Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder

Elements of Suspicion

"Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind."

-Louis Pasteur

The apparent voids carelessly left open in the bungled evaluation of Martha Moxley's physical death and the neglectful identification of the golf club handle are only two of several mishandled elements that leave many scholars of the case puzzled. Here are some others:

Time of Death

The police assumed that Martha Moxley was killed between 9:30 and 10 p.m. This determination was based, sadly enough, on one haphazard and very non-technical fact: That was the time Dorothy Moxley said she heard neighbors' dogs barking loudly. Chiefly, if the autopsy report had been used to determine a time of death (as it should have been), then the time frame ratio opens up to as early as 9:30 p.m., October 30,. and as late as 1 a.m., October 31. That being the case, then Michael Skakel becomes a suspect, too, and not just his brother, Thomas.

Indeed, since then, as we shall see, Michael became a major suspect in the early 1990s. But, if the case was handled appropriately, his alibi — of having been out at the Terrien's house until 11:20 — would not have withstood for so many years.

Search Warrant

After the murderous Tony Penna six-iron was traced back to the Skakel residence, no search warrant was ever issued. While the police argue that they went through the house top to bottom, admittedly it was just by polite invitation from Rushton Skakel and did not involve a thorough search of the closets, the cellar, the attic, the garage nor the grounds where evidence, such as bloody clothes from a murderer, might have been hidden.

Death Photos

A standard procedure at a murder site is the photographing of the body before it is moved. Tom Sorenson, the Greenwich criminologist and photographer, claims to have approached the body with a fully loaded camera, but someone (he does not remember who) forbade him to take photos of the corpse. Because he was already there, he said, he spent his time taking shots of the general hullabaloo. However, some detectives recall seeing photos of the body. If they are correct: Who took them? What happened to them?

Blood & Hair Samples

Henry Lee of the Connecticut State Crime Lab said that all the blood recovered from the Moxley death scene came from the victim. Perhaps so, because there seems to have been no struggle. However, there was a lot of blood splattered among the autumn leaves lying around Martha. "The police could have recorded and analyzed blood spatter on the ground and trees of the crime scene, but they did not," says Mark Fuhrman. "By the next morning, with the wind blowing the leaves all over the Moxley property... important blood evidence was lost forever."

Former Lead Investigator on the case Frank Garr (AP)
Former Lead Investigator on the
case Frank Garr (AP)

Hair samples had been taken from several suspects, but the one human hair found on Martha's clothing — from a male Caucasian — did not match any of the suspects. One very interesting note is that the police also found a hair from a male African American in the blanket in which they wrapped the body of Martha Moxley. They immediately dismissed its importance, saying it had probably come from Dan Hickman, the Black officer who was one of the first on the crime scene. Why is this interesting? Because at this point, early in the investigation, the police were loudly advocating the premise that a drifter or vagabond might have been a killer. That being so, if they truly believed that they might be dealing with an "outside" force, the hair should have been highly suspect.

Witch Hunt

Because Belle Haven was considered so safe and so far removed from the likes of murder, disbelieving police couldn't help pinning the crime on some transient who might have wandered in off the turnpike, found the Skakel golf club, killed Martha and vanished back to the highway. After a combing of the encircling woods and back roads, as well as of miles of Connecticut Turnpike, produced no leads, this Transient Theory dissipated as quickly as it had begun.

Then followed a fiasco of pin-the-tail-on-the-culprit, reminiscent of the witch hunts in nearby Salem, Massachusetts during the 17th Century. Anyone whom neighbors considered odd, anyone whom the police knew might smoke pot, anyone who might have had committed even a simple transgression was suddenly under scrutiny. Among these were a Belle Haven neighbor who had taken an innocent stroll the night of the murder; a man who had installed drapes at the Moxley house; a young man who occasionally had given Martha a ride home from school; a Belle Haven man who had chased three youths off his private property with a golf club; a part-time gardener who landscaped for two Belle Haven residents; and a man whose neighbors claimed had a broken section of a golf club in his house. It turned out to be a shoehorn.

A Neighbor of Circumstance

One particular fellow who suffered months of harassment was the Moxley's next door neighbor, 26-year-old Columbia College graduate student Ed Hammond. Because he was a bit of a loner, because he was known to hit the bottle, because his room faced the Moxley driveway, and because he had one condom missing in a pack in his room, he was brought in for questioning. According to Hammond, one policeman pointed to the woolen sweater he wore, loaded with hairs from his St. Bernard, and threatened, "We can match those human hairs on your sweater to Martha." For months, Hammond was under investigation until, no firm evidence presenting itself and after passing a polygraph test, he was finally dismissed.

Recently, Hammond, who no longer drinks and runs a successful law practice, stated, "I wish to God I'd seen or heard something that could have helped the police figure out what happened to that poor girl. But, I didn't and I became a suspect. I have to live with that every day of my life."

The Tutor

Hammond was much luckier than Ken Littleton, another (what Fuhrman calls) "convenient suspect." Twenty-three-year-old Littleton had the misfortune to have started working at the Skakel home the afternoon of the murder. While continuing to teach at Brunswick Academy, where the Skakel boys attended, Littleton was invited by Rushton to serve as his children's tutor. His life ever since has been a living hell of legal badgering with virtually no hard evidence linking him to the killing.

Littleton, on the night of the murder, had taken the Skakel children to the Belle Haven Club for dinner; upon their return, he went straight up to his bedroom to unpack. He paid little attention to what was happening downstairs. While unpacking, he watched the movie, The French Connection. The movie over, he then retired for the evening.

It was not until the following afternoon, when the police rapped at the Skakel door to examine their set of golf clubs, that Littleton first heard the name Martha Moxley.

Having passed a background check, suspicion really did not point to the tutor until a neighbor, Mildred Ix (mother of Martha's friend, Helen) told investigators that she didn't trust Littleton. She had heard from the neighborhood kids that he had girly magazines secreted in his room and, sometimes late at night, went skinny dipping in the family pool.

Weeks after the murder, Littleton had a falling out with employer Skakel over pay. and left the house. Soon after, he lost his teaching position at Brunswick. Hoping to avoid police scrutiny, he move to Nantucket and obtained a teaching position. But, being constantly visited by investigators while on its premises, that school let him go, too.

His life an open window, Littleton began to drink. Then followed a series of immature acts of petty thievery that led to his vilification. Because he stole a few items from local stores and from Nantucket front yards — more on a drunken dare to himself than anything — then tried to bury the items when the law closed in, the Greenwich police began wondering what other secrets he may have at one time buried. A golf club perhaps?

But, try as it may, the legal system could not find anything deeper than a nervous, neurotic nature under Littleton's garments, nothing worthy of the flames of a sacrificial altar. "I don't think (the petty thievery ) was done maliciously," says retired detective Steve Carroll, who spent two years on the case. "That is why we kind of ruled him out. It would usually happen after he'd been drinking. He'd get off of work and stop and have a few beers, which is normal for a young guy. And then, walking home...he'd pick these things up by somebody's house. He was getting his jollies. Getting a rush."

Another go for a job in Florida gone disastrous, a try at marriage proven half-fast, Littleton ultimately surrendered to the abstract. According to author Timothy Dumas, the Skakel's star-crossed tutor finally lost himself in Australia — "about as far away as one can get from Greenwich, Connecticut."

 

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