April 23, 1970: Letter from Dr. Robert Sadoff to Bernard Segal
re: Psychiatric Examination of Jeffrey MacDonald April 21, 1970
Spelling, punctuation and grammar preserved
Robert L. Sadoff, M.D.
The Benjamin Fox Pavilion
Jenkintown, Pennsylvania 19040
April 23, 1970
Bernard L. Segal
600 One East Penn Square Bldg.
Re: Jeffrey MacDonald
Dear Mr. Segal:
I examined your client, at your request, on April 21, 1970. Captain MacDonald is a twenty-six year old widowed physician who has been stationed at For Bragg, North Carolina for the past eight months in the United States Army. He was seen at your request to evaluate his personality and mental status with respect to his possessing a type of mental or emotional or personality configuration that is consistent with homicide of his family. The mental state that could account for the slaying of his wife and two daughters on February 17, 1970 in their home would need to be one of the following: (1) a psychotic individual with little or no feelings for other human beings; (2) an acute psychotic reaction precipitated by drugs, toxins or organic condition; (3) a serious unstable psychoneurotic individual with impulsive behavior and poor ego control; (4) a character and behavior disorder, primarily sociopathic personality disorder, manifested by the acting out of internal conflicts in an antisocial and destructive way.
You requested that this examination be carried out because Captain MacDonald has been considered a suspect in the murders of his wife and two children, although he has not been formally charged. I examined Dr. MacDonald for approximately three hours on April 21, 1970 and referred him to a colleague, James L. Mack, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, who spent several hours conducting psychological testing on April 22, 1970.
Captain MacDonald described the events of Monday evening, February 16th as follows: his wife, Colette, had left for her class in English Literature at the University at 6:15 PM. He had eaten dinner with the children, put the dishes in the sink, and watched television with the children. His wife returned at 9:30 PM after both children had gone to bed. They sat and watched television talked and read until around midnight. His wife, who was pregnant at the time, took a mild sedative – Benadryl – to help her sleep. Following the Johnny Carson Show, he said he did the dishes and began to read a Mickey Spillane mystery story. He then went to bed at 2:00 AM, and found that his younger daughter, Kristy, then about two years old, had crawled into the master bed and had wet the bed on his side. He put Kristy back to her bed and said he could not sleep in the wet part of his bed, so he went back to the couch in the living room to sleep.
He said he was next awakened by the sound of his wife screaming, Jeff, Jeff, why are they doing this to me, and his other daughter, Kimberly, age six, screaming Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. As soon as he realized what had been occurring, he saw four people standing in front of him at the foot of the couch. He thinks one of the people was a girl with long blonde hair and a floppy hat. Also, he remembers seeing one Negro male in a Sergeant E6 jacket. He also recalls the female saying, "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." He said the people there were not in "frenzy" and when he sat up in order to say "Who are you", he was hit on the head with a 2 x 2 board by the Negro man. He said he struggled back up and grabbed the board and then was hit in the chest. When he looked down he realized he had been stabbed in the chest and he let go of the board and slumped to the couch. He said "everything got funny", and the next thing he remembered was being on his hands and knees in the hallway with his teeth chattering and his feeling he was going into shock.
He remembers there were no noise and he found it hard to breathe. He said he saw air coming out of his lungs in bubbles and knew that he was hurt fairly seriously. He went to the master bedroom and saw his wife on the floor and blood all around. He saw the knife in her chest and pulled the knife out of her chest. He administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and found the air was coming out of her chest. He said he became confused and was not sure what to do went into the girls' rooms and saw both of them in the same condition as his wife. He found both girls to be stabbed. He said he felt dizzy, but knew that he had to do something to help. He called the operator and was told that he was calling the wrong phone because he was on the base, and he had to use the base phone. He fell back to the floor for a few seconds and realized that he was losing blood and still had not accomplished his purpose of calling the MP's. He returned to the phone and the operator connected him with the MP's.
While he was waiting he said he tried to get the heartbeat and pulse on his wife, and found it was not there. The next thing he realized, the MP's had arrived and he was receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
He is unable to explain why this has happened to him and his family, but says that "the gods are against me." Since this has happened he has received letters from people all over the country with offers of help. He enjoys receiving this mail and also indicates that he has been pointed out by strangers in restaurants as being "Captain MacDonald". His initial reaction was one of depression and shock, which he soon learned to handle and to hide from others. He has cried frequently but mostly by himself, and does not feel it is anybody else's business if he cries. He considers his crying to be a private and personal matter and says "people have no right to expect me to cry in front of them, just as the people who killed my family had no right to do that." He indicates very clearly that he misses his wife and his children, and that it is very difficult for him to pick up the pieces and start over again.
His attitude about this occurrence is that it was stupid to have the back door open, but that was their custom. He said they were more careful about the front door than about the back. He also blames himself for not being in bed with his wife, because the two of them might have been able to chase the intruders away. He has a great deal of shame for not having been able to save his family's lives. He is angry at the military for suspecting that he was involved and responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughters, but handles much of his anger by considering the frustration of the investigators in not being able to find the real killers, and also in coming up with trivial evidence which he feels they have over-used. He does not consider the necessity of executing the killers because that will not bring his family back. He is pleased that his friends and family and in-laws have supported him throughout this ordeal, and have not been sold on any idea that he had anything to do with this tragedy.
Past History: reveals that Jeffrey was born as a middle child of three, having an older brother, James age twenty-eight and a younger sister, Judy, age twenty-five. He was born in Jamaica, Long Island, New York, and attended school at Patchogue in Suffolk County on the town shore. His mother is a school nurse and his father was an electrical designer who died in 1966 of a lung ailment. He claims he got along well with his parents, and did extremely well in high school, receiving scholarships both to Colgate and Princeton. In high school he was co-captain of the football and basketball teams and very high in his class academically. He attended Princeton for three years and was accepted at Northwestern Medical School, where he attended from 1964 to 1968. He then interned at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. He met his wife in the seventh grade and they were high school sweethearts. He claims he had a number of heterosexual experiences prior to his marriage, which was not very exciting for him. He became serious with his wife when she was a freshman at Skidmore College and he was at Princeton. They were married between his sophomore and junior years because she became pregnant.
Kimberly, their oldest, was born on April 16, 1964 and his second girl, Kristen, was born on May 8, 1967. He says he was always fairly close to his family and enjoyed playing with his daughters, and watching them grow in different directions. He describes Kristen as being tougher than Kimberly, who was soft feminine and passive like her mother. He denies any domestic difficulties and admits to having two or three "one night stands" while away from home, which he felt did not amount to anything but instant sexual gratification.
Mental Status Examination: reveals Captain MacDonald to be an average size, good-looking male who is neatly dressed in tasteful clothing. He presents his difficulties in a clear and pleasant manner, without evidence of psychotic thought disorder, hallucinations or delusions. He is well oriented and his memory is in tact. He has some defensive mechanisms about his masculinity and needs to prove himself as a man. He cries readily when discussing the events and how he misses his children and his wife. He cries when he openly discusses the shame he feels at not being able to save his wife and children at a time when he was needed most. He cries when he is alone. He claims that he developed an image of being a strong and masculine when he joined the Special Forces as a volunteer and was proud that he was a Green Beret. He has been the physician for the boxing team and lifts weights and he attempts to be a solid athlete. He is concerned about this image of his masculinity his feelings of shame are more serious for him because he was unable to carry out behavior which he expected of himself under the circumstances. He chastises himself for his lack of positive actions at the time and blames himself for his inactivity. He has feelings of helplessness, impotency and shame.
He shows evidence for compulsive behavior, and speaks in harshness on himself for not being able to prevent this tragedy. There is no evidence of sociopathic disorder, or a pattern of acting out internal conflicts. He does show a marked depressive reaction when his defenses crumble under the recognition of his present state. He is easily able to reconstitute himself, however to reassume his more controlled affect. His goal is to clear his name in this manner, and to leave the Army honorable and practice orthopedic surgery.
Diagnostic Impression: No recognizable psychiatric diagnosis, but with current depressive features secondary to recent traumatic event.
Summary and Recommendations: In summary, I see no evidence for serious psychopathology in Captain MacDonald. He shows a normal repression reaction to the kind of tragedy that one would expect. What seems disarming is his ability to control his affect in front of others and not break down as readily as one might expect. However, under careful interview and mild stressful questioning he readily breaks into tears and shows a most appropriate and depressive feeling with respect to his missing his wife and missing his children and the shame he has felt for his inability to have saved their lives. I see no evidence for psychotic thought progresses either present or underlying, no evidence for hallucinations or delusions. He does not reveal evidence for serious psychoneurotic disorder with poor self control. He does not show evidence for a long-standing character logical disorder or a sociopathic personality disorder with acting out processes. He denies the use of drugs of any type, which could have stimulated an acute toxic psychotic state, resulting in loss of control and explosive violence.
In sum, I see no evidence in Captain MacDonald's personality emotional and psychological make-up that could account either for the loss of control or calculated homicide that occurred in his home on February 17, 1970. I do see in him a depressed man who is trying to handle a very difficult situation, not only because of the loss of his wife and daughters, but also because of his loss of faith in himself resultant shame and feeling of helplessness and impotency.
There is nothing to suggest in my evaluation of Captain MacDonald that he is capable of committing the type of atrocious crime to his family, of which he is suspected.
I trust this information is helpful to you in your continued work with Captain MacDonald. If I can be of further aid to you in this matter, please do not hesitate to call on me.
With warmest regards,
Robert Sadoff, M.D.