Prosecutors look again at 1975 murder
By John Larrabee, USA TODAY

GREENWICH, Conn. - In the 23 years since Martha Moxley was bludgeoned to death on the lush, green expanse of her family's lawn, the teen-ager's murder has become the stuff of local legend.

Parents in this town of yacht clubs, estates and celebrity residents use her death as a cautionary tale for their children.

''You hear her name when your parents are trying to tell you to be careful,'' Maria Farrell, 17, says. ''They'll tell you that even on the best streets in the best towns, you can find dangerous people.''

''We believed we lived in a perfect world where nothing could go wrong,'' says Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native and author of Greentown, a book about the slaying.

Now, after more than two decades, the case is again making headlines.

State's attorney Jonathan Benedict got the case reopened three months ago, citing new, unspecified information. Since then, more than 30 witnesses have testified before Judge George Thim, a special grand jury of one. Thim will decide if any indictments result.

Early speculation at the time of the killing focused on Michael and Thomas Skakel, teen-age boys from a wealthy family with a famous connection: They're cousins to the Kennedy clan.

The Skakels aren't talking. But Mickey Sherman, a lawyer for Michael Skakel, acknowledges that prosecutors have focused on his client, now 38 and living in Boston.

''He's nervous,'' Sherman says. ''They're summoning his brothers, his father, his counselors, his priest.''

The case has attracted attention far beyond this city. Tabloid newspapers and television shows have featured it. An assortment of players from the O.J. Simpson trial are involved: Connecticut crime lab chief Henry Lee, writer Dominick Dunne and former Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman, whose book about the case, Murder in Greenwich, is selling out in the city's bookstores.

Dead-end investigation

Martha Moxley was 14 when her family moved from California to the wealthy New York suburb in 1974. They settled in Belle Haven, a gated seaside community. Their neighbors, widower Rushton Skakel and his seven children, fit the categories of both rich and famous.

Patriarch George Skakel, founder of Great Lakes Carbon, grew rich in the 1920s. The family acquired a glamorous sheen when his daughter, Ethel, married Robert F. Kennedy.

When Michael and Thomas Skakel met Martha, they were just 15 and 17. On Oct. 30, 1975, she joined a crowd of neighborhood kids, including the Skakel boys, for an evening of pre-Halloween pranks.

Martha's body was discovered the next day.

Investigators believe the attacker killed in a sexual frenzy. The killer struck Martha repeatedly with a golf club that belonged to the Skakels' dead mother. When it broke, police say, the killer jabbed Moxley with the shaft, then dragged her body beneath the low-hanging branches of a pine tree.

''Because of the secretive nature of the town, it was years before many of us even knew how brutal the killing was,'' Dumas says.

Police followed dozens of leads, but soon focused on the Skakels. Thomas told detectives he said goodbye to Martha about 9:30 that night and went home to write a school paper on Abraham Lincoln. But police discovered that he had no such assignment and that he'd been drinking the night Martha died.

The Skakel family cooperated at first. Thomas submitted hair samples and took two lie detector tests with inconclusive results. But when detectives tried to get information at the private school the brothers attended, the family stopped talking. Michael was never questioned.

No arrests were made. Those who studied the case believe local police were simply too inexperienced. Officers at the scene spread out through the neighborhood, expecting to find the killer, and left the body unattended. When they returned, a dog was licking blood from the grass, destroying evidence.

The body was removed by a funeral director before the state's medical examiner viewed the crime scene, making it impossible to establish time of death.

Brothers' alibis change

Rushton Skakel eventually hired a private detective agency, Sutton Associates, to review the case and clear the family name. This time, the brothers offered new alibis, different from the family's 1975 accounts.

Thomas told Sutton agents that he had a rendezvous with Martha that night that included kissing and fondling. Michael said he had climbed a tree outside her bedroom window hoping to call her outside.

The private report became public when a disgruntled Sutton employee passed it to Dunne, whose novel, A Season in Purgatory, was inspired by the case. Dunne shared the document with Fuhrman, who reported its findings in his book. He speculates that Michael was the killer.

The new investigation also seems focused on Michael Skakel. Two former staffers from the Elan School, where he sought help for alcohol abuse, won't answer questions. They say they were Michael's therapists and can't testify about that relationship.

Neither brother has returned to testify in the new investigation. Thomas Skakel, now 40, lives in rural Stockbridge, Mass., where he serves on the volunteer fire department. Michael Skakel moved to the Boston area in the early 1990s when Michael Kennedy gave him a job at Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit company founded by the family.

For Martha's mother, Dorothy Moxley, the Kennedy connection has been a double-edged sword. Now living in New Jersey, she has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of her daughter's killer. And she has submitted to dozens of interviews to keep the case going.

''If these suspects were not connected to the Kennedys, I know the case would not be where it is today,'' she says. ''I'm thankful to the press for keeping it alive. I even have good words for the National Enquirer.''

In Greenwich, former neighbors are bracing for the kind of media deluge that hit Brentwood, Calif., after the Simpson murders.

''Once this was something you never mentioned. Now it's the talk of the town,'' Dumas says.