Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder

Whirlpool of Doubts

"Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented."

-Georges Braque

What is more enchanting than Halloween in a small New England town, when little goblins and witches criss-cross each other 'neath the leafy prism of colors and geometric gables of brooding clapboard houses? Mix into the diorama a whiff of salt-taffy air, a whisp of the Atlantic mist and a harvest moon, and we have true Americana caught as if in an old, sepia-toned photograph come to life. There it is, Norman Rockwell on a living canvas.

But what happens when, just as the trick and treaters are ready to head out, a killer sneaks onto the scene? The whole mystical scenario falls flat before it begins, the magic disappears under chaos and the tranquility that is called the American Idyll seems to rot quicker than the windowsill pumpkin. The Jack O'Lantern grin becomes sardonic.

When 15-year-old Martha Moxley was killed on the until-then-safe streets of Greenwich, Connecticut, on October 30, 1975, no one simply knew how to react. The neat and pristine-clean confines of Belle Haven, the richest corner of town, had never anticipated murder. Its citizens became frightened and perplexed. And its police force, totally unprepared for this, found itself in a new and foreign world where issuing a simple parking ticket and fining a rouster for drunk-and-disorderliness couldn't wipe away the misdemeanor.

Martha Moxley was savagely killed in a manner that Belle Haven townspeople would have expected only in a Stephen King novel. Suspicion pointed not to a vampire or werewolf, but to one of the most powerful families on the East Coast; a family that had connections that reached loftily to the Kennedys of Hyannisport, a family that wined and dined the town officials, a family that...well, a family that you just didn't accuse of murder.

For more than 20 years, the killer has evaded punishment, although suspicion heavily points to at least one member of this family, the Skakels. Because Rushton Skakel, the patriarch, is the brother of Ethel Kennedy (widow of the assassinated Bobby Kennedy), many believe that the identity of the killer has been known by authorities these past decades — but conveniently covered up to protect a name that was already pockmarked by enough scandal. Others are of the opinion that the unsolved murder is merely a case of simple small-town police inexperience. Factions support each theory.

Martha Moxley, months before her death (AP)
Martha Moxley, months before
her death (AP)

A strong advocate of the Skakel/Greenwich conspiracy theory is retired Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman, the recent author of the book, Murder in Greenwich — Who Killed Martha Moxley? Being the same Fuhrman who made a splash with his controversial statements made during the prosecution of O.J. Simpson, he prides himself as being an antagonist of what he himself might call rich and mighty lawbreakers getting away with (literally) murder. Of these people, he argues, "They think that by moving out to an exclusive suburb (like Belle Haven) and sheltering themselves with money, and all the things and people money can buy, they can avoid, or at least ignore, human depravity. They are wrong. Greenwich may be richer, prettier, and safer than most places on this earth, but it is not immune to evil."

Author Timothy Dumas, who grew up in Greenwich — he was a year younger than Martha Moxley when she was slain — takes a more bird's eye view of the case in A Wealth of Evil. "The Belle Haven peninsula...posed special problems. This wealthy enclave was a distillation of the Greenwich image — remote, superior, and gorgeous. But underneath, Belle Haven was a place of considerable sorrow. Broken homes, alcoholism, and drug abuse were common in the 1970s, owing chiefly to hard partying and high-pressure business careers...This confounding atmosphere, as much as the failings of an untested police force, is why the Moxley investigation became so hard to navigate. The more information detectives amassed, the hazier the picture turned..."

Whether conspiracy, a demographic insanity or a product of oversight, the fact that the brutal murder of a young girl has gone unsolved for so long — nearly 24 years — is in itself a scandal of high order. But, last year, a one-man grand jury finally began re-examining the case in light of new evidence and recently changed testimony — as well as a national consciousness raised by Dumas, Fuhrman and media channels. The procedure, which is expected at this point to utilize its full given 18-month period, continues to interview the central figures involved in the case.

In the May, 1999 issue of InSight magazine, columnist John Elvin writes, "Over the years, the Moxley murder has attracted the attention of reporters, writers and TV producers. Police inexperience — some say incompetence — coupled with the wealth and decadence of the principal characters, made the still-unsolved case a natural for continuing public fascination and outrage (especially) the allegation of a cover-up by a wealthy family." He hopes that, because of the government's resurfacing of the case, "1999 may be the final year of freedom for Moxley's murderer."

Perhaps when the killer is discovered or confesses as evidence builds up — and let us hope the killer is found out by any means — the doubts that the murder has generated will dissolve into nothingness. Doubts — about this country's hierarchy; about the judicial system; about there being separate laws for the rich and poor. More so, doubts about Mankind's honesty unto itself.

Then the pumpkin can smile again without that cloud of doubt shadowing the light within.


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