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A 15-year-old girl is murdered in a gated community

Martha Moxley

Martha Moxley

The night of October 30, 1975, began innocently in the upscale community of Greenwich, Connecticut.  15-year-old Martha Moxley and several friends went out for an evening of teenage pranks.  Early the next afternoon, Martha’s body was discovered in her own backyard.  It appeared she had been bludgeoned to death. Her jeans and underwear were pulled down around her knees.  But according to Jack Solomon, Easton, Connecticut’s Chief of Police, there was no evidence of sexual assault: 

“Martha was struck with a golf club. She received several blows to the head. The head of the club was found 50 feet from the portion of her driveway where we believe she was accosted. It’s believed that the portion of the shaft of the golf club that was used was later used as a weapon to stab her with.”

Initially, everyone assumed that Martha’s murderer had to have been someone from outside the area.  However, the broken golf club found at the scene led investigators to a prominent local family.  The club turned out to be part of a set belonging to the Skakel family.  The Skakel’s lived across the street from the Moxleys.  15-year-old Michael Skakel told police he had been with Martha that night.  17-year-old Thomas Skakel was with her as well.  Michael told police that at 9:30, he went with his two oldest brothers, John and Rush Jr., to give their cousin a ride home.  Meanwhile, Thomas claimed he went home at 9:30 to do a report on Abraham Lincoln.  The police estimated that Martha had been murdered between 9:45 and 10 PM.  But if Michael was in the car and Thomas was in his room, what happened to Martha Moxley on her short walk home? 

Investigators found yet another suspect in the Skakel household.  24-year-old Kenneth Littleton had just been hired as a live-in tutor for the Skakel children. He told police he heard noises outside the house sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 PM.  Before he went outside, Littleton said he checked on the seven Skakel children. According to Detective Solomon, Littleton claimed that the four oldest boys, including Michael and Thomas, were not at home:

“Well, his story was that he heard some noises coming from the bushes on the property, leaves rustling, but he claimed he did not see anything at the time he was out.”

Martha’s body was found in her own backyard

Martha’s body was found in her own backyard

Littleton also said he didn’t see Thomas until 10:25, when Thomas joined him in front of the TV.  The other Skakel 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 police, Thomas Skakel was given two polygraph tests.  The first was inconclusive, but Thomas passed the second.  Then after months of cooperating with authorities, the Skakels, on the advice of their attorney, refused to answer any more questions.  Donald Browne was State’s Attorney of Fairfield County at the time of Martha’s murder:

“No one has an obligation to cooperate with police.  But in most instances, individuals who have some knowledge that may lead to the identification of an individual who has committed a violent crime, are more than pleased to contribute that information to the police. So it’s most unusual when an individual possessing information decides that he does not want to give that information to investigators.”

Eventually, attention shifted to Kenneth Littleton, who’d been dismissed by the Skakels after six months.  According to police, he was given a polygraph regarding the Moxley murder and failed.  Still, authorities felt there wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest. The case became inactive.  But sixteen years later, the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith brought the Moxley case back to life.  The connection between the Skakel and Kennedy families served as the catalyst.  Within weeks, Detective Solomon and the Greenwich police reopened their investigation:

“The opinion of most of the investigators, who are trained police officers, is that whoever was responsible for this crime probably was in the Skakel home at some time that evening.”

In 1991, the police brought in the well-known forensic pathologist Dr. Henry Lee.  Dr. Lee was able to utilize technology that was unavailable in 1975.  Among the items examined by Dr. Lee were clothes found discarded in the Skakel’s garbage shortly after the murder:

“We found some hairs and fibers. Some of the hair microscopically similar to hers. Other hair dissimilar to her.”

Dr. Lee determined that the hair belonged to a male Caucasian.  The problem was, he didn’t have a hair sample from any of the possible suspects and 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 indicates somebody tried to use force.  It suggests… a sexually motivated homicide.”

Leonard Levitt, an investigative reporter for the Long Island-based Newsday, covered the Moxley case starting in 1982:

“There were no defense wounds, which indicates that she knew her attacker. Merely the fact that she was hit repeatedly with a golf club indicates some kind of rage, which personalizes this thing, which indicates that there was such anger that the two had to have known each other, that it was a crime of passion.”

Time and again, the trail led back to the Skakel family.  Then in November of 1995, a full 20 years after the murder of Martha Moxley, Leonard Levitt reported in Newsday that Thomas and Michael Skakel had made startling admissions to the detectives:

“Both Thomas and Michael told the investigators that they had lied to the police about their accounts the night of the murder. Thomas said to them that after 9:30, he went inside his house, and then he went back out and spent another 20 minutes with Martha. He claims now that he and Martha engaged in a sexual act and then he left her at about ten to 10:00. If you go back now and you look at the story that he told, it just doesn’t add up.”

Update:

Tips from unsolved Mysteries viewers provided new information implicating Michael Skakel in the murder of Martha Moxley. Four years after Martha was killed, Michael had been sent to a school in Maine for troubled teens called the Élan School.  Over the course of his stay at Elan, several of Michael’s classmates heard him confess to the killing.  Based on this new information, 42-year-old Michael Skakel was charged with murder. Prosecutors argued that the motive was sibling rivalry over Martha’s affections.  27 years after the crime, Michael Skakel was convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life. The Skakel family is appealing that conviction.