WHEN ART IMITATES CRIME
NEW NOVEL REINVIGORATES INQUIRY INTO UNSOLVED MURDER

Author: By Linda Matchan, Boston Globe Staff

Date: Monday, May 24, 1993

When New York writer Dominick Dunne began working on his latest novel, based on the brutal murder in 1975 of a 15-year-old Connecticut girl in ritzy Greenwich, he had a hunch the book might put the spotlight back on the case, which has never been solved.

What Dunne didn't expect was that he himself would become involved in the investigation of the murder that inspired his book -- the death of Martha Moxley, who was beaten about the head with a golf club so viciously that the golf club shattered.

Moxley was last seen outside the home of a neighbor, Thomas Skakel, then 17, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Skakel, the son of Ethel Kennedy's brother, was a main suspect in the case, along with Kenneth W. Littleton Jr., then 23, a former live-in tutor for the Skakel children. Police today decline to say whether either man continues to be a
suspect.

But in a twist on the maxim that life imitates art, Dunne has found that the art is becoming his life. As he has crisscrossed the country on a 16-city publicity tour for "A Season in Purgatory," he says several people have sought him out to offer "startling bits of information" that he believes could shed fresh light on the scandalous murder that has bedeviled police for 18 years.

Declining to identify his sources, Dunne says they have included one "very distinguished man" with "a distant relationship to the Skakel family" who claimed that two boys were involved in the murder and that the details had been covered up.

Dunne says he arranged to meet the man a few days later, but he "clammed up . . . I've seen it time and time again with the rich. They want to get it solved, but they don't want to get involved."

Dunne says he then learned from another tipster that a broken piece of a golf club was recently found in the basement of the Greenwich home of a boy who was one of several youths known to have been at the Skakel home on the night of Moxley's murder.

In an interview last week, Detective Frank Garr of the Greenwich police said police have "investigated" the golf club evidence, and that the notion it could be related to the murder is "not factual."

"Over 17 years we have had numerous parts of golf clubs sent to us from all over the world," added John Solomon, the supervisory police inspector for the office of the Connecticut state's attorney. "I cannot think of any case more frustrating than this."

But these and other of Dunne's alleged new leads have rekindled hope for Martha's mother, Dorothy Moxley, who says she has never lost faith that the murder will be solved and who wants desperately to "put some closure to this. This book is what I need," said Moxley, who now lives in Chatham, N.J.

And the tips have clearly invigorated Dunne, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair whose career has to a large degree been built upon his numerous novels and articles about power and corruption among the wealthy, and whose 21-year-old daughter was murdered in 1982 by her boyfriend.

"I have had a daughter murdered, and there is nothing, nothing, nothing to describe what that feeling is. My sympathy for Mrs. Moxley is enormous," said Dunne, 67, whose daughter's killer was sentenced to three years in jail, although he was released after 2 1/2. "Even though the guy who killed my daughter got a slap on the wrist, he at least was in jail for two minutes and has a marked life. She has this unfinished business in her life."

Connecticut investigators are less than impressed by Dunne's supposed new information. They also note that he has discussed none of his new "leads" with them.

"I think Mr. Dunne has written a piece of literary entertainment and nothing more," said Garr, of the Greenwich police. "For the life of me, I can't understand why he's not knocking down our doors and funneling this information to us, if it's so important."

Dunne has a ready answer. "If I had any information, I'd rather give it to a reporter than police," he said caustically in a telephone interview from his home in New York. "I've said all along, I've said it on Jay Leno and Joan Rivers, that this is either a case of the most inept police work in history or of a rich and powerful family holding the police at bay."

Dunne says his book is "loosely based" on the Moxley murder, but the parallels are hard to miss. As in the Moxley case, an innocent young girl is savagely beaten with a piece of athletic equipment that breaks in half during the attack. As in the Moxley case, the victim was last seen with the son of a wealthy and well-connected family, the fictional Bradley clan, who are clearly intended to evoke the Kennedys.

A central theme of the book is the ability of powerful families to exercise damage control when a crisis arises, a theme that Dunne is convinced extends to the Moxley murder. Some Greenwich residents suggested as the original investigation unfolded that the Kennedy family was so formidable and intimidating that police treaded softly around the Skakels.

Skakel's lawyer, Emanuel Margolis, says his client passed two lie detector tests concerning the events of that night.

Dorothy Moxley maintains that the Skakel family has been "blocking the investigation" by insisting that all questions for Skakel family members first be submitted to their lawyer in writing. And she says that now that the book has appeared, the Skakels have also hired their own team of private investigators, presumably to deflect blame away from the Skakels and to ''make trouble for the police."

''It is an unsatisfactory way to conduct an investigation," said Moxley, who has offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her daughter's killer and has financed a hot line to receive tips about the death.

Skakel, who lived in Pound Ridge, N.Y., until about a year ago, could not be reached for comment.

Margolis, when asked if his client is concerned about Dunne's book, said in an interview last week, "I have no information to indicate that it's keeping anybody awake nights."

Solomon, of the state's attorney's office, said the Moxley case is still being investigated. He said the investigation has suffered from a lack of physical evidence or eyewitnesses. He also says that over the course of the investigation, "there were some areas where certain individuals were reluctant to co-operate . . . who we feel could have helped us with further information." He declined to elaborate.

Dunne insists he harbors no aspirations to solve the crime himself. But police remain perplexed at Dunne's apparent disdain for them.

"We haven't received any tips or leads resulting from Mr. Dunne's book," said Solomon, who says he has bought Dunne's book but hasn't read it yet. "I hope that if he does have information, my God, he will contact us."