Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder


"Murder will out, certain, it will not fail."

— Geoffrey Chaucer

Martha's school picture, the year before she was killed (AP)
Martha's school picture, the
year before she was killed

Fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley had been living in Greenwich, Connecticut for less than a year, but was already quite popular among her classmates at Greenwich High School. Her immediate friends, especially those who lived near her in the Belle Haven neighborhood, found her bright, talkative, and good-natured. She had moved east with her parents from California when her father was promoted to the position of senior partner at the Touche Ross national accounting firm in New York. Her mother, Dorothy, preferred to remain a housewife because she believed in the importance of an at-home mother while the kids were still growing. Besides Martha, there was brother John, 17 years old, a member of the high school's varsity football squad.

"Martha's long blonde hair was parted in the middle and hung lankly down her shoulders, in the fashion of the times," writes Timothy Dumas, author of A Wealth of Evil. "She had shed her baby fat in that final summer and her physique had acquired a sexy maturity that no boy could help noticing. Boys always swirled around her now. Peter Ziluca had bested Grey

Weicker, the senator's son, for her attention, a victory...She loved cats. She collected frogs. And she had the sort of small mischievous streak that makes a girl highly desirable company."

After school on Thursday, October 30, 1975, the kids in Belle Haven were in a festive mood. Not only were they off of school the next day, Halloween, but they faced a three-day weekend. As teenagers anywhere, much partying was in the offing. To officially kick off the frolic, Martha and her friends planned to participate in Hacker's Night, when the kids of the community playfully wrapped their neighbors' trees in toilet paper and lobbed eggshells onto passing cars. Belle Haven police were out en force, just to discourage any extremes.

Not that they anticipated trouble. Belle Haven, which means "beautiful shelter," is the most exclusive edge of exclusive Greenwich. Comprised of "40 homes on a hundred acres jutting into Long Island Sound," says Mark Fuhrman in his book, Murder in Greenwich, Belle Haven has "a private security force (patrolling) the streets around the clock and manned guard posts at every public access."

The Moxley's former home, in 1998 (AP)
The Moxley's former home, in 1998 (AP)

Early evening, Martha and some friends — Helen Ix, Geoffrey Byrne, Jackie Werenhall and Marie Coomoraswamy — left the Moxley house at 38 Walsh Lane to head to a party just around the corner on Otter Drive. Dorothy Moxley reminded her daughter not to stay out late. Night had already fallen over the suburb and Dorothy found it necessary to close the windows of their Tudor-style home against the near-freezing October chill. Because she had been painting trim all day, she would have preferred to keep them open a while longer to vent the smell of enamel.

Outside, the troupe of teens headed toward the Skakel home. They were feeling a little cautious. The Skakel boys' reputation wasn't the best, for they were known to do just what they wanted to do — anytime, anyplace — damn convention, damn obligation. And that sometimes caused trouble. Their mother had died of cancer in 1973 and their father, Rushton, was gone most of the time keeping the wheels of the family business, Great Lakes Carbon, running profitably. So, there was little adult supervision.

However, maybe because of the connections they had — Rushton's sister was Ethel Kennedy, widow of the assassinated Bobby Kennedy — and one of the Hyannisport notables — the Belle Haven police overlooked the Skakels' mischievous behavior. Neighbors noticed this and some of them kept their children distant, money and fame notwithstanding. The Skakels were observed by many as part of the large "Irish Mafia," comprised of the politically smart, politically controlling all-Catholic East Coast Kennedy crowd, made rich by Joseph Kennedy's bootlegging enterprises in the 1920s and made permanent by John F. Kennedy's election to President in 1960.

The Greenwich line of Skakels was comprised of tycoon Rushton and his brood: Rushton, Jr. (19), Julie (18), Thomas (17), John (16), Michael (15), David (12) and Steven (9).

Martha and her group arrived at the Skakel home about 7:30 p.m., only to be told by gardener Franz Wittine that the Skakels were dining with their new live-in tutor Ken Littleton, at the private Belle Haven Club; they would be home shortly. Marie went home. Martha and the other kids dallied around town, and returned an hour later, but the family was still out. Walking Jackie home to meet her nine o'clock curfew, the remaining trio returned once more to the Skakels where, this time, they encountered Michael sitting in the family's black Lincoln Continental, listening to music. Geoffrey and Helen joined him in the car, sitting in the back seat, and so did Martha, sliding onto the front seat beside Michael.

Martha liked the baby-faced Michael, but seemed to hold an equal interest in his older brother, Thomas. In turn, both boys often fought over the girl. Maybe that is why, when Thomas came from the house a few minutes later to get a tape cassette from the glove compartment and saw her beside Michael, he decided to remain and listen to the tape from the car's tape deck. In fact, he had just edged in next to Martha when his hand crept upon her knee. "Take your hand off!" Martha demanded. Thomas obeyed, but with a flirtatious wisecrack that made the girl giggle. His breath smelled of beer, she noticed; he had had a few at the club, as well as, he later confessed, a couple of scotches.

A little after 9:30 p.m., Julie Skakel and a friend, Andrea Shakespeare, emerged from the house and approached the Lincoln. Julie announced that she needed the car to drive Andrea home. But, before the others could exit the automobile, her brothers Rush and John followed her to equally claim use of the car. With them was cousin Jim Terrien. The party was moving to the Terrien house, Rush explained, and anyone who wanted to come was welcome.

Martha's two friends, Helen and Geoff, figured they had better not tag along, for they had curfews. Martha and Thomas decided to stay at home also. Their reason soon became apparent. No sooner did Michael and the others pull away from the driveway than the older Skakel boy and Martha "began flirting, roughhousing, and eventually kissing," says Fuhrman. "Helen Ix and Geoffrey Byrne were a little disgusted with Martha's behavior and decided to go home. As they walked together across the Skakel backyard, they saw Thomas and Martha falling together behind the fence near the Skakel pool. This was the last time they saw their friend Martha Moxley."

Across the way on Walsh Lane, Dorothy Moxley heard the neighbors' dogs yelping outside beyond the driveway. It was 10 p.m. She glanced out to see what the disturbance might be and saw nothing but darkness — not Martha, as she had hoped. As the clock neared 11:00, and still no Martha, Dorothy became a trifle concerned. Although the girl hadn't a specific curfew, she was never one to take advantage of the liberty. She always wandered in at a respectable hour. With husband David out of town on business, the first person Dorothy had to share her motherly concerns with was son John when he returned home from a party. He assured her that Martha was just out having a good time. But, because he didn't like to see his mom worrying so, he agreed to cruise the neighborhood to look for his sister. Circling Belle Haven a couple of times, he spotted no one. When he came home with this report, Dorothy grew frantic.

Midnight passed. Dorothy called Helen Ix, who explained that she hadn't seen Martha since she left her with Thomas at the Skakel house, much earlier. Telephoning the Skakels, Julie (who answered the phone) checked with Thomas, who was already half asleep in his room. He told his sister that Martha and he had parted company about 9:30, at which time he came up to his room to study. He had assumed she had gone straight home.

As the hours passed without a sign from her daughter, Dorothy feared the worse. She dialed the Skakels several more times, each time getting Julie, until she demanded to speak directly to Thomas. The boy, roused again from sleep, related the same story as earlier. Now Dorothy Moxley panicked. Despite the hour, she called anyone she could think of, the Terriens, the Werenhalls and other parents of Julie's known friends. No one had seen Martha nor knew where she had gone. At 3:48 a.m., Dorothy summoned the police.

Two patrolmen scoured Belle Haven for the next couple of hours; they searched back yards and driveways, groves and any recess where a teenager might have fallen asleep drunk. They found no one. At dawn, one of the patrolmen contacted Dorothy, hoping the child had come home in the meantime. She hadn't. Now, realizing that this might be more serious than they thought, turned the case over to the Youth Division. Officers from that unit continued to search for the minor.

Mid-morning, around 10 a.m., Dorothy paid an urgent visit to the Skakel home. She crossed Walsh Lane and short-cut through to the Skakel's back sun porch, which was visible from her front stoop. Michael Skakel answered the door, appearing, as Fuhrman describes, "very pale and disheveled, as if he were hungover and hadn't slept all night." When Dorothy asked if Martha was there, he answered no without really bothering to look."

Realizing she wasn't going to find any answers there, she retreated to her kitchen to wait for what she hoped would be Martha's eventual return. Having been angry hours ago over her daughter's irresponsibility, all she wanted now was to hug her prodigal offspring. In the meantime, the neighbors and friends she had called during the night, most of them having daughters too, stopped by to offer hope and consolation. Deep down, they were beginning to wonder if something evil had befallen the Moxley girl. Belle Haven began to pray. Time crept by without an answer.

Then an answer came. At roughly 12:15 p.m., the Moxley back doorbell rang with an indication of alarm. Dorothy leaped from her chair, but neighbor Jean Walker reached the door first. On the patio stood Sheila McGuire, a 15-year-old school acquaintance of Martha's, who had been cutting through the wooded portion of the Moxley back yard. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she seemed to be gasping for air. "I found Martha....there..." she pointed a trembling finger towards the row of trees that lined the property. "Martha's there — "under the tree.."


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