Getting Away With Murder -- Almost
By John Elvin
Fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley was murdered in 1975 in an upper-class Connecticut town where the police ignored evidence. Will arrests finally may be made in this case?
The cops who handled crime in the posh Belle Haven enclave of Greenwich, Conn. -- one of the nation's most exclusive neighborhoods, where the homes look like small hotels and everybody is "somebody" -- didn't know much about murder. A senior police official arriving on the scene of the 1975 slaying of pretty, popular teenager Martha Moxley found one of the officers who initially had responded petting a dog. The dog was lapping up evidence -- Moxley's blood.
. . . . Over the years, the Moxley murder has attracted the attention of report-ers, writers and TV producers. Police inexperience -- some say incompetence -- coupled with the wealth and decadence of some of the principal characters, made the still-unsolved case a natural for continuing public fascination and outrage. The most outrageous element is the allegation of a cover-up by a wealthy family related by marriage to the Kennedy clan.
. . . . But according to two sources close to the case, 1999 may be the final year of freedom for Moxley's murderer. Both Timothy Dumas, author of a book on the case, and Thomas J. Alessi, a classmate of the victim who has maintained a Website devoted to news and clues, tell Insight they expect an arrest to be made in the next few months.
. . . . Moxley was a bright, blossoming young lady of 15, interested in boys and increasingly aware of her appeal to them. "She was friendly and kind, popular, smart as a whip; a fantastic human being," classmate Alessi recalls. His Website, www.MarthaMoxley.com, contains a lot of memorabilia and news clips; he is most sentimental about photos Moxley took that show him and other friends on a class trip to Washington.
. . . . Just about everyone whose recollections have been probed by interviewers speaks as though some of the sunshine went out of their lives when Moxley died. Twenty-three years ago, she went out in the early evening of Oct. 30 to join friends for pre-Halloween "Hacker's Night." It developed into a mischief-making foray that wound down as a little cluster of unsupervised neighborhood kids gathered at the Skakel mansion across the way from Moxley's home.
. . . . "Unsupervised" pretty much de-scribes the lifestyle of the Skakel kids. Their widowed father, Rushton Skakel, a sportsman and overseer of a family fortune greater than that of their Kennedy relations, traveled extensively. At home, by his own admission and the observations of others, he lived in an alcoholic haze and relied on hired help to ride herd on his children.
. . . . The Skakel lifestyle was a lot like that of their more publicly scrutinized relatives, the Kennedys. They "knew they could pretty well do what they wanted and not have to worry about the consequences," according to former detective Mark Fuhrman of O.J. Simpson trial notoriety, who wrote a recent book on the Moxley case, published by Cliff Street Books/Harper Collins. The Skakels "lived a privileged existence," Fuhrman wrote, and "frequently abused that privilege."
. . . . Close observers of the current grand-jury investigation of the brutal murder say it appears to remain focused on the alibis of Skakel brothers Michael and Thomas. Under Connecticut's unique judicial system, the grand jury in this case consists of one man, Bridgeport Superior Court Judge George N. Thim. He is empowered to issue subpoenas and to seek
arrest warrants, leverage unavailable to prosecutors. In June, if the case is not resolved sooner, he will have put in a year seeking and questioning witnesses.
. . . . "I think George Thim will recommend an arrest," author Dumas tells Insight. He wrote an atmospheric and intimate portrait of the case, Greentown, published by Arcade. "I think that the state will carry out his recommendation late this summer," Dumas adds. Some 50 friends, relatives, investigators and others concerned with the case have been called so far. Testimony considered crucial still is being sought from three individuals who have evaded the grand juror's call through legal maneuvers or, in one instance, relocation to foreign soil.
. . . . Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, is the sister of Rushton Skakel, father of the two prime suspects in the case. Thus, the suspects are Sen. Edward Kennedy's nephews and cousins to a slew of celebrity Kennedys with whom they hobnob and sometimes work. Both Michael and Thomas Skakel have been active in Kennedy political campaigns.
. . . . Michael Skakel worked closely with the Kennedys in various enterprises, visiting Cuba for an interview with Fidel Castro along with cousin Bobby Kennedy Jr., and acting as driver and in various other roles for cousin Michael Kennedy. He was the source of tales that led to the late Michael Kennedy's trouble over an affair with a baby-sitter, having blurted out the story at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Michael Skakel became a source for reporters looking into the sexcapade and was said to be floating a book proposal on the scandal when his former benefactor and cousin collided with a tree and died during a family touch-football game at a ski resort.
. . . . When William Kennedy Smith was charged with rape in Palm Beach, Fla., a juicy rumor began to float that he had been at the home of his Skakel cousins on the night Moxley was killed. That wasn't true, but the fantasied connection sparked new interest in the old murder case. "The Kennedy connection eventually bit the Skakels in the rear," Dumas tells Insight. "The Kennedy name kept up interest long after a 'John Smith'-type case would have sunk into oblivion. The arrest of Smith on rape charges in 1991 and all the hullabaloo surrounding it generated new tips in the Moxley case."
. . . . Up to the time of the Smith trial, in which he was acquitted, very little information had gotten out to the public. Then reporters for newspapers, magazines and TV "investigative" shows, digging for any angle to keep the Smith story going, turned up sources willing to talk and broke through some of the official barriers. With the publicity mounting, Connecticut officials reopened the case.
. . . . The attempt to tie Smith to the Moxley murder certainly was a stretch, and there have been other equally dubious suspects -- transients, neighbors, household help and shadowy, perhaps imaginary, serial killers. It remains to be seen whom, if anyone, the grand juror may indict, though for reasons that may be purely sensational Michael and Thomas Skakel top the list maintained by many observers. In his book, the famously intemperate Fuhrman names Michael Skakel as the prime suspect. In the Dumas book, an investigator closely involved in the case over the years, Steve Carroll, is quoted: "I believe it's Tommy Skakel." But Dumas says his own bet is on Michael. "The man in cuffs will be Michael Skakel," he declares. There's also speculation that the two brothers acted together. Both have contributed to suspicion by making substantial changes in their stories since they first were interviewed by police.
. . . . Such allegations hardly are to be credited as anything but cruel speculation without a full and fair trial. True, neither brother comes off in anybody's book as having been a choirboy back in those days. Both boys had reputations
among critics as unruly, out of control and violent boozers. And both had their sights set on the new girl in the neighborhood, Martha Moxley, the recent blond arrival from California. At first, in the accounts of many, younger brother Michael was "an item." Then Thomas moved in and, as recorded in Moxley's diary, Thomas had been trying to get to "first and second base" with her. On the night of the murder, Martha and Michael were sitting beside each other with friends in one of the Skakel autos, listening to music, when Thomas joined them. Soon, Thomas had snaked Martha away from the group, and the pair were roughhousing and then "making out."
. . . . Thomas initially said he last saw Moxley as she left his house to walk home alone at around 9:30 p.m. Her mother, Dorthy, having checked with all her friends due to her daughter's unusual tardiness, called the police around 3 a.m. The police made a routine search of the streets and sidewalks. Later in the morning, two juvenile-bureau officers repeated that search.
. . . . Then one of Moxley's friends, unaware that she was missing, cut across the Moxley lawn to invite her to go shopping. The friend discovered Moxley's body under a pine tree; her head had been badly battered and was skewered with the broken shaft of a golf club. Her blue jeans and underpants were pulled down to her knees.
. . . . Later, police found other fragments of a rare Toney Penna golf club. The Skakels reportedly owned a set of clubs like that. Fuhrman saw indications of a cover-up in the previously unpublicized finding that the shaft of the golf club -- which several witnesses had seen sticking through Martha's head at the murder scene -- later disappeared. Fuhrman, who did not respond to several requests for an interview, maintains in his book that the shaft would have borne the name of the owner of the club, in this case almost certainly that of Rushton Skakel's late wife, Ann.
. . . . At first the Skakels were cooperative -- somewhat bizarrely, from a procedural point of view -- even participating in the search for evidence and serving coffee and snacks to the cops. But as attention focused increasingly on Thomas Skakel, a bevy of lawyers became involved and a wall went up. The lawyers did their thing, working every possible angle to keep their clients out of court. Official interest in the case peaked, plummeted and rose again. Rushton Skakel hired an elite private-detective firm in hopes of clearing the family name, but the result of a lengthy and costly investigation was not as he had hoped. The private detectives came up against those changed and questionable alibis provided by Michael and Thomas.
. . . . A copy of the detective firm's report was slipped to Dominick Dunne, a writer who had used the Moxley case as the basis for a novel that was serialized for television. Among those to whom Dunne passed the report in turn was Fuhrman, who was looking for a case suited to his investigative skills and his interest in a new career as a nonfiction author. Dunne and Fuhrman had become close friends as a result of contact in the Simpson case.
. . . . Fuhrman saw elements that reminded him of the Simpson case: "money, power, celebrity, deceit, corruption." His initial investigation, including a chilly reception when he visited the Greenwich police headquarters to review available information, convinced him that the "case had all the right ingredients for a botched investigation, perhaps even a cover-up." Before long he was bragging that he knew as much or more about the case than anyone not intimately involved. While Fuhrman calls the investigation a "parody of police work," police in Greenwich say that Fuhrman's book is riddled with inaccuracies and contains no new information.
. . . . With police and prosecutors unwilling to discuss the case, authors have been restricted to
molding their books by following the equally close-mouthed "prime suspects" over the years. Thomas Skakel has flitted through academic and career situations. As his family tried to keep the wall up in response to what they thought official investigators might be doing, Thomas was interviewed by various medical authorities and private investigators. His story regarding Moxley remained vague until 1995, when he told the detectives hired by his family that he had spent more time with Moxley than he previously had admitted and that the encounter concluded in mutual masturbation.
. . . . Michael Skakel -- whose adolescent amusements allegedly included killing cats and squirrels with a golf club -- spent a great deal of time in various private, exclusive facilities around the country for treatment of drug and alcohol problems. One early and lengthy stint was in a secure facility in Maine billed as a preparatory school but reportedly more of a holding pen for young people who need a hideaway. One gets an idea of the structure of the facility in reports that Michael made three escapes from it. A tipster who knew him there claimed he confessed to the murder in the course of group-therapy sessions. From that point on, Michael spent a lot of time in rehab clinics around the country where patient lists are privileged.
. . . . Michael also changed his story substantially many years later. Having said initially that he had been across town with friends the night of the murder before going home to bed, he later said he had gone out "window-peeping," had climbed a tree adjacent to Moxley's bedroom, tossed pebbles to try to get her attention, masturbated, ran home and climbed to his second-story bedroom window because the downstairs doors were locked.
. . . . "The changed stories are bizarre, to say the least," author Dumas tells Insight. "All of a sudden Tommy and Michael were saying that they had orgasm in places Martha was known to have been that night. It sure sounds like they were trying to preempt any new forensic evidence." Obviously, the stories would explain how any DNA evidence might have been present at the crime scene or, in Michael's case, how he might have been observed by someone while running near the crime scene.
. . . . Among those yet to be heard from by the grand juror is James Terrien, a Skakel cousin who provided an alibi for Michael Skakel. Terrien is said to be in the Bahamas, but authorities apparently have been unable to locate him and it is uncertain how they would obtain testimony from him if and when he is found. Also managing to maintain unavailability so far is Rushton Skakel Sr., now living in Florida. His attorneys say he suffers from memory loss.
. . . . Another reluctant witness is Joseph Ricci, director of the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Maine. Investigators believe Ricci may have knowledge of incriminating statements allegedly made by Michael Skakel. "Joseph Ricci was present and overheard Michael Skakel make admissions as to the murder of Martha Moxley," a prosecution affidavit states. Ricci said in preliminary hearings to compel his testimony that he didn't hear anything and that he does not have to testify due to patient-client protections, according to his lawyer.
. . . . Several witnesses who knew Michael Skakel at that facility have been called before the grand jury, including a former roommate of Skakel's at the treatment center -- who has been called back three times for his testimony on anything he might have heard.
. . . . The "Skakels have done a lot of lying about the night Martha was murdered," Dumas alleges in his book. "How can they live with the truth, if they know it?" he asked Frank Garr, the sole investigator still on the case. Garr replied: "I think they have no problem with it because I think these people are so self-centered and self-absorbed
that it doesn't matter."
. . . . If there is an indictment, and if it goes as Insight's sources suggest, it's likely that a lengthy and sensational trial will follow. Possibly, after the trial, some of those wounds will heal. But there's no guarantee. As Moxley's classmate Alessi tells Insight, the presence of "money and celebrity mean that appeals can drag out forever in an effort to smother the truth. It is just the Kennedy-Skakel way. These families do as they please."
. . . .