A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris


WARNING:  This book is based on a true crime and the details in this synopsis may be a bit graphic and disturbing. 


It was February 17th, 1970 in North Carolina.  Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green Beret Doctor had discovered his two-year old daughter Kristen had wet his side of their bed, so after cleaning her up and putting her to sleep in her own bed, Jeffrey decided to sleep on the couch and deal with the clean up in his own bed in the morning.  It was late, and he was tired.  Hours later, he was startled awake by a noise, screaming actually, and seen several people in his home.  When he got up, startled, he was hit by an object and knocked out.

When Jeffrey regained consciousness he called the police for help.  It was 3:42 am and his life had just changed forever.

What the police found, was the beginning of a nightmare for all involved.  MacDonald’s pregnant wife and two daughters had all been brutally murdered.  The word “PIG” was written in blood on the master bedroom wall. 

Jeffrey MacDonald told the story of what he had seen when he woke up, four young people, one being a woman, chanting and holding candles. He believed drugs were involved.  The police felt that MacDonald’s story didn’t fit with the evidence they seen.   In 1979, MacDonald was convicted of killing his entire family and remains in prison to this day.

Was clear evidence in this crime ignored?  Were there people who were possibly connected to this crime that were never investigated?  Is Jeffery MacDonald an innocent man who was wrongly imprisoned? 


Jeffrey then and now


Why did I want to read this book?  I admit I have always been drawn to true crime.  That sounds terrible.  Ugh.  I think I am curious about what would make people act that way.  What would bring one human to the brink of harming another – killing another in love or hate or whatever…. 


Author Errol Morris writes a story that definitely falls under reasonable doubt in this case.  The book is filled with police reports, and interviews that definitely bring the results of this case into question for this reader.  I found myself turning page after page, gathering my own evidence – even looking back through what I had already read, checking my own “facts” again and again.  I even found myself looking up things about the case on line, to get another perspective to go by.

I like books that make me think and Errol Morris covered that with A Wilderness Of Error.  I felt I came into this case cold, as honestly, prior to this reading I had never heard of Jeffrey MacDonald or this crime that took place right along the time of the Manson murders. 

The book’s title comes from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe:


What chance—what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate… I would fain have them believe that I have been, in some measure, the slave of circumstances beyond human control. I would wish them to seek out for me, in the details I am about to give, some little oasis of fatality amid a wilderness of error.


I was bewildered by how this case was handled – granted these were the days before CSI and all the things we have in today’s world to track evidence but if you go by Errol Morris’ account, this case was truly misguided.  There is even a woman, Helena Stoeckley, who admitted time and again that she committed these murders, but was written off as being an unreliable drug addict.

I found the book to be very interesting and well written.

In the end – I personally can’t say if MacDonald did it or not.  MacDonald himself, now 68 years old, still claims he is innocent.


For more information about the evidence surrounding this crime and how Errol Morris came up with is facts, see this interesting site.


Thank you to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of a jury by reading this amazing book.

14 thoughts on “A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris

  1. Hmm. Not sure on this one. I, too, am drawn to true crime (as a writer, studying serial killers and the like help me write better villains) but I’m not a huge fan of books that go into detail about how wrong the cops and investigators were. It’s happened a few times that people have been wrongly accused/convicted/imprisoned, but it doesn’t happen NEARLY as often as the media would like to believe. I’ll probably TBR this, just out of curiosity. Thanks for the review. 😀

  2. I hadn’t heard of this case either but it’s not my usual book genre. I like true crime stories but I prefer the long magazine article format. All that detail in the book can be a bit much.

  3. Ms Hill~encourage you to read this brilliant book, it’s an eye opener on how twisted the American justice system can become possibly more often the what you describe in your comment. The real horror is that a gifted man’s life has been destroyed, imagine if you
    yourself were sentenced for the bloody unthinkable crime of stabbing your own family to death. Over 30 stabbing wounds inflicted with clubbing so hard bone protruded from your child’s face.

  4. I read A Wilderness of Error with no previous background into the case against MacDonald and I was dismayed and alarmed at how the investigation was handled by the authorities. Mr. Morris does a convincing job of presenting the case with a plausible not guilty but committed unjustifiably expose.

    I like that you posted photos of MacDonald then and now.

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