Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder

Reviewing the Suspects

"...the ceremony of innocence is drowned."

—William Butler Yeats

With the appointment of a grand jury that reopened the case in June, 1998, a state's attorney has been presenting evidence to the one-man grand juror. The basis for the reinvestigation is to decide whether or not to issue an arrest warrant and, simply put, whom to charge with the murder of Martha Moxley. Kenneth Littleton's culpability having faded, no longer under suspicion, the only two suspects remaining are Thomas and Michael Skakel. Paraphrasing Moxley's neighbor, both Dumas and Fuhrman — and many others who have reported on the case — lay their money on Michael. Both brothers, however, now in their 40s, have, according to the Greenwich Time, "refused repeated requests for interviews as part of the investigation."

Because the Martha Moxley murder reeks of a classic whodunit, let's stop to put an emphasis on the who, and briefly examine the backgrounds of the stand-out brothers Skakel.


Thomas' troubles began when, at four years old, he fell on his head from a moving car and suffered a linear fracture on both sides of his skull. The result of this accident generated mental and emotional problems. As a youth, he was hard to handle and given to mood swings and a stubborn, often unbending and occasionally violent temperament. A former nanny described him as, "the most disturbed child I have ever met."

When Sutton Associates accepted the case in the 1990s, it first-off prepared a profile of the murderer with help from FBI experts. Results in, Sutton concluded that, "the probable offender shares many obvious characteristics with Tommy Skakel...between fourteen (to) eighteen years of age, resided within easy walking distance to the victim's residence, was in the same socio-economic status as the victim, had regular interaction with the victim, would have experienced strong sibling rivalry tendencies, would have experienced behavioral problems both at school and at home and was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of this crime."

Thomas Skakel, high school photo (AP)
Thomas Skakel, high
school photo (AP)

Thomas fits the age, the locale, the status, the familiarity with Martha; he constantly battled Michael for Martha; he was a tonic to both his teachers and his family; and he had been drinking at the Bell Haven Club during dinner and possibly at home before the murder.

After the murder, his father removed him from the town's wagging tongues to finish high school at Vershire Academy in Vermont. From there, Thomas enrolled in Elmira College in northern New York State. Failing, he then attended the New School for Social Research in New York. Throughout the 1980s, he worked with an ecology team and traveled throughout the world. Back in the states by 1989, he married Anne Maitland Gillman and earned a job at New York's Harco International, a trade corporation.

Today, Thomas is happily married, has two children, and lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.


Michael Skakel, high school photo (AP)
Michael Skakel, high
school photo (AP)

Belle Haven residents would probably all agree: Michael was the wildest of the wild Skakel boys. If there was reason that mothers forbade their children to "stay away from those Skakels," it was probably because of Michael's practiced lunacy. Fighting, bullying other kids, killing small animals — all this was a normal day for the boy. Even his own family feared him; sister Julie had once remarked, "Michael scares me to death!"

Mark Fuhrman, who strongly suggests Michael as his choice as killer, believes that Michael's changing of his alibi was an attempt to save his own hide. Knowing that Sutton was commissioned by his father to dig deep, more deeply than ever, into the crime, he may have feared that the investigators might perhaps come across a witness who may have seen him on the Moxley property that night. What better way to explain his presence than with a fabricated story of climbing that tree to get Martha's attention?

As for the window-peeping, Fuhrman doesn't doubt that Michael could be very capable of such an act. "It is very possible that the house where Michael regularly peeped was not another neighbor's but the Moxleys. At 11:40 Dorothy Moxley was downstairs in the television room, wearing a nightgown and sleeping on the couch, just like the woman Michael described in his statement. Did he regularly peep in on Dorothy or was it Martha?"

An element of Michael's reworked alibi that bothers Fuhrman is his statement about climbing into his bedroom at night's end. Why did the boy say he had to climb into his house?

Everyone who intimately knew the Skakels said the family never bothered to lock its doors, and with the father gone Michael certainly had no worry of angering his father's curfew demands. Fuhrman hints that Michael could not have entered the main doors with blood on his clothes in fear of dripping it on the carpeting, or, more possibly, being caught by a family member with it smeared across him. And as for admitting his offbeat means of entrance, that was just another ploy to explain himself just in case he had been seen.

The story of Michael's life after the event reads like a nightmare from the dream book of Sigmund Freud.

In March of 1978, Michael was arrested on a DUI in Windham, New York, after nearly running over a policeman. Skakel attorney Tom Sheridan worked out a deal with the prosecution that charges be dropped if Michael committed himself to observation for six months. He enrolled in Elan School, a college preparatory for people with emotional, behavioral and drug abuse problems. At $30,000 a year in 1978, Fuhrman calls it "a rich kid's reform school". Michael made several tries at escape from Elan, but the family always brought him back.

Elan wasn't the only "special help" institution Michael attended over the next decade. He jumped out of one and into the lap of another well into adulthood, and it wasn't until the early 1990s that he roamed back into the outside world. While at a rehabilitation center in Aberdeen, Maryland, he supposedly told his roommate, "Something happened back home and the police were involved. Since then I've been in a whole lot of facilities. The police want to talk to me. So my family keeps me moving from one place to another because the police can't track you down."

Michael graduated from Massachusetts' Curry College, designed for students with learning disabilities. Upon leaving college, he married a lady he had met in rehab and, for a several years afterward, worked for the Kennedy family in a number of position — from driver to corporate representative. He even accompanied some of the family on a goodwill tour to Cuba. But, in the last several months he has been idle.

The most suspected man in the Moxley case — the man whom the current grand jury has seemingly targeted — now hides away from the leagues of reporters knocking on his door, ringing his telephone. With wife Margot and recent child, he has retreated behind the security gates of picturesque Lobolly Pines, Florida. This is the community where his father hides, too. The squire and son dodging everlasting tortures of what Rushton calls, "the family problem". But, it is really the past catching up to them.