The Murder Case That Won't Die

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In 1975 in Greenwich, a 15-year- old girl was murdered and no suspect was ever arrested. There were no witnesses, no fingerprints, no apparent motive and scant physical evidence.

Unsolved murder cases are never closed, but as the years pass they typically become ``cold cases'' -- as lifeless as the victims whose deaths they chronicle.

Not so the case of Martha Moxley.

Her smiling face, framed by long, blonde hair, beams from the cover of a book on the case written by former Los Angeles Detective Mark Fuhrman and released last week, titled ``Murder in Greenwich: Who killed Martha Moxley?''

Fuhrman's book shares space in the ``New Releases'' section of bookstores nationwide with one published last month by Greenwich- area journalist Timothy Dumas -- ``Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community.''

Five years ago, Dominick Dunne wrote a fictionalized account of the murder in his bestselling novel, ``A Season in Purgatory.''

The Moxley murder investigation has been immortalized not simply because she was a child of wealth killed in her own yard in one of Greenwich's most exclusive neighborhoods. Almost from the time her bludgeoned body was discovered, suspicion has focused on brothers Michael and Thomas Skakel -- the nephews of Ethel (Skakel) Kennedy and the sons of Rushton Skakel.

The Kennedy ties are woven throughout the Moxley investigation. It got its biggest jumpstart during the William Kennedy Smith rape trial in 1991, when it was rumored Smith was visiting his cousins at the Skakel household the night of the murder. He wasn't. But the media blitz that followed prompted renewed scrutiny of the evidence, including a reconstruction by noted forensic scientist Henry C. Lee. The results of that reconstruction remain sealed.

So alive is the case that a sophisticated new method of DNA profiling was recently used on trace evidence preserved from the scene of Moxley's murder -- which occurred more than a decade before DNA testing was first used anywhere in a criminal case. Earlier this month, the results came back ``inconclusive.''

Fairfield State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, appointed last October, is now considering whether there is sufficient evidence to indict someone or, in the alternative, to seek a grand jury investigation, which would give him the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. His predecessor, veteran State's Attorney Donald Browne, mulled those questions for 22 years. Benedict said last week he will decide by early summer.

``There really is nowhere else to go with forensics,'' Benedict said. And although he conceded there's really no downside to calling for a grand jury investigation, he does not want to ``go at it willy-nilly. There has to be a reasonable expectation of getting useful information from it.''

When he retired last fall, Browne expected to continue oversight of the Moxley investigation as a kind of special prosecutor. He withdrew from the case late last month, however, citing Dumas' glancing reference in his book to unsubstantiated speculation, from unnamed sources, that Browne may have been paid off to stall the investigation.

Browne vehemently denies taking money or in any way compromising the investigation. But, he added, to remain on the case would have been ``a no-win situation. If I did not pursue a prosecution, it would be because I took a bribe. If I pursued a prosecution, I'd be doing it to prove the allegations false.''

Two books, a change in prosecutors supervising the case, DNA results -- all in the course of a single month. The Moxley murder investigation is the antithesis of a cold case. And it's currently awash in venom.

Fuhrman

Fuhrman has infuriated veteran investigators in the case with allegations of slipshod police work that are rampant throughout his book. At one point, Fuhrman said Greenwich police did not regard the Skakels as possible suspects until 1991, when they stopped ``looking for convenient suspects. By then, the case was already a hopeless mess.''

Greenwich Police Chief Peter Robbins mused that ``there might be a connection'' between the publication of Fuhrman's book and the eruption of a major sewer line in town last Tuesday. He suggested Fuhrman might have an ax to grind.

``He came in here for about 10 minutes one day and wanted me to share with him autopsy photos, autopsy results, and I refused,'' Robbins said. ``It's an open case. It's against all procedures to do that.''

Fuhrman persisted, reminding the chief he's a former detective.

``I knew that, but he's not a police officer now. He was here to write a book and I did not plan to assist him in writing his book,'' Robbins said. ``Mark is a convicted felon and I think he did more damage to law enforcement than anyone has in recent times.''

Robbins was referring to Fuhrman's 1996 conviction for perjury in connection with his testimony on the O.J. Simpson murder case. Fuhrman parlayed his knowledge and notoriety into a successful foray into crime writing -- ``Murder in Brentwood'' -- which made the New York Times bestseller list.

Robbins asserts the Moxley case has been ``vigorously pursued,'' but emphasized that it lacks witnesses, physical evidence or a confession -- any of which tend to solve cases. Robbins believes a grand jury investigation would be very helpful.

The Skakels

The Skakel family lived a few hundred yards from the Moxleys in the Belle Haven community. At the time of the murder, the Skakels were immensely wealthy -- owners of Great Lakes Carbon. Both Michael, 15, and Thomas, 17 -- intense sibling rivals -- were said to be interested in Martha, whose family had moved to Belle Haven a year earlier. Her father was a partner in the accounting firm Touche Ross.

The golf club used to bludgeon Martha clearly came from a set owned by the Skakel family, which at that time included seven children, ages 9 to 18, whose mother had died of cancer two years earlier. Rushton and his children told police the clubs frequently were left lying around the lawn and consented to a search of their home Nov. 2, 1975 -- two days after Martha's body was discovered.

Moxley's assailant struck her head so hard with the golf club that its shaft broke into pieces, one of which was driven through Martha's throat. The grip, or handle, of the golf club and the upper portion of the shaft it was attached to were never recovered.

Greenwich police originally focused heavily on two suspects -- a 26-year-old alcoholic graduate student who lived with his mother on one side of the Moxleys and a male tutor who lived at the Skakel home and doubled as a baby sitter. But additional suspicion was cast on the Skakel brothers after each changed his story in statements to a private investigator hired by Rushton Skakel soon after the police investigation was rejuvenated in 1991.

On the night of Oct. 30, 1975, Martha Moxley was with some friends in the Skakels' car, parked in the Skakels' driveway, listening to music at about 9 p.m. She was seated between Thomas and Michael in the front seat, then left the car with Thomas and began playfully wrestling with him. One friend who was there said they began making out.

Michael left in the car with his older brother, Rushton Jr., and others to drive home a mutual friend at about 9:30 p.m.

Thomas changed his story in 1991 to add that he and Martha had a sexual encounter involving mutual masturbation while still outside. Michael changed his story as well, saying he climbed a tree outside Martha Moxley's bedroom and masturbated there, placing himself virtually at the murder scene.

Lee said last week that the search done at the scene could have been more thorough, but hastened to add that criticizing the investigation two decades later is easy to do and unfair, given advances in forensic technology and training.

Fuhrman concludes Michael was involved in the murder and suggests his motive was jealous rage. Police will not discuss suspects and will not release the numerous reports they have amassed since 1991, including the one prepared by the investigators Rushton Skakel hired -- Sutton Associates.

Frank Garr, a retired Greenwich police officer who is now working as an inspector with the state's attorney's office, is the lead investigator on the Moxley case. Garr would only acknowledge that the change in stories by Michael and Thomas Skakel is significant.

``I obviously have a question about anyone who lies to police, and by their own admission, they lied to police,'' Garr said. ``Michael's change of story is even more bizarre [than Thomas'.]

As for Fuhrman's conclusion that Michael was involved, Garr declined to comment except to say, ``He can be very cavalier about what he says and who he names, because he doesn't bear the burden of proof.''

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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