The fourth part in our Halloween Series is the case of Martha Moxley. Martha was brutally bludgeoned to death after attending a Halloween party in 1975. This is her story.
Martha was 15 years old and her family had moved from California to Greenwich in Connecticut when her father was made senior partner in a New York Accounting Firm. She lived with her parents and older brother John in Blue Haven. Blue Haven was known as the ‘richest corner of town’ and was home to many prominent families. It was so exclusive that there was private security and manned guards at the entrance. On October 30th 1975, Martha went to ‘Hacker’s Night’ with friends. There was a yearly tradition in Blue Haven where children would play pranks on neighbours, things like throwing toilet paper in trees. After the party she went to the Skakel house with friends.
The Skakel boys were well known in the area, mostly due to the fact they were related to the Kennedys. Their aunt Ethel Kennedy was the widow of Robert F Kennedy. As their mother had passed away a couple of years previously and their father was away a lot, the boys were often left unsupervised and did whatever they wanted to do. Two of the boys, Thomas and Michael, both liked Martha. She was gorgeous with long blonde hair and talkative and fun. She spent the night flirting with the older boy Thomas. He was 17 years old. The two of them were kissing and fooling around and her friends left her with Thomas by the pool in their backyard. When Martha wasn’t home by 10pm her mother Dorothy was worried and sent John out to look for her. He couldn’t find her and Dorothy began calling everyone she knew. She called the police and they carried out a search but nothing was found.
The next day at 12.15 pm, Martha’s friend Sheila called to the Moxley house. She was distraught. She had cut through the wooded portion of the Moxley backyard and found Martha’s body under a tree. Martha had been beaten to death. Her face was bruised and her hair was matted with blood. Her dungarees and panties were pulled down to her knees but there was no sign of any sexual assault. There were pieces of a broken golf club beside her body. Police in the Greenwich area were used to very minor crimes and were completely inexperienced to deal with a homicide of that magnitude. From the beginning, details were recorded inadequately and the only Doctor present was the Moxley’s own Doctor.
As Thomas was the last person that friends saw Martha with, he was questioned. He told them he was with her until 9.30pm and then went inside to do his homework. He took a polygraph test which was inconclusive. He took a second one six days later and passed. It was believed that the golf club used to murder Martha belonged to Ann Skakel, Thomas’s mother. The golf club used was a six-iron one and the same type was missing from Ann’s set. The Police-Chief at the time stated that it was possible a transient found the golf club and used it to kill Martha. No search warrant was ever issued for the Skakel house. Police tried to access his school and mental health records but his father refused. Police also questioned Ken Littleton at the time. He had started working as a tutor for the boys at the Skakel home the day Martha was murdered. There was no evidence indicating he was involved yet he was hounded so much by police that he lost several jobs. Despite everyone on the street being questioned, the case went cold.
Even though the case went cold in terms of leads and suspects, it didn’t stop journalists and private investigators from trying to find out what happened. Martha’s family tried various ways to find out what happened but the big break came when Thomas Skakel’s own family hired a private investigator in 1992 to find information pointing to someone else so that the family wouldn’t be under any scrutiny. His plan didn’t work though. His own team discovered that everything did in fact point to a new suspect but that suspect was his other son Michael Skakel. He paid them for their work but told them he didn’t require the report. Everyone on the team had signed confidentiality agreements except for a freelance writer who had been hired to put events in chronological order. He leaked the report.
On foot of the report and articles that were written at the time, an investigation was launched. The inadequacies of the first investigation were clear to see. The time of the murder was determined based on a neighbour hearing a dog bark. This mistake led to Michael never being a suspect in the first place as he was at a party. In fact, the murder was much later than previously thought. Evidence from the crime scene was not collected properly either. Blood on leaves beside Martha’s body was never collected. More alarmingly though, the policemen who were first on the scene said that the golf club handle was sticking out of Martha’s neck when they arrived. Nobody knew what happened to it. This would have had initials of the owner and possibly fingerprints of the killer. Then in 1997, a Pathologist reviewed the Autopsy papers. Certain details conflicted with police records. The killer used the club with such force that it broke into pieces but police records overlooked the fact that Martha had a stab wound in her neck. There was blood in her lungs which indicated she was still alive when stabbed in the throat. A possible explanation was that she was almost beaten to death with the golf club and when the killer returned to hide her body, she was still alive so he stabbed her with the broken golf club shaft. Three pieces were found, all dripping in blood and belonged to a rare Tony Penna set.
As Michael had changed his alibi, this made those investigating look at him more closely. He had initially said he barely saw Martha at his house and then he went to a party. He later claimed he was ‘window peeping’ as he did quite often and would look at a woman through her window from a tree. He said that on the night Martha was killed he went to her house and climbed a tree. He threw stones at her window but she didn’t look out and he said that he ‘jerked off’ and left. Shortly after Martha was found murdered, Michael was arrested on a DUI charge and to save him from prison time, he went to a rehabilitation unit and moved from place to place. Several witnesses who met Michael during his time there said that he confessed to Martha’s murder and it happened during a blackout as he had been drinking heavily. Michael was charged with Martha’s murder and his Trial eventually began in May 2002, some 27 years after Martha’s murder.
The Prosecution’s case was that Michael and Thomas both liked Martha and Michael was furious when he saw her kissing Thomas. He went to a party and consumed a large amount of alcohol. When he returned from the party, Martha was leaving his house and he got a golf club from his mother’s set and followed her. He first hit her on the drive-way and they knew this because Martha’s blood was on the drive-way. It was their case that he then dragged her on to her lawn under a tree and viciously hit her with the golf club. He was so forceful that it broke into pieces and one blow was so piercing that Martha’s hair was dragged through one side of her neck to the other side. The force of the blows pierced Martha’s skull and brain. He then stabbed her with a piece of the golf shaft in the neck. After the murder he said that he felt ‘panicked’ when he saw Martha’s mother approach his house. Martha’s mother had called to the Skakel house to ask if they had seen Martha before her body was found. As the Prosecution pointed out, why would he be panicked if he was innocent? They also called numerous witnesses who testified Michael confessed to the murder and even told one friend “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy’.
The Defense claimed that they had the wrong man. They pointed out there were no eyewitnesses and no direct physical evidence whatsoever. They said that they believed Ken Littleton was the one who did it yet nothing pointed to his involvement. The Jury deliberated for three days and found Michael Skakel guilty of the murder of Martha Moxley. Even though he was only 15 at the time, he was tried as an adult and was sentenced to 20 years to life. Sadly Martha’s father died before justice for his daughter was achieved but on the steps of the Courthouse , a relieved Dorothy Moxley said ‘This day is for Martha’.
Martha’s family had to wait 27 years for justice due to police mistakes and cover-ups. They never gave up and fought tirelessly to find out who killed their beautiful daughter and sister. Some believe the Skakel family knew Michael murdered Martha and moved him from one rehabilitation unit to another to stop him from being arrested. He was a troubled young man who went ‘window peeping’ and took pleasure in killing small animals with golf clubs. In the end, he helped to convict himself by changing his alibi and boasting to others about the murder. This case highlights how money and connections can help make evidence ‘disappear’ and offer safety nets for murderers but thankfully the Moxley’s perseverance never faltered and Michael Skakel was eventually caught. Dorothy Moxley now lives close to her son John who lives with his wife and two children. Michael Skakel recently applied for parole but his application was rejected.
UPDATE: A Judge has ordered a reTrial for Michael Skakel. If he posts bond, he may leave prison shortly to await a reTrial. The Judge ordered a reTrial on foot of Michael Skakel’s ‘inadequate representation’.