Season stirs murder memories
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
Doorbell Night. Mischief Night. Hacker's Night.
Whatever it was called, Oct. 30 used to be when the children of Greenwich would band together for a night of impish revelry. With the dawning of the next day - Halloween - residents would awaken to find toilet paper streaming from trees, cars frosted over with shaving cream and other evidence of nocturnal pranks.
That is now mostly part of a bygone era, when parents allowed trick-or-treaters to stay out after dark and did not inspect their children's bounty for razors concealed in apples. Such concerns were not prevalent 25 years ago, when a group of friends gathered in the Belle Haven section of town to plot their night's misdeeds.
It all began innocently enough, but ended tragically. One of those children, 15-year-old Martha Moxley, did not return safely home on Halloween eve 1975. She was murdered that night, her head so badly bludgeoned with a neighbor's golf club that she was nearly unrecognizable.
Much of what happened between the time Moxley parted company with her friends and when her bloodied body was found Halloween afternoon has been chronicled time and again in newspapers, magazines and books and on television. The case has attracted an amount of attention some might consider inordinate because the person charged in the murder is a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, widow of the assassinated U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy. The fateful evening's events have been reconstructed by police detectives, prosecutors, forensic experts and even private investigators.
But there are significant gaps in the retelling of the story, where recollections conflict and the whereabouts of key players cannot be accounted for. It was during one of these gaps that Moxley was bludgeoned to death with a golf club belonging to the family of then-15-year-old Michael Skakel, one of the friends she was with on Hacker's Night 1975.
Skakel now stands charged with the murder, and is facing the prospect of a trial in which a jury will have to sort out what exactly happened.
Based on reports prepared by police, a private investigations firm, court testimony, interviews and other sources, including Michael Skakel's own words from a book proposal for his memoirs, the following is a generally accepted version of events leading to Moxley's murder:
At about 6 p.m. Martha called friend Marjorie Walker to ask if she wanted to join in for a night of "hacking," but Walker declined at her mother's insistence. Dorthy Moxley prepared a grilled cheese sandwich for her daughter, which Martha ate before leaving her house at about 7 p.m. The night was unseasonably cold, so before going out Martha put on two layers of shirts and donned a quilted nylon parka.
Martha and her Walsh Lane neighbor, Helen Ix, met up about 15 minutes later and made plans to go to the Skakel residence. By the time they arrived at the Skakels' at about 7:30 p.m., they had been joined by more friends, Jackie Wettenhall and Geoffrey Byrne. The group was told by Skakel's caretaker, Franz Wittine, that the older Skakel children were dining at the Belle Haven Club. Moxley and her group then left and went to a nearby favorite hangout - the end of Walsh Lane, at the edge of the Skakel property, where a chain blocked access to the adjacent street, Otter Rock Drive.
John, Julie, Thomas, Michael and Rushton Skakel Sr. had gone to dinner accompanied by Kenneth Littleton, a teacher at the private Brunswick School who began his job earlier that same day as the Skakel family's live-in tutor. They also were joined by James Terrien, a cousin from backcountry Greenwich, and a friend, Andrea Shakespeare.
When Moxley and the other youths saw the Skakels return home at 8:45 p.m., they went over to join them. Wettenhall soon left in order to meet her 9 p.m. curfew, and Shakespeare joined Julie Skakel in the sun room of the Skakel residence to watch the "Ellery Queen" television show. Meanwhile, Moxley joined Michael Skakel in the back seat of his father's Lincoln Continental, while Byrne and Ix sat in the front seat. The four youths told authorities they were listening to music inside the car, which remained parked in the Skakel driveway.
At some point, those youths were kicked out of the car by the older Skakel brothers so that they could use it to drive home their cousin, Terrien. Based on statements given to police in 1975, Michael Skakel appeared to have a solid alibi - that he had gone on the drive to Terrien's.
Byrne and Ix told police that as they began walking home they last saw Moxley and Thomas Skakel together outside the Skakel residence, apparently engaged in playful roughhousing.
This is the point at which accounts and recollections diverge, and the facts become muddled.
The time that John and Rushton Skakel Sr. commandeered the Lincoln varies, depending on the source. Michael said it was about 9, Thomas said it was sometime after 9:15, and Terrien remembered it being 9:30. Whatever the actual departure time was, Michael told police he had gone with his two brothers to Terrien's house on Cliffdale Road and didn't return home until about 11 p.m, at which time he went to bed and stayed there until the morning.
Michael's alibi was thrown into serious doubt in 1993, when older brother John was interviewed under hypnosis as part of an investigation by the Sutton Associates detective agency, hired by the Skakels to probe for possible involvement in the murder by its family members. In that interview, Sutton Associates reported, "The interviewer, on repeated occasions, tried to get John to place Michael in the car and then at the Terrien's. John could not. After being pushed, he would only recall that maybe someone else was in the car and at the Terrien's house. As much as the interviewer persisted, hinted and pushed, John could not identify that person as Michael, and even said he felt Michael was back at the Skakel house."
And Shakespeare told a Sutton investigator it was her "strong opinion that Michael did not go to the Terrien residence with his brothers."
Michael Skakel's alibi, that he was miles from the crime scene, had coincided with the time frame in which police initially thought the murder occurred, at about 9:50 p.m. They based their conclusion largely on the fact some neighborhood dogs began barking at that time.
Even if Michael had gone with his brothers to his cousin's house, he manages to cast suspicion on himself by what he allegedly told Sutton investigators, and also by what he wrote in a book proposal for his planned memoirs.
In the 1998 proposal, Michael Skakel wrote about a chapter to be titled, "Murder Most Foul," which he promised would reveal "the who, what, when, where, how of that evening's surreal, nightmarish and, ultimately, tragic events" surrounding Moxley's death. Skakel explains in his proposal that he was attracted to Moxley, hoped to become her boyfriend, and that she had turned down his request that she go with him to Terrien's. Skakel also states in his book proposal that he had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol and drugs that night - first downing several rum and tonics at the Belle Haven Club, then "drinking my father's booze" upon returning home and, finally, having "smoked a lot of pot and drank some more" while at Terrien's house.
When he returned to his home in Belle Haven, Skakel wrote, "I couldn't settle down. A part of me really wanted to go to sleep, but I was keyed up, nervous and horny. After a little while longer, still unable to fall asleep, I kicked off the covers and decided, (Screw) it. I'm going back out."
The book proposal's outline for the "Murder Most Foul" chapter ends there.
But the narrative appears to be picked up in the Sutton Associates report, where Skakel is said to have accounted for his actions after leaving his house.
"He went to the window of Martha Moxley's room and made an effort to contact Martha by calling out her name," the report states. "After his efforts proved unsuccessful, Michael states he masturbated in a tree outside her window before returning home."
It seems as though Thomas Skakel may also have lied to police. According to the Sutton report, the then-17-year-old Skakel brother did not bid Moxley good night and go inside to do a nonexistent homework assignment at 9:30 p.m., as he told detectives in 1975.
The report states that during a 1994 interview with a Sutton Associates detective, "Tommy broke down in tears," admitting he had only briefly went inside his house at 9:30 before going back out to meet Moxley in his back yard for a sexual encounter that lasted about 20 minutes.
Potentially the most damning gap-filler in the Moxley murder time line could very well be what Michael Skakel allegedly told others a few years after Moxley was murdered.
In 1978, after a drunken-driving accident in New York, Skakel was enrolled at the Elan School substance abuse rehabilitation facility in Poland Spring, Maine. During his two-year stay there, he allegedly confided to fellow residents that he had murdered his teenaged friend while in an alcoholic black out.
Some of those residents testified at preliminary hearing in Stamford in June. One witness, Gregory Coleman, testified that late one night at Elan School Skakel confided that he "drove in (Moxley's) skull with a golf club, and that he would "get away" with it because "I'm a Kennedy."
Such testimony was found credible enough by Judge Maureen Dennis for her to rule on Aug. 17 that "reasonable cause" exists for Skakel to stand trial for Moxley's murder, noting that Skakel "has twice made admissions that he committed the murder, and once even bragged that he was 'going to get away with murder.' "