Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case


Annie Laurie Kneissl (CORBIS)
Annie Laurie Kneissl

When the realization that Sunny would never awaken from her coma finally sank in, her family gathered to determine the proper course of action. Annie Laurie Aitken, Ala, Alexander and a close family friend, Morris Gurley, who administered Sunny's trusts at Chemical Bank, all met at Annie's home. As Maria was to Sunny's home, Morris was to Sunny's money. He paid all of the bills, managed the investments and kept track of all income and outflow. He was also privy to all of the arrangements Sunny and Claus had made in the event of the dissolution of their marriage, or Sunny's death. But there was no special provision for Sunny's incapacity.

The mood of this meeting is not known, but we can imagine the suspicions that must have permeated the room. Alexander, Ala and Annie Laurie all knew of Claus' seeming indifference to Sunny's original coma, and everyone present knew that the marriage was failing. Further, everyone knew Sunny's permanent coma was in Claus' best interest.

According to author Richard Wright, Alexander was the first to lay their suspicions on the table: "Should we let [Cosima] spend her life with the man who tried to kill her mother?"

But the evidence the family had was sketchy and circumstantial, and they did not relish the scandal and publicity of an investigation. Sunny had taken great lengths to avoid the limelight; she had always denied requests when magazines wanted to do features about Clarendon Court and preferred anonymous donations when making charitable gifts. So the family decided to remain quiet, for a little while at least.

They also agreed to consult with an attorney. Morris Gurley settled on Richard Kuh, a former New York district attorney and accomplished lawyer in the field of criminal law.

Before Ala and Alexander could meet with Kuh, a series of events reinforced their suspicions. During a visit to Sunny's bedside, a prominent neurologist told Ala he was convinced through a series of tests that Sunny's coma could only have been caused by exogenous insulin.

"He arrived at this conclusion without knowledge of black bags, Alexandra Isles or $15 million bequests" (Claus' share of Sunny's estate), wrote Richard Wright.

Also during this time, Claus seemed determined to have Sunny removed from life-support. She couldn't breathe on her own and was surviving on intravenous sustagen. Sunny's doctors had given him this option, but the children forbade it.

"In England, they know how to handle these things," he told the children.

Two or three times a day Claus would call Ala or Alexander urging them to consider his request. He was relentless. He tried an emotional tack, saying (falsely) that Sunny's organs would begin to break down and have to be removed one at a time. Claus then appealed to their checkbooks, preparing a memorandum outlining how much it would cost to keep Sunny alive indefinitely. Her care would require them to modify their lifestyles drastically, and would bankrupt the family. Gurley told the children that this was also untrue. Finally, when Sunny was moved from Boston to New York where her own physicians could treat her, Claus argued that the hospital's Christian doctrine would require staff to prolong her life at any cost, regardless of anyone else's wishes.

But the harder Claus pushed, the more resolved the children grew, and the issue was unresolved by the time Ala and Alexander met with the lawyer Kuh.

Eventually, the subject of life support would become moot. When Sunny was removed from the respirator, she began breathing on her own.

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