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Martha Moxley

Real Name: Martha Elizabeth Moxley
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Greenwich, Connecticut
Date: October 30, 1975

Case[]

Details: Fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley had recently moved with her family from California to Greenwich, Connecticut. On the night before Halloween, October 30, 1975, she disappeared. For twelve hours, her family was in a panic. The entire neighborhood spread out in search of her. The next day, another fifteen-year-old girl, her friend Sheila, took a shortcut through Martha's yard and made a shocking discovery: her body. She immediately went to the Moxley home and told them that she had found her. A family friend went with Sheila and they confirmed that she was dead.
Martha's murder stunned the wealthy gated community of Belle Haven. Initially, everyone assumed that the killer had to have been someone from outside the area. In fact, among the suspects, then and now, are two young men who lived less than 200 yards away. Leonard Levitt, an investigative reporter for Newsday, believes that if the suspects had not been from a prominent family, nobody would have gotten away with the crime. Despite the fact that years have passed since the murder, the case remains open and seems more solvable than ever. This is because of advances in forensic technology such as DNA analysis, and because of stunning new revelations allegedly made by two of the suspects themselves.
October 30 had begun innocently. Martha and several friends went out for an evening of teenage pranks. Early the next afternoon, her body was discovered in her own backyard, underneath a tree. It appeared that she had been dragged to that location. Her jeans and underpants were pulled down around her knees, but there was no evidence of sexual assault. She had been struck in the head multiple times with a golf club. The head of the club was found fifty feet away, near the portion of her driveway where police believe she was initially accosted. Subsequently, they were able to determine that she was stabbed in the neck. It is believed that a portion of the shaft of the golf club was used to stab her. That particular section of the club, about a foot long, was never located.
The golf club turned out to be part of a set belonging to the Skakel family who lived across the street from the Moxley's. Rushton Skakel, the family patriarch, is a brother of Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's widow. Police then focused their investigation on the Skakel household and family. The police estimated that Martha had been murdered between 9:45 and 10pm. Fifteen-year-old Michael Skakel told police he had been with her that night. Seventeen-year-old Thomas Skakel was with her as well. In fact, he was the last person known to have seen her alive.
Thomas told detectives that he and Martha, along with Michael and two other friends, sat in their car listening to music from around 9 to 9:30pm. Then, their two oldest brothers, John and Rush Jr., came out and kicked them out of the car because they needed to give their cousin Jim a ride home. Soon after, their two friends left. A few minutes later at 9:30pm, Martha left as well. Thomas then went inside to work on a paper on Abraham Lincoln. The police later checked with his school; they found that no such report had been assigned.
Michael corroborated part of Thomas's story. He told police that at 9:30pm, he went with John and Rush Jr. to give Jim a ride home. But if Michael was in the car and Thomas was in his room, what happened to Martha on her short walk home? Investigators found yet another suspect in the Skakel household. Twenty-four-year-old Kenneth Littleton had just been hired as a live-in tutor for the Skakel children. He had moved into the house on the morning of the murder.
Littleton told police that he had been watching TV all night. At around 9:45pm, the family housekeeper, Mrs. Watson, told him that she had heard a noise outside of her window. She asked him to check outside and he agreed to do so. Before he went outside, he decided to check on the seven Skakel children. Rush Jr., John, Michael, and Thomas were still not home. He claimed that he did not see anything when he went outside. He also claimed that he did not see Thomas until 10:25pm when Thomas joined him in front of the TV. The other three boys came home within half an hour.
Over the next several months, detectives interviewed more than 200 people and gave several polygraph exams. According to the police, Thomas was given two tests. The first was inconclusive; he passed the second one. Then, after months of cooperating with the authorities, the Skakels, on the advice of their attorney, abruptly put a halt to all further questioning. Investigators thought it was strange that they would stop cooperating if they were innocent and were merely giving information to help solve the case.
Eventually, attention shifted again to Littleton, who had been dismissed by the Skakels after six months. In July 1976, he was arrested in Nantucket, Massachusetts, for burglary and theft. According to police, he was given a polygraph regarding Martha's murder and failed. Still, authorities felt that there was not enough evidence to make an arrest. The case became inactive.
Incredibly, sixteen years later, it was the media attention surrounding the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith that brought Martha's case back to life. The connection between the Skakel and Kennedy families served as the impetus. Within weeks, the Greenwich police had re-opened their investigation. They felt certain that whoever was responsible was in the Skakel home at some point that night. When attempting to re-question the Skakels, they were told that no one in the family would agree to be interviewed.
In 1991, police brought in forensic pathologist Dr. Henry Lee, who would later gain national prominence during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He was able to utilize technology unavailable in 1975. Among the items examined were clothes found discarded in the Skakel's garbage shortly after the murder. This included a pair of pants and sneakers, which reportedly belonged to Michael. Dr. Lee found some hairs and fibers on them. Some of the hairs were microscopically similar to Martha's. Other hairs were dissimilar to her. He determined that the hair belonged to a male Caucasian, but he did not have a hair sample from any of the possible suspects. He was unable to make a match.
However, after studying the crime scene photographs, Dr. Lee was able to provide a possible motive for Martha's murder. The blood smear on her body indicated that somebody tried to use force. This suggested to him that it could have been a sexually motivated homicide. Levitt noted that there were no defense wounds on her body, which indicates that she knew her attacker. The fact that she was hit repeatedly indicates some kind of rage and anger towards her. This suggests that it was a crime of passion.
Time and again, the trail led back to the Skakels. By 1995, Thomas was thirty-seven. He was a successful businessman, married, and the father of two. Years earlier, his father, Rushton, had set out to clear the family name once and for all. He hired his own private investigators; but what they allegedly discovered about the night in question was nothing short of a bombshell.
In November 1995, a full twenty years after Martha's murder, Levitt reported in Newsday that Thomas and Michael had made startling admissions to the private investigators. Both told the investigators that they had lied to the police about their accounts of the night of the murder. Thomas said to them that after 9:30pm, he went inside his house. Then, he went back out and spent another twenty minutes with Martha. He claimed that they engaged in a sexual act and that he left her at about 9:50pm.
Levitt notes that Thomas's new story does not add up. At 1am, Martha's mother, Dorthy, called around the neighborhood looking for her. The Skakels woke up Thomas and he told them that he last saw her at 9:30pm. If he did not know at that time that Martha was dead, why did he not say that he last saw her at 9:50pm? Why did he lie even before anyone knew that she was dead? Nobody has been able to resolve this discrepancy.
Michael told the private investigators that at around midnight, he went out to Martha's house, climbed up a tree, and threw stones at her window to awaken her. This would suggest that he did not know that she was dead. He then climbed down and passed by the crime scene. He said that he heard something, saw nothing, and then went home.
Thomas's story seems to place him with Martha at the time that the murder takes place. The police wonder why he and Michael lied and why they decided to change their stories twenty years later. This leads them to be almost certain that the answers to the case lie within the Skakel family. Martha's family is upset that the Skakels lied for so long. Dorthy, however, is excited to hear that their stories have changed and hopes that they will continue to change or break down until the truth comes out.
Suspects: The immediate suspects in Martha's death were Thomas and Michael Skakel. The suspicion intensified when they lost one of their golf clubs, the same blunt object used as the weapon; it was later confirmed that it came from their home. When questioned by police, both claimed that they had been with Martha that night. However, Michael claimed that he left at 9:30pm to go with two of his brothers to a cousin's house, while Thomas claimed that he and Martha parted ways around the same time. Years later, both changed their stories when questioned by private investigators. Thomas claimed to have seen her later that night, engaged in a sexual act with her, and then left her at around 9:50pm. Michael claimed that he tried to wake her up by throwing stones at her window at around midnight. He also apparently walked near the crime scene and heard "something" but did not see anything. It was later discovered that Martha had apparently spurned Thomas's advances that night.
Another suspect was Kenneth Littleton, a live-in tutor for the Skakel family. He started working at the home on the day of Martha's murder. He claimed to have been watching TV all night. A year after the murder, he was arrested for burglary and theft. He failed a polygraph in relation to the murder. However, no other evidence was found to link him to the case.
Based on the changing of the stories and all of the other evidence, the police are almost certain that one of the Skakels killed Martha or at least has information about this case.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the February 16, 1996 episode.
  • Through their attorneys, Thomas and Michael declined to be interviewed for the broadcast.
  • It also was featured on Cold Case Files.
  • In 1998, Mark Fuhrman wrote the book, Murder in Greenwich, about the case. He concluded that Michael was the likely killer.
  • Dominick Dunne's novel, A Season in Purgatory, is based on the case.

Michael Skakel

Results: Unresolved. As a result of the broadcast, new witnesses came forward with information on the case. One witness was Gregory Coleman, a roommate of Michael's while they were at a military-style boarding school called the "Elan School." In 1978, Michael was arrested for speeding, drunken driving and fleeing police; he was sent to the school as a result. Coleman later recalled a conversation where Michael confessed to Martha's murder. He said that she had rejected his sexual advances, so he beat her with a golf club, which broke during the assault. He also commented, "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."
Four other witnesses from the school also came forward, claiming that Michael had either confessed to killing Martha or made inculpatory statements. They even claimed that he had admitted to it during a group therapy session. During several of these sessions, he was confronted about the murder. On some occasions, he became upset and began to cry, saying that he did not know if he did it. He also claimed that on the night of the murder, he was "blind drunk" and "stumbling". He also told another resident at the school that he was drunk that night and was not sure if he killed her. He told them that he was sent there because his family believed he had killed her and wanted him away from investigators.
Along with members of the Elan School, Michael made incriminating statements to others. In 1976, a barber recalled him mentioning that he wanted to kill someone. When his sister Julie responded, "Shut up, Michael." his reply was, "Why not? I did it before." The family driver told police that in 1977, Michael had told them that he had done something "really bad" and that he "either had to kill himself or get out of the country." That same day, he also tried to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge that they were driving on at the time. When he got back in the car, he said to the driver that, "if you knew what I had done, you would never talk to me again." He also reportedly confessed to the murder while at a party.
Furthermore, investigators noted that, when Michael recorded a conversation for a book he planned to write about himself, he made other incriminating statements about his whereabouts on the night of Martha's murder, including that he was masturbating above the same tree near which she would be found. Investigators believe that he may have made this statement in order to explain his DNA being found on her body (although no DNA was actually found). He also stated that he was "worried about what I went to bed with" that night. However, it is not known if the "what" referred to what he did in the tree or what he may have done to Martha.
Julie's friend, Andrea, who was at the Skakel home on the night of Martha's murder, claimed that Michael did not go with his brothers and cousin to the latter's home. She recalled that he had stayed behind and that Julie talked with him after the car left. Julie also told police that she believed she saw him walking on their property after the car left. One of the friends who was in the car with Martha and Michael that night also stated that she was not sure if he had stayed behind or not.
Several friends also told police that Michael was infatuated with Martha and wanted a relationship with her. They also claimed that he was jealous of her relationship with Thomas. Specifically, he seemed upset by the attention she gave Thomas on the night of the murder. Police theorized that he killed her after she rejected his sexual advances.
In June 1998, Connecticut Judge George Thim began an eighteen-month grand jury review of evidence in the case. After taking testimony from fifty-three witnesses, Thim issued a report, concluding that there was enough evidence to arrest Michael, then thirty-nine. On January 19, 2000, he was arrested and charged with Martha's murder. However, in August 2001, before his trial, one of the witnesses who heard him confess at Elan, Gregory Coleman, died of a drug overdose. Despite this, in May 2002, he went on trial for the murder. On June 7, he was convicted of first-degree murder.
Jurors believed that the circumstantial evidence (including Michael's various confessions, statements placing him at the murder scene, access to the murder weapon, and motive) were enough to prove his guilt. They also said that they did not believe his alibi witnesses and that his siblings and cousin were covering for him. He was given a sentence of twenty years to life. In October 2007, a Superior Court Judge denied his motion for a new trial.
In October 2013, in a dramatic new development, Michael was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge who ruled his attorney, Michael Sherman, had failed to adequately represent him at his trial. The judge stated that the defense failed to give proper attention to detail in the case, failed to complete an energetic investigation, and did not have a coherent plan of defense. Prosecutors appealed the decision. Michael was released on bail.
On December 31, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court re-instated Michael's murder conviction, holding that Sherman provided a constitutionally adequate defense. However, he was not returned to prison. The defense asked the court to review their decision. In May 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed its previous decision and overturned the murder conviction again. They stated that Sherman should have presented witnesses to support Michael's alibi. On October 30, 2020, the State of Connecticut decided not to retry Michael, claiming that, due to the deaths of several witnesses and a lack of new forensic evidence, they did not believe they would be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Levitt died on May 18, 2020 at the age of seventy-nine.
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