The rumor had intrigued author Dominick Dunne: William Kennedy Smith was at the home of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel the night Martha Moxley was murdered.
Dunne - who was covering Smith's trial on a rape charge in 1991, which resulted in an innocent verdict - said he rushed to Greenwich to check on the report. It turned out to be false.
"But I thought: What ever happened to that case?" Dunne said.
That curiosity would set in motion a chain of events that would result in three books and a television miniseries. The publicity helped keep attention on the murder and to bring forward witnesses.
Skakel, 41, was convicted Friday of beating Moxley to death with a golf club in October 1975, when they were 15-year-old neighbors in a wealthy gated community in Greenwich. He is a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of former U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
"Certainly all three helped the cause," said John Moxley, the victim's brother. "We're appreciative of all of them."
Dunne, a small but feisty man, was a fixture at Skakel's trial. He said he got dirty looks from some of Skakel's relatives. But Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, was careful to build a friendly relationship with the man whose work helped land Skakel in court.
After investigating the rumor, Dunne said he decided to seek an interview with Dorthy Moxley, the victim's mother.
"I took a liking to Mrs. Moxley from the first day I met her," Dunne said. "She was crippled with grief and had no hope."
His sympathy was natural. Like Moxley, Dunne's daughter, Dominique, was murdered. Moxley was killed Oct. 30, 1975; Dominique was killed Oct. 30, 1982.
Dunne wanted to know why the Moxleys had left Greenwich, a wealthy suburb of New York City.
"She said she couldn't look at the Skakel home any more," Dunne said. "She knew that inside that home someone knew who had done it."
Dunne decided in 1993 to write a book, "A Season in Purgatory," a fictionalized account based on the Moxley murder.
On Friday, Dunne attributed the verdict to the tenacity of Dorthy Moxley and to prosecutor Jonathan Benedict.
"This is a woman who has fought, fought, fought for 27 years to keep this case alive. I just think she's great woman," he said.
Benedict, said Dunne, connected disparate parts of the case into a smooth and flowing timeline.
Dunne's book helped lead to two more, one by Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles police detective, and another by Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native and journalist.
Dunne said he suggested the idea to Fuhrman and provided him with a copy of a crucial report by a private investigative firm hired by the Skakel family.
Fuhrman, who writes about high-profile murders, said his interest in the Moxley case was piqued by Dunne's book. Fuhrman's book was the only one to allege Skakel committed the murder.
"I think it's fairly obvious when you have a family who keeps the suspect at bay for two decades," Fuhrman said. "That takes money and that takes power."
Fuhrman believes his book is one of the reasons Skakel attempted to write a book of his own. Interviews for Skakel's book became a critical part of the prosecution's case.
Benedict said Fuhrman's book pointed in the right direction, but said the state's evidence was developed before the book. He said the state offered evidence not cited in the book.
Dumas was inspired after interviewing Dunne.
"I thought nobody has ever told the real story," Dumas said. "This has been a subject of fascination for me since the day it happened."
At 40, Dumas was a year younger than Moxley. The woman who was the second person to see Moxley's body was married to a man who worked with Dumas' father on the Beetle Bailey cartoon.
"I grew up in Greenwich and nothing ever happened in Greenwich," Dumas said. "And then all of a sudden, to have your assumption of safety and tranquility kind of disrupted over night, especially at that impressionable age."
Dumas, whose book "Greentown" was published in 1998, said separating fact from fiction was difficult. Among the claims, he said, was that Skakel's older brother, Thomas, an early suspect, was spirited out of the country a day after the murder.
"A mythology grew up around the story," Dumas said. "The more you looked at it the harder it got to make sense of what really happened that night."
Investigators were already focused on Michael Skakel as a suspect by the mid-1990s, Dumas said.
"But I think we really made them keep at it," Dumas said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times