Murder left lasting mark on a generation
By Suzanne Sorrentino - Stamford Advocate
My friend Carolyn and I were wrapping up our trick-or-treating on Halloween night 1975, climbing "Deadman's Hill" toward my aunt's house in Old Greenwich, which would be our last stop. We were 12.
Two older kids stopped us and told us a girl had been murdered.
Not sure whether they were just trying to scare us or if the tale could be true, Carolyn and I picked up our pace.
When we found my parents waiting in my aunt's living room, we knew. Carolyn was rushed to the kitchen telephone to call her mother to let her know we were all right.
A couple hours earlier when we had set out, the news that Martha Moxley's battered body had been discovered under a tree in her Belle Haven yard hadn't yet filtered across town.
That Halloween night sticks in my mind the way others remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been assassinated.
The Moxley murder has become Greenwich lore, at least among those who were close to Martha's age - 15 when she was killed.
A lot of people knew her. She had moved to Greenwich only a little more than a year earlier, but she had made a lot of friends at Western Junior High School and Greenwich High.
Even if you hadn't known her, she was at a stage in her life that is an indelible time for every kid who went to Greenwich High. She had just begun 10th grade, converging at the high school with students from the town's two other junior high schools. For everyone who's done that, especially in the '70s when Greenwich High seemed like freedom itself, Martha's story is vivid.
Those who were at the high school on Halloween day 1975 remember sitting around the student center crying.
Some recall being scared. Not because they thought they, too, would be victims (rumors spread quickly that one of the Skakel boys was involved, not a drifter still at large), but because she was one of them. Because something inconceivable had happened to someone they knew, someone their age, a Greenwich school kid just like them.
A lot of people knew her older brother, John, too, and have maintained friendships with him in the years since Martha's death.
Upon hearing last week that Michael Skakel had been arrested 24 years later and charged with Martha's murder, one former Greenwich resident who hasn't lived in town for more than 20 years e-mailed his sister, my close friend Nina. He said he has never forgotten that Halloween. He was on the Greenwich High School football field with teammate John Moxley when John was called off the field and told about the murder.
Others who have seen John over the years say each encounter stirs up memories about Martha's murder. Talk is often the same, based on what has also become Greenwich lore: that the Skakel family was involved; that the Skakel household at the time of the murder was an unsupervised madhouse; that the Greenwich police had bungled the investigation; and that if you're rich or connected to Kennedys you can get away with murder. How could the case go unsolved for so long?
Every news article, TV show or book that touched on the story over the past quarter-century has drawn the Greenwich community into itself as participants in this history.
Reactions to Skakel's arrest last week, among those in Greenwich of a certain generation at least, were personal:
"I'm so happy."
For a younger generation, not quite as close to Martha or John in age, Martha's death exists more in the abstract as "the Moxley murder." My friend Sara, who is about a decade younger than I am, used to trick-or-treat with a friend who lived in Belle Haven and had heard stories that a young girl had been murdered there and the neighborhood was haunted. She was so frightened by the stories, she'd beg off going into the neighborhood on Halloween night.
With Skakel's arrest last week and the possibility that the truth of Oct. 30, 1975, may eventually be known, perhaps the ghost stories will skip the next generation. And maybe those who have the murder stamped on their consciousness will feel it recede, and Martha's spirit will finally rest in peace.
Suzanne Sorrentino is assistant city editor at The (Stamford) Advocate and a former Greenwich Time reporter.