December 31, 2017

The MacDonald Case: The Suitcase

The suitcase, on right, as it was found on February 17, 1970

In this case, with enough gore to fill the pages of a lengthy book, the presence of a suitcase seems tame and uneventful and is very rarely mentioned.  It's one of the lesser pieces of evidence at a crime scene that has much but I believe its presence tells a very important story.

The suitcase was noticed by both William Ivory and Robert Shaw, initial investigators at 544 Castle Drive the morning of February 17, 1970. It sat on the white shag carpeting in the master bedroom, near the right hand corner of the footboard of the master bed and in a southward direction from Colette MacDonald's body.  It wasn't far from a pile of bloody bedding that had been placed or dropped outside the master closet door, immediately adjacent to the bedroom door.  The right side of the closet stood open; white shoes just inside the right side of the closet bore blood spatter.

The suitcase itself had no blood on it.  The carpet around it, and underneath it, however, had quantities of blood  - Colette's blood. The obvious inference is that the blood was shed before the suitcase was placed in that spot in the master bedroom.

Paul Stombaugh, once a Special Agent for the FBI, who became a qualified expert in fabric impressions, stains, hairs and fibers, and who examined the physical evidence in this case and testified for the prosecution in 1979, believes that Jeffrey MacDonald, after butchering his family and before deciding on the drugged-out-hippies-intruder theory and inflicting a wound on himself, grabbed that suitcase and planned to pack it and flee.

It is one theory.  MacDonald's narcissism, though, always gives me pause.  Would a narcissist like MacDonald actually flee?  And if he was going to flee, why wouldn't he do so before laying a hand on his youngest child, Kristen?  Wouldn't it make more sense, grotesquely, at least, to plan to flee while Colette and Kimberley were both unconscious, but still alive, in the master bedroom and Kristen had not yet been touched?  And if he was going to run, would he change out of his pajamas, especially given that the top was already torn and Colette's blood had already stained it, and into street clothes before packing?

Another view of the case, on right, with bloody bedding and open closet door

Let's consider another theory.

We know from Mildred Kassab's later testimony and statements that Colette called her on the morning of Monday, February 16, 1970.  It was winter in North Carolina, gray and raining, and pregnant Colette had two children that were cooped up in a small apartment and no car. (The family's vehicle, one that was given to her by her aunt, was taken by MacDonald to and from work each day, leaving Colette to do her errands and shopping on foot.)  She was also increasingly unhappy in her marriage, although being private, she did not tell her mother this. She asked Mildred if she and the children could come home (to New York) for a visit.  Ground in the Kassab backyard had recently been broken for a swimming pool that the Kassabs hoped they, as well as Colette and the children, would enjoy for years to come. This was on Mildred's  mind as she considered the danger to the children and suggested that Colette wait until spring. By spring, the pool would be completed and therefore safer.

What if Colette, dispirited and unsatisfied with her domestic situation, had packed a suitcase with clothing for herself and her girls, in anticipation of going home?  She must have been thoroughly disappointed at not being told to get on the next flight.  Perhaps rather than unpacking, she simply placed the suitcase in the master bedroom closet, under the bed or in some other location.

What if before or during the argument that erupted fatally later that evening, Jeffrey MacDonald found that suitcase and didn't like that his wife was leaving, even for a temporary visit home?  The suggestion that she was going to leave certainly would not comport with the idyllic family life that MacDonald later told authorities.

Imagine that after Colette, Kimberley and Kristen had been murdered, MacDonald, while staging the scene, and/or after making the phone call for help and before the MPs arrive, must remove evidence that Colette had packed to leave.  He pulls her things from the suitcase and returns them to her dresser drawers, quickly.  The children's clothing is placed in a stack on the hallway floor, closest to the sofa in the living room, either due to forgetfulness, expediency or because MacDonald had no wish to again see what he had done to his children by returning the items to their proper bedroom.  Although he unpacked the suitcase, he forgot about it and left it on the floor, on top of and around blood evidence.

When that suitcase was inspected by Ivory, it was found to be empty.  An inspection also revealed that one of the dresser drawers, one belonging to Colette, was found that morning slightly open and the contents were in a jumble. Perhaps Colette had opened that drawer while preparing for bed that evening.  Perhaps she herself had put her own clothing in the drawer, without taking care for being neat.  Or perhaps Jeffrey MacDonald did it.

Either theory regarding the suitcase could be accurate; both could be wrong.  Just another enigma in the puzzle of this case.

What do you think?

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