Skakel tries to live the quiet life
By Eve Sullivan - Greenwich Time
WINDHAM, N.Y. -- While awaiting trial for the 1975 murder of his Greenwich neighbor, Michael Skakel is leading a quiet life in this secluded ski town.
Residents of the small mountainous town, nestled in the Catskills, say Skakel is a "regular guy" who can be seen on the slopes or spending time with his son.
But some say Skakel's life changed after his well-publicized arrest two years ago in the beating death of Martha Moxley. Skakel and his wife have divorced, he has a bodyguard and doesn't go out much.
Skakel once frequented P.J.'s Frog House, a pub in nearby Hensonville, at dinnertime, cook Paul LoPresti said.
"Recently, he's been taking it to go, within the last year or so," LoPresti said. "He used to sit down and hang out, have a few drinks and dinner."
LoPresti, who has known Skakel since boyhood, said he saw him a couple of weeks ago with his young son.
"He just can't wait until it's over because it's eating him up -- outside and inside," LoPresti said. "He doesn't like to come out much because it's a small town and people talk a lot."
The resort town has a population of about 1,600, which balloons to 8,000 or 9,000 on weekends. Windham has one school and a police force of 12 officers.
Windham Mountain once was a private ski area, where wealthy families such as the Skakels and their cousins, the Kennedys, vacationed.
Though the mountain is now open to the public, the town still attracts many wealthy homeowners and weekend visitors who travel from New York City.
"He's part of the rich elite," said Ralph Fitzgerald, owner of the Windham Mini-Mall. "In Windham, there's only two kinds of people that live here: Either you have money or you don't have money. There's no middle class."
Fitzgerald said celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld and Matthew Broderick own homes in the area.
"Many people like the anonymity," he said.
While growing up, Skakel frequently visited his family's Windham ski lodge, which was on the mountain. As a teen, he skied and partied with family members and other youths in town, sources say.
"When he was younger, he was a little on the loud side, just like we all were," LoPresti said.
In 1978, Skakel was arrested for drunken driving in Windham and subsequently sent to the Elan School in Maine.
It was at the school that Skakel allegedly confessed to Moxley's brutal killing to a classmate. Two decades later, that classmate testified about the confession before a one-man grand jury, prompting his arrest.
The family's Windham home has been sold, and the patriarch, Rushton Skakel, lives in Florida. Locals say he is not in good health.
Michael Skakel lives alone in the house he purchased for $290,000 in 2000 with his ex-wife, Margot Sheridan. The 1,303-square-foot home is close to the ski area.
Sheridan lives a short distance away in an old-style home she purchased in December 2000 for $90,000 from her brother.
The couple have joint custody of their son, according to Michael Sherman, Skakel's Stamford attorney. "It's an amicable situation," he said. "Their primary concern is their child."
Mario Todaro, owner of an Italian deli downtown, said Skakel is a respected customer who often shops with his son.
"He's a gentleman, a very nice person," Todaro said. "He's very good to his son. There's nothing bad to say about him. He's just a nice person."
Since the arrest, Todaro said members of the media have come to Windham, looking to dig up dirt on Skakel.
"People magazine came here one day and I chased them out," Todaro said. "They only wanted to hear bad things."
Residents say it would be tough to get negative comments about Skakel in Windham, a town where his family and the Sheridans have a long history.
"I don't think you could find anyone in this town to talk bad about him," Fitzgerald said. "The family or him have never done anything wrong to Windham."
Natasha Shuster, owner of The Catskill Mountain Country Store, said if Skakel weren't a Kennedy cousin, things would be different.
"I just think the whole thing is bad," Shuster said. "The media has blown it out of proportion."
Shuster, who is an acquaintance of Skakel, and a female employee at the store believe the 27-year-old case is too old to be tried.
"We feel sorry for his child and his wife. They're the innocent ones," said the woman, who would not give her name.
Skakel does not work and apparently lives off family money. In 1919, his grandfather, George Skakel, established Great Lakes Carbon, formerly one of the largest privately held companies in the world.
George Skakel and his wife had seven children, including Rushton and Ethel, who later married U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Sheridan, a former LPGA golfer, also comes from a wealthy family, residents say. Her family used to own half of Windham mountain. She runs a massage business in the downtown area.
One town resident, who requested anonymity, said she baby-sat Sheridan, her two sisters and brother.
"The Sheridan kids were good kids," she said. "They said he came from a good family, too."
Almost every town resident seems to have a connection to Skakel or Sheridan, but many don't want to discuss them.
His next-door neighbor said, no matter what Skakel is accused of doing, she respects his privacy. "Everyone has known him since he was a boy and he was married to a Sheridan," she said.
A man at the hardware store, where Skakel shops, said, "He's a customer. I wouldn't do that."
Skakel is accused of bludgeoning Moxley to death with a golf club when they were both 15 years old. Her body was discovered the morning of Oct. 31, 1975, on the property of her Belle Haven home.
For more than 24 years, no one was charged in the murder until Skakel was arrested in January 2000.
After numerous appeals by the defense, including motions to have Skakel tried as a juvenile and to have the charge dropped, the case is going to trial. Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 2 and the trial is set for May 7.
During past court proceedings, Skakel has stayed with relatives in Fairfield County instead of making the 300-mile round-trip from the Catskills.
After years of hanging out with Skakel, LoPresti described him as "nice, polite and smart" and doesn't think he's capable of murder.
"I've never seen him get angry or out of hand," LoPresti said. "But someone had to do it, so I don't know. I asked him point blank: 'Michael did you do it?' and he said, 'No, I was 15 miles away when it happened.' "