The Moxley case: From murder to trial,
a 26-year history
By Lindsay Faber -Greenwich Time
Editor's note: The trial of Michael Skakel in the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley is to begin Tuesday. This history of her murder and the subsequent investigation is compiled from police reports and previously published newspaper accounts.
By October of 1975, the Moxley family had been living in Greenwich for just over a year.
They came to town in July 1974 from Piedmont, Calif., after David Moxley was transferred to head the New York office of Touche Ross, an accounting and management consulting firm.
The Moxleys moved to the gated Belle Haven section, where they said they felt comfortable from the start.
"People were so kind to us," Dorthy Moxley had said. "The kids loved the schools. They made friends so easily. It was all so very positive."
In June 1975, Martha, with her long blond hair and 5-foot-5-inch, 120-pound frame, graduated from Western Junior High School, where she had been tagged "Mox" and voted by her classmates as the girl with the best personality.
The Moxleys' home on Walsh Lane was diagonally across the street from the Otter Rock Drive home of the Skakel family, famous local fixtures connected by blood to the Kennedys. Rushton Skakel Sr., the patriarch, was the heir to the Great Lakes Carbon fortune. The company, founded by his father, produced industrial coke.
By the mid-'70s his wife had died, and Rushton Skakel was often away on business or recreational trips. Numerous caretakers, including housekeepers, cooks and gardeners, looked after the seven Skakel children and their sprawling home.
To tutor them in their schoolwork, Skakel hired a 23-year-old teacher and coach from Brunswick School. Skakel gave Kenneth Littleton, a Williams College graduate, $400 a month and free room and board.
Littleton's first night at the Skakel house was Oct. 30, 1975.
That night was the eve of Halloween, or "mischief night," and the neighborhood children took seriously the task of playing pranks. Wearing blue jeans, a white turtleneck and a blue parka, 15-year-old Martha Moxley went out with a few neighborhood friends to join the fun.
With Helen Ix, Geoffrey Byrne and Jackie Wetenhall, Moxley made pit stops at the homes of friends in Belle Haven before ending up at the Skakels' house.
Police files say Moxley and her friends entered the Skakel home shortly after 9 p.m. Soon after, they went outside to sit in the driveway in the Skakels' Lincoln and listen to the tape deck. Moxley, Ix and Byrne were joined by Michael Skakel, then 15, and Thomas Skakel, 17, who sat on either side of Martha in the front seat.
At about 9:25 p.m., Rushton Skakel Jr. and John Skakel came out to the car with their cousin James Terrien. They said they needed the car to drive Terrien home. Michael told police he went with them. Thomas, Moxley, Ix and Byrne stayed behind, they said.
Ix and Bryen said they left at around 9:30 p.m., leaving Moxley in the Skakel driveway talking to Thomas.
What happened next may never be known.
But by 3:48 a.m., Martha Moxley had still not returned home. Dorthy Moxley called the Greenwich Police Department.
After hours of fruitless searching, Martha Moxley was found at 12:45 p.m. on Halloween day.
She was dead in her backyard.
Shelia McGuire, a neighborhood schoolgirl, ran up to two police officers who had answered Dorthy Moxley's call and shouted, "She's down there!" pointing toward a pine tree on the Moxley property.
Officers Dan Hickman and Millard Jones went toward the tree. There was the body of Martha Moxley, lying face down, her jeans and underpants pulled down to her knees. Her blond hair was stained red from the blood.
The state's chief medical examiner at the time, Elliot Gross, listed the cause of death as a fractured skull and bruises to the brain. He found no evidence of sexual assault.
Detectives later said Gross did not conduct a thorough examination of the body.
Police identified the murder weapon as a No. 6 Toney Penna golf club. Moxley had been hit at least a dozen times. She had been beaten so hard the club snapped in half as it stung her body. Then she was stabbed through the neck with the club's shaft, police said.
The late Detective Stephen Carroll, an investigator on the case, thought there were two assaults, the first on the grassy area inside the Moxleys' circular driveway and the second under a weeping willow tree. Martha's body was then dragged by the hair through grass and over stones and dirt to the spot under the evergreen tree where it was found, Carroll theorized.
Police found an 11-inch piece of the golf club's shaft near two large pools of blood. They also found the head of the Toney Penna club and an 8-inch piece of the shaft on the property.
The handle was never recovered.
"There was so much disbelief at this point," Moxley's friend Tom Alessi said recently. "She was the most popular person in our grade. I remember we couldn't even get into her funeral because there was no room. Everybody wanted to be there. It was very emotional for the kids. We were all devastated."
The day Moxley's body was found, Detectives Jim Lunney and Ted Brosko went to the Skakel house to see if anyone knew what had happened to Moxley.
Michael Skakel told police he had gone to his cousin's house and was gone at 10 p.m., the time police believed the fatal beating occurred. One reason police settled initially on 10 p.m. was that two neighborhood dogs began barking wildly at that time, a fact expected to be brought up at the trial.
Thomas Skakel's story was that he left Martha at around 9:30 p.m. and went inside to do a report on Abraham Lincoln. Police later determined that report never existed.
But police focused their investigation right away on Edward Hammond, a 26-year-old Columbia University business student who lived next door to the Moxley family at 48 Walsh Lane. They interviewed him and received permission to seize his clothes from the night of Moxley's death, including beige corduroys, a red sweater and brown Top-siders.
Hammond remained a suspect even after he passed a polygraph test and no evidence turned up connecting him to the girl's death. Police did background checks on him through neighbors, old roommates and professors.
They also interviewed everyone in the neighborhood, including the teens who were with Moxley on Halloween eve.
Police asked for Thomas Skakel's medical and school records, though he, too, apparently passed a polygraph test.
"It was unbelievable to us that they were looking at people in the neighborhood," Moxley's brother, John Moxley, said recently. "But there was always something there with the Skakels, something suspicious."
Less than a week after the murder occurred, trash collectors found a pair of jeans with a fresh stain and cleaned Tretorn sneakers in the Skakel's garbage. They discovered the property belonged to Michael Skakel and kept it as evidence. It has since been lost.
They also determined that the golf club used as the murder weapon came from a Skakel family set.
But at that point, Thomas Skakel was the only family member suspected. Michael Skakel stayed out of the spotlight.
After cooperating with police for several weeks, the Skakels hired Stamford attorney Emanuel Margolis to represent the family and its staff. Margolis declined authorization to obtain reports on Thomas Skakel. He also would not allow the police to interview the Skakel family or look at Thomas Skakel's school reports.
"The Skakels had been conducting an open house for the Greenwich police months before I got there and I didn't know who was saying what to whom," Margolis said recently. "My sense at that time was that the police were focusing on at least one member of the Skakel family as a potential suspect, and I advised everybody that they should not simply go ahead and give free range to rumors and God knows what else with the police for fear that it could hurt one or more members of the family."
By February of 1976, police had turned to Kenneth Littleton, the tutor, as a suspect. He had been cooperating with officials but refused to sign a statement implicating Thomas Skakel as Martha's killer. In the middle of that month, Littleton, too, told police that he was represented by Margolis and any questions would have to go through his attorney.
Investigators asked Rushton Skakel Sr. to allow Thomas to take a medical and psychiatric exam. Margolis refused to allow it.
By March, the family gardener, Franz Wittine, told police he had retired and would appear for an interview. He felt everyone in the house had been treating Michael as if he knew something, Wittine said. Michael's brothers and sister had been exceptionally nice to him since the incident, the police report said. Wittine told police he had a "gut" feeling about the connection.
Still, with Littleton and Thomas Skakel now protected by Margolis, the police investigation was stalled. The impasse continued through the summer.
"There was an absence of physical evidence, and although there were many theories about who was the guilty party, there was not sufficient evidence to sustain or support an arrest," former Greenwich Capt. of Detectives Thomas Keegan said.
In October 1976, a year after the murder, Littleton failed a polygraph test. He told police what they already knew: He had spent the summer in Nantucket, where he was arrested on burglary and larceny charges. Those incidents distracted him during the polygraph, he said.
Following his criminal charges and his failed test, police did an extensive background check on Littleton. People who knew him in Nantucket said he made a turnaround between the summers of 1975 and 1976; that he had begun drinking heavily and acting aloof. Some told police they feared him.
By 1977, the investigation began to focus on Littleton. Police did a criminal check with the Belmont Police Department in Littleton's hometown in Massachusetts. They spoke to old neighbors and roommates. But Littleton never confessed, and there was no real way to link him to the crime.
"I never thought he did it," said Keegan, now a state representative in South Carolina. "It just didn't make sense. It defied logic."
In March of 1978, police learned that Michael Skakel had been charged with several motor vehicle violations in Windham, N.Y. He allegedly attempted to run down a police officer and flee the scene. Later that afternoon, on March 5, a plane arrived at the local airport and Michael Skakel was handcuffed and taken by two attendants and a doctor to a substance abuse center in Maine called Elan.
That fall, Michael ran away from Elan several times, police learned. But his supervisors there contended he had been doing well in the program.
Once again, there was no real break in the investigation. It remained stalled for years.
In 1991, Greenwich Time and The (Stamford) Advocate published an article by journalist Leonard Levitt about the investigation. Levitt, who now works for Newsday, based the article on more than 100 interviews and 400 pages of police documents turned over to Greenwich Time on the order of the state's Freedom of Information Commission. In the spring of that year, William Kennedy Smith was charged with rape in Palm Beach. Rumors spread that he was at the Skakel house on the night Moxley was murdered. The rumors proved untrue, but the publicity -- coupled with Levitt's stirring of the case -- prompted police to announce in August 1991 that they would reinvestigate Martha Moxley's murder.
Shortly after the official reinvestigation was announced, Rushton Skakel Sr. hired a private Long Island-based firm to investigate the girl's death and any role his family may have played in it.
Sutton Associates performed a lengthy investigation. The most startling thing to come of it was that Michael and Thomas Skakel had changed their alibis.
Thomas originally said he last saw Martha at 9:30 p.m. by his back door and then went inside to do homework. This time, he said he and Martha had a sexual encounter in the back yard from about 9:30 to 9:50 p.m.
And Michael, who originally said he went to bed after returning home from the Terrien house, also changed his story. He now said he had gone back outside again around 11:30 p.m. and peeped in windows. He came to the Moxley house, he said, climbed a tree and threw pebbles at what he thought was Martha's window, and then masturbated. He went into the side of the yard, where the attack occurred, then ran home, he said, adding that his activities lasted from about 11:40 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Using information that had been leaked to him, Levitt reported the findings in a 1995 article for Newsday. Four years after the investigation had begun again, investigators said little other evidence had turned up.
But the Sutton Report was a big deal to investigators, and Frank Garr, who had recently left the Greenwich Police Department to investigate the case full-time for the state, began to seriously consider that Michael Skakel may have been Martha's murderer.
In February 1996, the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" said it would broadcast a segment on the case. Garr flew to the California-based studio to field calls from viewers. Several people called, but they did not share information about Thomas Skakel or Littleton. Instead, they said they had attended the Elan School with Michael Skakel, who had allegedly confessed to the crime while he was there.
Garr spent the next several months interviewing callers from all over the country. But State's Attorney Donald Browne remained focused on Littleton. Garr wanted a grand jury to investigate Michael Skakel, but Browne refused to call it.
"That was a frustrating period in this investigation for me," Garr said recently. "I wanted to move forward. I felt and I still feel, and obviously I was correct, that we had enough information to get a grand jury."
In April 1998, Browne -- who had already resigned from all of his other cases -- let go of the Moxley case. He cited information published in Greenwich native Timothy Dumas' book, "Greentown," which reported that journalists were wondering if Browne had been paid off to let the case linger.
Weeks later, Mark Fuhrman, a former detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, came out with his book, "Murder in Greenwich," which named Michael Skakel as Moxley's killer.
"Michael was obviously in crisis for a long time and it didn't go unnoted, but they didn't seem to flick any lightbulbs on," Dumas said. "Then suddenly the power goes on. I think a large part of it was the 'Unsolved Mysteries' episode that really opened the door to the Elan aspect. That, in combination with Michael's new story that he was at the murder scene that night, brought a totally new avenue of investigation."
Browne's successor, Jonathan Benedict, immediately convened a grand jury.
In June, Superior Court Judge George Thim began an 18-month grand jury review of information gathered by Garr and the state's attorney's office.
He interviewed more than 30 witnesses, including former Elan residents.
On Dec. 10, 1999, Thim ended his investigation. Less than a month later, he announced that Michael Skakel should be arrested on a charge of murder in the Martha Moxley case.
On Jan. 19, 2000, Stamford attorney Michael Sherman said his client, Michael Skakel, was on his way from Florida to Greenwich to surrender to authorities. That afternoon, Skakel was arrested and charged as a juvenile. His family posted $500,000 bail, and he was released.
Three months later, in a four-minute court appearance, Skakel heard the charges against him. As he left court, he approached Dorthy and John Moxley and said, "I feel your pain, but you've got the wrong guy."
Since then, Sherman has tried to keep the case in juvenile court by appealing a judge's decision to transfer it to adult court. He also filed a motion to dismiss the case altogether, arguing there was a five-year statute of limitations in effect at the time of the murder.
But in late November 2001, the state Supreme Court dismissed the motion to return the case to juvenile court, saying it was too early in the legal process to hear an appeal. In December, Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky denied the long-standing motion to dismiss the charges against Skakel.
With a 16-member jury impaneled nearly 30 years later, the case is finally ready to go.
The trial for the murder of Martha Moxley is to begin Tuesday.