Moxley Mom's 25-Year Journey to Justice

Woman Believes Authorities Now Have Daughter's Killer
By Carol Huang -

CHATHAM, N.J. ( -- On a late winter morning, a heavy snow fell on Chatham. Large, white flakes swirled about the steeples of its churches and cascaded onto the eaves of tidy, well-kept homes, covering the town in a fairy tale beauty.

Dorthy Moxley has lived in this upscale, quiet neighborhood since 1993. She meets friends for lunch, contributes to potluck meals at church and attends performances at the Lincoln Center, just an hour away in Manhattan, where she occasionally dines in the city's finest restaurants.

In many respects, she's a fortunate woman -- except for the unsolved murder of her 15-year-old daughter, Martha Moxley. But now Dorthy Moxley, who has waited nearly a quarter of a century for justice, said she believes investigators have collared the person who took her daughter's life.

"I really think we know now who killed Martha," Moxley said.

Portraits of young siblings

She was referring to murder suspect Michael Skakel, 39, who was arraigned in Stamford Superior Court last week. A grand jury decided there was enough evidence to charge him after 2 1/2 decades. Skakel has proclaimed his innocence.

Moxley, whose hair is now snowy white, has relived the night of Oct. 30, 1975, hundreds of times. She's recalled the hours in private moments, and in countless interviews with police, state investigators, reporters and authors who've written about her daughter's death.

She recalls her ordeal while sitting in her spacious living room, which is dominated by a large oil painting of her daughter and son, John. A second portrait of Martha Moxley, painted by a family friend after the murder, hangs in the foyer.

The two-story house sits at the bottom of a hill topped by a cemetery. It's immaculate, simply decorated but elegant.

She spends her time with her cat, Violet, who follows her around as faithfully as a dog.

Morning of grisly discovery

The murder happened just a year and a half after the family moved to a three-acre home in Belle Haven, an exclusive, wealthy neighborhood in Greenwich, Conn. For 25 years, the crime remained unsolved as suspicion swirled around brothers Thomas and Michael Skakel, both nephews of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. They lived across the street and were among a group of teens with Martha Moxley the night of her death.

She remembers dogs barking outside the window and the sound of voices. She remembers turning on a porch light to see if there was someone in the darkness. She remembers calling her daughter's friends and the police, then falling asleep in a chair sometime before dawn and waking to sunshine and the realization that Martha still was missing.

"I must have walked right across where her body had been dragged, and I didn't notice anything," Moxley said, as though wondering if there was something she could have done to prevent her daughter's death.

Girl finds slain friend under tree

The elder Moxley met 15-year-old Michael Skakel for the first time that Halloween morning when she went across the street a second time to look for her daughter.

"Michael came to the door and he was barefoot, and he looked very disheveled. He looked all washed-out," Moxley said. "I don't remember what we said, but he said Martha wasn't there."

At noon, a neighborhood friend of Martha Moxley's cut through the Moxley yard to ask the girl to go shopping. She found the girl's body under a tree. As Moxley heard the horrible news, she remembers thinking, "I've got to sit down. If I stand up, I'm going to fall."

The Skakels allowed police to search their home, and Thomas Skakel, Michael's 17-year-old brother, took two polygraph tests, with inconclusive results on the first try and passing results the second time around. But in January 1976, Rushton Skakel, the brother of Ethel Kennedy, withdrew permission he'd given the police to check his older son's school and medical records.

"That's when we thought, 'If they have nothing to hide, why are they not cooperating anymore?'" Moxley said.

PART 2: 'No one talked about it'

Moxley said her family continued to live in Belle Haven, thinking that their presence in the community would prod police to solve the crime. Neighbors and friends were kind, but no one offered any information.

"No one talked about it. ...No one said anything," Moxley recalled. "As the years went by, gradually fewer and fewer things happened, and we saw the police less and less."

Moxley said interest in the case was renewed in 1991, when William Kennedy Smith was charged with rape in Florida. Reporters probing the Kennedy case began asking questions about Martha Moxley's murder, and Moxley was willing to talk to anyone who would listen.

Stories began to appear in newspapers and on television, and Moxley started getting phone calls. She said these included three or four calls from people who were classmates of Michael Skakel's at a rehabilitation prep school in Maine, at which he allegedly confessed to friends.

Skakels were treated like royalty

Attorney Michael Sherman, who was hired by Skakel in June 1998 when the grand jury investigation began, said Skakel never made any admissions to the Moxley murder.

"I've spoken to some of these kids -- some of these people -- and that's the biggest misconception. He did not admit to committing any crime," Sherman said. "It's like urban legend at this point. ...He did not confess. He made no admissions."

Over the past 25 years, Moxley has learned a lot about the investigation into her daughter's death. She thinks mistakes were made, but she blames the Skakels and their connection to the Kennedy name for how the case was handled.

"We all treated the Skakels a little bit differently. We all treated them like celebrities," Moxley said. "I think that's one of the reasons why there wasn't a search warrant."

She knows that Skakel's arrest does not mean her nightmare will end any time soon.

After Skakel's arraignment last week, Connecticut State Attorney Jonathan Benedict said he does not expect the trial to begin until the summer of 2001. Because Skakel was 15 at the time of the murder, he was processed in juvenile court, where the arraignment was delayed for two months as a judge considered, and eventually granted, requests by the press to open the hearing to the media.

Suspect showed 'arrogance, disrespect'

Further pretrial court proceedings will include a hearing to consider the state's request to move to the case out of juvenile court so that Skakel can be tried as an adult. If convicted as an adult, he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Moxley said she was stunned when Skakel approached her after his arraignment and told her, "You've got the wrong guy." Until then, Moxley said, she had not seen him since she knocked on his door 25 years earlier to look for her daughter.

"Of course it was a lie. It was just something he should not have done. ...I could not believe he did it," Moxley said. "It was just a great show of arrogance and disrespect."

Moxley has assembled four albums of clips generated by her efforts to create interest in Martha's case. At the same time, her albums of Martha's photos have been picked apart by reporters looking for pictures to go with their stories.

Confident, outgoing victim

She keeps the loose snapshots in envelopes, and when they're opened, pictures of Martha tumble out. There are pictures of Martha as a baby, as a child skiing with her family and as an adolescent sunbathing with friends.

Moxley said her daughter was bubbly, confident and outgoing.

"She'd come in the kitchen and just talk and talk and talk. I'd say, 'Martha, please, you're going to have to be still for a while,'" Moxley said. "She was the kind of person that, in a snowstorm on mountain, she could find her way back to base."

She said her daughter liked arts and crafts and loved her pets, which included rabbits, guinea pigs, a Dalmatian and two cats. She said Martha liked children and thinks that she may have become a teacher.

'It's still hard meeting new people'

Over the years, she said, she's done a lot of crying.

"It was very hard going out in public," Moxley said. "It was hard meeting new people. It's still hard meeting new people, because after a while, you realize you're going to have to tell them what happened if you want to be good friends."

She does not know if Skakel will be convicted, but she is hopeful.

"My whole reason for doing all these interviews is because I want justice for Martha. It isn't right that someone should be able to kill Martha. I love my daughter very much, and I just won't give up. It was a brutal murder, and someone should be punished," she said.

For more on this story, including audio and video clips go to