Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder

Blunders or Cover Up?

"What are facts but compromises?"

-Bliss Carman

From the moment the investigation began — that is, from the moment the body was discovered — blunders occurred, some that bespeak bottom-line police inexperience. Other "blunders," however, reek of a cover-up to protect someone or something, contend certain theorists, including Mark Fuhrman, former LAPD detective and author of Murder in Greenwich.

Local police, while prompt, had never investigated a murder; they had no experience in dealing with such a major crime. To begin with, no adequate records of the crime scene were kept, nor was a log of any kind maintained. Times of death, of arrival of the police, etc., were estimated later as the case progressed, sometimes months later. The position and condition of the body, the fragments of what the police believed to be the murder weapon, tangible and intangible pieces of evidences that would have told more experienced lawmen much about the murder and the murderer — so much was overlooked.

The botched and incomplete handling of the case continues to haunt 24 years later.

Mark Fuhrman arrived in Greenwich in 1997 to conduct his own investigation. Starting with whatever meager information was available, and in defiance to an administration that clearly didn't want him there, he uncovered data that clashes with established "results" in the initial Moxley investigation. While by his own admission his aggressive and sincere investigation does not prove a conspiracy, it surfaces startling information that casts serious doubt on both the ability and honesty of some of the principles involved.

Cause of Death

Youth officers Dan Hickman and Millard Jones were the first policemen to reach the scene. They found Martha's body under the shade of a Japanese elm on the west side of the Moxley property. Her face was bruised and her hair was matted with blood. Her dungarees and panties were pulled down to her knees. Horrified, the two policemen radioed for help and soon the place was crawling with blue uniforms and plainclothesmen. The place resembled a battlefield, John Moxley remembers.

The girl did not seem to have been sexually molested. Whoever killed her was either interrupted in a rape attempt or had left her in that undraped condition to humiliate her. Pieces of a broken golf club found near the body seemed to have comprised the murder tool. Nevertheless, no representative from the coroner's office or the medical examiner's office was at the crime scene; this was the first in a series of mistakes. The only doctor present that afternoon in the Moxley yard was the Moxley's own family doctor, Dr. Danehower, who was called hours later to confirm that the victim was dead.

On-file records generate more questions than give information, Fuhrman insists. Many early but important stages of the investigation are hazy. Cause of death, for instance, was illegibly explained; police seemed to have totally ignored the autopsy findings, which could have told them much about how the girl died.

Mark Fuhrman, Author (AP)
Mark Fuhrman, Author (AP)

It was not until 1997 that Fuhrman and Dorothy Moxley managed to get around a dissenting body of state authorities to arrange for renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to review the autopsy papers. He uncovered certain details that conflicted with previous police documents that spoke of many bruises on the body, leading to the conclusion that Martha Moxley was bludgeoned to death by the golf club. While the reports accurately concluded that the force of the club must have been tremendous to break into pieces, details pretty much overlooked an obvious stab wound that told much about the killer's attack and the girl's last desperate moments.

"(The stab wound) was in Martha's neck...was perimortem; in other words, it was inflicted right around the time of death," Fuhrman notes. "That meant that the stab wound was probably the last attack on the victim...(Dr. Baden) found evidence that there was blood in the lungs, indicating that Martha was still alive when the suspect stabbed her through the throat...There appears to be little doubt (therefore) that she was beaten with the golf club and left for dead by the suspect. The suspect returned later to hide the body. Finding Martha still alive, he stabbed her with the broken golf club shaft."

Murder Weapon

Of the golf club itself, three pieces of it were reported to have been found at the crime scene. These included the head (with drops of blood on it) and two small lengths of shaft (dripping with blood). The handle, according to official reports, was missing and never located. Investigators believed that the killer's identity would become telltale if that one missing piece of the club, the leatherette handle, could have been found, for it most assuredly contained the murderer's fingerprints.

A sketch of Detective James Lunney, holding a likeness of the murder weapon (AP)
A sketch of Detective James Lunney,
holding a likeness of the murder weapon
(AP)

The gathered sections of club were enough, however, to identify it as a six-iron from a rare Tony Penna set. Because Thomas Skakel was the last person to be seen with Martha the night of the murder, and did not possess a clear alibi, the police felt inclined to visit the Skakel home the next day. Indeed, they discovered a set of the same make of clubs that had belonged to the deceased Mrs. Ann Skakel; her name was engraved beneath the leather grip on each club. The six-iron was missing from the set.

Thomas became suspect and interviewed. On November 3, he was given a polygraph test with inconclusive results. Six days later, he agreed to take another, which he passed. Nonetheless, rumors flew wild in Belle Haven. Gossipers wondered if perhaps Martha had rejected his sexual advances and, enraged, he killed her. But, the law officers were skeptical. They seemed, according to Fuhrman, to "accept any explanation as long as it directed attention away from a member of a local and prominent family."

As example, when Rushton Skakel inferred that anyone could have found the six-iron in his back yard and used it against Martha, Police Chief Steve Baran vocally, publicly agreed. A clip from the November 2, 1975, edition of the Greenwich Time reads: "'Kids are always leaving bicycles, tennis rackets, and golf clubs outdoors, after playing with them on the lawn,' he said, explaining the murderer or murderers might simply have picked up the club."

Since the murder, Greenwich authorities have spent many years claiming that an indictment or indictments are impossible without the leatherette handle. No handle, no fingerprints; no fingerprints, no culprit. But, because weapon obviously did come from the Skakels — even an FBI test of the broken pieces confirms it — Fuhrman cannot understand why the family Skakel wasn't interrogated more thoroughly

Again and again, in the vicious circle of events, the administrative answer to the above is and has always been: Without that leatherette handle and its fingerprints there can never be anything more than assumptions about anyone.

Then cometh a bombshell.

On October 11, 1997, Fuhrman unearthed a revelation that, if accurate — and it appears it is — it changes the face of the investigation and makes hash of the administration's hesitancy. While interviewing Millard Jones (who is now a minister, but in 1975 was one of the first two policemen at the crime scene), Jones recalled that the so-called missing piece (the handle) was still protruding from Martha's neck when he arrived: "I'm not a golfer, I don't know much about golf, but...I guess it was like a leatherette or whatever you call it, the holder or the handle..."

To corroborate this information, Fuhrman asked his ghostwriter to interview Dan Hickman, the second patrolman at the murder scene that day. Hickman confirmed Jones' testimony. He, too, saw the instrument protruding from Martha Moxley.

"Jones and Hickman said they had never been formally interviewed by the detectives investigating the case," Fuhrman goes on. "Still, I needed additional corraboration...I called Dr. Richard Danehower (the Moxley's personal physician), who arrived on the scene later. He said that on the ground next to Martha's body he had seen a shiny metal object which looked like a golf club handle."

Retired Police Captain Thomas G. Keegan (AP)
Retired Police Captain Thomas
G. Keegan (AP)

The next person Fuhrman contacted was Police Captain Tom Keegan who had been on site, but Keegan refused to talk. However, Detective Steve Carroll, who had also been present that day in 1975, did. While not having recalled seeing the club handle per se, he did concur with Fuhrman's suspicions: Said Carroll, "If the shaft was there, it would have had Ann Skakel's name on it."

So certain that they were correct in their recollections, both Hickman and Jones agreed to present their testimony to the Greenwich Time, which ran their story on Oct. 23, 1997.

 

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