by John W. Taylor
Greenwich, Connecticut exudes wealth and privilege. Much of the affluent town is filled with old money and respected surnames that have carried down through generations. Within Greenwich lies the gated community of Belle Haven with its massive homes, located on spacious acreage. The properties commonly possess swimming pools, tennis courts, and secondary houses for attendants. Having copious amounts of money in Belle Haven is the norm, not the exception, and “the help” are the only persons in the area lacking wealth.
In 1975, the Moxleys lived at 38 Walsh Lane in Belle Haven. John Moxley was a partner in the large New York accounting firm, Touche, Ross & Company. John lived with his wife, Dorothy, and their two children, John, age 16, and Martha, age 15. Martha was a high school sophomore and a cheerleader at Greenwich High School. She had long, beautiful blonde hair, an infectious smile, and was voted “best personality” at school.
The Skakels lived across the street from the Moxleys. The patriarch of the family, Rushton Skakel, was brother to Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy. Rushton was chairman of the board of the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation. After Ruston’s wife, Anne, died of cancer in 1973, he was tasked, along with the hired help, with raising their seven children. Tommy and Michael, who were 16 and 15 in 1975, respectively, were the oldest children. The Skakel clan also included: John, Julie, Rush, David, and Stephen. Similar to the Kennedys, the Skakels experienced more than their share of tragedies. Along with losing his wife, both of Rushton’s parents were killed in a plane crash. His brother George died in a separate plane crash and his brother’s wife choked to death on a piece of meat at a dinner party. When Tommy Skakel was only four-years-old, he was thrown from a car. He sustained severe head injuries but survived.
Rushton Skakel employed twenty-three-year-old Ken Littleton as a tutor and care-taker for his children. Ken taught science and coached at the prestigious Brunswick School. Ken arrived for his first day of work at the Skakel residence on October 30, 1975. That evening, Ken Littleton took several of the Skakel children, including Tommy and Michael, along with two friends, to dinner at the Belle Haven Country Club at 7:00 p.m. Though only teenagers, both Tommy and Michael drank heavily while at the country club. A little bit later, Martha Moxley and three friends went to the Skakel home, waiting for everyone to arrive back at home from dinner. It was the night before Halloween, and many of the neighborhood kids roamed the area engaging in mischievous but fairly innocent pranks. Shortly after 9:00 p.m., the kids began to head inside or home for the evening. However, at 9:30 p.m., Tommy and Martha remained outside together on the front lawn of the Skakel property.
Around midnight, Martha’s mother, Dorothy, became concerned when her daughter failed to come home. Dorothy and her son John began looking for Martha in the neighborhood. They stopped at the Skakel residence, at least twice, trying to locate Martha. At 3:48 a.m. on the morning of October 31, 1975, Dorothy called the Greenwich Police Department to report her Martha missing.
The search for Martha continued through the early morning hours. At around 12:30 p.m., family friend Sheila Maguire discovered Martha’s body. Sheila found her lying under a pine tree on her family’s estate, less than 200 yards from the front door. She had been bludgeoned to death with a golf club. Martha was found face down with her jeans and underwear pulled down to her ankles. The authorities believed that she may have been sexually assaulted but not raped. Further, no semen was found on or near her. Martha’s badly beaten 5’5,” 120 lbs. body was discovered about midway between her house and the Skakel home.
In 1975, Greenwich, Connecticut had only 63,000 residents, and there were only three murders in the previous 25 years. The low crime rate appealed to locals and prospective residents alike, but it meant that law enforcement lacked experience regarding the intricacies of homicide investigations. After finding Martha’s body, police did a cursory search of the Skakel home, but they failed to obtain a search warrant. Police may have misplaced key evidence. Several witnesses identified an individual walking several blocks away from the murder, but police did not immediately follow-up on the lead. The autopsy allegedly failed to contain basic pictures memorializing the injuries.
Martha was beaten with a Toney Penna 6-iron. During the initial investigation, police determined the murder weapon belonged to a golf set from the Skakel home. The blows to Martha’s head were so violent and forceful that the steel golf club broke into four pieces during the attack. Investigators recovered three of the four pieces. The grip portion of the club was missing, which had the “Skakel” name on it. The strikes to Martha’s head eviscerated her scalp. Experts estimated the perpetrator bludgeoned her somewhere between nine and fourteen times. Further, post mortem, the perpetrator drove a piece of the golf club’s shaft into her neck. It was a barbaric scene.
Based on the crime scene blood, forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee stated that Martha was likely attacked initially on the driveway, but she was killed on a nearby patch of grass. During the fatal attack, he opined that a portion of the golf club shaft flew over 100 feet when it broke. According to Dr. Lee, the killer dragged Martha approximately 80 feet to a tree, stopped, rolled the body over, and changed from pulling the upper body to pulling her from her feet.
Though police entertained the idea of a transient entering the neighborhood and killing Martha Moxley, they quickly dismissed the theory. Belle Haven was a gated community with its own security force. Outsiders immediately stood out. The police casted a wide net, interviewing several hundred people associated with Martha’s murder. However, with the discovery of the murder weapon being tied to the Skakel household, investigators turned their focus toward those individuals present at the Skakel residence during the likely time of the murder (somewhere between 9:30 p.m. and approximately 10:30 p.m.)
Police zeroed in on three individuals: Tommy Skakel, Michael Skakel, and Ken Littleton. Though Michael dated Martha previously, investigators dismissed him because he had an apparent air-tight alibi. He was at his cousin’s house from 9:30 p.m. till 11:00 p.m. on the night of the murder. Ken and Tommy were both in and around the Skakel home during the estimated time of the murder. Tommy was the last known person to have seen Martha Moxley alive. During his initial interview with police, Tommy told them that he talked with Martha outside his home until around 9:30 p.m. His sister, Julie, corroborated this information as she saw them together at this time as well.
Ken Littleton was new to Belle Haven. He appeared to investigators as nervous, agitated, and unstable. Investigators who interviewed him described him as a “haunted man.” He also failed two polygraph examinations. However, he denied any involvement in Martha’s murder, and the police did not have any evidence tying him to the crime. Regardless, he remained a person of interest.
Investigators initially interviewed Tommy Skakel for five hours on the night of October 31, 1975. They were unable to gather any articulable incriminating information against him. Tommy passed two polygraph examinations. Regardless, police continued to suspect him in Martha’s murder. Though police had suspicions about Tommy’s involvement, they did not have any hard evidence. Rushton Skakel, Tommy’s father, soon cut-off police’s access to Tommy and prevented them from getting his medical and school records.
Ken Littleton was an outsider without the power and wealth of the Skakels. No one wanted to believe a Belle Haven resident could commit murder; therefore, Ken represented a convenient alternative suspect. Unfortunately for investigators, no one was talking. There were no confessions, and this was long before DNA testing. As a result, the police made no arrests nor was a grand jury convened. The case went cold.
After Martha’s murder, Ken Littleton experienced substance abuse problems and depression. In 1976, he was arrested for breaking and entering and larceny. Later, Ken was arrested for assault, disorderly conduct, and driving while intoxicated. Police were left wondering if Ken Littleton’s erratic behavior was indicative of guilt related to murder, a reaction to being suspected of murder, or as a result of what he knew.
In 1991, Rushton Skakel hired a group of New York private investigators from the firm, Sutton Associates. His objective was for the investigators to dig into all areas of Martha Moxley’s murder in order to exonerate his son, Tommy, who the police believed was the perpetrator. Ultimately, Rushton’s honorable intentions led to further complications for his family.
Sutton Associates vetted all the investigators assigned to the case and required them to sign non-disclosure agreements (“NDA’s”). Investigators assembled their findings in a document that became known as “The Sutton Report.” Rushton Skakel allegedly paid somewhere in the realm of $750,000 for the comprehensive investigation and associated reports. The findings remained secret for years.
The Sutton investigators parsed through every piece of evidentiary minutia from the original investigation. The investigators generated suspect profiles, scrutinized previous interviews, and re-interviewed many of the witnesses and potential suspects in the case. The investigators accumulated a mass amount of information and derived conclusions based on their assessments. Though the report stayed secret for years, eventually, the contents of the report leaked.
Since the Greenwich Police placed Tommy Skakel in their crosshairs, the Sutton investigators initially focused on him. During an interview with Sutton investigators, Tommy admitted that he was with Martha for about 20 minutes beyond the 9:30 p.m. time he originally told police. According to Tommy, on the night of Martha’s murder, he and Martha engaged in a sexual encounter in the Skakel’s backyard. He last saw Martha walking across the backyard after their sexual tryst. This new information placed Tommy with Martha until 9:50 p.m. The Sutton investigators considered this a huge break-through in the case. Why would Tommy openly divulge incriminating information about himself almost 20 years later, if it were not true? During the initial police interrogation, Tommy withheld this information from them. Yet, under no pressure, Tommy just gave up the additional information to the Sutton investigators. Why? The private investigators now knew that Tommy initially lied to the police, and he successfully beat two lie-detector tests.
Though Ken Littleton initially failed two law enforcement lie-detector tests, the Sutton investigators attributed it more to Ken’s nervousness and overall instability than deceitfulness. Plus, they knew Tommy beat the lie-detector test twice; therefore, a false positive on Littleton was not outside the realm of possibility. Ken Littleton arrived for his first day of work at the Skakel residence on October 30, 1975, the day of Martha’s murder. He did not have a relationship, nor had he ever met Martha Moxley prior to this day. The killing appeared personal and filled with rage. The Sutton investigators also believed the killer was quite familiar with the area, and Ken was not. Though they did not view him as completely innocent, the investigators found it unlikely that Ken was the perpetrator. Further, investigators felt like Ken’s time was accounted for throughout the evening, thus he did not have the opportunity to kill Martha.
Greenwich investigators initially removed Michael Skakel from suspicion because he had an alibi. Jim Terrien, Michael’s cousin, told investigators back in 1975 that he, along with Rush, John, and Michael, left the Skakel residence at 9:30 p.m. on the night of Martha’s murder. The group left in the Skakel’s Lincoln and did not return to the Skakel residence until around 11:00 p.m.
Michael previously dated Martha. On the night of her murder, Martha overtly flirted with Michael’s older brother, Tommy, in front of him and other friends and siblings. According to the Sutton investigation, Tommy and Michael fought often, and at times, about Martha.
Almost everyone interviewed acknowledged that Martha was a flirt, though her flirtatious manner was considered more attributable to her confidence than as a form of sexual invitation. Regardless, Michael told investigators that he did not consider her flirtatious. Investigators found it interesting that Michael refused to acknowledge Martha’s flirtatious manner when it was considered common knowledge among the group of friends. Michael also downplayed his sexual interest in Martha.
Michael told the Sutton investigators that he could not remember when he found out Martha was killed. The investigators found this highly suspicious, since learning of a close friend and former girlfriend being murdered would be a memorable event.
According to Rushton Skakel, Julie, Michael’s sister, was terrified of Michael. Ken Littleton told Sutton investigators that he witnessed Michael kill small animals. He was disgusted by Michael’s behavior. In 1977, therapists administered a psychological exam on Michael Skakel. He was identified as: depressed, possibly psychotic, with borderline features, such as an inability to attach meaningfully with others and exhibited impulse control issues.
With the above known, investigators re-visited Michael’s alibi. Andrea Shakespeare, a friend of the Skakel’s, hung out at the Skakel home on the night of October 30, 1975. According to Andrea, Michael did not go to Jim Terrien’s. Michael’s brother Rush also could not remember Michael going with him to Terrien’s house. Michael’s other brother, John, also failed to remember Michael being in the car when they left for the Terrien’s. Even under hypnosis, John was unable to remember Michael’s presence in the Skakel’s Lincoln that night. As a result, investigators concluded Michael stayed at home. Now, Michael’s whereabouts between 9:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. were completely unaccounted for during the crucial timeframe.
Julie Skakel drove Andrea Shakespeare home shortly after the group left for Jim Terrien’s house. Julie returned home around 9:50 p.m. She claimed that she saw someone traipsing around the bushes outside the Skakel home in dark clothes and a hood. Julie thought she saw a male, carrying something in his left hand. Because it was the night before Halloween, kids commonly roamed the neighborhood engaging in mischief. As a result, Julie was not alarmed by the apparent prowler
Tommy was likely still with Martha at this time. After Julie went inside, she saw Ken Littleton in the kitchen. As a result, the Sutton investigators determined that Michael Skakel was the only unaccounted for male at this time. They believed Michael was crawling around in the bushes shortly before 10:00 p.m. According to the investigators’ theory, Michael spied on Tommy and Martha while they made out.
According to Littleton, Tommy joined him in the master bedroom at 10:03 p.m. to watch “The French Connection.” This precise time was determined based on Ken’s estimation that Tommy came into the bedroom about 20 minutes before the “chase scene,” which began at 10:23 p.m. Tommy left the master bedroom at the end of the “chase scene,” which was at 10: 32 p.m. According to Tommy, he went to the kitchen to get food. However, no one knew Michael’s location during this entire time.
According to Jim Terrien, the Skakels left his house around 11:00 p.m. At 11:30 p.m., John Skakel told investigators that he heard someone leave his house. Julie Skakel also thought someone may have left the house around this time. In a startling revelation, Michael Skakel told the Sutton investigators that he left the house at 11:40 p.m. He allegedly watched a neighbor woman disrobe through her window and then climbed a tree alongside Martha’s house. He yelled her name twice, and then he masturbated in the tree while outside her window. On his way back home, Michael claimed he felt someone’s presence in the area where Martha’s body was later discovered. When he returned to his house, he climbed in his second-floor bedroom window because all the doors were locked. According to Michael’s story, he was gone for 30 to 45 minutes. When Rush Skakel arrived home at 11:45 p.m., Tommy was in bed. He made no mention of Michael.
Investigators wondered why Michael Skakel changed his story. The investigators speculated that Michael was aware of family members who saw or heard someone leave the house around 11:30 p.m. He may have thought they knew it was him; and therefore, he needed to create a story to explain why he left the house and what he did. Investigators found it note-worthy that he supposedly “sensed” someone in the area where Martha was found. This new information placed Michael close to the crime scene at a time when Martha was likely already dead.
Sutton investigators theorized that both Michael and Tommy changed their stories as a means of damage control. Investigators believed the Skakel brothers thought the investigation had netted new evidence, and they needed to concede some information regarding their activities on the night of Martha’s murder.
According to the Sutton investigators’ assessment, the murder weapon signaled impulsiveness. With Martha having endured 14-15 blows to her head, they considered her murder “overkill.” These traits, along with many others they used to develop a profile of the killer, most closely aligned with Michael. With Michael’s alibi removed, his whereabouts during the likely time of Martha’s murder were completely unknown. Investigators postulated that Michael killed Martha in a fit of rage after seeing her with Tommy. After killing her, Michael sneaked back out of the house around 11:30 p.m. to move her body and possibly engage in activities designed to conceal his involvement, such as hiding the grip portion of the murder weapon. Sutton investigators believed that possibly Tommy and/or Ken Littleton either assisted with or were aware of Michael moving Martha’s body.
Within a few years, two new witnesses from the Elan School for troubled boys in Poland Spring, Maine, came forward. John Higgins, a former classmate of Michael’s at Elan, provided information on statements made by Michael. Higgins claimed that Michael indirectly admitted to murdering Martha Moxley. Michael told him that he took a golf club out of a bag and ran through the woods. Michael could not remember if he killed her or not. Offsetting Higgins statements, he later admitted the monetary reward enhanced his interest in telling this story.
Though he was serving time in prison for criminal trespassing, another former Elan classmate of Michael’s, Gregory Coleman, indicated that Michael Skakel told him: “I am going to get away with murder. I am a Kennedy.” According to Coleman, Michael also told him he drove a golf club into Martha’s head after she denied his advances.
Several years into the Sutton investigation, there were individuals working on the case who never signed NDA’s. In 1998, one of the individuals, allegedly not covered by an NDA, provided the full report to writer Dominick Dunne. Dominick in turn gave the report to former L.A.P.D. detective Mark Fuhrman. Later, the report was leaked into the public domain. Fuhrman looked into the case, but he was treated as an outsider by those in Greenwich. Notwithstanding the stone-walling he received in Connecticut, Fuhrman wrote a book about Martha Moxley’s death called, “Murder in Greenwich.” Similar to “The Sutton Report,” Fuhrman identified Michael Skakel as Martha’s killer.
In the late 1990s, a one-person grand jury convened in Greenwich. On January 19, 2000, police arrested Michael Skakel for the murder of Martha Moxley. He was later released on a $500,000 bond. Michael did not go to trial until 2002. On June 7 of that year, after a three-week long trial, the jury convicted Michael Skakel of murder. According to jurors, they convicted him based on his incriminating statements combined with his erratic behavior. Michael was sentenced to 20 years-to-life in prison.
In 2003, Michael Skakel’s lawyers began the appeals process. They challenged his conviction on several legal grounds, including a claim of prejudice when the prosecution referred to him as a “spoiled brat” in front of the jury. In 2006, the appeals court rejected the legal arguments, and Connecticut’s Supreme Court upheld his conviction. In 2007, Skakel’s attorneys requested a new trial based on statements made by one of Michael Skakel’s former classmates, Gitano Bryant. He claimed someone other than Michael killed Martha Moxley. The court rejected this assertion as well. Michael’s lawyers kept trying. They submitted motions claiming Martha was murdered by anyone and everyone, except Michael Skakel. At one point, his lawyers even argued that Tommy Skakel, Michael’s own brother, was the likely culprit.
Prior to Michael Skakel’s indictment, a mother of one of the girls present at the Skakel home on October 30, 1975, called Martha’s mom, Dorothy Moxley. She told Dorothy to stop pursuing Martha’s case. She went on to say that it would only result in harm to the Skakels, and no good would come of it. Also, prior to the indictment, a woman from Greenwich approached writer Dominick Dunne in a Vermont bookstore. Her first husband lived near the Skakels. She told Dunne that she knew where the grip part of the golf club was located. She continued by stating that a lot of people in Greenwich know where it is. The woman then refused to tell Dunne the location of the golf grip and left the bookstore shortly thereafter. Apparently, Greenwich has many secrets, and some individuals will go to great lengths to ensure they are kept.
In 2013, a judge ordered a new trial for Michael Skakel due to ineffective legal representation. His trial lawyer failed to call a key alibi witness. Later that same year, Skakel posted a $1.2 million bail and was released. In 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated the murder conviction, finding that Michael Skakel’s legal counsel was competent. The following year, after the composition of the high court changed due to retirements, Michael Skakel’s attorneys requested the state supreme court to review its own decision. On May 4, 2018, Connecticut’s Supreme Court reversed itself in a 4-3 ruling, vacating Skakel’s murder conviction, based on ineffective legal representation.
When Martha’s mother, Dorothy Moxley, was asked about the recent ruling, she stated, “We got him arrested and convicted and put in jail. It isn’t my job now. It’s enough.” The State has not decided whether or not they will re-try Michael Skakel for murder.
The Associated Press, “Neighbor Talks to Grand Jury On ’75 Murder in Greenwich,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/13/nyregion/neighbor-talks-to-grand-jury-on-75-murder-in-greenwich.html?ref=michaelskakel, August 13, 1998.
Crittle, Simon, “The Skakel Trial: Day 2,” Time, http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,236427,00.html, May 9, 2002.
Dunne, Dominick, “Trail of Guilt,” Vanity Fair, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2000/10/dominick-dunne-martha-moxley-murder-greenwich, October, 2000.
Farber, M.A., “Who Killed Martha Moxley? A Town Wonders,” The New York Times, http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/20131024skakel/Whokilledmartha62477.pdf, June 24, 1977.
Herszenhorn, David, “2 Witnesses Say Skakel Confessed to 1975 Killing,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/21/nyregion/2-witnesses-say-skakel-confessed-to-1975-killing.html, June 21, 2000.
Lavoie, Denise, “Fuhrman Claims He’s Solved ’75 Slaying,” Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/1998/feb/15/local/me-19311, February 15, 1998.
Rojas, Rick, and Kristin Hussey, “Connecticut Court Reverses Murder Conviction of Michael Skakel,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/04/nyregion/michael-skakel-conviction-reversed.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Frick-rojas&action=click&contentCollection=undefined®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection, May 4, 2018.
Rojas, Rick, and Kristin Hussey, “Four Decades After Martha Moxley’s Murder, Her Mother Says ‘It’s Enough,’” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/05/nyregion/martha-moxley-murder-case.html, May 5, 2018.
Vincent, Isabel, “I tutored a Kennedy relative – and wound up accused of murder,” The New York Post, https://nypost.com/2017/09/17/i-tutored-a-kennedy-relative-and-wound-up-accused-of-murder/, September 17, 2017.
“How the Skakel-Moxley Murder Case Unfolded Over Four Decades,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/04/nyregion/michael-skakel-martha-moxley.html, May 4, 2018.
“Michael Skakel Fast Facts,” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/27/us/michael-skakel-fast-facts/index.html, May 4, 2018.
“The Sutton Report,” http://thesuttonreport.com/The%20Sutton%20Report/campysuttontoc.html, accessed June, 2018.
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John W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
John is the host of the true crime podcast “Twisted,” which can be found at www.twistedpodcast.com. It is available through iTunes, Stitcher, and Libysn. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.