Academy Award-winning filmmaker and former private detective Errol Morris examines the nature of evidence and proof in the infamous Jeffrey MacDonald murder case
Early on the morning of February 17, 1970, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green Beret doctor, called the police for help. When the officers arrived at his home they found the bloody and battered bodies of MacDonald’s pregnant wife and two young daughters. The word “pig” was written in blood on the headboard in the master bedroom. As MacDonald was being loaded into the ambulance, he accused a band of drug-crazed hippies of the crime.
So began one of the most notorious and mysterious murder cases of the twentieth century. Jeffrey MacDonald was finally convicted in 1979 and remains in prison today. Since then a number of bestselling books—including Joe McGinniss’s Fatal Vision and Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer—and a blockbuster television miniseries have told their versions of the MacDonald case and what it all means.
Errol Morris has been investigating the MacDonald case for over twenty years. A Wilderness of Error is the culmination of his efforts. It is a shocking book, because it shows us that almost everything we have been told about the case is deeply unreliable, and crucial elements of the case against MacDonald simply are not true. It is a masterful reinvention of the true-crime thriller, a book that pierces the haze of myth surrounding these murders with the sort of brilliant light that can only be produced by years of dogged and careful investigation and hard, lucid thinking.
By this book’s end, we know several things: that there are two very different narratives we can create about what happened at 544 Castle Drive, and that the one that led to the conviction and imprisonment for life of this man for butchering his wife and two young daughters is almost certainly wrong. Along the way Morris poses bracing questions about the nature of proof, criminal justice, and the media, showing us how MacDonald has been condemned, not only to prison, but to the stories that have been created around him.
In this profoundly original meditation on truth and justice, Errol Morris reopens one of America’s most famous cases and forces us to confront the unimaginable. Morris has spent his career unsettling our complacent assumptions that we know what we’re looking at, that the stories we tell ourselves are true. This book is his finest and most important achievement to date.
Even readers who begin this mesmerizing and disturbing book convinced of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald's guilt in the 1970 murders of his wife and young daughters in Fort Bragg, North Carolina will emerge with serious doubts about his culpability and the fairness of his trial. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Morris, whose 1988 film The Thin Blue Line led to the freedom of a man wrongfully accused of murder, is well-equipped to sort through the reams of evidence amassed over the years; yet despite the volume of testimony and physical evidence, he makes crystal-clear how mistakes made by the responding military officers contaminated the crime scene, and how fact-finders were repeatedly misled about the circumstances of the killings. While the brutality of the murders is disturbing, what is even more troubling and what Morris makes distressingly evident is the possibility that MacDonald "had been made to witness the savage deaths of his family and then was wrongfully convicted for their murders." Morris has been researching the case for over two decades, and the result of his inquiries is a thorough and compelling argument for the incarcerated doctor's innocence, a sobering look at the labyrinthine justice system, and a feat of investigative perseverance. Illus.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Don't waste your money
I am a prosecutor and know we don't always get it right, but this author's biases and his lack of understanding of the judicial system are so glaring that I'm having real trouble forcing myself to finish this book. I was hoping to find an objective review of the case but this book is far from that.
A Wilderness of Error
Our justice system is very scary...
Great book. I, too, was convinced by McGinniss' book so many years ago that MacDonald was guilty. Not now. I knew our justice system was flawed, but this case goes beyond that to downright evil. Morris does an outstanding job of FAIRLY presenting the facts, outlining the discovery that the defense never saw, and showing just what lengths over zealous prosecutors and a biased judge (as well as who we thought was an esteemed author) will go to to ruin one name to make one for themselves. Most of them are dead and gone now - while Jeffrey MacDonald has been in prison for 42 years and is still waiting for justice. What a shame. I read a lot but have never reviewed a book. This one stays with you - and may for a long time.