Moxley's Friends Still Recall How They
Felt When She Died
By Dwight F. Blint - The Hartford Courant
February 03, 2000
The cherry sapling planted in Martha Moxley''s memory on the grounds of the Belle Haven yacht club is full grown. Most of the children she knew are now raising children of their own.
It''s been 25 years since Martha was beaten to death on a lawn near her Greenwich home.
But her friends still remember her as the girl voted best personality in her junior high school class. They remember her smile and her long blond hair.
They can''t reconcile her pleasant personality with the viciousness of her killing, or how it splintered the bonds of the teens and families in the neighborhood.
``It was very strange for a lot of people,'''' said Thomas Alessi, one of Martha''s classmates. ``It was the first time we experienced losing a friend. It was odd.''''
Martha had moved to Belle Haven, a privileged section of Greenwich, from the Oakland Bay area in California at the age of 13. Her father J. David Moxley, a partner in the accounting firm of Touche, Ross & Co., had been given charge of the company''s New York office. She lived with her father, mother Dorthy and older brother John, 17. They attended public school.
The neighborhood, with its own yacht club and private security, was so closely knit that sometimes children would fall asleep at a friend''s house and just spend the night, said former Greenwich Det. Steve Carroll.
Martha enjoyed the camaraderie of the new neighborhood - attending parties at friends'' homes and the yacht club.
One of her closest friends at the time was Victoria Holland.
``There was a whole group of us who would spend time together,'''' said Holland, who used to spend idle afternoons with Martha playing cards and trying to memorize the Elton John album ``Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.'''' They also enjoyed Peter Frampton and Stevie Wonder.
`` `Golden Lady'' always reminds me of her,'''' Holland said, referring to the Stevie Wonder song.
At the time, Martha dated Jeffrey Grey, who now operates a video rental store in town. Grey was a hockey player in school. He said he and Martha got together after he received a message through a mutual friend that she thought he was cute.
Grey said during the time they were together, he and Martha used to attend school athletic events, movies and go ice skating. He would also ride his bicycle over to her house on weekends to talk and listen to music.
``She was a great friend with a great smile. Those are the things that you still remember,'''' Grey said.
Once in high school, Martha served as sports editor for the yearbook and gained scholastic honors.
But she was not a bookworm.
She also took ballet lessons, played piano and enjoyed skiing and tennis. She lettered in field hockey and basketball and dated a new boyfriend.
She also loved hanging out with friends in Belle Haven, some of whom had begun drinking alcohol and experimenting with marijuana. And while most public and private school students in the neighborhood associated exclusively with their own, she freely crossed the line.
``She was always at the center of the attention. People loved to have her around, she was so lively and one of those people always trying to make things happen,'''' said Timothy Dumas, a former Greenwich resident and author of the non-fiction work, ``Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America''s Wealthiest Community.''''
Martha''s life was brutally ended at age 15, just as she was beginning to blossom.
Michael Skakel, 39, one of Martha''s former neighbors, has been arrested and charged with her murder. Martha''s friends believe the justice they long for may be close at hand.
Skakel, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, is alleged to have beaten Martha to death with a 6-iron in 1975 when he, too, was 15. He turned himself in to Greenwich police Jan. 19 to face charges.
Investigators say Martha had stopped by the Skakel home after a night of pre-Halloween pranks with friends. Helen Ix, a friend, told police she last saw Martha talking to Michael''s older brother, Thomas, then 17, in the Skakel driveway across the street from her home.
Martha never made the 200-yard trip home.
Martha''s friends say if Michael Skakel is found guilty, he should be sent to prison to pay for bringing their friend''s life and their childhood to an unnatural and frightening end.
``It''s very frustrating to think that he''s lived this long, that he''s married and has a child. It makes me cringe that if he did this, he didn''t come forward years ago to get punished or get help,'''' Holland said. ``It makes me sick to my stomach.''''
Grey now sees his loss as a teenager through the eyes of a parent with four children of his own, including a 15-year-old daughter.
``We lost a friend. Mrs. Moxley lost a child. I would never want to know what that''s like,'''' he said. ``No matter how many years later, if he did do this, he should pay.''''
In the weeks and months following the murder, the environment of trust and freedom in Belle Haven deteriorated.
Parents who had never seemed to worry began locking their doors and requiring their children to regularly check in.
``The paranoia was really rampant,'''' Det. Carroll said.
And some families began picking sides between the Moxley family and the Skakel family when rumors began to circulate that Thomas Skakel was being considered a suspect. The Skakel boys had long been known among neighborhood parents as troubled youngsters with alcohol problems. Still, residents were hesitant to turn on them.
``The Skakels were longtime Greenwich residents and the Moxleys were the newcomers,'''' said Dominick Dunne, author of the 1993 novel ``A Season in Purgatory,'''' a work inspired by the Moxley murder.
Ix and her mother urged Dorthy Moxley to leave the Skakels alone, saying that the police investigation was destroying the Skakel family''s lives.
``I think it must have been really hard to believe that someone you knew was capable of murder,'''' Dumas said. ``So I think the Ixes'' reaction is really human.''''
The Ixes declined to comment on the case.
As the investigation continued, Belle Haven friendships began splitting primarily along the lines of those who supported the investigation and those who viewed it as an intrusion.
It''s not that those families didn''t want the murder solved, Dumas said. ``It''s just that they didn''t want it messing up their lives.''''
But, most of the families in the area were sympathetic to the Moxley family''s pain.
Martha''s friends and classmates raised money to buy and install a memorial plaque - and to plant the cherry tree (Martha''s favorite) at the yacht club.
But after a while, with no progress in the investigation, or resolution to her death, Martha''s friends stopped talking about the murder.
``No one ever said let''s not talk about it,'''' Holland said. ``We all had a huge loss and we could relate to what the others were going through.''''
Many of Martha''s friends now decline to talk about the case.
Holland''s family was among those to leave the area. The Moxleys were another. Unwilling to be around such harsh reminders of Martha''s death, they moved to Chatham, N.J.
The most obvious reminder of Martha''s life in Belle Haven is the plaque: ``Your smile will always bring happiness and love to all your friends,'''' it says.
And there is the cherry tree.
Belle Haven residents have done a good job maintaining it, Holland said.
``It''s nice and it''s big and it''s gorgeous every spring.''''