Garr still in pursuit of Skakel;
Ex-Greenwich police detective is
driving force in Moxley case
By Leonard Levitt - Greenwich Time
At the front of the courtroom, he sat alone by the wooden railing that separates participants from spectators, a gray-haired man in his 50s.
Three states' attorneys shared the prosecution table at an evidentiary hearing last year, but he remained apart, placing himself in a wooden chair by the railing to give himself an unobstructed view of his prey -- the stout 41-year-old man he had hunted for 11 years, Michael Skakel.
The gray-haired man is Frank Garr. His title, which he has had for eight years, is state "inspector," another word for detective, which is what he had been for the Greenwich Police Department for two decades. In both capacities, it was he who produced the witnesses that have brought Skakel to the brink of his trial for the 1975 murder of his Greenwich neighbor, Martha Moxley.
After 27 years, Skakel -- a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy -- faces charges of beating Moxley to death with a golf club when they were both 15. Jury selection is under way in state Superior Court in Norwalk.
According to Martha's mother, Dorthy -- who since her husband's death more than a decade ago has emerged from a timid housewife to a national moral force in seeking justice for her daughter -- "If it wasn't for Frank Garr, we wouldn't be here today."
"He's clearly the driving force that got him indicted. I will leave to the jury the wisdom of his efforts," says Skakel's lawyer, Mickey Sherman of Stamford.
To get to this point, Garr -- who declined to comment for this story -- has battled all types of forces, from the state's law enforcement community to best-selling author Dominick Dunne and former Los Angeles Police Department detective-turned-author Mark Fuhrman.
For almost two decades after the murder, Greenwich police pursued Skakel's older brother, Thomas, as the prime suspect.
But when the case was reopened in 1991 after reports of new information, Garr was assigned to the investigation and began sifting through the case file, which had been kept in a locked box in the police chief's office. Garr spotted leads that he believed hadn't been pursued.
He found one lead on a napkin -- a notation that Michael's polygraph test had been canceled. Garr knew that Thomas and another suspect, Kenneth Littleton, had taken lie detector tests, but he was unaware Michael had been scheduled for one.
The only reason he could think of for the cancellation was that the Skakels' father, Rushton, had not wanted Michael to take it.
Garr wondered why would that be, because Rushton had allowed Thomas to take one. Garr never learned the answer, because the Skakels stopped cooperating with investigators in 1976.
Then there was a 1978 police report describing a car accident in which Michael Skakel was the driver and a girl with him suffered a broken leg. After a high-speed chase, Skakel left the girl and fled on foot. When captured, he told police he wouldn't be caught the next time. His father packed him off to the Elan School, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility in Poland Springs, Maine, where he stayed until 1980.
Meanwhile, people were calling police with tips. One of the more bizarre was that of a childhood neighbor, Andy Pugh, who telephoned to voice his suspicions about Michael Skakel. Pugh said Skakel used to hide in his garage, luring birds and chipmunks inside with bread crumbs, then shooting them with his pellet gun.
With the reopening of the case, however, jurisdiction was taken from Greenwich police and given to the Fairfield County state's attorney, Donald Browne. Browne and his chief investigator, Jack Solomon, were not interested in Michael Skakel as a suspect. Rather, they focused on Littleton, a tutor who had moved into the Skakel home the night of the murder. Both men placed great faith in lie-detector tests, and Littleton, who became a suspect after he was arrested in 1976 in Nantucket, Mass., for a series of burglaries, repeatedly failed polygraphs about the Moxley case.
So convinced was Solomon that he met in 1992 with Rushton Skakel and the family's attorney and told them he believed Littleton was the prime suspect. But Solomon presented no evidence. Over the years, Littleton, who has been in and out of mental institutions, has denied involvement in the Moxley murder.
After the meeting, Rushton Skakel hired private investigators to get to the bottom of the case and clear the family name. The report, however, did not have that effect. In it, Thomas and Michael Skakel admitted they had lied to Greenwich police in 1975 about their whereabouts on the night of the murder.
In the mid-1990s, newspapers, including The Advocate, printed some details of the confidential report, and Dunne obtained a complete, stolen copy. Dunne shared his copy with Garr, but, believing the investigator was not taking the information seriously, he became frustrated, and the two men had a falling-out.
In February 1996, Garr arranged for the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" to broadcast a segment on the Moxley murder. Garr flew to the Burbank, Calif., studio to field calls from viewers who might have information about the case. Several people called, but not about Thomas Skakel or Littleton. The callers, each of whom had attended Elan with Michael Skakel, said he had made "admissions" about his involvement in Moxley's murder.
Garr spent the next six months flying around the country interviewing the callers. But when he presented his findings to Solomon and Browne, they were not impressed, continuing to focus on Littleton. Despite Garr's urgings, Browne refused to call a grand jury to hear evidence in the case.
In April 1998, Browne unexpectedly resigned, citing a conflict of interest because a new book had suggested without evidence that he could have been part of a cover-up.
At about the same time, Fuhrman published his book "Murder in Greenwich," which was based on the private investigators' report that Dunne had shared with him. The book speculated that Michael Skakel was the killer.
That May, in his first month in office, Browne's successor, Jonathan Benedict, called the grand jury. In January 2000, Michael Skakel was indicted.
Last week, Solomon -- who retired from the case in 1995 and is the police chief in Easton -- agreed to become a defense witness for Michael Skakel, expected to testify about his investigation of Littleton. A law enforcement official involved in the Moxley case said of Solomon's new role, "It's laughable."
When Michael Skakel was indicted, Littleton was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.
These days, Garr sits in a windowless cubicle in the state's attorney's office in Bridgeport, a driven figure estranged from many of his colleagues. In his bookcase are three books that bespeak his dedication -- some might say obsession -- with the Moxley murder. One is "The Senator," a nonfiction book about U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; the second is "The Other Mrs. Kennedy" by Jerry Oppenheimer, about Ethel Kennedy and the wealthy Skakel clan; the third, "A Season in Purgatory," is Dunne's best-selling novel based on the Moxley murder.
A fourth book is conspicuously absent. It is Fuhrman's best-selling "Murder in Greenwich."
In an appended last chapter to the paperback edition, Fuhrman writes: "I did have evidence to give but I had no intention of sharing it with Frank Garr." Instead, he adds in an extraordinary postscript, "I went over his head," establishing a back-channel connection to unnamed Connecticut prosecutors.
Asked which prosecutors in his office Fuhrman had spoken with, Benedict declined to comment. Asked what role he thinks Garr has played in the case, Benedict said, "He and Dorthy are the driving forces that kept this going."
-- Leonard Levitt is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.