True crime has always been "fun" reading for me. It inspires me, it intrigues me, and usually propels me to dig deeper, to Google things, to obsess. The ladies at TLC know this, and often approach me when books like this come on tour.
I'd never heard of this case, which originally occurred in 1970. It is an investigation that has inspired books, a movie, and decades of bumbling trials that never really arrived at a satisfying answer. Where on earth have I been? I was dying for more info.
Synopsis: In the middle of the night at Fort Bragg NC, in 1970, an esteemed doctor (Jeffrey MacDonald) called the police. He had been attacked, and his wife and two young daughters had been murdered. The word "pig" had been written on the walls in blood, and MacDonald told a horrible tale of four drug-crazed hippies who had committed this crime.
Over a period of 9 years and numerous trials, a circuitous path is taken in the conviction of Jeffrey MacDonald for these murders. The story he tells, which is supported by one guilt-ridden and drug-addicted woman who claims to have been at the home during the murders, is much different than the one told by the military and the prosecution.
In the hands of Errol Morris (filmmaker and private detective), who not only pores over the original court documents, but interviews those involved long after the dust has settled, it becomes clear that a serious injustice has occurred. Leads that were not pursued, a crime scene that was not preserved, lost evidence, errors in the transfer of notes, prejudiced judges...ultimately a team of lawyers that were so convinced of MacDonald's guilt, they turned their backs on facts that would have caused reasonable doubt in a court of law. Morris has spent over 20 years researching a case that undoubtedly has imprisoned the wrong man.
My thoughts: The premise of this work is beyond fascinating to me. The idea that a murder investigation could go this wrong is terrifying, and brings back other stories with a similar result, like "An Innocent Man" by John Grisham or "The Monster of Florence". Nearly everyone involved in this case (except the military and the prosecution of course) believes MacDonald is innocent! But yet he still sits in prison to this day. It is the kind of thing that blows one's mind.
Yet the material...the blood, sweat and tears of Morris that is the work of over two decades...is insanely dense. The level of detail is something I really struggled with. Diagrams, interviews, transcripts from the trials...it is all in there. I was reading this book during a very busy time for me, and I could not get a solid purchase. The reading requires concentration, and is not conducive to five or fifteen minute reading sessions. This is a book that would be best digested in several long reading sessions instead. But this is not the kind of time that I had. So I labored, and it took me a solid three weeks to read. It is a long book.
I was also disappointed there weren't more pictures. True crime requires pictures, otherwise I have to do a lot of work on my own. If these people exist, then I want to see what they look like.
So while the idea of this book was mind-bending and thought-provoking, I got lost in the weeds. I will most certainly keep the book for another read in a different year when I have the time to invest fully.
3 out of 5 stars