"You just can't help but wonder what might have been, if Martha had been allowed to live her life out. Would she have been the CEO of a major corporation or the president of the Peace Corps? I made a lot of effort over the years not to go down that dark road I couldn't get out of."
-John Moxley, Martha's brother
It was the 30th of October 1975. A Thursday. Fifteen year old Martha Moxley had plans that night. There was a yearly tradition in Belle Haven where children would play pranks on their neighbors and groups of friends would meet up for what was known as Hacker's Night or Mischief Night.
Martha had moved from California to Greenwich in Connecticut eighteen months earlier with her parents, David and Dorthy, and her seventeen year old brother John. David was made senior partner in a New York Accounting Firm and they lived in Belle Haven, known as the richest corner of town. A number of prominent families lived in the gated community. There was private security and manned guards at the entrance. It seemed like the perfect place to raise a family.
That night, the 30th of October, Martha went to the party with her friends Sheila and Helen at around 6.30pm. It was an extremely cold night and Martha left the house wearing her blue parka jacket. Martha had lots of friends and was well liked. She had just been voted as the girl with the best personality at school. Martha did not not have school the next day but some of the others who attended the party did. The children that went to private school had school as normal on the Friday. Due to that, people left the party at different times.
Dorthy was home alone that night as her husband was away on a business trip and John was out with friends. Dorthy was upstairs for most of the evening painting. When she heard a commotion at around 9.30pm or 10pm that night, she decided to stop painting for the night. She had a shower and went downstairs at 11pm to watch the news. John came home when she was watching the news. After the news, Dorthy began to watch a movie but fell asleep.
A little before 2am, Dorthy woke up and realized that Martha was not home. She woke John and asked him to look for her. John could not find her so Dorthy rang Martha's friend Sheila McGuire. Sheila told Dorthy that she did not know where Martha was. After the party, they went to the Skakel's house, which was just across from Martha's house. Martha's other friend Helen said that she last saw Martha there with one of the Skakel boys, seventeen year old Thomas "Tommy" Skakel. They were flirting and making out.
Dorthy rang the Skakel house a number of times that night and every time, one of the Skakel girls, eighteen year old Julie Skakel, answered the phone. Julie told Dorthy that she should call Jimmy Terrien as a few of the teenagers left the Skakel house to go to his house.
Dorthy called Jimmy's home phone number and his mother answered. She told Dorthy that Jimmy was not home and Martha was not there. Dorthy called the police to report her daughter missing.
A few hours later, Dorthy went over to the Skakel house. She had never been there before but she knew who they were. Most people knew them as they were related to the Kennedys. Their aunt, Ethel Kennedy, was the widow of Robert F Kennedy. In the Skakel house, there were seven children. Their mother had passed away and they lived there with their father but they were often left unsupervised.
When Dorthy knocked on the door, fifteen year old Michael Skakel answered. He looked hung over when he answered the door in bare feet and dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Michael told Dorthy that Martha was not there. Dorthy asked if she could look in the Winnebago that was on their grounds. One of the Skakel employees said he would look for her but there was no sign of Martha.
Later that day, at 12.30pm, one of Martha's friends, Sheila, made a harrowing discovery. She found Martha's body under a large pine tree when she cut through the wooded portion of the Moxley's backyard. Sheila went into the Moxley house and told Dorthy she found Martha. Dorthy's friend, who was in the house with Dorthy at the time, went outside to look and she told Dorthy that Martha was dead.
Martha was lying face down with her pants and panties pulled down around her knees. She had been beaten to death. Her face was bruised and her hair was matted with blood. There were pieces of a broken golf club beside her body.
It was believed that the golf club used to murder Martha belonged to Ann Skakel, Tommy's mother. The set had been passed down to her daughter Julie. The golf club used was a six-iron one and the same type was missing from Ann’s set. No search warrant was ever issued for the Skakel house.But as Tommy was the last known person to see Martha, police spoke to him. Tommy told the police that he was with Martha until 9.30pm that night and then he went back inside the house to watch a film, The French Connection, with Kenneth Littleton and then he did some homework.
He claimed he last saw Martha as she walked towards her house which was around 150 yards from his own house. Police tried to access his school and mental health records but his father refused to give consent.
Twenty four year old Kenneth Littleton had started working as a tutor for the boys at the Skakel home the day Martha was murdered. He told police he was inside that night watching The French Connection.
The case went cold for 23 years.
Martha’s family tried various ways to find out what happened but the big break came when Tommy 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. Their plan didn’t work though. Their own team discovered that everything did in fact point to a new suspect but that suspect was Tommy's brother Michael Skakel. A freelance writer who had been hired to put events in chronological order leaked the report. The report became known as the Sutton Report. Tommy told one of the investigators that he and Martha had fooled around before they parted ways that night at around 10 pm.
Michael told the Investigator that he had climbed a tree and masturbated outside Martha's bedroom window. He claimed that when he climbed down from the tree, he heard voices and thought someone saw him so he ran away.
On foot of the report and articles that were written at the time, an investigation was launched. The inadequacies of the first investigation were laid bare. The time of the murder was determined based on a neighbor 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 police 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. It would have had initials of the owner and possibly fingerprints of the killer.
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 and was stabbed with the broken golf club shaft. She had been hit eight or nine times over the head. Three pieces of the golf club were found, all dripping in blood and belonged to a rare Tony Penna set, the same set that Julie now owned.
The report revealed that Michael had changed his alibi. That made those investigating look at him more closely. He initially said he barely saw Martha at his house and then he went to a party. Michael said he was at a cousins's house between 9.30 pm and 10.15 pm. 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. Michael, by providing a new account of his movements, put himself at the crime scene.
Shortly after Martha was found murdered, Michael was arrested on a DUI charge and 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.
David died from a heart attack when he was just 57 years old. Dorthy Moxley sat in the front row every day during the Trial. She sat through the Autopsy photos and the testimony in relation to the violent and savage injuries that were inflicted on her youngest child. She sat through it all. She sat through it for Martha.
It was the Prosecution's case that Michael and Tommy both liked Martha and Michael was furious when he saw her kissing Tommy that night. 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. They believed he first hit her on the drive-way as she walked towards her home. Martha’s blood was found 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. Martha was also stabbed with a piece of the golf shaft in the neck.
Dr Harold Carver, who interpreted the findings of the initial Autopsy, testified that the coroner used an ultraviolet light to detect the presence of semen on Martha's pubic area. No semen was found in this area. He testified that nothing in the report indicated that the ultraviolet light was used to examine Martha's buttocks or any other part of her body. There was a reddish mark at the top of her inner left thigh. The Autopsy pictures revealed a similar mark on her right thigh. Dr Lee stated that these marks were consistent with bloody hands trying to push Martha's legs apart.
The Prosecution told the Jury that Michael said that he felt panicked when he saw Martha’s mother approach his house the next day. Martha’s mother called to the Skakel house to ask if they had seen Martha before her body was found. The Prosecution asked the Jury to consider why a man, if innocent, would be panicked seeing Martha's mother approach the house.
The Prosecution called numerous witnesses who testified that Michael confessed to the murder and even told one friend:
“I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy."
When Michael was at Elan, a rehabilitation center, a fellow resident,Gregory Coleman, was assigned to guard him. Michael told him that he was going to get away with murder because he was a Kennedy. Gregory claimed that he told him that he made advances at a girl who spurned him and he drove her skull in with a golf club in a wooded area near his house.
Another former resident of Elan, John Higgins, testified. He was with Michael one night on guard duty and he claimed that Michael told him that he had been involved in a murder. He testified that Michael said that he found a golf club in his garage and remembered running through the woods with it and seeing pine trees. According to John, Michael began to cry and said "maybe I did it" and then "I must have done it" and finally, "I did it."
In 1997, Michael was at a party at Geranne Ridge's home. Geranne testified that Michael said that on the night of the murder, he was outside smoking "pot" and "doing LSD and acid and really big-time drugs, mind, you know, altering drugs." According to Geranne, when Michael found out that Tommy "had sex" with Martha, "he got so violent and he was so screwed up" that he hit her with the golf club.
The Prosecution had Martha's diary entries read out in Court. In some of her entries, written in the months before her death, she wrote about Michael.
Martha Moxley's Diary
In September 1975, Martha wrote about a confrontation she had with Michael about her interactions with Tommy:
“Michael was so totally out of it that he was being a real asshole in his actions & words. He kept telling me that I was leading Tom on when I don't like him (except as a friend). I said, well how about you and Jackie? You keep telling me that you don't like her & you're all over her. He doesn't understand that he can be nice to her without hanging all over her. Michael jumps to conclusions. I can't be friends w/ Tom, just because I talk to him, it doesn't mean I like him. I really have to stop going over there."
The Defense claimed that they had the wrong man. They pointed out there were no eyewitnesses and no direct physical evidence whatsoever. It was an entirely circumstantial case. They said that they believed Ken Littleton was the one who killed Martha yet nothing indicated that he was involved.
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 Dorthy 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. But their fight did not end the day Michael was convicted.
Dorthy Moxley and John Moxley
Michael appealed the conviction and in 2016 a Judge vacated the conviction. It was reinstated by the State Supreme Court. The Defense requested that the Supreme Court review its own decision. Before that took place, one of the Judges retired. Michael's conviction was vacated by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2018. The ruling cited the shortcomings of Michael's trial lawyer and noted that the conviction was founded on a case “devoid of any forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony linking the petitioner to the crime.”
The option to retry Michael is still open to Connecticut Prosecutors.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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