By J.A. Johnson Jr., Greenwich Time
One evening in October 1975, Ken Littleton moved into Rushton Skakel's Belle Haven home, taking a job as tutor and companion to the prominent Greenwich resident's younger children.
To say the move drastically altered the then-23-year-old Williams College graduate's future would be a gross understatement.
That very night - possibly even as Littleton unpacked his luggage - a 15-year-old neighbor of his new employer was brutally murdered. The tutor would spend the next two decades as a suspect in Greenwich's most notorious crime - the still-unsolved slaying of Martha Moxley.
After finally being removed last summer from the list of suspects, Littleton recently granted his first-ever interview.
He stressed he wanted to immediately make one thing clear: "My first night at the Skakel house was Oct. 30, 1975. I never met or saw Martha Moxley before Oct. 30, 1975, or after Oct. 30, 1975."
With the convening last summer of a grand jury in what could be a last-ditch attempt to solve the murder, Littleton's name was permanently removed from the suspect list. He was granted immunity from prosecution in return for testimony in an investigation that now appears to be focusing on one of those he had been hired to tutor, Michael Skakel.
"It took a while for it to set in, because it was so long that I had been persecuted and traumatized," Littleton said Friday, recalling the relief he felt Aug. 4, 1998, upon leaving the Fairfield County Courthouse no longer under a cloud of suspicion.
"My life, after Oct. 30, 1975, was a spiraling descent into the depths of hell," said Littleton, who fell into drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and petty crime.
The only other name remaining on the suspect list is Michael's older brother, Thomas Skakel.
Littleton arrived at the Skakel's Otter Rock Drive mansion by way of Brunswick School, the prestigious Greenwich boy's prep school where he had been hired to teach and coach. His employer, Rushton Skakel, was an heir to the Great Lakes Carbon fortune and brother of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Working as live-in tutor was an attractive proposition, Littleton said, because from his $9,000 Brunswick annual salary, the school took back $5,000 for room and board. In addition to a bed and meals, the Skakels offered to pay him $400 a month.
Before even unpacking for his first night in his new temporary home, Littleton accompanied the seven Skakel children and a cousin, James Terrien, to the nearby Belle Haven Club for dinner. He said after dinner, the children joined their friends to partake in the harmless pranks youths traditionally pull the night before Halloween.
One of the friends the young Skakels joined up with was Moxley, an attractive California blonde who moved into the neighborhood the previous summer. According to accounts provided to police at the time, Michael Skakel and two of his older brothers left Moxley in the company of Thomas to drive home Terrien at about 9:30 p.m.
Other friends told detectives that soon after Michael left, and as they began walking home themselves, police said, they saw Thomas alone with Martha outside the Skakel residence, engaged in what appeared to be roughhousing.
Littleton said he spent much of the evening in his room, unpacking.
"The (Skakel's) old Irish maid came into my room at about 9:30 and told me some dogs were barking in the yard and asked me to go check on them," Littleton said. "I went out the front door without a flashlight into the pitch black - and it was cold as hell - and walked past the RV (recreational vehicle) parked in the driveway. Along the line of cypress trees defining the left spur of the semicircle driveway I heard rustling in the leaves. To me it sounded human, and I kind of got spooked."
"I went back inside the house, and then Tommy comes up and watches the chase scene (from "The French Connection" on television) with me, and then tells me he's going into his room," Littleton recalled. "He supposedly went to do a report on Abe Lincoln."
It was later learned by police no such report had been assigned in school.
Michael's movements that night have since been placed in doubt. The younger Skakel brother reportedly drastically changed his story, giving an account of slipping out of his house soon after returning from his cousin's, and then climbing a tree next to Moxley's bedroom window where he masturbated.
Police at the time estimated Moxley was murdered at about 9:50 p.m.
Littleton said he went to work as usual the next day, unaware of the murder.
"The following day I went to Brunswick to teach and coach," he said. "When I returned home I found the Skakel parking lot was jammed with 10 to 15 Lincoln Continentals with Connecticut and New York license plates, and off to the right there's a mass of police cars."
Moxley's body had been found at about 12:15 p.m. under a tree on the Moxley's property by a neighborhood teenager.
"I walked into the living room where there were, I'd have to say, 15 counselor-attorney types conversing busily," Littleton said. "I walked into this scene completely bewildered, and one of the counselor-attorney types takes me aside and says he wanted me to take the Skakel kids to Windham."
The Skakels owned a lodge in upstate Windham, N.Y.
Early the next morning, Littleton drove the 25-foot RV to the Skakel's lodge in upstate New York, where he accompanied his young charges on a weekend hunting expedition.
As the fall turned to winter, Littleton continued living in the Skakel residence, still tutoring in addition to his teaching duties at Brunswick, while the investigation focused mostly on Thomas.
But as spring arrived, his life began taking a drastic turn.
A March 24, 1976, police report indicates how suspicion slowly turned toward Littleton. In it, a Skakel family friend and neighbor, Mildred Ix, urges detectives to take a closer look at the tutor.
"Mrs. Ix felt strongly that Mr. Littleton should be checked out as a suspect," the report states. "She could not understand that Mr. Skakel would keep him in his employ because he didn't contribute anything to the household. He was supposed to tutor both Michael and Thomas, but Michael had all 'Fs' on his last report card, and Thomas' card was almost as bad. She also stated that numerous 'girlie' magazines were found in Mr. Littleton's room, and that he frequently goes to the gazebo near the Skakel home nude."
Littleton refuted the implications of the report.
"I was with the Skakels from November to the beginning of May," he said. "It was cold as hell out there. I made no naked jaunts to a gazebo."
Nevertheless, Littleton was dismissed from the Skakel household soon after.
The summer Littleton then spent on Nantucket Island only made matters worse. He got a job tending bar and bouncing at Preston's, a popular local bar. He also began drinking heavily and doing drugs. He was arrested for burglary and grand larceny, which Littleton said he committed while under the influence. (In May 1977 he received a suspended seven- to 10-year prison sentence and was placed on probation for five years.)
Littleton's behavior caused detectives to again turn their attention to the former tutor. In October 1976 they administered a lie detector test, which Littleton failed. When Brunswick parents learned of the Nantucket incidents, the school fired Littleton. He then got a job with St. Luke's School in New Canaan, but was soon let go because of police scrutiny.
It was at this time Littleton began showing symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he said was a pre-existing condition triggered by the stress of living as a murder suspect. He was unable to hold onto a job.
Continuing to be dogged by Greenwich detectives, as well as the media, Littleton moved to Florida, where he again had scrapes with the law for drunken driving and other offenses. He married and then divorced. He moved to Canada, then to Australia, and finally returned to live with his parents in Boston.
The tide began to turn for Littleton early this decade. In 1991, a reinvestigation of the Moxley case was launched, with renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee brought in to test the physical evidence. Later that year, the Skakel family and their attorneys hired a private detective agency, Sutton Associates, to prepare a report on the murder.
The Skakel move apparently backfired, as the brothers reportedly provided Sutton investigators with revised alibis that placed them either with Moxley at the time she was believed murdered or near the crime scene. This information was leaked to the press in late 1995. A few months later, in February 1996, a tip was given to the "Unsolved Mysteries" television show that Michael Skakel had confessed to the Moxley murder during group therapy at a drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation center. In 1997, Jonathan Benedict became state's attorney for the Fairfield Judicial District, replacing Donald Browne, who had headed the Moxley investigation since nearly the beginning. Benedict promised to make a decision concerning the Moxley investigation, and in June 1998 the grand jury was convened.
Upon emerging from nearly two hours in the sealed grand jury room, Littleton parted company with Benedict, shaking hands with him and patting the prosecutor's shoulder.
No longer a suspect, Littleton said he is trying to put the pieces of his life back together. Last month, he attended the 25th anniversary reunion of his Williams College class.
"A few people - some old friends - came up to me, they were no longer afraid to be seen with me," Littleton said. "The stigma (of being a murder suspect) was no longer there."
Littleton said he has remained sober, regularly undergoes psychotherapy, and recently applied for a job in a delicatessen.
"Things are better to some extent, for I can now pursue future endeavors," he said. "I want to get back to connecting with people."