Martha Moxley, blond and pretty, will forever be 15 years old. In 1975 Michael Skakel bludgeoned and stabbed her to death with his father’s golf club, pulling down her jeans and panties, leaving her body beneath a fir tree on her own property. The Skakels were a very wealthy family as were all the families in the gated community of Bell Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut. Michael was the middle of six children born to Rushton and Anne Skakel. Rushton was the brother of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, wife of Robert Kennedy. In 1973 Anne Skakel died of cancer. The balance Anne kept within the household was gone and a sibling rivalry amidst family chaos took over. watch ct murders
Michael Skakel suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia and his father’s constant lectures about improving his grades certainly didn’t help. Along with those lectures, daddy dearest often told his boy he was “lazy” and “stupid,” – not the most motivational words for a young boy. By 13, Skakel was drinking alcohol daily. Skakel had the reputation of being violent and easily losing his temper. He tortured and killed birds and squirrels. Oddly, when his mother died of cancer when Michael was 13, he blamed himself for her death. He had been very close to his mother and was burdened with guilt.
Tommy was the opposite of Michael. Intelligent, athletic and good-looking Tommy was popular with girls and never had a problem getting dates. He was a well-liked boy who caused no problems in the community. Skakel and Michael were highly competitive with one another, with Tommy usually coming out on top. However, Rushton Skakel was no happier about his eldest son’s academic achievements than Michaels. Tommy wasn’t especially concerned; at least he had his football prowess.
On October 30, 1975 Moxley and her friends were out spraying shaving cream and ringing doorbells before running away. They were getting a jump on Halloween. Eventually they stopped at the Skakels house for a party. Moxley was observed flirting with and kissing Tommy at the party. After a time, Moxley and Michael, along with two of Moxley’s friends, sat in his father’s car and listened to music. Eventually Tommy joined them. Twice he placed his hand on Moxley’s thigh and twice she removed it, giggling girlishly. Michael watched and seethed silently. He had an unrequited crush on Moxley who had made it clear to him that she only liked him “as a friend.”
Michael and a couple of his friends left the Skakels home around 9:30 to drive his cousin home. Witnesses claimed Tommy and Moxley remained behind and they got into an argument, with Tommy pushing Moxley to the ground. Moxley reported left the Skakel residence to go home, but she never made it. Moxley’s mother, Dorothy, was at home painting her window frame. As she did so she heard what sounded like two teenagers arguing loudly nearby. She stopped painting and looked out the window but she saw nothing. The arguing stopped abruptly.
Hours later Moxley was still not home and Dorothy became worried. She called around to neighbours looking for her daughter. When her husband came home, she told him Moxley was missing. Friends went to the Moxley home to help search for her. Around 5:00 a.m. on October 31, police were called. Suddenly, a neighbour entered the Moxley home, on the verge of hysteria. She told Dorothy she had just seen a person she believed to be dead beneath a tree on the Moxley estate. Dorothy wanted to go outside but her friends advised her against it. Instead, another friend went outside to investigate then returned to inform Dorothy that it was Moxley and that she was dead.
Police arrived and discovered a gruesome sight. Moxley had been bludgeoned with an expensive Toney Penna 6-iron golf club that was found broken near Moxley’s body, a piece of it lodged in her neck. From the shoulders upward, Moxley was unrecognizable. The wounds were so severe that the coroner was unable to ascertain which of them had killed her. The gated, secure community was unfamiliar with murder and major crime. The police simply didn’t know how to conduct an investigation. The officer who contacted the police department did so using a police radio. Within minutes the press swarmed the Moxley property, seeking photos and interviews. The scene was irreparably contaminated.
Police canvassed the neighbourhood to see if anyone else owned Toney Penna golf clubs. No one did. Tommy Skakel became a person of interest from the beginning. Police heard about Skakel supposedly pushing Moxley to the ground. When questioned, Tommy looked surprised then denied it. He told police that at 9:30 p.m. he went inside the house to work on a report about Abraham Lincoln for school. However when police interviewed his teacher, she stated no such report was due.
Rushton Skakel informed police he would do everything in his power to cooperate with the investigation. Weeks later, police got the family’s permission to search the Skakel household, looking for the broken handle of the shattered 6-iron golf club. In those days, police had no authority to conduct a general search of households, looking for bloody clothes, for instance. In this case, police were only permitted to look for the golf club. It was 18-year-old Julie Skakel who offered to find the 6-iron for the police, which she did. Forensics revealed it was an exact match for the top of the golf club that had been used to kill Moxley. Soon after, Rushton Skakel withdrew his voluntary cooperation with police.
Six months after the murder, police located a second suspect, Tommy’s high school teacher and coach at The Brunswick School, named Kenneth Littleton. He was both a live-in tutor and a caregiver for the Skakel children while Rushton was away on business. His first night caring for the Skakel boys ended in Moxley’s murder. During the few weeks after her murder, Littleton began drinking heavily. When detectives questioned Littleton about the Moxley murder he screamed he wouldn’t assist police in their case “against Tommy Skakel.” Police assured him “that’s not what we’re looking for.” On October 18, 1976, Littleton failed a polygraph exam about the murder.
Three years after the murder at the age of 18, Michael Skakel was arrested for drunk driving and in an agreement to drop the charges, Michael was sent to Elan School in Poland Spring where he was treated for alcoholism. The rehabilitation program encouraged clients to confess to issues in their lives that contributed to their drinking. Skakel admitted to his father and Tommy he was involved in Martha’s murder but after receiving the information neither man took further action. It’s most likely they told him to keep quiet. watch unsolved mysteries – redux – solved – Martha Moxley In his early 20’s Michael became sober. Diagnosed with dyslexia he entered Currey College in Massachusetts which focused on students with learning disabilities. Upon graduation he married, ironically, golf pro Margret Sheridan.
Without hard evidence against both suspects, the case went cold. Of course the Skakel’s powerful Kennedy connection was an additional obstacle for police, who were criticized by neighbours for favouring the Kenny influence. The late Robert Kennedy, a former Attorney-General of the United States had been was the Skakel boys’ uncle through marriage to Ethel Skakel Kennedy. Needless to say, few stones were overturned in this investigation. Even dead, Kennedy’s political influence was still powerful, although it wasn’t the only obstacle the police faced. The Moxley family worked feverishly to find their daughter’s killer but they were unsuccessful.
Fifteen years would pass before Moxley’s murder case would re-open. In 1991, another Kennedy, William Kennedy Smith was accused of rape. A tabloid erroneously reported that Smith had been visiting the Skakels on the night of Moxley’s murder. The renewed public interest provided Greenwich police with the authority to re-open Moxleys case.
Once again attention focused on the Skakel family. Rushton became concerned and hired a private investigator to investigate the investigation. It was speculated that he wanted to know if any of his sons could be charged in connection with Moxley’s murder. This was a fatal mistake. It alerted police to the possible involvement of the Skakel boys in Moxley’s death. Naturally they again focused on the Skakel boys. During the second round of interviews both Tommy and Michael Skakel changed their original alibis, most likely because forensic evidence in the 1990s was much more accurate than that of the 1970s. .
Tommy now stated that that he did indeed enter his house to work on his schoolwork but that he “came back out again and we were having sex.” The autopsy had revealed that Moxley was a virgin. Tommy corrected himself stating he meant that he and Moxley had masturbated each other. The ridiculous story placed Tomy at the scene at the exact time when the murder was committed.
For two decades, Michael had never been a suspect in the murder. At the time of the murder Michael told police that after bringing his cousin home, he went straight to bed. Now he admitted that he didn’t go to bed at 11:20pm but instead left the house and wandered around the neighbourhood. He peeped through neighbours’ windows, then climbed a tree near Martha’s bedroom window, masturbated while still in the tree and returned home at 12:30 a.m. It was also revealed that Michael and Moxley argued at the Skakel household after she admitted to Michael she had a “crush” on Tommy. He fell into a jealous frenzy after seeing Tommy and Moxley together. Police now believed that when Moxley left the Skakel home not at 9:30 but at 11:00 p.m., Michael followed her home, grabbed a golf club and bludgeoned Moxley. Michael killed Moxley with the first blow but in a murderous state of overkill, he bludgeoned and stabbed her repeatedly.
In June 2000 a murder warrant was issued for Michael Skakel. It had taken twenty-five years, but finally the killer was going to trial. On the advice of his attorney, the 47-year-old Michael turned himself in. For the first time in decades, Michael met with his family. During the trial, several witnesses whom Michael had befriended at the Elan School testified that Michael had told them he killed Martha Moxley. It was established that Skakel’s many psychological issues, in particular his sibling rivalry with Tommy, exacerbated by Moxley’s admission that she preferred Tommy over him, led to Moxley’s murder. On occasion, Kennedy family members made appearances. After five weeks, Skakel was found guilty by a jury of his peers. It had taken twenty-seven years to convict Moxley’s killer. Her mother stated “this is Martha’s day. This is truly Martha’s day.”
He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison where he currently resides. Kennedy relatives wrote letters on his behalf, detailing Michael’s efforts to help people at the Elan School to rehabilitate themselves from alcohol use. It made no difference. He was eligible for parole in 2013 but parole was denied partly because Skakel continued to deny his guilt in Moxley’s murder. His next scheduled parole hearing is in October 2017. This time, there are no Kennedy connections powerful enough to secure an early release.
**Update** Skakel continues to appeal in the Moxley case. His cousin, Robert Kennedy Jr., has published an article stating the reasons Michael Skakel is innocent of the crime. His brothers Tommy and younger brother Stephen support him in his bid for freedom. They have made appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Stanford Connecticut Supreme Court. Their appeals have been denied. It will be a long journey. It seems very likely that the right man is behind bars for Martha Moxley’s murder. Let’s hope he stays there.
**Update** – On October 15, 2015, I was reading a psychiatric journal analyzing the Moxley case. In fact, several articles I came across suggested the same theory which was this: strong visuals in the Skakel trial probably led to his conviction. The argument suggests that the medium in which a person receives information greatly influences his or her perception of a situation. Clearly that has to be true. That has been argued over the decades about the media and video games, even comic books and cartoons. (Remember that silly argument that movies make people go out and murder people)? This article entitled A Manifesto for Visual Legal Representation states “we not only encounter new content, we also become accustomed to new ways of experiencing and thinking about that content…we are used to simultaneously seeing, hearing, and reading information as its multi-modal forms play out together over time. This is precisely what jurors saw on the screen…”
I can’t help but agree since it engages more of our senses than merely listening to a summary. Certainly photographs of Moxley’s body, which were displayed on a screen for the jury, would have been very persuasive about Skakel’s guilt, since at the time they were displayed, Skakel’s statements about that evening were relayed to the jury in two ways: spoken and visually displayed on the same screen. His comment that he was “nervous” when he saw Moxley’s mother the day when Martha was found murdered were associated with the visual of Martha’s bludgeoned body. Now the jury made a solid connection between Martha’s murder and Skakel. In this manner, the prosecution succeeded in “respecting the medium.”
I agree that the prosecution used media to sway the jury’s decision and its perspective about Michael Skakel. But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe for a minute that Skakel is innocent. The prosecution got the right guy. All of the preceding evidence, Skakel’s bizarre character and the fact that he was the only person with any motive to kill Martha lead me to conclude that Skakel is unquestionably the killer.
You can download the paper here.