Marc Smerling directs this five-part FX true crime documentary series. ‘A Wilderness of Error‘ explores the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted in 1970 of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters. With new evidence, hidden secrets, and salacious gossip, could he be innocent of the heinous crime?
Colette, Kimberley, and Kristen MacDonald were brutally beaten and murdered on the military base where they lived. The family patriarch Jeffrey was arrested by the Military Base and faced an inquest. He claimed three men and one woman broke into the house, stabbed them all, and wrote pig in bloody letters. The inquest dismissed charges against him, but later, inconsistencies were found in his testimony. Nine years later, he was tried and found guilty.
The premise of this documentary is based on A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris, who contends that there are suspicions surrounding MacDonald’s trial. They interview the investigators, lawyers, prosecutors, his wife’s family, and other people to discover what happened to the victims. Is Jeffrey a killer? Is a mysterious blonde and her boyfriend responsible? What about a hippie drug cult?
The documentary does a good job of presenting the facts and some of the fiction surrounding the case. It, rightly so, criticizes the media for sensationalizing the case and the author of Fatal Vision for the unethical way he got the information for the book, which later became a hit television miniseries.
Honestly, and Morris may be disappointed, it did not convince of MacDonald’s innocence. Yes, there were some bizarre coincidences, but he had a clear motive since he cheated on his wife and DNA only found one foreign hair. Had the attack been as savage with third parties, there would have been way more DNA evidence. Now, the documentary itself does not take a side, noting these things.
With its excellent production values, it does make a good case. I liked the return to a narrator where a person would ask a question of the people being interviewed and I thought it did an excellent job of exploring both sides of the issues. Is he guilty or innocent? It does make a lot of sense and it ties together nicely.
Check out the trailer below:
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