Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

The Maid's Tale

Maria Schrallhammer, on the stand
Maria Schrallhammer,
on the stand

Maria Schrallhammer spent 12 hours over three days testifying in the first trial, and she was by far the most damaging witness against von Bülow. She described her full access to her mistress's life, from her dresser drawers to her handbag, while admitting that "she rarely confided in me."

Sunny von Bülow had no problem with drugs or alcohol, Maria testified. She was an athletic woman who golfed regularly, swam laps in the Clarendon Court pool and kept exercise machines and weights in her home until she broke her hip. Sunny retreated from athletics after her first coma, Maria said, because she was afraid of how exercise would affect her sugar levels.

Was it unusual for the defendant not to seek medical attention if someone appeared ill? Maria was asked. She answered that whenever she (Maria) was sick, Claus called a doctor right away. She also recounted her many sightings of the black bag and the appearance of insulin around Thanksgiving 1980.

"Were you like sisters?" Fahringer asked on cross.

"No. We liked each other."

"If you thought for a moment Mrs. Von Bülow was going to die, wouldn't you phone for a doctor?"

"No, for fear of Mr. Von Bülow. I always obeyed him."

The faithful servant lived up to her training during the day-and-a-half of testimony in the Newport courthouse. She even went so far as to admit she had committed perjury before the grand jury investigating Sunny's illness. Earlier in her direct testimony, Maria said Sunny had discussed divorcing Claus because she felt her desired lifestyle was standing in the way of his success in business. In her appearance before the grand jury, Maria said there was no reason given for Sunny's desire to divorce Claus.

"Which version is the truth?" Fahringer asked.

Maria replied that she had sworn to uphold a confidence with Sunny and would never tell anyone what was said in private.

"I didn't want to betray her," she said. "I thought she would recover."

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