Residents recall long road to arrest in Moxley case
By Cameron Martin - Greenwich Time
The initial shock. The years of stagnation. And now, hopefully, the beginning of the end.
Longtime Greenwich residents related last week the hype, sadness and unanswered questions that accompanied the 1975 death of Martha Moxley. They said Wednesday's arrest of her accused killer, former friend and neighbor Michael Skakel, summoned many of the same emotions they experienced initially - bookends to 24 years of silence and stagnancy.
Mike Pompa, 70, has been cutting hair at Subway Barber Shop on Greenwich Avenue for 41 years - more than half of which he has spent engaging in on-again, off-again discussions of the Moxley murder case.
"Oh sure, people would talk about it, but not that often," the Stamford resident said yesterday.
Pompa still recalls, years afterward, "the nice lady, always smiling, who brought in her sons to get haircuts before she died," referring to Anne Skakel, late mother of Thomas and Michael.
"The (Skakel) boys used to come, ever since they were little. Once (the Oct. 30, 1975 murder) happened, I never saw them again," he said.
Former Selectman Frank Mazza, 64, was one of the town's police commissioners in 1975, when the title was held jointly by all three members of the Board of Selectmen. He said he didn't know many of the details surrounding the case at the time, but remembered hearing from police officers that suspicions centered on members of the Skakel family.
In the ensuing years, Mazza, like Pompa and others, found himself hearing and discussing the case intermittently.
"I didn't know a lot about the details," Mazza said yesterday. "The police would talk about suspicions, but nothing concrete. I followed the case, but not that closely. People knew it was there, but for a period of time it didn't get a lot of publicity.
"Since (1975), a lot of people have moved in and out of town, the make-up has changed, and until recently it kind of got lost on people," he said
Mazza said the town's initial reaction in 1975 was to be expected.
"There was a shock, that it couldn't happen here, which was a typical reaction - one you'd get anywhere."
While Skakel's arrest is a huge development in the case, Mazza doubted whether the case will ever attain true closure.
"Without a conviction, what's it all about?" he wondered.
Former First Selectman John Margenot agreed.
"I'm really surprised, now, some 25 years later, to find that they've actually gotten to a point of indictment," Margenot, 71, said Thursday. "When I was in office (in the late '80s and early '90s), it was pretty near a dead end. Near the end of my last term I was told by some police officers that progress was being made, however.
"We'll see what the system does now. A grown man in juvenile court? This story has all kinds of twists and turns."
Randy Caravella, 37, of Cos Cob, was 12 years old when the 15-year-old Moxley was murdered. Though he doesn't remember the time surrounding the murder, the 24 years since has bred familiarity with the case, he said.
"I was too young, but I heard about it word-of-mouth over the years. And now everybody's talking about it," Caravella, the owner of Post Wines & Spirits, said yesterday. Whether the town can rest easier now that someone has been charged with the two-decade-old crime depends on the outcome, he said.
"It all depends on how it ends up, but it would be nice for the Moxleys to have closure."
Ralph's father, Tax Collector Louis Caravella, was running a news and variety shop in Cos Cob in 1975. The case's initial surprise, he said, was eclipsed thereafter by the dearth of new developments.
"Of course everybody was surprised, dismayed, but afterwards I didn't follow it too closely. It was a police matter," he said yesterday.
Caravella, 73, said the lack of concrete evidence with which to proceed with a case against Michael Skakel in 1975 has led Caravella to reserve judgment.
"I didn't form an opinion because the evidence is circumstantial. Looking back, you can always second guess, but you know, there's a burden of proof. Sure, people were frustrated that nothing was happening, but when you look in retrospect, again, it's a matter of proof, which is something they didn't have for a long time, I guess," he said.
While testimony compiled by Judge George Thim, who conducted a one-man grand jury investigation into the case, remains sealed, Caravella said the evidence he is aware of remains flimsy.
"To say she was killed with a golf club from the Skakel home, well, that could have been taken by anybody. I'm not defending the Skakels, but it's like the Margolies case. Authorities have been saying for a long time that they have a suspect in mind, but it's a matter of proof, and right now, in (the Margolies) case, I guess they don't think they have that."
On Sept. 5, 1984, the body of 13-year-old Matthew Margolies was found by a local firefighter on a wooded hillside below Greenway Drive and overlooking Pemberwick Road. He had disappeared five days earlier after having left his grandmother's house less than a mile away to go fishing. Police said they believed the boy was killed that same day by someone who strangled and repeatedly stabbed him.
No one has ever been arrested in connection with the death of Margolies - another case that Greenwich High School math teacher and boys swimming coach Terry Lowe, 57, said yesterday has caused him to pause time and again.
Lowe has been living in Greenwich since 1974, the year before Martha Moxley's murder. He said the death of the well-liked teenager cast a pall over the high school for the rest of the 1975-76 school year. The pain for Martha's older brother, John, was excruciating to witness, Lowe said.
"I remember very well the trauma, the headlines, being in school; it had a major impact psychologically on that year in school," Lowe said yesterday. "John, he was fairly visible as I remember, and I was very aware of the impact on him."
Like the Margolies case, attention to the Moxley murder case ebbed and flowed through the years, Lowe said.
"It's been on-again, off-again in my mind. I would ponder, over and over, about the Moxley and Margolies case, how they happened, why they happened, and who was guilty. I think, along with Mrs. Moxley, I'm glad to see progress in the case and hopefully the beginning of the end."
The arrest of Michael Skakel, he said, did not surprise him.
"I gathered from the grand jury work that there was likely to be an indictment and likely to be one of the Skakels."
Greenwich realtor Bob Curtis, 66, said he's not a student of the Moxley case. He and acquaintances, however, feel similarly about it, he said.
"It's, 'Let's get this over with. It's either so, or it's not so' - that's the gist of the few conversations I've had."
"I keep thinking to myself, 'This is an accusation,' and now it has to be proven in a court of law," Curtis added. "(The arrest) is a critically important step. For (Skakel), if he's innocent, then he will be exonerated; if he's not, it will be an end É closure, to something that has been hanging over a lot of people for a long time."