In the 1970s journalist Joe McGinnis spent a lot of time with Jeffrey MacDonald, a doctor who was accused of murdering, in an extremely violent way, his pregnant wife and two small daughters. After the doctor was convicted of the murders, McGinnis wrote a book about it.
I started reading the book because I learned that McGinnis was later accused of unethical behavior because he’d ingratiated himself with MacDonald under false pretenses and betrayed his confidence. I thought this was incredible bonk and started reading the book being initially predisposed favorably towards McGinnis and negatively against MacDonald.
After reading the 1,000-page book, I believe the doctor was totally railroaded. I thought that before I googled the case and discovered that there is now DNA evidence that supports the doctor’s story.
By railroaded I don’t mean that the doctor was necessarily not guilty. I think he wasn’t guilty but nobody can know for sure. What I mean is that putting somebody in jail on the strength of this kind of “evidence” is a perversion of justice.
The doctor’s problem is that he’s an irredeemable jerk. He’s just not a nice guy. And even though somebody else confessed, throughout the years, on multiple occasions and to multiple people including her own mom, to committing the murders, it weighed more strongly with the judge, the jury and McGinnis that the doctor was a jerk.
McGinnis tries so hard to construct evidence of guilt where there’s none that he spends hundreds of pages conducting a sort of a pseudo-psychoanalytic analysis of MacDonald. To give a single example, McGinnis decided that the doctor slaughtered his family because he was “a repressed sexual invert” (meaning, gay) because he cultivated a macho persona. And so he must have been so afraid of his “latent homosexuality” being revealed that he shredded his family to pieces with a knife. There is a lot of this kind of pseudo-Freudian ramblings in the book, and they are, frankly, painful to read in their utter stupidity.
One of McGinnis’s main lines of attack against the doctor is that he had sex with many women throughout his life. The prissiness he exhibits when writing about it is so over the top that the book gets comical in places. Readers discover that MacDonald once stayed in a hotel where, months later, an orgy took place. MacDonald was long gone when the orgy began but just think about it! What kind of person stays in places where eventually orgies happen? He must be a closeted gay! And a murderer! That is the kind of analysis that McGinnis offers throughout the book’s 1,000 pages.
The doctor is now in his seventies and still in jail. I assume he’s as much of a self-important jerk as ever. But there’s strong likelihood that he’s an innocent jerk who was railroaded to compensate for a hopelessly botched initial investigation.