Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

Enter the Police

Hoping to avoid the publicity that a case of this sort would generate in Rhode Island, Kuh went first to the New York authorities to see if the case could be prosecuted there. He wasn't surprised when he was told the Empire State had no authority in the matter. Kuh submitted his information to the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island attorney general's office.

State Police Sgt. John Reise was placed in charge of the investigation. He met first with Kuh and then with Alexander. Reise also questioned Ala, Maria, the doctors who had treated Sunny, her hairdresser, her servants, and some of her friends. Reise and his counterpart in the prosecutor's office, Steve Famiglietti, had the black bag's contents retested by state laboratories. This effort would figure prominently in Claus' appeals.

The time had finally come for Reise to speak to Claus about the incident. He did not want to give him time to develop explanations and alibis, so Reise, his partner Joe Miranda, and Richard Kuh arranged to "ambush" Claus outside his Fifth Avenue apartment in New York.

It took some doing, but Miranda and Reise finally confronted von Bülow as he walked up Madison Avenue toward an acupuncture appointment. In their best Columboesque manner, the two detectives stopped the tall, urbane Dane and asked if they could bother him for a few minutes, just to clear up a couple of things.

Back in the library of the Fifth Avenue apartment, Reise asked Claus a number of questions about Sunny and his relationship with her. He began the "friendly chat" with the standard warning about self-incrimination, which Claus waived. The conversation took less than an hour, during which Claus admitted nothing incriminating, but did offer, according to Wright, several contradictory statements about Sunny's alleged drug and alcohol problems. As Reise and Miranda were getting up to leave, Claus said, "This whole thing is a vendetta on the part of Sunny's family. In a crisis such as this, a family should unite and pull together. This one isn't doing that," indicating that he believed the family had been collecting evidence against him.

Several weeks later, Claus returned to Newport and again encountered Reise, who wanted to get to Claus before he realized the black bag was missing, if Claus even knew about its existence. Greeted in an extremely friendly manner by a silk-robed Claus, Reise intended to let his subject know he was a suspect in a criminal investigation and that a judge had given him a warrant to search Clarendon Court. Reise didn't need Claus' permission, but he did want his consent.

Like a man with nothing to hide, Claus agreed to the search and voluntarily signed the warrant. A few moments later, as Reise was again reading the Miranda warning, the seriousness of the situation seemed to hit Claus and he reacted as one would expect — shocked and distressed that the police thought he tried to kill his wife. He also considered aloud the need to call an attorney.

Reise asked Claus if he wanted to speak to a lawyer before making a statement to police. He also advised Claus that he was under no obligation to say anything at all.

The two men agreed that Claus could end the questioning at any time, did not have to answer any question put to him and that he was not under arrest. Once these rules were clear to Claus, he agreed to talk.

The men spoke for almost two hours, with Claus at one point volunteering to show the detective where he discovered Sunny in the bathroom. It was then Claus did something that seemed to seal his fate. Reise and Claus appeared in the bedroom while Miranda and other detectives were searching it. As Miranda and Reise conferred, Claus excused himself to get some cigarettes. Miranda told his partner that the metal box Alexander had described as holding the black bag was still in the closet.

Claus came back, but Miranda left to continue his search of the house. But when Miranda returned a few minutes later, he discovered that Claus had locked the closet in his absence. The suspect appeared to be hiding evidence.

The investigation continued throughout the spring of 1981 and circumstantial evidence continued to pile up. All signs indicated that Claus was guilty of attempted murder. On July 6, 1981, a Rhode Island grand jury agreed and indicted Claus von Bülow for twice trying to murder his wife Sunny.

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