Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder

The Sutton Files

"When in doubt, duck."

-Malcolm Forbes

Changed Alibis

In the months following the murder, investigators became increasingly suspicious of Thomas. Through interviews with neighbors, they learned that he was known to have displayed an erratic nature, sometimes violently. Certain Belle Haven residents feared him and stayed clear of his path. When questioned about his whereabouts at the time of the crime, he told police (as he had told Dorothy Moxley) the last he saw of Martha was at 9:30 p.m. when he went indoors to do his homework. He had had a report to write, he explained, on Abraham Lincoln and log cabins. Investigators found his alibi incredulous since they knew that Thomas was considered a poor student, one who doubtfully would prepare homework on the night before a three-day holiday. More damaging, Ken Littleton remarked that there was no such assignment given neither at Brunswick or by him. When investigators tried to examine Thomas' school and mental health records, a move that required parental authorization, Rushton Skakel forbade permission, presumably under advice from his attorney. The police were stymied. No further, real attempts were made to corral Thomas, and the case languished.

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, certain key players did what they could to revitalize the energy of the investigation. Martha's father, David Moxley, and a top law enforcement consultant succeeded in bringing into Greenwich the help of high-tech law enforcement people from Detroit, but the investigation, though erstwhile, came to nothing. Connecticut Governor Ella Grasso and the Moxley family separately authorized large monetary rewards for information leading to the killer, but the incentives produced no leads. When a young member of the Kennedy clan, William Kennedy Smith, was tried for rape in Palm Springs, Florida, in 1991, the media made a direct connection between that crime and the trouble-making Kennedy cousins in Belle Haven, Connecticut. This connection spawned a back-to-the drawing board reinvestigation that looked for a while like it might take off. But, again, no new roads were traveled and no new evidence resulted.

The case had gone nowhere and, despite there being other suspects who came and went, including Ken Littleton, suspicion continued to point to the Skakels. But, doubt and skepticism engender no culpability. Eventually, shrugging state investigators publicly admitted they were at a standstill. There didn't seem too much else they could do.

Martha Moxley may have blanked from memory if not for media coverage that continued to revive interest in her untimely death. Television segments of Hard Copy and A Current Affair aired occasional updates; a TV movie, based on the case, played to a large viewing audience; and a novel, A Season In Purgatory, by writer Dominick Dunne (who faithfully based it on the Moxley case), became a national bestseller.

Anna Mae and Rushton Skakel (AP)
Anna Mae and Rushton Skakel (AP)

Rushton Skakel rankled at these incessant accusations darting his family's name. In July, 1992, he hired a private investigation company out of Jericho, New York, to find evidence pointing to someone else. The firm he chose, Sutton Associates, is one of the nation's best; it is headed by former FBI agent Jim Murphy and is comprised of top-notch law enforcement people from all walks of life.

But, Rushton's plan backfired. Says Fuhrman, "Sutton Associates performed a lengthy and expensive investigation, taking several years and costing, according to some estimates, upwards of a million dollars. They soon found out that the evidence against the Skakel boys was even more damaging than previously thought...Chief among these revelations was the fact that during interviews conducted by Sutton Associates investigators and attended by Skakel family lawyers, Thomas and Michael significantly changed their alibis for the night of Martha's murder."

Thomas, for the first time, admitted that he did not go into do homework at 9:30 p.m., as previously stated, but spent another 20 minutes with Martha kissing and petting until both reached mutual orgasm.

But, the most surprising and far-reaching revelation to emerge from the Sutton people's work was the surfacing of Michael Skakel as a major suspect — the first time after 17 years.

Although Michael still maintained he had gone out with his brothers and cousin Jim Terrien, he now confessed that, upon arriving home at 11:30, he had gone window peeping. A particular neighbor lady (name not mentioned) was in the habit of walking around in her home nude, he said, and he would oft espy her through her rear windows. That night, however, she disappointed him by remaining dressed in a nightgown and lying on the sofa.. That sojourn quickly over, he decided to see if his friend Martha was still awake. He climbed a tree beside the Moxley property to toss pebbles at Martha's third-floor bedroom window to get her attention. Waiting for her to come to the window, Michael claimed he masturbated. After Martha did not respond, he ran home, climbed another tree outside his own bedroom window, and entered his house by approximately 12:30 a.m.

His was a strange story, but things started congealing. Little tidbits of information concerning Michael that had been recorded and transcribed here and there, and which had been taken in-passing over the years, suddenly leaped out from the pages as noteworthy testimony. ("Little clues," says Timothy Dumas, "begged attention.") Franz Wittine, the Skakel's gardener, had told the police that after the murder Michael's brothers and sister were treating him "as if he knew something". A neighbor had told Dorothy Moxley that she didn't think Thomas capable of murder, "but I'll give you Michael any day". Other Belle Haven residents had noticed Michael's obsession with killing small animals. He seemed, they said, to get pleasure in harassing birds and squirrels, hitting them with golf clubs — all on a whim.

Sutton reported its findings to Rushton — along with its damaging turnabout on son Michael — and told him it was preparing a detailed report. Alarmed at what he had heard, the father told the firm to dispense with the report, he didn't need it, didn't want it, and paid them for their troubles.

However, a freelance writer who had been paid by Sutton Associates to put its voluminous pages of notes into a legible chronology, slipped a copy of the files to author/reporter Dominick Dunne, whom he knew was studying the case. Dunne, who lost his own daughter in a murder much resembling the Moxley incident, was obsessed with seeing justice done.

"All of the detectives on the case had signed confidentiality oaths, except the young writer who contacted me and gave me a copy of the Sutton files," attests Dunne. "I read it that night. I told Dorothy Moxley, who had become a friend over the years, that I had something astonishing. I swore her to secrecy until I could decide how to handle it...." Weighing the best possible use for the dynamite he possessed, he eventually turned the files over to Mark Fuhrman whose book, Murder in Brentwood, fashioned after the O.J. Simpson case, reflected the same ingredients of money-buys-corruption.

In the meantime, astute journalist Len Levitt had uncovered the Sutton findings through inside sources, and the story of the Skakel boys' changed alibis first appeared to the public in Newsday.

Why Did the Alibis Change?

No one can yet answer this question for sure. The best clues are found in Timothy Dumas' A Wealth of Evil. His book draws an interesting conclusion that perhaps the killer feared the results of a new type of DNA testing that could surface genetic information from trace evidence years after a death.

In comments that indicate who Dumas really believes is the killer (Michael), as well as hypothesizes a motive (jealousy), the author states, "I found Tommy's 1990s version of his actions hard to believe — and not only of the seeming unlikelihood of Martha engaging him sexually. The story smacked of ass-covering. At this time, (Dr.) Henry Lee had started examining evidence with his magic machines, and Tommy knew that some day he might be called upon to account for whatever Lee turned up — like the presence of semen.

"Still, the tryst story helps Tommy's story in one crucial regard: it unwittingly creates a motive for Michael. What meaner brotherly trespass could Tommy have committed than to encroach on Michael's love interest? How would the emotionally precarious Michael have reacted? Consider that the behavioral scientists said the nature of the attack on Martha was personal, that the killer knew Martha and fantacized about her, and that he was a voyeur...If Michael was indeed the killer, than the scientists had sketched a stunningly accurate portrayal of him."

The Skakel residence
The Skakel residence

Strangely, nothing came of the new accusations. Jim Murphy, who headed Sutton, told the writer, Len Levitt, that if he was subpoenaed, he would tell all. But, the case again sank into silence. That is, until Fuhrman and Dumas and others of their ilk decided that it was too big a story to die — as Martha Moxley was too good a person to die.


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