The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site is a compendium of information about the Jeffrey MacDonald case. MacDonald was convicted in 1979 of the murders of his pregnant wife and two small daughters. He is serving three life sentences for that brutal crime.

The Murders of Colette, Kimberley and Kristen MacDonald

The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site

November 21, 1974: Hilyard O. Medlin (Retired CID fingerprint expert)


THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1974 2:15 p.m.

FOREMAN: All jurors are present.

Whereupon, HILYARD ORBIS MEDLIN, having been first duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:

Q Would you state your full name, please, sir?
A Hilyard Orbis Medlin. H-i-l-y-a-r-d, is the first name. O-r-b-i-s, M-e-d-l-i-n.
Q Have you retired from the U.S. Army, now, Mr. Medlin?
A Yes, sir, I am.
Q Where do you live, sir?
A 2310 Young Drive, Augusta, Georgia.
Q Let's get your telephone number.
A 798-3635.
Q Now, directing your attention to February, 1970, where were you?
A At the U.S. Army Crime Laboratory as a fingerprint expert.
Q Now, directing your attention to February 17, 1970, did you receive orders to come to Fort Bragg?
A Yes, sir, I did.
Q And did you come to Fort Bragg?
A Yes, sir, I did.
Q And were you in charge of a group of men from the laboratory?
A Yes, sir, I was.
Q Did that group include Mr. Page?
A Yes, sir, Harold V. Page.
Q Do you recall approximately when you arrived here or arrived at Fort Bragg?
A It was a little after eleven o'clock the best I can remember, sir.
Q Did you proceed directly to the crime scene at 544 Castle Drive?
A Yes, sir, I did.
Q And what was your assignment there? What were you to do?
A Process the crime scene and assist the criminal investigator in any manner that we could to investigate a homicide that had occurred there during the night.
Q Now, was that criminal investigator, Mr. Bill Ivory?
A Mr. Bill Ivory and Mr. Bob -- Robert Shaw, Bob Shaw.
Q Now, as a fingerprint expert, what did you do? Did you test for prints?
A Yes, sir, at the beginning, we had the men; do it in the sequence, sir?
Q Yeah.
A I'll try to brief. Before we moved into the crime scene, we always have the photographer to take photographs of the area.
While we were being briefed, we meaning the other members of the team, Mr. Chamberlain from chemistry, and Mr. Turbyfill from Fingerprints, we were being briefed by Mr. Shaw and Mr. Ivory, Mr. Page proceeded to photograph the building as it was when we arrived for the purpose of the record.
Thereafter, we proceeded to do our various assignments.
Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Shaw worked together to gather blood stains and other type of impressions for the chemistry sections.
Mr. Turbyfill and I proceeded to dust everything that we thought would be advisable to be dusted and processed for latent fingerprints or latent palm prints.
Our work was predicated on staying out of the way of the chemist, because we did not want to damage any of the blood stains or anything that he might be interested in.
Therefore, our movements were predicated on his agreement that we would not damage some of the evidence that he would have to process himself.
Q Okay, now, dusting for -- you spent a number of days down there, did you?
A Yes, sir.
Q Dusting and taking photographs?
A Yes, sir.
Q And you covered the whole premises --
A Yes, sir.
Q To the best of your ability, I take it?
A (Nods affirmatively)
Q And you found a number of latent prints?
A Yes, sir, we did.
Q And you had Mr. Page photograph them, is that correct?
A Yes, sir.
Q Now -- now, did you get some prints of the members of the family, record prints?
A Yes, sir, we received good record prints from Captain MacDonald, but the record prints, the ink prints from Mrs. MacDonald was not of the best quality, because by the time we had arrived there, and by the time the CID agent who went to the hospital to get her finger and foot prints, did so, she and the two children had been in the ice -- had been in the cooler for sometime.
And they were stiff. The investigator to the best of my memory asked me what fingerprints and footprints I wanted.
He said something like, do you want the babies' and -- meaning b-a-b-i-e-s, plural, and I said, yes, I don't want the baby's print, meaning the two-year old child, because we were dusting the area from about two feet from the floor.
Allegedly we were looking for three adults, and we did not think that it was necessary to look for fingerprints along the baseboard or along the floor or along the lower portions of the door facings that might be covered by baby handprints and footprints, kicking around. So therefore, he only brought the record prints of Captain MacDonald and as good a finger and palm prints and footprints from Mrs. MacDonald as he could get.
When he brought them to me, I merely looked at them and laid them on the table, and he said, is this what you want, and I said, yes, and that was it at that time.
Q In other words he didn't bring in any prints of Kimberly, the five or six-year old?
A No, sir, the six-year old, no, sir.
Q Or Kristen, the two-year old?
A No, sir. During a break when I was waiting on Mr. Chamberlain to go into an area where he needed to go before I dusted it for fingerprints, or for prints, I went back to the table and sat down and was having a break, and I picked up the record prints and started to look at them through my magnifying glass, and I realized that the prints of Mrs. MacDonald had areas missing that I would need later.
The normal procedure is that when you take record prints, you also take the ends of the fingers, and if you can you take the finger print from the nail edge around to the other nail edge.
This being because when you pick up a paper, you may have a good latent -- what we call a latent print in this fashion, but when you turn it around -- do you see how I'm holding the paper—you have the inside or the side of your finger grasping the paper. (Witness illustrates with a piece of paper.)
Now, you can be identified by a latent print from the side of the finger just as well as you can from any other part of your hand or foot.
And I asked him to get better quality prints if he could.
Should I pursue this, sir, about going down to the funeral home?
Q Yeah.
A I asked him to go back to the hospital and get better prints, and I told Mr. Turbyfill to go with him.
By the time they arrived at the hospital, the bodies had been released to a mortuary downtown, and they proceeded to downtown to attempt to get the better record prints, also, of the six-year old child.
When they arrived at the mortuary, the bodies had been embalmed, which is that all of the blood had been removed from the body, from the cadaver. It had been replaced by formaldehyde, and the body is always washed -- I say always, strike the always, please -- is washed in formaldehyde to clean it up.
He attempted a number of times to get the ink to remain on the palms and the fingers and the foot.
Formaldehyde was not acceptable -- or receptive to the ink either.
There was no way that they could get complete record foot and palm prints of Mrs. MacDonald.
And Mr. Turbyfill, being a father as many of us are, although he was an experienced investigator, and had been -- we have been to crime scenes that were more horrible, really but not necessarily involving children of the same age as he had.
After failing to be able to get good record prints from Mrs. MacDonald, he told me he saw no reason to try and get prints from the children.
They looked like two little angels laying there, and he just didn't think he could do any better. And so he did not attempt to get record prints from the two children.
The record print from Mrs. MacDonald was included with the record prints that we used in comparing latent prints.
Some of the unidentified latent prints, I feel belong to the sides of her fingers or from portion of her palm, and quite possibly from the six-year old child.
But we have no way of knowing, really.
Q All right, now, do you -- I know you don't have any record to refer to at this time, and that -- I don't want you to be precise about things that you can't be precise about, but do you remember approximately how many fingerprints you had altogether, and how many you were able to identify?
A On the debriefing, when we left Fort Bragg, the report that I gave to the General and to the group interested in the report, was forty-four latent fingerprints, twenty-nine latent palm prints, and one footprint.
This did not include the latent fingerprints or latent prints which could either be finger or palm prints that we later developed on evidence that we returned to the laboratory.
Of these fingerprints some of them after we got back to the laboratory and examined them under more proper conditions, we found that they were insufficient to be declared as an identifiable latent finger or palm print.
The total number that we ended up with, the best of my memory was some fifty latent prints were identified, this is finger and palm prints, and a footprint, and thirty was unidentified, and seven there was -- something about the film that when we were making out first comparisons, the negatives were -- not negatives, but the print were not as clear as we needed them to make decisions on.
There was some fingerprints and some palm -- some latent prints that were declared to be identifiable at the scene.
Once they were put on film, and the film was in turn printed, were not sufficient even if the shot was good and clear, the print comes out clear, once we could see it under laboratory conditions, we could tell that it was insufficient to make a positive identification.
Q You said you had good record prints of Captain MacDonald?
A Yes, sir.
Q You had record prints of Mrs. MacDonald of less good quality?
A Yes, sir.
Q Now, thereafter, in the course of the investigation, were you furnished with a substantial number of record prints of various other individuals?
A Yes, sir, we were, and --
Q And when you received these record prints, did you compare them with the latent prints that had been photographed?
A We compared them with the unidentified latent prints, yes, sir.
Q Among the prints that were furnished to you, was there a set of record prints of Helena Stoeckley?
A Yes, sir, in laboratory report number, Repeat 19, or R-19, which was dated 19 February, 1971, there was record fingerprints of a Helena Stoeckley, S-t-o-e-c-k-l-e-y, that was compared with the latent prints and there was no matching impressions reported or noted.
Q Now, you mentioned a footprint, actually it was -- was there more than one footprint, sir?
A There was one on the edge of the coffee table in the front room, and there was one in blood in the north bedroom which was the bedroom of the two-year old baby.
Q All right, now, directing your attention to the one on the edge of the coffee table, whose footprint was that?
A That was identified as Mrs. MacDonald's foot.
Q And was it the edge of the coffee table that would have been closest to the couch?
A Yes, it was.
Q So she apparently on some occasion sat on the couch and her foot was bare and she placed her foot on the edge of the coffee table, is that correct?
A Yes, sir, in my opinion it was. Let me qualify this. The coffee table was on its side with the books stacked very neatly underneath it or stacked underneath it in two piles.
And I proceeded to process the edge of the table, for latent prints, and this is when I developed the latent print. And it was on the top of the top which would have meant, if the table, when it was set upright, would have been next to the sofa.
Q Unh-hunh, now, you mentioned another footprint that was -- was that a bloody impression?
A Yes, sir, it was.
Q Did you make a close examination of that footprint?
A Yes, sir, the FBI had been -- had requested that I make a comparison of the footprint.
Let me digress just a moment.
I was led to believe that Captain MacDonald after he had fought his three adult assailants down the narrow hallway, arrived at the master bedroom, checked his wife to see if she was alive or dead, then went into the children's rooms.
There was a pool of blood at the edge of the baby's bed, and I noted that whoever had struck the child, or whoever had placed the child back in the bed, had put the baby's bottle next to its mouth.
And that just irritated me a little bit more. We're supposed to be impersonal in these things when we go to crime scenes, but whoever had done this to me it seemed like they had -- were overstepping it a little bit by putting the bottle next to the baby's mouth again.
And I had also been told that since he had checked the children, after he checked his wife, that the bloody footprint could have come from the child's pool -- or the blood -- or from the pool of blood at the child's bed.
And we merely protected the area, and left it as it was, but after the FBI, the FBI, was having a meeting, and they asked me if I would make a decision and make a direct comparison if I could of the record footprints of Mrs. MacDonald, Captain MacDonald, and a person named Harrison -- an officer named Harrison, whose record prints I also had, to determine if one of them had made the footprint.
Using a two hundred watt light bulb, I went in -- may I pull out something else?
Q Yes, please.
A I went and placed the record print next to -- and you'll have to pardon me because this is not a record print, you'll have to use your imagination, but I placed the record print to the latent print or the print in blood.
And I made my comparison using my glass, magnifying glass, to look for ridge areas or similarities in the footprints.
I noted some ridges both in the ball of the foot in this position here and some at the edge of the toe in blood that I could get some characteristics from.
Using the record prints, knowing that it being the left foot, I used the three record prints of the left feet of the ones that I just mentioned, and eliminated Mrs. MacDonald, Lieutenant or Captain Harrison --
Q Ron Harrison.
A And when I used Captain MacDonald's foot print, record print, I found enough characteristics in the ridge patterns to identify it as his.
Here again, I saw no urgency or importance in this or earth-shaking results, because he had admitted being in the room, as any father would do, checking his child. It's quite possible he stepped in the pool of blood at the baby's bed, and I could see really no importance in it other than the fact that it was his print.
Now, when the -- they photographed the print, the light source that we were using did not get the ridges that I had previously seen in these areas that I have just mentioned, so therefore, when the print -- when the negative printed the footprint, this is the manner in which it come out.
Using an overlay method, you will have to pardon me because I have several overlays here, using an overlay, that was constructed by the photography section -- I don't know whether I'm holding it exactly the same way or not, because I can't see from behind -- but the similarities was such that there was no doubt that they were similar in design, shape and size.
The problem was that the ridges were not visible. I was the only one that examined it. Mr. Turbyfill was off on another mission at that time.
And as I said, if -- until just a few minutes ago, I did not realize the significance of it, and it never has bothered me, really, but this footprint in blood was made by the same person whose record footprint was titled, Jeffrey MacDonald.
Q All right, sir, I take it you did not write up the results of that examination that you made on the premises in the form of a report?
A No, sir.
Q So, that's not included in the lab report that was subsequently submitted?
A It was included in such a manner that it only shows the design, shape, and makeup of it, resembled or appeared to be from the record footprint.
May I explain to the ladies and gentlemen how we operate in the laboratory?
Q Surely.
A One technician does not say this is yes or no by himself. All of these examinations that I conducted, and all the comparisons that I conducted was and is backed up by other investigators or other -- not investigators, but other laboratory technicians.
Mr. Turbyfill, who was my replacement when I retired, made comparisons. Charles A. Hanna, who recently retired was the chief of the section, and he signed the report with me, and he also made the examinations or comparisons. So that the prints that I said matched were not only compared by me, they were compared by either Mr. Turbyfill or Mr. Hanna or sometimes the other two, and sometimes other people in the laboratory who did not sign the report.
So, there's always a double check, triple check and so on these matters. It's not just one person's opinion.
So, therefore, since they could not see the ridges that I saw when I made a direct comparison, they could not see ridges in the photograph, they in all truthfulness could say that this was positive identification of Captain MacDonald's left foot.
And so, therefore, the report, wherever it is located may tend to sound vague to you ladies and gentlemen, but this is the way that we operate in the laboratory.
Q Then there is no question in your mind based on your years of experience as a fingerprint examiner and footprint examiner that the ridge lines in the footprint that you observed matched the ridge lines or the record print of Captain MacDonald?
A Yes, sir.

MR. WOERHEIDE: Any questions by the Grand Jurors?

(No response.)

MR. WOERHEIDE: Any questions, Jay?


FOREMAN: I only have one. There were other fingerprints given to you other than that of Helena Stoeckley?

A Yes, sir.
Q To compare with the unidentified or unidentifiable prints?
A Yes, sir.
Q Do you recall how many prints still remain unidentified from that second batch that was given to you?
A I believe that right now the count stands at about thirty.
Q So, really none of those that were given you on the second go around matched any of the unidentified prints?
A Well, I don't understand what you mean by the second go around.
Q The prints submitted with Mrs. Stoeckley's prints.
A There were prints submitted afterwards --

MR. WOERHEIDE: Maybe -- maybe I better clarify this a little bit.

Q Did you over a period of time continue to receive prints?
A Yes, sir.
Q And it just wasn't a second batch of prints, there were many batches of prints submitted to you?
A That's right. Every time anyone was picked up for any reason, we received fingerprints of people who were picked up in San Francisco, in one instance that was forwarded to Fort Bragg for comparison, because the person might have been in the area at that particular time.
So we received record prints from -- many record prints before and after the original comparisons was made.

FOREMAN: You were unable to match up any of these.

A There were three that belonged to Mr. Paulsen, I believe that -- that brought -- there was thirty-three, and then we matched three of his, and that made a total of thirty.

Q I understand it is your testimony now, that if you had a better set of prints of Colette MacDonald, and if you had a set of prints of Kimberly MacDonald, which you were unable to obtain, you might be able to identify a number of these unidentified prints?
A In my opinion, yes, very much. May I demonstrate something to the ladies and gentlemen?
Q Surely. (Witness goes to window.)
A In the bedroom, and I'm sure you're familiar with the setup of the house, now.
In the bedroom on the blinds, there was a number of unidentified latent prints. And some of the prints we did identify all belonged to Mrs. MacDonald as though she had done in this fashion with her thumb. (Witness demonstrates with finger on the blind.)
Now there was a chair in this manner here that she would have -- if she had used her right hand, would have had to pull down and lean forward and look out in this direction.
There were instances where unconsciously and without thinking, I have done this myself, used the side of my finger to pull the blind down without thinking.
And it is quite possible that this is what she did also, instead of using her left thumb, so the sides of her fingers that were unable to be recorded, could very well be the unidentified latent prints that we developed on the blinds.
I have no way of knowing, but this is just my opinion.

FOREMAN: Anyone else?

JUROR: Sir, where were the primary areas of unidentified prints taken from? You offered the one on the blind as one.

A There were different areas, door facings, primarily door facing were quite possibly where a person had propped or had taken their hand to look into the room -- maybe the child's room, in this fashion. (Witness demonstrates.)
There were unidentified latent prints on the magazines that we processed.
We had unidentified latent prints to the best of my memory on a saucer, one saucer.

Q You did identify some prints on the magazines, didn't you?
A Oh, yes, sir, yes, sir.
Q And those were members of the family?
A Yes, sir, right.
Q Captain MacDonald for example?
A Yes, sir.

JUROR: Did you identify the smudge on the magazine that was in blood? Did you take that?

A No ma'am. We attempted to, but because of an oversight the magazine was something that a number of people looked at because -- excuse me, sir -- it contained a story of the Manson case, and we were not really interested in the magazine as much, because it was underneath the table. It was with the other magazines at the time.
And I believe Mr. Turbyfill happened to notice that it looked like a fingerprint on the end of the magazine, and we looked at it closer, and it was in red, red coloring.
But by everyone opening the pages of the magazine, it destroyed any print that may have been there.

Q It went along the edges of the pages of the magazine, did it not?
A Yes, it was in this fashion here at the -- I hope you don't need this anymore, because I just lost your place -- in this fashion here to the best of my memory at the top. (Witness illustrates.)
Q Normally, can you get an adequate print from such a surface?
A No, sir, because of the way that the paper would have absorbed the various chemistries of your body in the perspiration. Then when we spray it with Ninhydrin the paper itself would have absorbed it everywhere that you might have touched it and because of the single sheets, it would not have come out to any degree of fairness.

JUROR: Did you take any fingerprints off of the baby bottle?

A No, there was no prints on it. It was plastic.

JUROR: Wouldn't that have left a print?

A It would have left a smudge much like the telephone did.

FOREMAN: Anyone else? Mr. Stroud?

MR. STROUD: No, sir.

FOREMAN: All right, Mr. Medlin, that's all, thank you very much. You're excused.



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