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This season, a morally indefensible is presented by ethics, it's a companion podcast to our upcoming Effect's original documentary TV series, A Wilderness of Error, made by me, Marc Smerling of the Emmy Award winning The Jinx. And with the help from a team of really smart folk, a wilderness of error picks up where this podcast leaves on. If you listen and want to know more, you can tune into a wilderness of error after the last episode of the series eight p.m. September 25th on Ethics or stream it the next day on effects now morally defensible.
Throughout this episode, a morally indefensible, you'll hear dramatic recreations of the correspondence between Joe McGinniss and Jeffrey MacDonald taken from letters and transcripts of tapes. It was 1982, three years after Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of murdering his family and sent to prison. Writer Joe McGinniss was racing to finish his much anticipated book about the case, and it wasn't going very well during the crunch of all crunches is upon me.
The next four weeks will be hellish.
While Joe was searching for the perfect ending for his book, his publisher was losing patience. There would be no more money until Joe delivered Joe was going into debt.
Jeff, one of the reasons it's taking so long is that I am in the position of trying to catch up with a story which continues to unfold.
Meanwhile, from his prison cell, Jeff was writing to Joe with some important updates about his case.
Joe, I think the inclosed is incredible news. I think it may turn out to be critical. According to Jeff, his new legal team had discovered some startling new evidence about the hippies Jeff said attacked him and his family.
It does for the first time begin to build a viable case against the real intruders. I think I can still fight back.
And Joe seem to agree, Jeff. I tell people it's my guess that you will receive a new trial. Needless to say, a new trial would be the best possible thing for the book because of all the publicity it would generate. Depending on timing, I might have to work in a new ending.
The idea that Joe's book would end with The Real Killers gave Jeff hope this new book would announce to the world that Jeffrey MacDonald was wrongfully convicted. Jeff would get his life back. So to get Joe everything he needed, Jeff asked his new attorney, Brian O'Neal, to give him a call. He just thought Joe McGinniss was the cat's pajamas and just remember, really raving about him. Look, he's my pal and all that.
I'm Brian O'Neill. I'm a lawyer. So I did call him. Robert spoke for an hour and a half on the phone. I'm on to something. Got to trust my gut on this thing. He was very nice, very ingratiating guy by somebody on a different. And of course, as a journalist, you could really bullshit with the best of them. OK, great, good. There is just something about our exchange, I didn't trust him.
Donald told military police the murderers were three men and a woman who invaded his family quarters. She's saying acid is groovy, kill the pigs.
And she's seen a woman two blocks away. Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was found guilty today of murdering his wife and two children, not to mention the fact that the perpetrators of the crime are still facing at least four people running around who have murdered three people, three consecutive life sentences. Total strangers can see within five minutes that you did not receive a fair trial. I just sort of getting a whole lot of people who. I think at this stage, now that they are rehearsing, hey, I don't have to convince you that you ought to be out, but what your lawyer said, no.
I'm Marc Smerling. And this is morally indefensible from. Chapter four, The Confessions. When lawyer Bryan O'Neal first took on Jeffrey MacDonald's appeal, Jeff was running out of options to get a new trial. He needed to introduce new evidence. So Brian hired a private detective.
Richard Liquid's from Queens, spoke like he was from Queens, looked like he was a Queens cigarette smoke, like a halo. Really smart, not fancy, smart, but really could figure things out. He was really a very good investigator.
I had some trepidation. First of all, I believed almost intently that Dr. McDonald was guilty of these homicides.
Shedlock was a retired NYPD detective. He died in 1989. But we've got this interview from decades ago. And like almost everybody back then, he'd heard about the McDonald murders.
I told Ryan O'Neal, I told me ultimately that I would conduct this investigation independently. No matter where the chips fell. I would tell them exactly what I found. So it is from that point that I commenced my investigation into the homicides.
Jeff described his attackers as two white men, a black man and a blonde woman in a floppy hat.
Chadwick wanted to know if anyone else had seen those people that night.
So he placed an ad in a local newspaper.
And it wasn't very long after that.
I began to receive telephone calls, a lot of calls. His eyes looked a little hollow, slightly dazed. He said he was partly responsible for the McDonald plants. He confessed that he murdered people. He was asking for God's forgiveness. And one name kept popping up. Greg Mitchell, Gregory Mitchell, Greg Mitchell said, let's get on with it. Then they took off in the direction of Fort Bragg. Over the years, even more people came forward with stories of a man confessing to murder.
This was a long time ago, but it was something you would remember, of course, of the situation and what happened with the murders.
That's Christine Griffin in the early 80s.
She and her husband, John, were at their lake house in South Carolina trying to install a new high end computer system that computers weren't the size of a briefcase and they were the size of a Volkswagen and took a lot more power. So we had to find somebody, electricians that would come in.
And Jackett, the power for the Griffins, heard about an electrician named Greg Mitchell the day Greg showed up to give an estimate. He took one look at the lake and he said he'd do it really cheap if he could bring his friends out, you know, and have them play in the lake. And we said, Gus, that sounds like a deal.
So the night Greg finished his work, he and his friends went for a swim. Afterward, the drinking started.
The Griffins joined the party in their boathouse. Little did we know they would stay and drink and drink.
And I think they were all pretty much hooked on drugs. Greg was very dramatic when he told used his hands and he almost talked like a salesperson the whole time he was saying something, he felt like what they said and what's he saying?
So that's how it started.
You were just sitting at the bar talking and he kept saying all through the evening, I have done something.
Oh, I've done. So of.
Level fact that what he's done so often that you're not talking about Chris can get it out of you is the evening when he's drunk and he's putting his head down on the bar and he's boo and crying and going out Arculus.
It got our attention there, the drug, and we got the more guilty and bad and he failed.
He said, You remember that, Dr. MacDonald?
Oh, he talked about the children, those precious little children, about how how he could have done that.
He didn't know what he was just crazy. There's no argument about what he said, the mcdonnel murders we did.
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My name is Everett W. Morse, grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. They're all in my life other than the time I was in military service in the early 70s.
Everett Morse was a student at the University of North Carolina. He went there to study, drink a little beer and occasionally play some golf or.
And you have a neighbor. Yeah, Greg referring to Greg Mitchell, he was a relatively small build, thin blond hair, if you will, or the mustache probably, I don't know, five, six, seven.
Somewhere along there, Greg was probably the only person that was not in college at that time. We knew he did a lot of drugs because he offered to get drugs and none of us did drugs. We just drank beer. One day, Greg invited Everett to his apartment, said he had a present for me. So I know there.
It was nine or 10 cats in that small apartment, I had observed guns and knives in his apartment on numerous occasions and there were pills, powders, people in and out, and it was a case of golf balls.
He said, Do you want them? I said, well, I don't have any money.
You know, I'm a college kid trying to make it. You got mad and I just found I started to leave and he became very, very angry to where I was looking in his face and his eyes, and I was not very comfortable.
And what I was saying. And then he said, you take these or I'll shoot you like a dog on. His eyes were. Fire burning. I didn't think anything about it, to tell you the truth, what he was talking about, I didn't know if he was talking about, you know, all McDonel.
Jeff's new lawyer, Brian O'Neill, wanted to know who Greg Mitchell was. So we dug up a photograph of Greg when he was a soldier in Vietnam. You standing here and the other guys in here, human ears, this guy said, you know, taken people who had been killed in combat. Vietnamese cut their ears off and made a little string it. That's not inconsistent with the sort of person who might get high on drugs and go and kill some people with an ice pick.
But if Greg did it, he didn't do it alone. Jeff had described four people. Private investigator Ray Shedlock needed to find the others.
Ray Shedlock found witnesses who had seen a group gathered together in a diner, a group of people identical to that which Jeff described. So those witnesses who I could corroborate, they were the credible witnesses who I would use if I were there, reports out to Mr..
I noticed for hippie people, they appear to be hiding something, the black man had his arm around the white female. The males were all clean cut. He was wearing an army fatigues jacket and dark civilian pants. There was a lot, man, but I didn't get a good look at him. Army fatigues and clean cut, they sounded like soldiers like Greg Mitchell.
But these witnesses had also seen a woman with blond hair wearing a memorable hat. It was three young men and a woman in a floppy hat. She was wearing a floppy hat and boots and all flat floppy brimmed hat, three quarter like vanel coat and clean my boots. You might remember a woman from episode two known to wear a blonde wig, a floppy hat and boots. Her name was Helena Stokely when she testified at Jeffrey MacDonald's murder trial. She said she couldn't remember a thing.
If I could remember, I would say Brian O'Neill needed to talk to Elaina.
So he and Shirley flew to North Carolina to meet the mystery woman in the floppy hat Charlie from prison.
Jeff wrote to Joe McGinniss to tell them the good news. Dear Joe, I'm on edge this weekend, Brian, in the new investigator in North Carolina. I somehow feel this trip is critical. This season of Morally Indefensible is presented by its companion podcast or Upcoming Effect's original documentary TV series, A Wilderness of Error, the story of Jeffrey MacDonald has been told in courtrooms, books, movies and, of course, television series.
It's arguably the most popularized and litigated crime in history. But now there's something new. A Wilderness of error on effects and Hulu. Based on a book by one of my true crime heroes, filmmaker and writer Errol Morris, who spent years looking for truth in a case that seems to always defy truth. If you want to know what Errol found and what I found, tune into a wilderness of error after the last episode of this series. That's 8pm September 25th on eFax, 8pm, September 25th on eFax or the next day on effects on Hulu.
Now back to morally indefensible.
Thank you for flying with us. Ladies and gentlemen, just lawyer Bryan O'Neill and private detective Richard Alec had spent months reinvestigating the McDonald murders, trying to track down the hippie intruders Jeff said murdered his family. Now, they arrived in North Carolina to meet the mystery woman who they thought might finally confess, Helena Stokely.
I remember one thing. It was a gorgeous area and she was sort of nuts.
She was basically just wary, my take on it was it's probably exactly the same sort of person who would do this.
I had a floppy hat that I used to wear all the time.
This is the real Helena Stokely talking about the night of the MacDonald murders.
I had bullets that night. And before we left, before I dropped the mescaline, I was already smoking marijuana and everything. And as a joke, I put on the blonde wig that belonged to my roommate at the time of the murders, I was involved with the Satanic cult. If I went in my part and the whole thing would be initiation. I entered the house with another member of the cult.
We had to struggle with the door, which is the reason I lit the candle to begin with.
There were three members in there already talking to Dr. McDonald. He was on the couch in the living room and I thought they were simply asking for drugs or something like that. As it turns out, it turned into violence. I said, leave him alone. Someone knocked him unconscious. After that, I went into the back bedroom. That's when I saw two other members and their colleague was struggling with them, start screaming something like, why are you letting them do this to me?
Or something like that? There was a child laying on the bed next to her that I presumed was asleep, but she was bleeding profusely by that time. I said, let's leave her alone, that this was unnecessary. And someone called me a. Do gooder or something had already been called a goody goody two shoes in front living room. I went back out front, and by that time, Dr. McDonald had regained consciousness and someone was in there beating him.
I said as such as to kill the pigs, hit the again. I first met her in a male sexual affair while he was running with a group of motorcycle riders. This is Prince Beasley.
He was a local narcotics detective at the time of the McDonald murders. He died many years ago.
But we found this interview that was associated with. She was yelling that you personally as being a lonely young lady looking for attention and association.
Helena was just 17 when she became Beasley's drug informant and she was being initiated into the Satanic cult, which she thought she had been made, that they go into this ritual. They kind of had a bite and then take them out and slit his throat. Then they would get down this bloody rabbit, all of them using the reality of what it could. Then they would go into a of sex as men and women together. That's what he did. I of it was that way later on.
She did say there were 10 seconds, but she remember that said Helena told Beasley about the leader of the cult, an ex soldier just back from Vietnam.
She told me that people were starving. Don't ever turn your back. He was Elaina's boyfriend.
Greg, Greg Mitchell. Greg, we won the most out of the group. He kept saying, I have done something. There's the argument about what you said, the McDonnel murders we did. Brian O'Neill and Ray Shedlock now knew that Helena Stokely was connected to Greg Mitchell.
Yeah, and Richard Link was pretty excited about what they'd found you just first of all.
Here he is on the phone with Bob Keeler, a reporter from Newsday. I came up with people who these now these are these are grown, mature, nondrinking Nundle people. Right. That have signed affidavits of what they saw. And without a doubt, true perpetrators have been definitely identified by all the witnesses, all the witnesses, all the witnesses. And these were witnesses who saw them in the vicinity of the place that no one saw them in the vicinity of the place.
It's so dynamo's unbelievable.
Yes, the famous Helena stokeley, this is Dennis Rogers, way back in 1974, just four years after the MacDonald murders, he was a cub reporter for a local newspaper.
I was looking for a story. I had been assigned to write a big Sunday piece.
Rogers had heard about a woman who was telling people she was in the MacDonald house the night of the murders. That woman was Helena. Stokely Rogers wanted to write about Helena, but he didn't want to use her name, so he called her Miss X.
That morning I got a phone call and this voice said, This is Miss X and I'm going to kill you.
That that got my attention. Rogers invited Helena to the newsroom. We sat and talked for, gosh, an hour, two hours. And her story changed over time. At this point, her story was, I didn't kill anybody, but I think I might have been there and I said I had to. Why do you think that she's. Well, I keep having these nightmares.
Like, I keep thinking I might have been there when something happened. I've been there driven by there. And every time I go there. A panic attack, and when I get near the place, I just feel like I have some connection to it. I said, I tell you what, let's go out there. Let's go out to the house. And she said, OK.
Reluctantly, Rogers drove, hauling it to Fort Bragg. He pulled his car to the side of the road right in front of the McDonald House.
At this point, there were still plywood on the windows. It was obviously not uninhabited house. And I pulled up and I said, I've turned around. Let me look at that map.
Rogers rooted around in the glove box, pretending to look for a map.
But the entire time he was watching Helena and she was sitting next to me looking around, looking out the window, if I recall, she was smoking a cigarette. And she was within less than halfway from here to the street from where she says she may have been involved in a triple murder. I wanted to see her have a panic attack. You know, what kind of reaction did she really have? And. Nothing, absolutely nothing. I finally said, I guess that's it, that's that must be the house.
And she looked at it and she said, I don't recognize that one. And that was when I finally knew. I don't know who did kill him, but it was not a stokeley. It was all bullshit. Dear Jeff. God, there's some amazing stuff in what I've read. No sense ranting about it here. I've got a book to put it in. Please keep me posted on the progress made by O'Neill and investigators. The ending can be altered even after the book is set in type.
There is a truly important break at this point. You can and should tell the World 60 Minutes. Barbara Walters and anyone and everyone else at the book is virtually complete. By all means, hype the book and be sure and any conversations about it to get across that I have been operating with complete freedom and independence. Incidentally or not so incidentally, the title search is finally over, the book will be called. Fatal Vision. Joe, your letter was welcome news title Great hits me with a gut wrenching impact.
It also reads, well, when you see it typed, the right jacket should be catchy, but I'm consumed with interest in your meaning of it. Dear Jeff. The title was finally one I chose mainly on instinct and gut feeling. I'm glad you like it. I went with one I knew would work up enthusiasm and one which could operate on many different levels, as indeed it does for you.
Was Joe really going to end Fatal Vision with Helena Stokely confession? Jeff was about to find out on national television, McDonald first learned of McGinniss's conclusions when I talked with him in prison and he was devastated. That's next week on Morally Indefensible. If you want to know more about the McDonald murders, tune into our docu series, A Wilderness of Error on September 25th at 8pm or the next day on effects on Hulu. Morally indefensible is a production of Truth Media in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment.
This episode, A Morally Indefensible, was produced by Zach Hirsch and Julia Botero with help from Ryan Swicord, Jesse Roy, Kevin Sheppard and Danielle Lelliott.
Story editing is by me, Marc Smerling and Danielle Elliot, while Sandro Santoro is our associate producer ARCI producers Brent and Reese.
Scott Curtis is our production manager. Fact checking by Amy Gaines.
Kenny reacted the music and mix sound design by Kenny Kuzak and Zach Hirsch. Additional music by John Cusack and Marmoset, our title track is Promises by the Monophonic Voice, reenactments by Logan Stearnes, Jesse Rodway, Sam Babbitt, Gina DeNardo, Natalie Archer, Shelley Shenoy, Victoria Putterman, Emma Swicord, Ryan Swicord and Zach Hirsch. Legal Review by Linda Steinman and Jack Browning of Davis Wright Tremaine special thanks to Sean Twigg, Meirion, Luke Malone, Brian Murphy, Joe Langford, Peter Schmuel, Diana Cecilio, Bob Stevenson, Christina Miscavige, Bob Keeler and Darrell Morris.
If you'd like to continue the conversation online, find us on Instagram and Facebook at morally indefensible and Twitter at morally indef morality and DCF, if you've enjoyed morally indefensible. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. It really helps other people find the show. And thanks for listening.