Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

Private Investigations

Educated at Columbia and Harvard, Kuh, a decorated World War II infantryman, was best known for prosecuting Lenny Bruce on obscenity charges, for which Bruce was convicted. He had served admirably in the New York County District Attorney's office, but he lost the next election and stepped into private practice.

Kuh listened intently as Ala and Alexander told him of their suspicions, dating back to the first coma in 1979. They told him of the black bag, of the drugs and syringes, and of Maria's watchfulness. With a skill honed by countless hours of interrogation, Kuh extracted detail after detail of their suspicions and came away believing that there had been foul play at Clarendon Court.

Three days after his initial meeting with the children, he spoke to Maria.

"No one — not Sunny's husbands, parents, children or friends — was closer to Sunny von Bülow," wrote Alan M. Dershowitz in his book on the case, Reversal of Fortune. "It was almost as if a videotape camera had been following Sunny von Bülow nearly everywhere during the last 23 years of her life."

With the accounts of Maria and the children, Kuh began a quiet investigation of von Bülow. He quickly learned of Alexandra Isles. Claus had confessed as much to his stepchildren in a family meeting ("Sunny lost all interest in sex after Cosima's birth," he told them, saying she gave him permission to look elsewhere).

But Kuh needed access to the black bag. Several attempts to locate it in New York failed and in mid-January, Alexander reported that a closet at Clarendon Court used by von Bülow was locked for the first time in anyone's memory. Kuh's investigator, Eddie Lambert, a former New York police detective, agreed to accompany Alexander back to Newport, hire a locksmith and find out what was in the closet.

The two men hired a locksmith in Providence because Newport was too small to avoid gossip. They offered the man $300 to drive with them to Newport to "open a locked closet in the house of one of the two people requesting his services," Wright said.

Once at Clarendon Court, the locksmith suggested they look for a key before he began working on the lock. And Lambert found a key ring in Claus' desk, which contained a key that opened the closet. Lambert and Alexander paid the locksmith, who then left Clarendon Court, although he would later swear that he was present when the closet was searched.

What was or was not in the closet at Clarendon Court lies at the heart of the von Bülow case. According to one story, the closet contained the smoking gun. To another, it held nothing more than old clothes.

In any event, Alexander and Lambert returned to New York with a black bag containing pills, a vial with blue liquid, two ampoules (small glass vials used chiefly as containers for hypodermic injection solutions), a cardboard box labeled lidocaine, a syringe and three hypodermic needles.

"Two of the needles were sealed in their plastic containers," wrote William Wright. "One was loose and looked dirty, as though it had been used."

Eventually, family physician Dr. Richard Stock sent the items in the black bag to a private laboratory on Long Island for analysis. In February, the results came back. The liquid was a mixture of Valium and amobarbitol and the "dirty" needle contained traces of insulin. None of the drugs found were in a form available to the consumer, even with a prescription.

When Stock received the results, he phoned Kuh. "Either you go to the police or I will," he told the attorney.