They found her body, stabbed and blugeoned, on Halloween, October 31, 1975, shortly after noon. She had died on Mischief Night, Devil's Night in Belle Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut. Her pants and underpants had been pulled down. These circumstances suggest an attack of a sexual nature, though she had not been raped. She was fifteen. She died among fallen leaves and carved gourds, in one of America's wealthiest suburbs.
The Moxleys, late of San Francisco, California, had not lived long in the exclusive, gated community, but they'd quickly become part of Belle Haven. In particular, blonde, gregarious Martha had won the favour of her schoolmates. They lived near the Skakels, kin to the American royalty, the Kennedys. She'd attracted the attention of the Skakel boys closest her age, Michael and Tommy, and reportedly flirted with both.
Shortly after 7:00 on October 30, Martha and a small group of friends headed out to kick off a three-day weekend and the trick-and-treat season. Some of the Skakels were supposed to join the carousing later in the evening.
Rushton and Anne Skakel had six children before she died of cancer in 1973. Rushton devoted significant time to his work, and the Skakels were often left without parental guidance. Yet at other times, according to their cousin, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., he could be violent towards his offspring. In any case, the Skakel boys had earned a reputation in Belle Haven for wildness, and many local parents felt uneasy about them.
When they arrived at the Skakel home, the gardener, Franz Wittine, informed the youthful group that the family was still out, dining at the club with the children's newly-hired tutor, Ken Littleton. Martha and the others wandered about Belle Haven for the next while, and eventually returned to find Michael Skakel listening to music in the family's black Lincoln. After a short time, some of the group drove off, including three of the brothers: Michael, John, and Rushton Junior. That group went to another house where they continued to drink, smoked pot, and watched Monty Python's Flying Circus. Michael claims he returned around 11:20. Other recollections regarding how long anyone stayed at that house are, understandably, somewhat fuzzier.
Tommy and Martha were among those left behind in the Skakel yard. The remainder of that group left when Tommy and Martha began making out by the swimming pool.
Around 9:30, Martha's mother, Dorthy Moxley, heard a dog barking. Others reported the same disturbance.
After midnight, Mrs. Moxley finally called the Skakels to inquire as to the whereabouts of her daughter. Tommy said he'd last seen her around 9:30. Michael claims he had not seen her since he left the Skakel yard, some time after 9:00 pm.
During the twilight hours, local police and Martha's father, John Moxley, searched Belle Haven without success. Others joined the effort the next morning. Friends found her under a tree in her own yard. She had been bludgeoned with a six-iron and stabbed with its broken end.
The investigation did not proceed smoothly. The coroner did not arrive at the scene, not even after hours had passed. Rather, the Moxley family doctor examined the body. Investigators concluded she had been bludgeoned to death; a later examination of records by criminal pathologist Dr. Michael Baden concluded the stabbing probably killed her. Blood spattered at the site they assumed was Martha's. It was neither collected nor analyzed.
The handle of the six-iron was reported missing. The killer most likely would have swung the golf club by its handle, and the investigation recovered no fingerprints. Years later, patrolmen who had been at the site claimed the handle had been in Martha's body when they arrived. If this disputed claim is true, it raises serious questions about the investigation. Were the local police incompetent? Did they cover up important clues? These are not the only speculations that have marked this case.
For example, many Belle Haven residents, when they first heard the news, postulated that a transient had committed the murder. This mysterious stranger never emerged. The police pursued other suspects, closer to Belle Haven.
Twenty-three-year-old Ken Littleton, the new Skakel tutor, moved into the home the night Martha Moxley was murdered. As an outsider, he fell under immediate suspicion. Police heard rumors and reports: the tutor swam nude, he kept pornography in his room. In the years that followed, he drank heavily, committed numerous thefts, assaults, and burglaries, and had difficulty keeping a job. He claims the pressure of suspicion affected his sanity. He remains a suspect in many people's minds, though no evidence links him directly to the killing.
Twenty-six-year-old Ed Hammond, a neighbor of the Moxley family, also caught the attention of police. He was dropped as a suspect after several months of investigation turned up nothing to suggest his involvement.
Franz Wittine, the Skakels' gardener, too, fell under suspicion. Allegedly, he had bragged to people about raping girls while a soldier during World War II. No specific evidence links him to the crime. He did, however, quit his job shortly after the crime, a few months shy of full pension.
Of course, witnesses last saw Martha Moxley in the company of Thomas Skakel.
Tommy Skakel claimed that, after a night of drinking and fun, and before a three-day holiday weekend, he had left the group to complete a project on Abraham Lincoln—-a project which, police learned, had never been assigned. Police asked to examine school and mental health records. Rushton Skakel first gave, and then rescinded, permission, and the records went unexamined. He did permit police to search his house without a warrant. Police found nothing to implicate any specific person, but they did identify the probable source of the murder weapon.
The Skakels owned a set of Tony Penna Golf Clubs, the same make as the one used to beat and stab Martha Moxley. The set's six-iron had gone missing.
Family members claimed they often left the clubs on the lawn, where they practiced and putted. Investigators conceded that, while the murder weapon almost certainly came from that particular Skakel set, anyone might have picked up the club from the yard.
In 1976 Greenwich police sought an arrest warrant for Thomas Skakel. The district attorney found their evidence wanting and denied the request. Tommy nevertheless remained their prime suspect. The case remained unsolved for many years, often forgotten by the general public, occasionally raised and discussed. And, with other suspects eliminated, suspicion continued to fall on Tommy Skakel.
Both Thomas and Michael continued their education away from Bell Haven. Michael experienced years of drug and alcohol problems, at one point running over a police officer while impaired. He eventually found work with the Kennedy family. According to his cousin, Robert Kennedy Jr., he was regularly abused at the Elan reform school which he attended in years following the murder, and that staff openly accused him of complicity in Martha Moxley's death.
In 1992 Rushton Skakel hired a private investigation firm to investigate the case, with the hopes of clearing the family name. The evidence they uncovered, unfortunately, made his sons look even more guilty. Both Skakel sons had changed their alibis. Thomas now claimed his make-out session with Martha had continued after 9:30, and been more intense than he initially had reported. Although they had not had intercourse, he states they had masturbated each other to orgasm. Michael revealed that, later that night, he had gone peeping into neighbourhood windows, including Martha's. While up a tree in the Moxley yard, he masturbated. Thomas Dumas, in A Wealth of Evil (originally published as Greentown), first publicly advanced the theory that both Skakels had fabricated these accounts in order to account for any semen that newer DNA tests might uncover. This may be so, though it is important to note Michael identified a tree other than the one under which Martha's body was found, a fact which has been misreported often.
In 1996 author Dominick Dunne published his bestseller, A Season in Purgatory. The literate thriller is a work of fiction, but his research included interviews with Dorthy Moxley. The author remodels the Skakels to more closely resemble their famous Kennedy relatives. The patriarch recalls Joseph Kennedy, at least as his enemies would present him. The novel's family also has a daughter with limited mental ability, whom they keep in an institution. However, the similarity between the murder plot and the real-life crime are obvious, and the success of the novel and its subsequent tv adaptation put the Moxley case again before the public eye. Dumas, Dunne and others influenced Mark Fuhrman to write his 1999 non-fiction examination, Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?. Self-aggrandizing as Furhman's book can be, it played an important role in spurring further investigation. Like A Season in Purgatory, it also received a tv adaptation. Shows such as American Justice recounted the case, refreshing the memory of older viewers and introducing it to younger ones.1
In 1998, a one-man Grand Jury began reexamining the murder. On January 19, 2000, as a result of this investigation, a warrant was issued for a Skakel-- not Thomas, but Michael.
Evidence included testimony from people who had known Michael Skakel in drug rehab and at school. They testified to suspicious statements Michael allegedly made about the killing. Two of these individuals claim that he actually confessed to the crime. Their testimony, disputed by Skakel's defense team, was key to the case against him, to their story of that Devil's Night.
October 30, 1975, according to the prosecution, jealousy plagued Michael Skakel. He regarded Martha as something akin to a girlfriend. She felt differently; though her diary notes that friends thought she was leading him on. His jealousy became irrational rage when he saw her making out with his older brother. He stalked her through the shadows of the night and killed her, and then moved her body, beneath the tree, in her own yard.
Some wonder if he had help.
On June 7, 2002, a Norwalk, Connecticut court convicted Michael Skakel of murder and sentenced him to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for twenty years. He denies that he is guilty, and has appealed his conviction.
A year later, reports surfaced of entirely new suspects. One Gitano "Tony" Bryant, a cousin of Kobe Bryant and an acquaintance of Skakel during his rehab days, claimed that two associates of his had committed the crime. According to this account, the pair, Adolph Hasbrouck and Burt Tinsley, had gone to Belle Haven, where they picked up a golf club and assaulted a girl. Later, they bragged about the crime to Bryant. Their presence, apparently unnoticed at the time, would fit the original speculation of a transient killer, but to date no evidence has emerged to support Bryant's claim. Furthermore, Bryant refuses to testify in court, pleading his Fifth Amendment rights. The story, while not impossible, presents a few problems. The two suspects named would have been rather conspicuous in Belle Haven, 1975. Odder still that they would brag about the killing, coincidentally, to a future acquaintance of the man eventually convicted.
UPDATE: Nevertheless, a 2016 book by Skakel relative Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. argues, in somewhat convoluted fashion, that these men, indeed, committed the crime, and that the conviction of Michael Skakel resulted from an elaborate conspiracy.
In 2013, courts ordered a new trial, and released Skakel. In 2018, the courts vacated his conviction, claiming Skakel's original lawyer "rendered ineffective assistance." A new trial may or may not take place.
If Michael Skakel is guilty-- and he was convicted as the result of an investigation that could hardly be characterized as "rushed"-- then justice has been served and then summarily overturned. If others committed or assisted with the crime, then quite possibly those people will never have to answer for the assault and murder.
Of course, Martha Moxley, gregarious teenage girl, had the rest of her life robbed from her, her presence taken from those close to her. In such a case, one wonders if justice can ever be served.
1. The 2003 pilot episode of Cold Case, "Look Again," clearly takes its inspiration from the Martha Moxley murder-- though by this point, Skakel had been convicted.
Dominick Dunne. A Season in Purgatory. New York: Ballantine Books,1998.
Ralph Ellis and Jean Casarez. "Court vacates Michael Skakel's murder conviction and orders a new trial." CNN.com. May 4, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/04/us/michael-skakel-conviction-vacated/index.html
Mark Fuhrman. Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley? New York: Avon, 1999.
Joseph Geringer. "The Martha Moxley Murder by Michael Skakel." Crime Library. http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/famous/moxley/index_1.html.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Letter to the Honorable Judge John F. Kavenewsky, Jr. for Michael Skakel. http://www.marthamoxley.com/impact-RFK/index.html
"A Miscarriage of Justice." The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2003.http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200301/kennedy-skakel
"Kobe Bryant relative implicates two friends in '75 Moxley murder." Sunday Gazette-Mail, September 7, 2003.http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-14740856.html
"Kobe relative implicates friends in Moxley murder." Courttv.com. September 7, 2008.http://www.courttv.com/trials/moxley/090703_ap.html.
Timothy W. Maier. "New evidence to exonerate Skakel?" WorldNetDaily. October 2, 2003.
Kevin McCallum. "Rushton Skakel dies at 79." The Stamford Advocate. http://www.marthamoxley.com/news/010403gt.htm
Charles Montaldo. "Skakel Witness Refuses to Testify." Charles' Crime/Punishment Blog. http://crime.about.com/b/2006/09/01/skakel-witness-refuses-to-testify.htm.
Martha Moxley. Diary excerpts. The Martha Moxley Site. http://www.marthamoxley.com/diary/index.htm
"Martha Moxley." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Moxley.
"The Martha Moxley Case Timeline." The Martha Moxley Site. http://www.marthamoxley.com/timeline/index.htm.
"Skakel lawyers say new evidence shows he's innocent." Stamford Advocate. Southern Connecticut Newspapers, 2003. http://www.marthamoxley.com/news/090503gt-1.htm