1975 ‘Mischief Night’ Murder Probe Revived by Kennedy Case : Slaying: Rumors that William Kennedy Smith knew something about teen’s death led nowhere. Officials have reopened the case.
It was “Mischief Night” in posh, peaceful Greenwich.
In the uncommonly chill air that Halloween eve, young pranksters were out, scrambling over lawns and back yards. Laughter rang down the country lanes. Houses glowed with flickering jack-o'-lanterns. The evening’s autumn shadows swallowed up the roadside woods.
The private guards standing watch over the posh enclave called Belle Haven had been reinforced for the evening, but the threat was less than fearsome: Teen-age fun might get out of hand.
Belle Haven, after all, was a shoreline refuge within one of New York’s wealthiest suburbs, a place where people left their doors unlocked. On that crisp October evening in 1975, there had not been a murder in Greenwich for 30 years.
Among the kids of Belle Haven, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was special.
She had come to town just two years earlier, when her father, a partner in the international accounting firm of Touche Ross & Co., moved here from California.
Martha was voted “best personality” in junior high. An A student, the 5-foot, 5-inch teen-ager with the long blonde hair played basketball and worked on the school newspaper. Her braces had just come off. She was an effervescent girl coming of age.
On that Mischief Night, she hurried down a sandwich, called some friends and arranged a rendezvous at her end of Belle Haven’s Walsh Lane.
She and her companions, the sons and daughters of the corporate elite, rang doorbells, scattered toilet paper, sprayed shaving cream in mailboxes and eventually quieted down and dispersed.
A few, including Martha, stopped in at the home of the Skakel kids--cousins of the famous Kennedy clan of Massachusetts. Their wealthy father, Rushton Skakel, is the brother of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel.
Sometime around 9:45 p.m., Martha left the Skakels for her home, 150 yards away across a sprawling back yard.
Within minutes, within that short distance, Martha Moxley was killed. She was bludgeoned with a golf club, a 6-iron swung so violently that it snapped in two.
Police quickly focused on suspects close to home: Thomas Skakel, 17, the last person seen with Martha, and Kenneth W. Littleton, a 24-year-old tutor residing with the Skakels.
The long-ago crime has never been solved. Interest in the case revived this spring when rumors arose that another Kennedy cousin--William Kennedy Smith, charged with rape in Palm Beach, Fla.--knew something about the Greenwich crime.
The vague rumors led nowhere, but it was enough to draw official interest back to the baffling Moxley case. Connecticut authorities now are interviewing suspects and witnesses again and re-examining physical evidence. Technology such as DNA testing, unavailable in 1975, could come into play, said Henry Lee, head of a forensics team working the case.
“I’m optimistic we are traveling in the right direction,” said Inspector John Solomon of the state’s attorney’s office, working full time on the new investigation. “We’re either going to solve it shortly, or it’s going to take a long, long investigation.”
A nationwide toll-free number--1-800-221-LEAD--has been set up to gather more leads. The local newspapers--Greenwich Time and The Advocate of Stamford--published lengthy retrospective articles. Dorthy Moxley, Martha’s mother, last month added $30,000 to a $20,000 reward the state offered in 1978 to help find the killer.
An Associated Press review of 500 pages of Connecticut police files, along with dozens of interviews, provides this picture of the crime:
When her daughter failed to return home by her 9:30 p.m. curfew that night of Oct. 30, 1975, Dorthy Moxley began phoning neighbors. At 3:45 a.m., the distressed mother, whose husband was away on business, called police.
Just after noon that day, one of Martha’s 15-year-old girlfriends discovered the body in the Moxleys’ back yard.
Police said Martha was first struck on the left temple in the Moxley driveway, and apparently knocked unconscious. She then was dragged face down to a spot near a willow tree where she was struck at least a dozen times in the head and stabbed five times, including once through the neck, with a jagged piece of the club shaft.
It was “a maniacal attack,” says retired Detective Stephen Carroll.
The girl’s body was hidden under the low-hanging boughs of a fir tree, just 100 feet from her home. She still wore her blue ski parka, but her jeans and panties were down at her ankles. Police have no evidence of a sexual assault, but they believe that her attacker may have planned one and ran off when an automobile approached.
One of the Mischief Night kids, 11-year-old Geoffrey Byrne, told police he saw Thomas Skakel with Martha at the rear of the Skakel house shortly before 9:30 p.m., and saw the girl take a tumble as she frolicked with Skakel.
Nobody seemed to see much of anything else during the next crucial minutes. But they heard the dogs. One neighbor said they barked around 10 p.m. from near the Moxley home all the way down to Long Island Sound, 600 yards away.
The 6-iron used in the killing came from a set owned by Anne Skakel, the children’s mother, who had died of cancer two years earlier. The grips bore her name. The snapped-off club head was found near Martha’s head, but the upper part of the club was never found.
Detectives interviewed 250 people, and gave lie detector tests to dozens, including Dorthy Moxley.
Police initially questioned a Moxley neighbor who was an alcoholic, apparently sexually obsessive, and considered strange by his neighbors. His lie detector test was inconclusive. Investigators soon became more interested in Skakel tutor Littleton.
Littleton, a science teacher at Greenwich’s private Brunswick School, was baby-sitting the Skakel children--six boys and a girl--because Rushton Skakel was out of town. Littleton, a former scholastic football star, told police he spent the evening watching “The French Connection” on television.
The tutor failed lie detector tests given almost a year later, but police attributed that to a case of the jitters: Littleton was facing burglary charges in Massachusetts, his home state. He pleaded guilty in that case in 1977 and was sentenced to five years probation.
Tom Skakel passed a lie detector test several weeks after the killing, and police also sought a full psychiatric examination of the teen. Authorities were cut short by Tom’s father. Rushton Skakel had allowed police to search his home and look at Tom’s school and medical records, but the father halted access to the family Jan. 22, 1976.
That same day, the elder Skakel was admitted to Greenwich Hospital with chest pains. He told neighbors he had received some bad news. He hired an attorney, who advised the family and their employees, including Littleton, not to speak to police.
Donald A. Browne, Fairfield County state’s attorney, complained that the silence was impeding the investigation, but he declined to impanel a grand jury to force them to answer questions. He said the investigation had not narrowed sufficiently to bring it to a grand jury.
Greenwich neighbor and family friend Mildred Ix told police in April, 1976, that she was informed that Tom Skakel did undergo extensive psychiatric tests, and that they showed he was not involved in the murder.
Littleton’s father and mother, residents of Belmont, Mass., said in brief telephone interviews that neither they nor their son wanted to discuss the case.
“I don’t understand,” Mrs. Littleton said. “I just have become mentally ill over this poor thing of this poor child being dead and nobody knows who did it. Well, they do probably, but they can’t put a finger on it.”
Skakel, now 33 and a real estate agent living in nearby Pound Ridge, N.Y., married two years ago and has a daughter. He has long proclaimed his innocence, but the case has dogged him.
“It’s in the past, and that’s it,” Skakel told the Associated Press. “I just want to leave it there. I have my own life. It’s private.”
Some in Greenwich agree that the past should be left alone--and the town’s great mystery left unsolved.
“I think it’s terrible to bring up something that is dead and that hurt so many innocent people,” Mildred Ix said.
Dorthy Moxley feels otherwise.
“I don’t want people to forget,” said Moxley, whose husband died two years ago and who now lives in Maryland. “I don’t think I’ll be at peace until we find out who killed her.”