The Murder of Martha Moxley, Part I

Tess has been working so hard lately that she has earned herself a little break! I’m taking over #MurderMonday for the next two weeks. But we’ve got a really in-depth case to go over, so let’s not delay any further.

You may have heard in the news this weekend that a man had his murder conviction overturned by the Supreme Court this past Friday. Michael Skakel, a relative of the Kennedy family, was convicted in 1975 for the murder of his 15-year-old neighbor, Martha Moxley. Before we get into the details of the overturned conviction, let me get you up to speed on this poor young girl’s violent murder and the search for her killer.

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Martha Moxley, photo courtesy of the Hartford Courant

October 31, 1975

Halloween would never feel the same again for the residents of Belle Haven, a posh gated community in Greenwich, Connecticut. On the afternoon of October 31st, 1975, the body of 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found beneath a pine tree at the edge of her family’s estate, her head smashed in by a #6 Toney Penna golf club. The teenager was hit with such force that the club actually broke into three pieces, only two of which were recovered. One of those two pieces was used to stab Martha through the neck. Forensic pathologists estimated her death occurred around 10 p.m. on October 30th, the night before her body was discovered.

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Autopsy drawings, photo courtesy of Mark Furhman

The kind of excessive violence displayed at the scene is known as “overkill” and it is suggestive of personal anger. If there was one thing that was clear when Martha’s body was discovered, it was that whoever was responsible for the murder of this young girl had some deep-seated rage.

A matching Toney Penna golf club was discovered at the home of Martha’s wealthy neighbors, the Skakels. Here is where the tie to the infamous Kennedy family comes in: the father, Rushton, was the brother of Ethel Kennedy. What I want you to pick up on here is that this family is in a position of extreme wealth and privilege, to the point where it’s possible people even feared them. Regardless, here’s the real kicker: the piece of the club missing from the scene was part of the handle and shaft. The club discovered at the Skakel house had an engraving on the handle and shaft that read ‘Anne Skakel,’ Rushton’s late wife.

So clearly, the club found in the Skakel home was obviously the smoking gun, right? Wrong. It seems law enforcement couldn’t fathom that someone from their perfect little community could possibly be responsible for such a heinous act. Despite the discovery of the matching club, no warrant was immediately sought nor were any of the members of the Skakel family separately interviewed. Officers assumed it had to have been a stranger who had senselessly murdered the 15-year-old girl.

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By now it’s pretty obvious something was a little off in Greenwich. With that being said, let’s dissect the inner-workings of this community a bit further. Many of the Greenwich detectives actually worked second jobs as chauffeurs and bartenders for the wealthy residents of the community. It appears this lead detectives to feel uncertain about how to approach the possible involvement of the Skakels in Martha’s murder. Steve Carroll, one of the detectives on the case, confirmed this by saying, “Maybe it was the Skakel money. Maybe it was their position. But I believe I was subconsciously intimidated by them.” Wow, this is a mess.

Suspicion eventually did fall on 17-year-old Tommy Skakel, who was seen as one of the most troubled members of the Skakel family, along with his younger brother, 15-year-old Michael.  At the age of four, Tommy fell out of a moving car, leaving him hospitalized with head injuries for two weeks. According to a neurologist who treated Tommy after the accident, the injuries he sustained caused him to develop changes in his personality, including frequent violent outbursts.

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Tommy Skakel, left, and Michael Skakel – Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Tommy had been the last person to see Martha alive. Martha and two of her friends had gone over to the Skakel house around 9 p.m. the night of October 30th. Three of the Skakel brothers, including Michael, allegedly left around 9:30 p.m. to go to their cousin’s house, but Tommy, Martha, and the two friends stayed behind. Tommy told investigators he had been with Martha until 9:30 p.m., leaving her to write a school paper on Abraham Lincoln. According to teachers at the private school Tommy attended, no such paper had ever been assigned. Years later, Tommy admitted the two had engaged in mutual masturbation for about 20 minutes before Martha left to go home.

In 1991, the state of Connecticut reopened the case. The investigation was lead by Donald Browne and Jack Solomon. Browne and Solomon focused their efforts on linking a man named Kenneth Littleton to the murder as they were convinced of his involvement due to a failed lie detector test. At some point, Solomon mentioned their vigorous pursuit of Littleton to Rushton Skakel’s lawyer. Catching wind of this information, Skakel hired private investigators to supposedly “clear the family name”, but actually, they were hired to ensure that Littleton was found responsible for Martha’s murder. The hired investigators attempted to link Littleton to the murders of four other teenage girls. It sounds to me like Rushton was aware someone in his family had killed Martha and he was stuck trying to clean up the mess.

Solomon and Frank Garr, a Greenwich detective also working on the case, started a tip line to get more information on both Littleton and Tommy, but to their surprise — PLOT TWIST — the calls that came in where actually about Tommy’s younger brother, Michael. Michael had been dismissed early on as a suspect because his alibi was that he had gone with his brothers to their cousin’s house the evening of October 30th and did not return until 11 p.m.

Sometime during the summer of 1998, Garr received information from a woman who had had a conversation with Rushton about a confession Michael had made to his father. Michael told Rushton he had been drinking the evening of Martha’s murder. He said he had blacked out and was fearful he had been responsible for the girl’s death. The woman’s loyalty to Rushton kept her from disclosing this conversation until this time.

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A former Skakel chauffeur told Garr he would drive Michael to his psychiatric appointments once a week. Several years after the murder, while stuck in heavy traffic on a bridge, the chauffeur said Michael jumped out of the car, telling the driver he had done something so bad he was either going to flee the country or jump off the bridge. Michael also confided in a school counselor that he had been covered in blood the night of the murder. As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, IT’S A DAMN DUCK.

Michael eventually got himself involved in some family drama with the Kennedys that lead him to discuss said drama as well as the night of Martha’s murder back in 1975 in a 37-page, audio-taped memoir for an autobiographical book proposal. Not a good idea, Michael. In the memoir, Michael describes returning from his cousin’s house around 11 p.m. and going over to Martha’s. He describes how he had a crush on Martha and was going over to her house in hopes of getting a kiss from her. He goes on to say he climbed a pine tree outside Martha’s window and was throwing rocks to try and get her attention. When didn’t get a response, he pulled down his pants and masturbated briefly before leaving. The only problem? There had been no pine tree outside Martha’s window, and the tree Michael described was actually the one her body had been found under, therefore placing Michael at the scene of the crime. Garr brought all of this to the attention of Browne, who took no action due to lack of evidence to indict.

However, after supervising the case for almost 25 years, Browne eventually withdrew. The new prosecutor, Jonathon Benedict, indicted Michael for the murder of Martha based on Garr’s interviews. Michael was charged on January 19, 2000. Although Michael was 39 years old at the time of the charge, he is actually charged as a minor because he was 15 at the time of Martha’s death.

Next week, in part II, we will cover Michael Skakel’s trial and the recent overturn of his conviction.

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Photo courtesy of News Max

SOURCES:

The Daily Beast

Hartford Courant

The New York Times

The New York Times

Town & Country Magazine

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