Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

Final Coma

The evening of December 21, 1980, began normally for the von Bülows. Ala was in Europe with her husband, but Alexander, Cosima and their parents were together for dinner. Memories differ about whether Sunny ate the main course, but everyone present remembers her insisting on an ice cream sundae with caramel sauce for dessert. The family ate early that night so they could attend a showing of the Dolly Parton/Jane Fonda film 9 to 5 at a local cinema.

After the movie, Claus left the others to do some work in his study and Sunny, Alexander and Cosima retired to the library to talk. Before joining her children in the library, Sunny spent some time alone in her private bathroom. She and Claus shared a bedroom at Clarendon Court, but had separate baths. She returned to the library carrying what Alexander said he assumed was a glass of ginger ale.

About a half-hour later, Claus came into the library and said he was headed for the kitchen and wondered if he could get anyone anything. Sunny was the only taker, saying she would love a bowl of chicken soup that was left over from earlier.

As Claus prepared the bowl, Alexander noticed his mother's voice growing weaker. She then began having trouble holding her glass and staggered as she tried to get up.

Repeating the question several times, Alexander asked if his mother had taken any sleeping pills or barbiturates. She said no. He picked up his mother and carried her into her bedroom and went to get Claus.

But Claus was on a long-distance telephone call and Alexander returned to Sunny's room to find her trying to crawl back into bed after going to the bathroom. As Claus entered the room, Alexander said good night to his mother for the last time and left to attend a pre-Christmas gathering with some friends at a local bar.

The next morning, Cosima, Alexander and Claus encountered each other in the breakfast nook at about 11 a.m. Although Sunny was a late sleeper, that hour was unusually late. Claus, who had been up since dawn and who had not noticed anything unusual about his wife's condition as she lay beside him, returned to the bedroom to check on her.

He quickly returned to the kitchen and summoned Alexander. Claus led his stepson into Sunny's bathroom, where she lay, unconscious and bleeding. There was a cut on her lip, her nightgown was bunched about her waist, and she lay in a puddle of urine. Alexander checked his mother's pulse and found her ice cold. Claus said he could feel air coming from her nose and he rushed to summon help.

Sunny was taken by ambulance to Newport Hospital, where doctors found her body temperature to be 81 degrees. While in the emergency room, Sunny went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated by doctors. Over the next several days, it became apparent that Newport was unable to treat a case like Sunny's and she was transferred to a hospital in Boston where CAT scans indicated that her coma was irreversible.

"They told me there was no hope," Maria testified tearfully at Claus' first trial.

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