly telling Collette I am leaving you alone. I have work, i have friends, I have an activity. He often has more then one job. When there is a chance for he and Collette and the children to be alone and have family time Jeff invites people over; the neighbors, his friends, family. On Valentines day before the murders Jeff had a friend of his over to the house. What wife wants to spend Valentines day with her husbands friend?? There is also an example of a holiday where Collette was preparing a huge dinner and Jeff wanted to invite the neighbors over. Collette clearly told him no and he did it anyway and ruined her dinner. Hours of her hard work and the love put into a family dinner is ruined by him. Do people really believe she didnt FEEL the blatent disregard for her in that?? He bought a pony. Everyone likes to believe this pony is a grand gesture. Why would a mother with 3 small children under the age of 6 , who will be alone and saddled with the responsibilities of a home, wish to take on the responsiblity of a pony??? Again Collette is completely disregarded. Collette loved MacDonald , of that i am certain. Because she asked for so little from him emotionally. And its very clear she got nothing.
MacDonalds mother also says that she never saw any cruelty in her son. I beg to differ. I see cruelty when a husband invites a friend over for Valentines day instead of giving the evening to his wife in appreciation for her love and devotion. I see cruelty when instead of protecting the thought, love, and time that went into a holiday dinner his wife is preparing he invites people over who are not family and devalues his wifes efforts. I see cruelty when his wife, who needs a C section, which is major surgery, and he leaves her bedside, the hospital having her to go through it alone. He was a doctor. Any doctor knows with surgery there is a risk of death. He apparently didnt care and this was conveyed to Collette. In addition to all this.....are the betrayals....the numerous women he slept with. He had no time for his wife or family, but he somehow made time for them. In the book he says she may have known about the stewrdess......he thinks nothing of this, yet anyone who has ever been cheated on can tell stewardess is one too many. The pain of one is tremendous.

I know MacDonald. I went out with someone just like him. A golden boy on the outside. To this day a golden boy. Most would find it difficult to believe what this person is like behind closed doors. Except those who are VERY close to him. The thing is, so few people are emotionally close to him. Like MacDonald, he has a million friends and yet no truely close friend who KNOWS him. Like MacDonald he will tell you anything. Like MacDonald he is obsessed with his image of golden boy and will say and do anything to keep that image. Like MacDonald he is a liar, a manipulator, a fake. He is an ape. He mimics emotion and caring, but feels nothing for others. His currency is praise and admiration, he feeds off it like it was food. In McGuinesses book Collette wrote MacDonald a letter in the very beginning. In it she signs by saying she adores him. I was shocked, because my friend was told the same thing by me and I used those exact words....I adore you. His comment? I like that. I like those words you one has ever said that to me before. So I know why MacDonald kept that particular letter. Collette adored him. We all know that means she loved him. But for MacDonald meant he was a god.
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on November 27, 2017
This horrific crime leaves you with no words to adequately describe it. I am still baffled and maybe not convinced that the man convicted did this. The physical evidence is complex, scientific and confusing. How could he do this to his family. Yet, apparently he did.The book Berkshires some points until I could no longer digest the repeat of the crime, evidence. I did not want to read the last section where the author and a crackpot journalist added yet more conflict. This book will leave you wind e ring how the mind of the killer works and what made him cross the line of being a caring human. I am very conflicted on the length of the trials, the repeated court flip flops and a man who will never admit his guilt, if he is guilty.
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on February 20, 2016
Incredibly well-written. Jeffrey MacDonald stands as an awful, hollow idea of what's important about a person (attractiveness, charm, vivacity, technical prowess) in contrast to the real (but less Hollywood-glamorous) heroes, Freddy Kassab, Mildred Kassab, and Bryan Murtagh. It's a horrible realization that an utter narcissist can commit acts of extreme violence and then simply 'get over it'; Fatal Vision allows that realization to wash over you slowly like the rising tide.
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on September 30, 2012
This is a detailed book in the true crime genre, nearly 1,000 pages. But a case that spans over a decade, along with biographical descriptions of the victims (dead and living) is bound to be long. I became interested in this because of the recent attention on this case.

The book is not a hatchet job on Jeffrey MacDonald. His actions and words are sufficient to draw negative conclusions about his character. As charismatic as he seems to be, when attention about him becomes negative, he responds in very non-charismatic fashion. Repeatedly. Uncontrollably. Without fail. In MacDonald's mind, he appears to be the center of the universe and worthy of awe.

It took me about 10 days to get through the book. At no time was I tempted to move on to other reading. But it is long. If McGinniss had left out any part of the book, it could be regarded as selectively anti-MacDonald. MacDonald's improbable explanation of the murders (complete strangers, hippies on LSD, who just collectively decided to violently murder a pregnant woman and two young girls while leaving the Green Beret relatively unscathed) is a far reach even for those who would like to give him the benefit of the doubt.
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on February 4, 2016
Couldn't put it down. I read this and A Wilderness of Error, both with an open mind, and I have to say the case against MacDonald is strong. He did it. Helena Stoeckley was a drug addict who admitted she could not remember if she was present and at other times was sure she was, and expressed fear of the defense counsel due to their threats against her. She was confused. Her brain was fried. All the people who came to MacDonald's defense and said he couldn't possibly have done it because he was such a great guy don't understand that psychopaths can pull the wool over the eyes of even their closest loved ones, even mental health professionals. He had motive, he wanted to be free to live the single life without Colette and fatherhood getting in the way. Most importantly, the forensic evidence was damning.
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VINE VOICEon October 28, 2012
I originally read "Fatal Vision" more than 25 years ago when it was first published. I decided to re-read it since the Jeffrey MacDonald case was once again in the news (He was granted a 7-day hearing in September 2012 based on new DNA evidence of three unsourced hairs).

Many people are familiar with the murder case where MacDonald's pregnant wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 5, were brutally murdered in February 1970 on the Fort Bragg military base. MacDonald, a Princeton graduate, a physician and a Green Beret, was charged with the murders.

MacDonald maintained that intruders, including a woman with a blonde wig and a floppy hat, attacked him and killed his wife and children. Yet, MacDonald suffered only minor wounds. Why was he left alive and the others killed? Why couldn't this Green Beret defend himself and family? What was the motive for the attack and the brutal killing of his family? Was MacDonald capable of such a brutal murder? What would have triggered such a violent reaction?

The crime scene was contaminated and the investigation by the Army was bungled. MacDonald was charged with the murders, but after an Article 32 hearing, the Army dropped the charges against him. Grand jury proceedings followed, but the case did not come to trial for nine and a half years.

After MacDonald appeared on the national Dick Cavett show and complained about the injustices done to him and exaggerated the extent of his injuries, his father-in-law Freddy Kassab, who once fought to clear his name, now committed himself to proving MacDonald's guilt.
Kassab read the Article 32 transcript, examined the crime scene and came up with a lengthy list of inconsistencies based on MacDonald's testimony. Kassab didn't believe MacDonald's story held up.

MacDonald's story didn't seem to match the evidence. Fibers from his pajamas were found under his wife and daughter; blood was in the bedrooms and kitchen, but not in the living room, where he supposedly struggled with the intruders; splinters from a club used in the attack were found in the bedrooms, but not in the living room.

During the trial, MacDonald came off as "bitter, caustic, sarcastic and inpatient." While it may have been difficult for the jury to imagine MacDonald committing the murders, the prosecutors stressed that the case was based on evidence, not character.

Helena Stoeckley, a young hippie and drug addict, was suspected to have been the lady in the blonde wig and floppy hat. She was an extremely unreliable witness, consistently wavering in what she thought. At times, she said she didn't remember anything that night; other times she said she was there; and at times she said she thought she was there. When she did testify on the stand, she said she was not there that night.

How could MacDonald commit such a heinous crime? Author Joe McGinnis characterized him as a 'narcissitic pathological personality disorder, one who suffers from grandiosity, extreme self-centeredness, extreme lack of interest and empathy in others and the need to control and possess others."

After the trial, McGinnis, who was given unrestricted access to MacDonald and his defense team in order to write "Fatal Vision," discovered notes in MacDonald's condo that indicated that he had abused diet pills shortly before the murders. McGinnis believed he could have been suffering from amphetamine psychosis at the time.

MacDonald was sentenced to three consecutive life terms. McGinnis concluded that "the evidence demonstrated that MacDonald, this gracious, charming and affable man had brutally mudered his wife and children."

"Fatal Vision" is a true crime classic. It is intriguing, fascinating, thought-provoking and well done.
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on December 18, 2014
"Fatal Vision" is a very good book, one of the best of the true-crime genre. It's created a lot of controversy and led to two other books, 'The Journalist and the Murderer" and "Final Vision" which were books about how "Fatal Vision" was written. Only recently, in 2014, did the federal court, supposedly, shut down MacDonald's last appeal---his case is one of the most appealed cases in federal judicial history. In the end McGinniss does a good job of giving us MacDonald's own words and juxtapositioning them against the physical evidence. And the physical evidence proves MacDonald is a liar. And all the appeals in the world can't change that.
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on June 19, 2013
I had heard about the Jeff McDonald case on a purely topical basis and had never really delved into the story despite how much I like True Crime.

But this is a truly fascinating and disturbing story.

It talks about Dr. Jeff McDonald, a Green Beret, who in 1979 was convicted of the murder of his pregnant wife and two young daughters which had taken place nine years earlier. It's a truly bizarre case and Joe McGinnis, who spent months with McDonald and his legal team, deals with the story in an objective and honest manner. Unlike a lot of True Crime books I've read, the writer really removes himself from the events in the story, and the reader doesn't know what the writer feels and thinks of the case - although by the end of the book you can tell what theory McGinnis favors.

The book is written in an interesting style whereby the chapters swing between the events of the murders/trial and remembrances of the past told in McDonald's voice. I'm not sure how the author composed these chapters, whether they resulted from tapes of conversations with McDonald or if he wrote them out like diary entries (though that seems unlikely). But those chapters were my least favorite in the book.

It's hard to explain why.

McDonald was this all-American, golden-boy type figure who hid some pretty disturbing behavior. But in the chapters that talk about his personal past and his past with his wife, he comes off as a really nice guy. I even found myself smiling at some of the memories and feelings he related. Then I would feel weird and creeped out cos I would remember what he ended up doing. It's just a really bizarre dichotomy that is very unsettling for the reader. I imagine McGinnis did this intentionally to ramp up the tension for the reader, and it worked. But it is unnerving.

I agree with the motive and conclusion the author puts forth at the end of the book. It's a conclusion that seems to fit the sequence of events. I won't spoil it by spelling it out here, and it's really up to the reader to decide whether they agree or not.

Fascinating and engaging read. Highly recommended for lovers of True Crime.
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on February 10, 2011
In mid February, 1970 an alleged home invasion by 4 hippies leaves behind the slashed, stabbed and battered bodies of a pregnant, adult female, Collette and her two daughters, Kimberly aged 5 and Krissy aged 2. Also left in the house was the minimally harmed father, Army surgeon Jeffry McDonald. So starts the 10 year long battle to bring to justice the murderer of these innocent victims.

Fatal Vision is Joe McGinniss' book centering around the murders outlined above. Jeffrey McDonald commissioned McGinniss to write this book and, the contract gave McDonald ZERO authority as far as editing, narrating, tone, material or any artistic input into the book. McGinniss set about sifting through the depositions and evidence related to the case which spanned thousands of pages. He had unrestricted access to McDonald, his lawyer and all documents related to the case. He meticulously relates to us every piece of evidence, every second of investigation, every word spoken in hearings, trials etc and the culmination is 684 pages that, for me, were gone before I knew it. I was totally engrossed.

In the opening chapters McGinniss spells out the time line from McDonalds call for help forward through the initial investigation by the Army CID. Each other chapter is "McDonald's own voice". A kind of monologue where McDonald talks about his life, plans, family etc and in doing so lets us into his head somewhat.

The middle of the book relays to us the hearing testimonies that eventually got McDonald into court charged with triple homicide. It's word for word and includes testimony by McDonald himself, various investigators, friends, psychologists, family and first responders on the night of the murders.

The conclusion tells us about the trial and eventual sentencing of McDonald, his legal wrangling and eventual incarceration.

Upon closing the book and assessing it in my mind, I feel McGinniss presented to us the handbook for the narcissistic psychopath in the shape of Jeffrey McDonald. It's incredible the amount of power this man had over people, especially women who, deep down, by all accounts, he hated. The psychological evaluations are fascinating in their conclusions that yes, this man could do what he claimed he didn't do. The all American over achiever had inside him a ticking time bomb with a short fuse which unfortunately got lit in February 1970.

I had to keep reminding myself that this is none-fiction when I found myself enjoying the book too much. I was mesmerized by the text especially the professional evaluations of McDonald. I particularly empathized with McGinniss as he fought to come to the realization that maybe McDonald was the perpetrator rather than one of the victims. Initially McGinniss was a staunch McDonald supporter and another of those conned by McDonald.

A great read.
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