RALEIGH, N.C. -- Former Green Beret Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was obsessed by a secret woman-hating rage that, unleashed by diet drugs, drove him to kill his pregnant wife and two young daughters in 1970, reported the author of a new book on the case.
Joe McGinniss' suggestion in his book, 'Fatal Vision,' that MacDonald suffers from what psychiatrists call pathological narcissism appears certain to revive debate over the case, which drew international attention in the 1970s.
McGinniss said MacDonald lived an all-American lifestyle - attending Princeton and Northwestern University Medical School, marrying his high school sweetheart and starting a family -- but suffered a personality disorder that made it impossible for him to deal with women or his fears of his own potential homosexuality.
MacDonald concealed the disorder so well, McGinniss said, that friends and colleagues remained steadfastly loyal to the doctor even after he was convicted and sent to prison.
McGinniss claims in his book that early in Feb. 17, 1970, MacDonald broke under the influence of too many diet pills containing an amphetamine.
Hours later, military police found the beaten and stabbed bodies of Colette MacDonald and her daughters, Kimberly and Kristen, lying in their Fort Bragg home.
MacDonald survived a military hearing, in which investigators were unable to prove he should be court-martialed. Nine years later, a federal jury in Raleigh convicted him, and he is serving three consecutive life terms at a Texas prison.
Recruited by MacDonald, McGinniss lived with the physician at the 1979 trial. During it, he said he came to reject MacDonald's argument that his family was killed by a hippie cult that included one woman who held a candle and chanted 'Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs.'
He added little criminal evidence, but presented many new details indicating MacDonald was capable of murdering his family.
Although MacDonald led an outwardly exemplary life after the military hearing, McGinniss pointed to an outburst in 1971 when MacDonald allegedly threatened to hold the 10-year-old son of his girlfriend off the edge of a boat and crush his skull.
McGinniss also revealed several instances in which MacDonald lied, including his denials to a grand jury that he ever took a lie-detector test.
The author interviewed several psychiatrists who said people like MacDonald were marked by an inflated self-concept and a desperate need for tribute from others. Pathological narcissists relate poorly to most people and even poorly to someone who is their equal, such as a wife or lover.
They are filled with 'boundless rage against the female sex,' one psychiatrist said, because women threaten their own sexuality.