Crime History: A Look Back At The Still Unsolved Murder Of Martha Moxley

On the evening of October 30, 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was on her way home from a Halloween party at the home of her classmates Tommy and Michael Skakel in the exclusive Belle Haven neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut.

She was found viciously bludgeoned to death on a nearby lawn, and the mystery of who killed Martha Moxley would haunt the city for decades. Michael Skakel, also 15 at the time, was convicted in 2002 of murdering Moxley and sentenced to 20 years to life. In 2013, he was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge and released on $1.2 million bail. In December 2016, the murder conviction was reinstated.

Related: 5 Infamous Cases That Prove That Getting Away With Murder Isn’t So Hard

The Skakels had serious money and connections: Rushton Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Martha’s final hours

According to friends, Moxley began flirting with and eventually kissed Thomas Skakel, Michael’s brother. Moxley was last seen going behind a fence with Thomas Skakel near the pool in the Skakel backyard at around 9:30 P.M. 

Related: Mel Ignatow: How A Sexual Sadist Used Double Jeopardy To Get Away With Murder

The next day, Moxley’s body was found underneath a tree in her family’s backyard. Her trousers and underwear were pulled down, but she had not been sexually assaulted. Pieces of a broken six-iron golf club were found near the body. An autopsy indicated she had been both bludgeoned and stabbed with the club, which was traced back to the Skakel home.

The suspects

Due to his weak alibi, Thomas Skakel became the prime suspect, but his father forbade access to his school and mental health records. Kenneth Littleton, who had started working as a live-in tutor for the Skakel family only hours before the murder, also became a prime suspect. However, no one was charged, and the case languished for decades. In the meantime, several books were published about the murder, including Timothy Dumas’s A Wealth of Evil; A Season In Purgatory by Dominick Dunne; and Murder in Greenwich by Mark Fuhrman

Related: Michael Skakel’s Tutor Reveals Disturbing Details About 1975 Murder Of Martha Moxley

Over the years, both Thomas and Michael Skakel changed their stories. Michael had originally claimed that he was watching a Monty Python movie with a cousin, but later told detectives that he had climbed a tree outside Martha’s bedroom window and masturbated. Chillingly, the tree he described turned out to not be located outside her bedroom window, but was rather the tree under which her body was discovered.

At the time of Michael’s sentencing in 2002, many people, including Mark Fuhrman, said that they believed that other members of the Skakel family had assisted in covering up for Michael and should faces charges.

The Sutton report

The Skakel family hired a private investigation firm, The Sutton Agency, to conduct its own investigation. The Sutton report, which Rushton Skakel had ordered destroyed, was later leaked to the media — and reportedly concluded that Tommy was the most likely killer.

Related: Will Kennedy Cousin’s Conviction Be Reinstated In 1975 Golf-Club Murder Of Teen?

Two patients at a treatment center testified that they heard Michael Skakel confess to killing Moxley with a golf club. Gregory Coleman testified that Skakel was given special privileges, saying Skakel bragged, “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.”

Michael Skakel’s Trial 

During Michael’s 2002 trial, the jury heard part of a taped book proposal, which included Michael Skakel speaking about masturbating in a tree on the night of the murder — possibly the same tree under which Moxley’s body was found the next morning.

On June 7, 2002, Michael Skakel was found guilty of murdering Martha Moxley, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

Related: “The Chappaquiddick Incident”: The Dead Girl & Fatal Car Crash That Derailed Ted Kennedy’s Presidential Ambitions

Michael Skakel’s Trial: Part II and Aftermath 

On October 23, 2013, Skakel was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge, Judge Thomas A. Bishop, who ruled that his attorney failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002.

Skakel was released in 2013, and must be monitored with a GPS device, cannot have contact with Moxley’s family, must periodically check in over the phone if required, and is not allowed to leave the state of Connecticut unless granted permission.

Related: Judge Reinstates Michael Skakel’s Murder Conviction In 1975 Killing Of Martha Moxley

After Skakel’s murder conviction was reinstated, his attorney’s filed a motion to reconsider the ruling of the Connecticut Supreme Court “to ensure a full and fair determination.” Meanwhile, Skakel is still a free man.

Alternate suspects?

In July 2016, Robert Kennedy released a book entitled Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent Over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit. In the book, Kennedy made the case that two young black men, friends of the cousin of Kobe Bryant, who had been visiting New York City killed Moxley. Prosecutors say that Kennedy’s claims were thoroughly vetted and found to be “baseless” before Skakel’s first trial.

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Read more:

CBS News

Metro Focus

Vanity Fair 

CNN.com

Main photo: Martha Moxley [Wikimedia Commons]

  • William Restin

    I find one line attributed to the prosecution disturbing and patently false “Prosecutors say that Kennedy’s claims were thoroughly vetted and found to be “baseless” before Skakel’s first trial.”

    Hard to believe when Tony Bryant did not come forward until well after the trial was over.

    Judge Karazin made the odd & contradictory finding that Bryant’s testimony was credible enough to be admissible yet and not credible enough to sway a jury. Justice Palmer took a different opinion finding that Bryant ‘s testimony was credible and that it ought to be heard by a jury. Palmer said that the Bryant Video tape was “pretty compelling”. Palmer pointed out that “According to Bryant, over the next several months, Hasbrouck and Tinsley showed no remorse for what they had done and, in fact, joked and bragged about it.” He states the following in his opinion:

    “Furthermore, although there was no physical evidence of any kind connecting the petitioner (Michael Skakel) to the murder there is physical evidence corroborating Bryant’s version of the facts. I believe that the crime scene lends support to the credibility of Bryant’s statements about the murder.”

    “Finally, the trial court reasonably could have relied on other important physical evidence that corroborates the information that Bryant had supplied. That evidence consists of two human hairs recovered from the sheets that were used to wrap the victim’s body, one of which was identified by the forensic crime laboratory (lab) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as ‘‘possessing Negroid characteristics . . . .’’ Technicians conducting microscopic analysis of certain hair samples concluded that the hair was dissimilar to the only two African-American males known to be in the area at the time, a Greenwich police officer and the son of the Skakel family’s cook. Subsequent testing on the second hair revealed that it possessed Asian characteristics. Significantly, Hasbrouck and Bryant are of African- American descent, and Tinsley, according to Bryant, is of mixed race origin, possibly of Asian descent.”

    The Hasbrouck evidence was only presented. This scenario was by no means adjudicated to its fullest extent. If there is a new trial, you can bet it will be. None of the key third culpability claims have ever involved cross examination at a criminal trial—they weren’t available or were not pursued at trial. Tony Bryant came forward with the information post-trial regarding Hasbrouck and Tinsely. Subsequently, no testimony, let alone cross examination that could thoroughly vet the claim ever involved these subjects, because of Fifth Amendment assertions. The State had the power to get this testimony under oath; they decided to hide behind the fifth amendment assertion raised by the trio. Having a point “raised” is vastly different than having an issue cross examined under oath.

    I think its reckless for the prosecution to mislead the public into thinking that legitimate claims that can be advanced in an upcoming trial, have somehow already been subject to the crucible of cross examination, thereby allowing the public and a future jury to infer that a legitimate anticipated legal claim has already been given the thumbs down by a judge or jury. The fact is that no jury has ever weighed in on this aspect of the case. It was brought up at a Petition for New Trial, a procedure which has specific standards of its own, but there is nothing binding or controlling about Judge Karazin’s (Petition for New Trial Judge) decision on the subject matter of a viable third party culpability motion at an upcoming criminal trial. And the danger here is that the public now thinks it is a claim that has been “thoroughly vetted” and it has not — not even close. This is dangerously misleading to the public, and has the potential to pollute a jury pool. The state has suggested Bryant claims have been “Fully vetted”. To me this is a clear ethical violation on behalf of prosecution to make this statement.

    I can think of three people who can provide definitive corroboration; Bryant, Hasbrouck & Tinsley.

    Hasbrouck pleaded the 5th when defense subpoenaed him. He also refused to provide phone records, emails and other pieces of information that could clarify. If the state is so confident why not provide one of these individual’s immunity?

    • Thomas Sullivan

      Bunch of nonsense. The 12 member jury convicted the right guy beyond a reasonable doubt. And Sherman gave a competent defense regardless if a lawyer in a robe disagreed with his strategy.

      Convicted murderer Michael Skakel is going back to prison to serve the remainder of his time. No reason to re-argue the case, it’s been decided.

  • Sherri Willis

    I think both boys did it and Michael was the younger one and possibly easier to be acquitted. But the police did a poor job of evidence collecting, investigating the murder, and interviewing the Skakels and other witnesses. The Skakels, being related to the Kennedy family, intimidated the police who thought they could handle the case.