Former Elan residents cite pattern of abuse
By Peter Moore - Greenwich Post
Accusations of physical abuse and humiliation bestowed upon Michael Skakel
during his stay at the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine might lend
credibility to the possibility of an alleged confession for the 1975 murder of
Martha Moxley being forced out of him at the facility, according to a
true-crime book on the case.
The grand jury ruling which recommended Skakel's arrest on Jan. 12 is believed
to have come at least largely form the testimony of several former Elan
students who claimed Skakel made incriminating statements about the murder
around 1978 while at the then-mental health treatment facility (now private
boarding school for troubled teens). Testimony from former Elan staff members
was ruled inadmissible last year after a long debate by both prosecution and
Skakel defense attorneys over doctor-patient confidentiality proceedings.
Elan's owner Joseph Ricci had first used the doctor-patient privilege defense
in 1998 in his refusal to testify before the grand jury.
Excerpts from the epilogue of "A Wealth of Evil," by Timothy Dumas, a
true-crime book on the case and E-mails exchanged between the Greenwich Post
and former Elan students this week cited significant physical abuse having
taken place at the school in the 1970's. One student, now living in Arizona,
spoke to Greenwich Post Tuesday and asked not to be identified.
The male student, a claims adjuster for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said that
when Michael ran away from Elan in the fall of 1978, he and two other students
were flown down to Westchester County Airport and driven to Greenwich to pick
Michael up at his Belle Haven home and bring him back to Elan in restraints.
According to the student, Michael then received an all-day "general meeting,"
which was described as an opportunity for Elan students to yell, scream and
vent their hostilities towards a rule-breaker or one with a bad attitude. The
student said the general meeting included Michael being put into "the boxing
ring," one of Elan's therapeutic tools which includes actual gloves and
headguards. A student would be forced to fight one Elan resident after another
in one-minute rounds until staff determined the student had enough and had
given in sufficiently.
The E-mail from the student reads in part: "In the [general meeting] that
Michael received for splitting, he went about 10 [sic] or twelve rounds in the
ring until his nose was probably broken, with snot and blood all over the
stage floor of Elan three [one of the facility's residential units]. He was
then given a house spanking -- He got three [to] five swats with a nasty
wooden paddle by about forty or so residents. I saw his naked rear end after
the fact, it was bloody, and bruised."
In a telephone call Tuesday evening, the student said that Michael being
"spanked with a paddle" was probably a light way of saying "flogged with a
board." The student said that a spanking of that extent was unusual and
quipped that maybe Joseph Ricci "didn't like the way Michael looked at him."
"A Wealth of Evil" cites Skakel family friend Ben Works as telling Greenwich
Time that any alleged confession came from Elan students "beating the pulp out
of Michael" in the boxing ring.
"Because this was under duress -- what was essentially torture over time --
whatever they thought was a confession they wrung out of Michael is absolutely
meaningless," Works said.
In another excerpt, Dumas asks Skakel's attorney Michael Sherman: "Might this
be a preview of the defense -- Michael coughed up a few words in order to stop
the beating? Mickey Sherman nodded 'It's a rational explanation as to why
Michael would make any such utterance,' [Sherman said]. `And again I don't
believe he ever said, 'I did this.'' Mickey wouldn't say however whether
Michael claimed he was beaten at Elan. 'I don't want to confirm or deny that.
Let's just say this was not Camp Grenada for him.'"
Two men quoted in "A Wealth of Evil" who attended Elan with Skakel acknowledge
that Michael Skakel was once in the ring, but not during a general meeting in
which Ricci allegedly told Elan students that Michael was at the facility for
the murder of Martha Moxley. Michael is said to have also received this
general meeting for running away from Elan.
However Michael is said to have escaped twice from Elan in November 1978.
Therefore, the former students' account in "A Wealth of Evil" and the account
given to the Greenwich Post Tuesday could both be true if the general meeting
where Skakel received the boxing ring and spanking took place after he was
returned to Elan from his second escape in December. But both former students
quoted in the book, Chuck Seigan and another student who was referred to in
the book by the pseudonym Arthur Conrad, said that Skakel's ring appearance
was not a "beating."
"Michael was never beaten [in Elan]. I'll tell you that out front," Seigan
said. "They knew who his father was, and they didn't want to mess with his
"Arthur Conrad" is quoted as saying, "Don't get me wrong, there was physical
abuse at Elan. But Michael was never beaten in his life."
The former Elan student now living in Arizona said he could not recall Michael
making a direct confession to the murder of Martha Moxley under duress.
"I remember something about a discussion about Martha Moxley two or three
times," the former student said. "We all knew he was there because of some
trouble with a neighborhood girl."
Whether or not Michael's primary reason for being at Elan was because of
Martha Moxley's murder, it is known that the final straw in sending Skakel to
Elan was drawn in March of 1978. Michael had been arrested for multiple
violations after allegedly almost running over a police officer while driving
drunk and subsequently engaging police in pursuit. In an agreement arranged by
his lawyer at the time, Thomas Sheridan, the charges were dropped on the
condition that Michael attend Elan for at least six months.
According to former Elan student Ken Zaretsky, who graduated the facility's
therapeutic program in the early-to-mid 1970's, it was not unheard of for a
student to be "broken down" in order to address his "areas" (an Elan term for
therapeutic issues) as Skakel might have been. From the recollection of his
own stay at Elan, Zaretsky recalled the case of Jeff Cassano, a student who
Zaretsky says was given an estimated 72-hour special "encounter group" where
students vent their hostilities through screaming and confrontation. Zaretsky
said Cassano had allegedly not addressed his issues for being at Elan
sufficiently in his eight or nine months at the school. In these types of
marathon groups, Zaretsky said, different students would rotate in and out to
confront the subject.
"He split about a month later," Zaretsky said in reference to Cassano.
For years, the Elan School has been cited for its controversial forms of
treatment, though a recent Elan graduate indicated that many more humiliating
aspects have been taken out of the facility's concept in recent years. In
1991, "Duck in a Raincoat," an unauthorized biography of Joseph Ricci was
published, written by Maura Curley, a former employee of Ricci's at the
Scarborough Downs racetrack which he also owns. According to an "Elan
Survivors" Internet home page, the Elan of 1975 is characterized as a
treatment facility whose bizarre practices include "...evidence of physical
abuse, forced labor, spankings, being forced to fight one another in a boxing
ring, senseless ditch diggins, handcuffing children to the tables, pouring
mixtures of food and human feces onto residents' heads, denial of food and
recreation, improper medical care and a total lack of privacy." The web page
also quotes what the creator claims to be a study done by investigators which
"In short, our Illinois team members found the Elan program abhorrent to all
accepted standards of child care. The treatment model seems predicated on
suspension of each child's liberties; they become automations who conform to
acceptable behavior patterns after they find it hopeless to resist the will of
In a July interview, Ricci declined to comment on Elan's past reputation as
an abusive treatment facility, but when asked if Elan is anything like the
alleged Elan of the 1970's, he replied, "Of course it's not like that today."
Ricci spoke of students taking trips during the past month for sailing,
fishing and white-water rafting and said that Elan's teacher-student ratio is
"Clearly [the program] worked for Michael Skakel, didn't it?" Ricci said.
"He's gone 30 years [sic] and never had a problem with the law ever again."