The next day, Martha's badly bludgeoned body was found on the family estate, under the low-hanging branches of a fir tree 100 feet from her home. She had been beaten to death with a golf club.
For investigators, the murder is officially unsolved. For Dorthy Moxley, it's a heartache that never goes away. "It's like having an open wound and no hope to close it," she said. But as the anniversary of Martha's Oct. 30, 1975, death approaches, Dorthy Moxley returned last week to the wealthy enclave where she once lived to share the first stirrings of hope she has felt in years. In recent weeks the grand jury investigating the case has been zeroing in on two of the original suspects - both nephews of Robert F. Kennedy. "I keep wondering how I'm going to feel when this is over, because I've only felt one way for 23 years," said Mrs. Moxley, who now lives in New Jersey.
She said she feels a sense of shame when strangers ask and she has to tell them her daughter's killer has never been found. The investigation has stretched from Maine to Florida and beyond, calling close to 40 witnesses and threatening to touch one of the nation's most powerful political families.
The nephews, Thomas and Michael Skakel, lived near the Moxleys in Belle Haven, an exclusive shoreline enclave within the wealthy New York City suburb of Greenwich. Their father, Rushton Skakel Sr., is the brother of Ethel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's widow.
That night, Martha and her friends ended their "Mischief Night" shenanigans at the Skakel house, sitting in Rushton Skakel's Lincoln Continental listening to music. Eventually, Michael Skakel, then 15, left with several other teens to drive a cousin home. Thomas Skakel, then 17, stayed behind with Martha.
About 9:30 p.m., Martha's friends saw her kissing Thomas near the Skakel driveway. They never saw her again. When Martha had not come home by 11 p.m., Mrs. Moxley began to worry.
At 2 a.m., Mrs. Moxley asked her 17-year-old son, John, to go out and look for his sister. At 3:45 a.m., Mrs. Moxley called the police. Just after noon, Martha's body was found.
Police said she had been struck with a 6-iron at least a dozen times. She had been stabbed five times, including once through the neck, with a jagged piece of the club's shaft. The memory still makes Mrs. Moxley shudder.
"I cried and cried and cried and cried," she recalled during a visit to her old neighborhood Friday. "She was my very favorite person in the whole world."
The case was stalled for years. Investigators said they were stymied by a lack of physical evidence, a trail long since gone cold, and a lack of cooperation from the Skakel family.
Last spring, two books were published on the case, including one by former Los Angeles police Detective Mark Fuhrman. Jonathan Benedict, the newly appointed chief prosecutor for Fairfield County, sought a grand jury, which in Connecticut consists of a single judge.
Although the proceedings are secret, it quickly became apparent that the probe was focusing on Michael and Thomas Skakel. Two of their brothers and a sister have testified. Another brother, Rushton Jr., is refusing to testify.
Rushton Skakel Sr., now 74 and living in Hobe Sound, Fla., has also refused to testify, citing mental and physical incompetence. Jim Terrien, a cousin who provided Michael Skakel with an alibi the night Martha was killed, is also being sought for questioning.
Michael and Thomas have refused to comment on the case,except to declare their innocence. But the Skakel boys were suspects from the beginning. The 6-iron was quickly matched to a set owned by the Skakel family. Both boys were romantically interested in Martha, according to friends and entries in Martha's own diary.
At first, less suspicion was focused on Michael. He told police he was at Terrien's home at the time police believed Martha was killed.
Yet the grand jury has focused more attention on Michael in recent weeks. Last month, the grand jury subpoenaed Joseph Ricci, the owner of a residential drug treatment center Michael attended from 1978 to 1980.
Former patients have told prosecutors that Ricci allegedly overheard Michael confess to Martha's slaying during a group therapy session.
Ricci, who now lives in Maine, has refused to testify, insisting that he never overheard any confession. He also argues that anything Skakel said is protected by patient confidentiality laws. Martha's brother John says local police botched the early investigation, especially since the Skakel family was so prominent. John Moxley recalls Rushton Skakel walking around Belle Haven with a drink in one hand and a golf club in the other.
"I think the (Skakels) got deferential or preferential treatment from the police," he said. "The Kennedy thing probably played somepart of it."
Within two years of the murder, Mrs. Moxley left Greenwich. It was too hard for her to stay. She remembers a cheerful girl who played tennis, drew pictures and listened to Elton John.
At the cemetery, Mrs. Moxley stared at a simple footstone. On the inscription: "Daughter, Martha Elizabeth Moxley, 1960-1975."