"A Halloween With Hope For Moxleys"
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer, Greenwich Time

Halloween is a time for ghost tales, and for more than two decades the holiday has haunted Dorthy Moxley with the spirit of her brutally murdered 15-year-old daughter, whose stabbed and battered body was discovered on Halloween 1975.

On many Halloweens gone by, Dorthy bravely faced the media for the obligatory anniversary stories that duly noted the fact authorities were no closer to arresting her daughter's killer.

But this Halloween, Dorthy Moxley has real reasons to be hopeful, with a genuine chance for closure apparently in sight. A grand jury to probe Martha Moxley's murder was convened this past summer, and behind closed doors has heard from nearly 40 witnesses, some bringing new information to the case and others who had avoided questioning by authorities for years.

"This is a day I've always just dreaded - I'm always down this time of year," Dorthy said Wednesday. "But this year I'm not down at all. In fact, it's completely different this time. It's a miracle what has happened."

Although Martha's body was found on a Halloween afternoon, the actual anniversary of her murder is today. Dorthy would observe each Oct. 30 either with quiet reflection or in the company of loved ones. "Usually I'd just stay by myself or be with my family," she said.

In a dramatic departure from previous years, Dorthy plans to hit the town today, going into Manhattan with friends. After lunch and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she said, the group will attend a performance of the New York Philharmonic. "I'm looking forward to a wonderful day," she said.

As she takes in the sights of the Big Apple, Dorthy will be light years from the day, 23 years earlier, she performed the last motherly act for her daughter - making Martha a grilled cheese sandwich. Upon finishing the snack, Martha left her Walsh Lane home to join friends to go "hacking" - the pranks youths pull the night before Halloween.

After some egg-throwing and toilet paper tossing, Martha and her friends went to the home of their neighbors, the Skakels, where they hung out with two of the seven Skakel children, Thomas and Michael. According to police reports, Michael, 15, said he left the group at about 9:30 p.m. to go with his older brothers as they drove home a cousin. Thomas said he said good night to Martha at about the same time to go inside to write a book report, police reports state. Some of the girl's friends said that as they left the Skakel residence, Martha remained behind with 17-year-old Thomas, according to police reports, and the last they saw of the two was Martha pushing Thomas, then Thomas pushing back, and finally Thomas pushing Martha to the ground and either falling or lowering himself on top of her.

According to police, Thomas is the last person known to have seen Martha alive. Another neighborhood friend, Sheila McGuire, found Martha's lifeless body at about 12:15 p.m. under a ponderosa pine tree in the back yard of the Moxley estate.

Police said from the crime scene they recovered broken pieces of the murder weapon, a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family. Police eventually identified three suspects - Thomas, Michael, and the brothers' newly hired tutor, Kenneth Littleton, who moved into the Skakel home the day of the murder. After initially cooperating with authorities, the Skakel family, under advice of their attorneys, stopped talking with police. The investigation stalled.

Dorthy and husband J. David Moxley left Greenwich for Manhattan about a year- and-a-half following the murder. They later moved to Annapolis, Md., and, following her husband's death in 1988, Dorthy settled in Chatham Township, N.J., a short distance from her son's house in Short Hills.

Martha's only two surviving immediate family members, brother John and Dorthy, would never allow the public to forget their tragedy, continuing to speak with reporters for the occasional stories. On one such occasion, as the 20th anniversary approached in 1995, Dorthy broke down in tears as she shared the burden she shoulders as a victim. "Wherever you go, you're always the person whose daughter was murdered," she said at the time.

Days after that interview, Dorthy returned to the private Greenwich neighborhood to which she and her family had moved from California in 1974 with such great expectations. On Oct. 30, 1995, Dorthy hosted a dinner at Belle Haven Club to commemorate the murder's 20th anniversary, inviting friends, police, journalists and others involved in the case. Dorthy said she and her son wanted to express their thanks to those who have never let Martha's case fade from public consciousness.

The site of the gathering - a private yacht club to which the Skakels belonged and only blocks from the old Moxley home - is where suspects in the case ate dinner only hours before Martha was murdered. Even then, despite the fact a full reinvestigation of the murder had been launched by Greenwich police and the Bridgeport state's attorney's office in 1991, an arrest in the case was nowhere in sight.

The outlook today is much different. The grand jury is focusing its investigation on the Skakel brothers. It eliminated Littleton as a suspect by granting him immunity in return for testimony he gave in August. Among other witnesses to have testified so far are siblings and cousins of the Skakel brothers, as well as some close friends and advisers of the suspects' family. Officials close to the investigation have said they expect the probe to conclude before the end of the year, and that should any arrests result, they could occur in early 1999.

"Halloween has always been a loaded day, obviously, especially because it is also is my father's birthday," said John Moxley, now 40, and working in the tenant representation department of Jones Lang Wooton, a Manhattan-based international commercial real estate firm. "But this year is different than any in the past because we feel so much is happening than ever with Martha's case."

Another bright spot this year for John is that he and his wife, Cara, can now enjoy watching their children - David, 5, and Caroline, 6 - enjoy the holiday that for them had been so depressing.

"Halloween, ever since 1975, has always been a difficult time, not the light holiday it's been for everyone else," John said. "Now, with my kids, we're trying to put it in a different perspective. For them, Halloween is one of those nonreligious holidays that's in the pure spirit of fun, and I want to help them have as much fun as possible."