'People Magazine Investigates' : Are There Similarities Between Jeffrey MacDonald Case and Charles Manson Murders?

People Magazine Investigates: "The Accused" airs Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery

The controversial case of former Green Beret surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald, convicted in 1979 of murdering his wife and two daughters in 1970, is now before an appeals court.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 26 in Richmond, Virginia.

The case, which has captivated the nation for nearly half a century, is the focus of the upcoming People Magazine Investigates episode “The Accused,” which airs Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. Ahead of that broadcast, PEOPLE Senior Editor Alicia Dennis sat down on Friday’s People Now to preview the episode and talk about aspects of the case.

“Jeffrey’s defense team is really putting a lot of hope in this hearing,” says Dennis.

MacDonald has long said he is innocent. He says he saw at least four intruders and was attacked before passing out. Three of the alleged intruders he saw were men, but one was a woman he described as having long blonde hair, a floppy hat and knee-high vinyl boots. He said the woman was allegedly carrying a candle and chanting “Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs.”

On People Now, Dennis said MacDonald’s lawyers “say DNA testing shows there was a hair underneath one of Kristen’s fingernails that doesn’t match anyone in the family. There was a bloody handprint that doesn’t match. Then they’re also going to look at some synthetic hairs they think supports the argument that there was a woman in a blonde wig there at the crime scene.”

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MacDonald Family

The brutal murders of Colette MacDonald, 26, and the couple’s daughters, Kimberley, 5, and Kristen, 2, came just six months after the shocking murders committed on behalf of cult leader Charles Manson. There were some similarities between the two cases, Dennis says.

“Charles Manson’s followers, over two days in August 1969, carried out these horrific crimes where they stabbed their victims and used their victims’ blood to write on the walls of the crime scene — and they used the word ‘pig’ on the walls of the crime scene,” she says.

• For more on the Jeffrey MacDonald case, watch “The Accused” on our 10-part true crime show, People Magazine Investigates, airing Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.

“And in Jeffrey MacDonald’s case the word ‘pig’ was written on the headboard of the bed he shared with Colette,” Dennis says.

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MacDonald Family

Helena Stoeckley, a woman who repeatedly confessed she was at the crime scene to her friends, family, and local police, told MacDonald’s private investigators in the early 1980s that the connection between the two cases was no coincidence.

Stoeckley said she was a member of a cult and they had targeted MacDonald as early as October 1969 because “he was not cooperative with helping heroin addicts,” she told Ted Gunderson, one of MacDonald’s investigators, in 1982. (Stoeckley has since died.)

“It was suggested someone approach him and try to make him realize he had to help us,” she said.

• Watch the People Magazine Investigates After Show, on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices

If he refused, she said in another confession, “The leaders of the cult had decided to annihilate the [rest of the] MacDonald family,” adding that “the idea was to make it look like some of the Manson group went from California to North Carolina to commit the murders.”

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Michael Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty

But prosecutors believed MacDonald tried to make the murders look like the Manson murders to throw them off the trail.

Just as MacDonald, now 73, has never stopped saying he’s innocent, prosecutors are just as adamant that he is guilty.

U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce declined to comment on the case, saying in a statement to PEOPLE: “When cases are pending court proceedings, it is the practice of our office to litigate the case in court — through evidence and argument in hearings and in written filings with the court — rather than through the news media.”

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