'A Wilderness of Error': Who is Helena Stoeckley? Jeffrey MacDonald claimed the woman killed his family

Over the years, Stoeckley would talk about her supposed involvement with the murders, but her stories would always change


                            'A Wilderness of Error': Who is Helena Stoeckley? Jeffrey MacDonald claimed the woman killed his family
Helena Stoeckley in archival footage from 'A Wilderness of Error' (FX)

In 1970, the gruesome murders of the family of a Green Beret army surgeon rocked the nation. When Jeffrey MacDonald had called for help in the early hours of February 17, 1970, four responding military officers came upon a gruesome scene. MacDonald's pregnant wife was found lying on the floor in her bedroom. She had been repeatedly clubbed, with both her arms broken and stabbed 21 times with an ice pick and 16 times with a knife.

Their five-year-old daughter, Kimberly, was found in her bed, having been clubbed in the head and stabbed in the neck with a knife between eight and 10 times. 2-year-old Kristen was found in her own bed; she had been stabbed 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick. MacDonald blamed the murders on four intruders, including a blonde woman wearing a floppy hat and heels. MacDonald claimed that she was holding a candle and saying “Kill the pigs. Acid’s groovy," while the murders were being committed.

FX's latest docuseries, 'A Wilderness of Error' takes a deep dive into what really happened that night and is based on the book of the same name by Errol Morris. MacDonald's description of the blonde woman soon brought in a potential suspect, especially as one of the responding military officers also recalled seeing a woman on the site. This is when Helena Stoeckley entered the picture. She was 18 years old at the time and was a "townie" and a known drug user.

Stoeckley would go on to say she was involved in the crime, even going as far as naming her boyfriend, Greg Mitchell, an army veteran as the killer. While she took a polygraph test in 1971 with her examiner concluding that she would know more about the MacDonald family murders. However, the examiner did not arrive at a definitive conclusion because of Stoeckley’s state of mind and her excessive drug use in February 1970, according to Morris who researched the case extensively for his book.

Over the years, Stoeckley would talk about her supposed involvement with the murders, but her stories would always change. Eventually, in 1979, Stoeckley would say that she could not recall the events of the night, and given her drug use, she was ruled out as a credible witness. Following this, MacDonald was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In October 1982, Stoeckley told Ted Gunderson, a private investigator employed by MacDonald, that members of her “cult” targeted MacDonald because “he refused to treat heroin and opium-addicted persons.”

However, many did not see the court conviction as a definitive answer to the murders and now, even 50 years later, curiosity around the case remains. In 2006, DNA tests were conducted on the 1970 crime evidence, and nothing linked Stoeckley or Mitchell to the scene. The only DNA found in the house matched MacDonald and his family. 

In June 1982, Mitchell died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 31 after years of substance abuse, and a few months later, in January 1983, Stoeckley was found dead in her apartment and it was stated that she had been dead for a few days when her body was discovered. She had pneumonia and liver cirrhosis. 

'A Wilderness of Error' will continue airing on FX on October 2nd, at 8/7c.

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