On February 17, 1970, a shocking crime took place in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Colette MacDonald and her two young daughters were brutally murdered. Colette’s husband, Jeffrey MacDonald, was left wounded but still very much alive. This crime has fascinated, outraged and polarized people for nearly 50 years.
Speculation in this crime has continued with strings of legal proceedings and outcomes. But at the heart of the case is the relationship of a pregnant young mother with her ambitious husband, along with the character and behavior of a man believed to be either a monster or a gentleman, depending on who you’re talking to.
Jeffrey MacDonald has a version of what happened that night. Investigators and prosecutors have another version, backed up by what they see as blatant inconsistencies in his story and in the evidence.
Today’s episode will address the relationship of Jeffrey with his wife Colette, the timeline and evidence of the case, Jeffrey MacDonald’s behavior both before and after his family was slaughtered, and the legalities of his conviction and appeals.
To most of us, the relationship between mother and child is a sacred one. We love our children, put their needs above our own, and will do anything to protect them and promote their happiness. But mother of six Theresa Knorr didn’t seem to feel any such love or devotion for her children, least of all her two daughters Sheila and Suesan.
A mother of three sons and three daughters, Theresa wounded her daughter Suesan with scissors and a gun. When she wasn't dead after a few weeks, Theresa tried to remove the bullet herself. The attempted surgery left Suesan near death. As her condition worsened, Theresa bound Suesan’s arms and legs, covered her mouth with duct tape, and ordered her sons to help her take the girl to a deserted road and burn her alive, dousing her with gasoline.
Theresa Knorr forced her other daughter Sheila into prostitution. After a few weeks, she accused Sheila of becoming pregnant and passing on a venereal disease through the family toilet seat. She beat Sheila, hogtied her, and locked her in a hot closet with no ventilation. Once Sheila’s body began to decompose, Theresa ordered her sons to dispose of her.
It took several years for Theresa to be brought to justice. During her trial, the public learned that she had been acquitted in the murder of her husband decades earlier. Her remaining youngest daughter, Terry, was the one to finally get the authorities to investigate her mother and believe what she was telling them: Theresa was a cold-blooded killer who had enlisted the help of sons in the murders of her own daughters.
As we discuss the disturbing crimes of Theresa Knorr, we will dispel the belief that a mother’s love is always selfless, always unconditional. Theresa was a dangerous and cruel mother, but the myth of all mothers putting their children first worked to silence those who had chances to stop her. Where were the good people in this story who could have saved her children? Theresa didn’t strike out of nowhere. She calculated and carried out her abuses over a period of years, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs and clues that were clearly ignored.
Theresa’s abuse could have been stopped but nobody moved to stop her. It was a legal system hesitant to believe her capable of murder, along with a society intent on minding its own business, who let her get away with the murder of two of her children and the nightmarish abuses of the remaining four.
In 1999, a homeowner in Jericho, New York removed an old 55-gallon barrel from his basement. The trash men would not take it because it was too heavy. So he opened it. The smell was horrific. A woman’s shoe bobbed to the surface.
Locked away in that barrel for over thirty years was the now mummified body of a young woman and her full-term fetus. She was fully clothed with her purse and address book inside. Police would take hours extracting these remains from the barrel. The odor was so offensive that gas masks were worn by every person in the vicinity.
Investigators in this case did incredible work, examining the contents of the barrel, going over the lineage of ownership of the house, and putting together a tragic series of events that led to the violent death and decades long disposal of a young immigrant woman who put her trust in the wrong man.
In today’s discussion, A Disposable Woman, we’re talking about one of the most remarkable cold cases ever solved. What may have been a simple story of an extramarital affair and an unwanted pregnancy became an obscene affront to humanity---a case of a person being cast aside and discarded as if she were nothing.