The Martha Moxley Case

On October 31, 1975 in the elite neighborhood of Belle Haven in Greenwich Connecticut the body of 15 year old Martha Moxley was found beaten under a tree in her own yard.  In 2002 the suspect was finally charged, convicted and sentenced to jail.  This case made headlines not just because it was such an old cold case but because the suspect was related to one of America's most prominent families.

The Moxley family that included father, David, mother, Dorothy, and children John and Martha had moved to Belle Haven less than a year prior to Martha being killed.  David had transferred there from California when he became a senior partner in an accounting firm.  Just around the corner from their new home lived Rushton Skakel and his seven children (six boys and one girl) who were between the ages of 9 and 19.  Anne Reynolds Skakel had died in 1973 from brain cancer.  The Skakel's were notorious in their neighborhood partly because Rushton was rarely around so the children had nanny's and tutors there but little adult supervision and because Rushton's sister was Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy.  It has been said that many parents in the area did not want or allow their children at the Skakel home because the children were basically allowed to run wild and do as they please. 

On October 30, 1975 the Skakel's were having a party.  This was a night the kids all called "Hackers Night."  This was the night before the morning where residents awoke to toilet papered trees and egged front doors.  Police patrolled the area a little more closely on those nights just to make sure things did not get out of control. Belle Haven was the most prestigious section of the town and was manned by guard posts and police patrol on a regular basis.  The 'extra' patrols likely amounted to nothing really as the patrols were less about making sure the residents were law abiding than they were about catching people who were not supposed to be in the area or vandals.  The residents within the gates of Belle Haven were looked upon different and this is partial why when Martha was first found it was assumed that a transient had committed the crime.  

When Martha and a few of her friends arrived at the Skakel house they were informed by one of the staff that the kids were not there and still out to dinner with their newly hired tutor, Kenneth Littleton.  Littleton had just started working for the Skakel's on that day.  He knew a few of the boys from school where he taught but he added to his duties by being a live-in tutor.  He was even yet to unpack his things.  They returned a while later and while the Skakel's were still not home they waited a short time and they returned.  By all accounts there was not much of a party but I guess by teenage standards there was not a lot to live up to.  It appears that for the most part most of the "party" took place in a car in the driveway where they listened to music.  At first it was just Martha, her two or three friends and Michael Skakel.  Although Martha had not been in the area for a long time she was already popular, especially between brothers, Michael and Thomas "Tommy" Skakel. Soon Tommy joined them, some say it may have been just to irritate Michael.  At about 9:30 pm one of the other Skakel brothers came out and said he needed the car because the party was moving to a cousins house and invited everyone to go with.  Martha's friends declined because they had curfew's and Martha and Tommy decided to stay.  Michael went with them.

Just after that Martha's friends indicated they were not comfortable around Martha and Tommy as they seemed to have started flirting and playing around and so the friends decided to go home.  That was the last time they saw Martha and when they did Tommy Skakel was with her.  

Although she had not given her a specific curfew Dorothy Moxley was expecting Martha home around 10:00 when she says she heard a neighbors dog yelping and making noise.  She said she looked outside and did not see Martha coming. By the time John Moxley came home around 11 (David was out of town for business) Dorothy was really worried so she sent John out to look around the neighborhood but he found nothing.  Just after midnight Dorothy called the Skakel home to see if Martha was there.  Julie Skakel answered the phone and while she said Tommy was sleeping she said she woke him up and asked him about Martha.  He said he had last seen her about 9:30.  As it neared 4:00 am, Dorothy finally called the police.  According to the police they too did a search of the neighborhood, likely not a foot search and found nothing.  About 10 am Dorothy went to the Skakel home but was told again that Tommy had last seen her at 9:30 when he went into the house.  Dorothy always said she knew there was more to tell, but they were not talking and she was not going to get answers.  At about 12:15 pm a friend of Martha's had cut through her yard to go to her house and found her body under a tree in the back yard.

The police were immediately called but no one on the force had ever investigated a murder and the scene was compromised right from the start.  Many believe some of that had to do with the inexperience while others believe it was purposely done so as to cover something up if it was discovered one of the families in the area was involved. They never even called a coroner to the scene.  However, the Moxley family doctor was present but only hours later just to "confirm" death.  The thing is, that was pretty obvious.  Martha's body was covered in blood and bruises and a portion of a broken golf club was protruding from her neck.  There was no immediate time of death given or even any kind of record made of what was seen and who saw it.  A log was made months later based on guesswork and memory about who was present, when they got there and even the position and condition of the body.

They did learn early on that the golf club likely came from the home of the Skakels.  In fact, they were nearly certain it had come from a set once owned by Anne Skakel as that particular club was not found.  The club they had found at the scene was in three pieces.  It was widely reported that the handle (that would have had the name of Anne Skakel on it) was not present and it remained the way of thinking for almost 30 years.  When police discussed the missing club with Rushton Skakel he made a point that just because it was from his home did not mean anyone from his house was responsible.  As he pointed out the club could have been left in the yard for anyone to pick up.  Police asked if they could search the home to which Rushton appeared to comply.  This was not a standard police search where closets and drawers were looked at, it was all but a simple tour of the house with Rushton right behind.  The police could have but never tried to get an official warrant for the house.  Rushton did refuse to give the police access to Tommy's school or his mental health records.  At that point they were focusing on Tommy as he was the last one seen with her.  Tommy was brought in for questioning and took two lie detector tests.  The first one was inconclusive whereas he passed the second one.  He stuck with the story that he had last seen Martha about 9:30 when he went into his house to do homework.  Police did not believe him but apparently did not push too hard.  First, Tommy was not known to be a studious student who worried about homework.  To add to this it was a Thursday night of a three day weekend, it was highly unlikely that he would be doing his homework, let alone doing it so early.  Thirdly when the police questioned Kenneth Littleton they learned that the particular assignment that Tommy said he was doing had not been assigned.  
The police also interviewed the other children in the house, including Michael.  He stated he had gone to his cousins house and returned about 11:15 or so and had gone inside to bed.  At this point the police were gambling on placing a time of death at about 10:00 when Dorothy, and other neighbors heard the dog barking so Michael was not considered to be a suspect, nor were any of the other children.  As far as the Skakel house went the suspects were Tommy and Kenneth Littleton.  Littleton was more of a suspect based on the fact that it has been his first day at the Skakel house and the fact that he said he was in his room unpacking and then sleeping could not really be confirmed.

The police also looked at the Moxley's next door neighbor, Ed Hammond as a subject as well as toyed with it being a transient who killed Martha.  Both theories quickly fell apart and all evidence pointed to the Skakel home.  The official answer from police was without the handle to the golf club there was absolutely no proof that the golf club at the scene for sure came from he Skakel home.  

In July of 1992 Michael, with the apparent help of Rushton Skakel, hired a PI firm to look into the case.  This came about because in 1991 William Kennedy Smith, a cousin of the Skakel's was brought up on charges of rape and a renewed interest in the Moxley case began.  Their goal was for the firm to find information that did not point to the Skakel home or any of the children.  After spending a lot of time, and submitting a large bill, they spoke with Rushton before making their final report.  They let him know that not only had they not found information leading away from the Skakel boys, especially Michael, but that they had found much more than had been announced or possibly even discovered by investigators.  They were directed by Rushton to stop the investigation, not to make a final report, and rumored to be paid off to do so.  This was really the first time that Michael had become a huge suspect.  According to the PI firm Michael told them that on the night of the murder he had climbed a tree on the Moxley property to spy on Martha but did not see her and that instead he masturbated in the tree and then climbed in his own window at home around 12:30 am.  This was the first that he had admitted living his home after he said he returned home from his cousins house.  At this time too, Tommy admitted to being with Martha approximately 20 minutes later than he had previously stated in interview with police saying they were flirting and making out during that time. 

For nearly 25 years there was speculation and rumors.  It seemed that everyone knew the murderer came from the Skakel house and most knew that it was Tommy, even though Michael's name had been thrown around a few times.  At one point author Dominick Dunne started searching the case.  He wrote a fiction book largely based on Martha's case and had gotten a hold of the notes made by the PI firm. He ended up giving that information to Mark Fuhrman.  Yes, this is the same Mark Fuhrman that was involved with the O.J. Simpson trial.  Since the trial Fuhrman had retired from the police force.  He had written a true crime book and Dunne thought with Fuhrman's investigative skills he could get dig into this case and possibly write another (he did called Murder in Greenwich).  

Mark Fuhrman went to Greenwich in 1997 and started investigating and looking at all the information.  He was not well liked throughout the country after the Simpson trial but was especially disliked in Greenwich when he started criticizing  the original investigation.  He interviewed family and friends of Martha and any police officers that would allow him to.  The police chief, Tom Keegan refused to speak to Fuhrman.  In October of 1997 when talking to one of the officers that had been on the scene and the subject of the missing golf handle came up Fuhrman was informed it was not missing.... that was the piece that had protruded from Martha's neck.  A second officer from the scene, family members and even the doctor confirmed this.  All had said they had never been interviewed at all or had not been asked about what they saw, especially concerning the handle.  In fact, they all seemed surprised that this supposed missing evidence was being used as the excuse for stalling the case.  Fuhrman brought in forensic pathologist, Michael Baden, in to review the autopsy.  According to Baden, the stab wound to the neck occurred right around the time of death.  He believed that it was likely that Martha was beaten by the golf club and left for dead and that the suspect returned later to find her still alive and had then stabbed her.  He also stated that the time of death could have been anywhere from 9:00 pm. to 1 am.  This opened up the window for suspects, including Michael who had previously claimed to be away from the home until about 11:15.

So in 1997 there were technically three main suspects in the case... all three resided in the Skakel home.  Suspicion had never really left Kenneth Littleton, the new live-in tutor.  It is my personal belief that he remained a suspect, even though there was no proven connection between him and Martha or any behavior that would have warranted him being a suspect, because the other two suspects were from a wealthy and well connected family. Not long after the murder Littleton and Rushton Skakel had a falling out over pay and he had stopped working for them.  He then took on a job near Martha's Vineyard teaching but it's rumored he lost that one over the scrutiny in the Moxley case.  Over the years he had become an alcoholic and had petty run-ins with the law.  Eventually he had left the country citing the publicity of the case and the fact he was considered a suspect.

Tommy, the main suspect for many years, went to school in Vermont and by 1989 had married and was working for a trade corporation.  There did not seem to be any issues with the law or behavior.  Although it had been discovered that when he was 4 years old he had fell out of a moving car and was said to "produce mental and emotional issues" and one nanny was quoted as saying he was the "most disturbed child I ever met."  These mental health records were what the police asked for and were refused permission to by Rushton Skakel in 1975.  

Michael had often been called the "wildest of the children" when it came to the Skakel's and how their neighbors looked at them.  It was said even back around the time of the murder he was known to be a bully and fight a lot and even kill small animals for fun.  For many years after the murder Michael had been in and out of rehab centers and had often told people that family moved him so that the police would not find him.  In 1978 he was arrested for DUI after almost running over a police officer.  By all appearances through testimony and interviews Michael appeared to be more emotionally disturbed before and after the murder than Tommy did.  

I should not that at some point the FBI did a profile on who the likely offender would be.  I have to say that I do not give this much credence.  I am not certain but I suspect this was done sometime after 1997 when interest in the case grew.  However, with that said, they stated the offender would have been between 14-18 years old, lived close by, moved in the same social circles as Martha, participated in sibling rivalry, had behavior problems and was likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the murder.  This profile could have fit either one of the Skakel boys or likely anyone teenager in the neighborhood (as long as they had siblings).  The Skakel's were suspects from the start as one was the last known person to see Martha alive and their home was the last place she was visiting, hence when it comes to this profile of the suspect I simply do not believe it was based on anything other than the investigators knew that one of the two boys was likely the murderer.  

Fuhrman published his book and openly called Michael out as the murderer. In June of 1998 a one man grand jury was asked to review the case.  The following year Rushton Skakel made a failed attempt to testify at the grand jury.  In June of 2000, at the age of 40 Michael was indicted for murder.   A warrant was issued and Michael posted a $500,000 bond and went home.  He was initially charged as a juvenile since he was 15 at the time of the crime.  Prosecutors argued against this stating that the punishment would have only been 4 years (only serve two).  As expected Michael's lawyer pushed for it to stay in juvenile court.  Eventually the judge did move it to adult court mainly stating the reason that they did not have anywhere to put a man of 40 in a juvenile facility.  Today in 2013 Michael's lawyer is still attempting to have this changed.  

During the trial and the proceedings leading up to the trial there had been a few people who testified that while spending time with Michael in one of the many rehab facilities he had been in that Michael had confessed to them.  The defense of course had their own witnesses who argued against this as well as pointing out the substance abuse suffered by the prosecution witnesses.  In fact, one of the witnesses scheduled to testify at the trial died of a drug overdose prior to the proceedings.  There was also much speculation about seeing the Kennedy cousins at the trial supporting him.  Michael had been considered a black sheep when he had testified against his cousin, Michael Kennedy when he was accused of having sexual relations with an underage babysitter.  Rushton Skakel testified, apparently briefly, as he was suffering from dementia.  

Much speculation was brought up about the changing of Michael's alibi when he later admitted to the PI of peeping in Martha's window.  In that statement to them he had stated that he had then sneaked into his own house by climbing in his window.  It was very much common knowledge that the Skakels did not have adult supervision on a regular basis.  Rushton was out of town and the only adult in the home was Kenneth Littleton.  Based on their behaviors and their apparent lack of respect to authority it is unlikely that he climbed in his window to avoid running into Littleton and being interrogated.  It was theorized that the reason for climbing in his own window would have been to avoid any contact with anyone as he was likely covered in Martha's blood.  There was never any bloody clothes found, but then again by the time the police went to the Skakel home Rushton was home, it was likely the entire neighborhood had heard about Martha (especially the Skakels since Dorothy Moxley had called several times as well as gone over there), and the police did not technically search the home.  

On June 7, 2002 after three days of deliberation Michael Skakel was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life.  In January 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote an article stating Michael was innocent and that it had become a witch hunt, blaming Dominick Dunne as the "driving force" behind it. Those who agreed with Kennedy believe that the death of Dunne's own daughter had caused him to be obsessed with the Moxley case.  In 2006 Michael's conviction was affirmed and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.  In 2007 he had filed for a new trial and it too was denied, along with an appeal in 2010.  In January 2012 his lawyer once again argued that the case should have been heard in juvenile court and asked for a reduction in sentence, it was denied.  On October 24, 2012 Michael faced the parole board for his first hearing.  He continued to deny guilt and parole was denied.  The next hearing is not until October 2017.

This is a case where I have to say that while I do believe Michael Skakel is guilty of committing this murder, I often wonder where the true evidence was. It was said in 1975, that although Martha's pants had been pulled down that sexual assault was not found.  Nor was any blood but Martha's ever discovered.  There was no talk of fingerprints on the golf club.  While not completely reasonable Rushton Skakel had a point that if the club had been left in his yard anyone could have picked it up.  From my understanding they could never truly prove that Tommy was not the last one to see Martha alive or that there had been a confrontation with Michael and Martha.  Examining their behaviors both before and after the murder, yes, Michael's stands out between his alcohol and legal issues throughout the years.  Since the initial investigation was bungled, whether it was done on purpose or from lack of experience there was no real evidence collected other than possibly the golf club.  One has to wonder if the fact that the family was wealthy prevented a competent investigation in 1975 and if that same reason, and the changing attitudes of the public, was not what got him convicted in 2002.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Matthew Heikkila

The Quinn Hanna Gray Kidnapping

Patricia Rorrer