Martha and her smile seemed to be everywhere in 1975. The yearbook is dingy with age, but the girl's self-confi- dence still radiates from its pages. There she is with the tennis, field hockey and basketball teams, the varsity and ski clubs, the yearbook staff.
Dorthy Moxley leans across the kitchen counter, her simple gold earrings glinting beneath tidy brown hair, and absently fingers the photos of her only daughter, as if to feel Martha in the pages. She scans sentimental inscriptions from kids who barely had a chance to know Martha, the new girl at school that year. "You are one of the nicest people I met this year," wrote one classmate. "Foxy Moxley," a smitten boy scrawled.
"I've never really read these," the mother says. "Martha was just so cute." These days, nobody talks to Dorthy Moxley much about the Martha who loved sports and painting and her precious cats named Tiger and Junior. Instead it's always the murder, the awful mystery that still fascinates detectives and has filled three books. "It's always Who do you think did it and why?' "
Dorthy Moxley's last glimpse of her daughter was the night before Halloween 23 years ago when Martha's bright blond mane and blue parka bounced out the front door into the cold night, off to roam the enclave of protected estates known as Belle Haven in Greenwich, Conn. Martha's bludgeoned body was found the next day, beneath a pine tree behind her own stately home. Pieces of a bloody golf club told of the furious crime that haunts this community still. Martha was 15.
The hunt for Martha's nocturnal killer has lurched over two painful decades. It has flummoxed authorities and shamed a town that prides itself on its low crime rate, lush country clubs and median home price of $676,000. And like the unsolved, faraway killing of another child of wealth, JonBenet Ramsey, Martha's murder cast a shadow over a prominent local family -- in this case, cousins of the Kennedys of Massachusetts.
Almost from the start, police looked at a 17-year-old neighbor, Tommy Skakel; eventually one of his brothers, Michael, 15, also came under scrutiny. Their father is Ethel Kennedy's brother, Rushton Skakel. Police had traced the ladies' 6-iron that killed Martha to the Skakels' house. The boys were among the last people to see Martha alive.
The brothers denied any involvement then, and continue to do so now. No charges were ever filed against them -- or against the Skakel boys' new live-in tutor, Kenneth Littleton, then 23, who was also questioned by police and who also denies involvement.
Years went by. The investigation faded amid accusations of police bungling and whispers of clout and coverup. Police sometimes suspected that the elite residents of Belle Haven were reluctant to believe the murderer might be one of their own. Even some of Dorthy Moxley's old friends wish she would stop talking about it.
Mrs. Moxley, now 66, still has ample reason to talk; she brims with excitement about a confluence of events that may finally bring closure. In June, the state of Connecticut, without divulging why, named a Superior Court judge to act as a one-person grand jury to reinvestigate the murder. The rare appointment, coming after three state judges reviewed the case, means that Judge George Thim can compel witnesses to testify, a power that previous investigators did not have.
A rain of subpoenas is falling on Greenwich as Thim hears secret testimony. Mrs. Moxley has told her story to Thim, and also to "Leeza" and "Geraldo" and "Hard Copy." The most sensational new development is a book by former Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman, who came east looking for the Greenwich equivalent of a bloody glove. Claiming to have "solved" the murder, Fuhrman in his book faults police for failing to scrutinize Michael Skakel early on. Fuhrman discounts the boy's alibi by questioning the cops' early conclusions on the timing of the murder.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who became close to his cousins as adults, says: "Those boys had nothing to do with the tragic murder of Martha Moxley. Their lives have been absolutely beleaguered by innuendo that has hounded them for 22 years."
Indeed it was mostly the linkage to the Kennedys, if only by circumstance of birth and marriage, that kept Martha's story alive. And in the serendipitous way that celebrity begets celebrity, the trials of William Kennedy Smith and O.J. Simpson both instigated new focus on it: Smith's 1991 rape trial unleashed a whole new media flare-up with the false rumor that he had visited the Skakels the night of Martha's death. And Fuhrman, now crusading to expose how the rich evade justice, brought his own notoriety to the story.
Besides Fuhrman, author Dominick Dunne, chronicler of the Simpson trial for Vanity Fair, based his novel "A Season in Purgatory" on Martha's murder. Forensic experts Henry Lee and Michael Baden, both defense witnesses for Simpson, examined the Moxley case at different times.
Today Greenwich itself is aflame with renewed passions. Some see a dark side to their tony town, one that prefers not to discuss a messy homicide. "There are people who wish it would go away. It's horrifying to me," says Barrie Fuchs, mother of five daughters whose property abutted the Skakels'. The murder would be solved by now, insists neighborhood resident Stratford Wallace, "if all Belle Haven residents had told all they knew to authorities."
Others resent media prying and portrayals: It's wrong, insists Belle Haven homeowners president William Penwell, to depict the area as "a neighborhood of aloof snobs that care more about their privacy and their reputation than they do about seeing a murder solved."
To Sid Willis, this is all "water over the dam." The chamber of commerce chairman offers this personal take: "Most of the people think it's high time to just forget about it. We feel sorry for Mrs. Moxley, and we all think we know who did it. . . . 'Course, we're not the court."
It was "doorbell night," part of a pre-Halloween prank tradition; kids would pelt houses and trees with eggs and toilet paper. Martha Moxley set off on foot with neighborhood friends, while many Belle Havenites, like millions across the country, hunkered down to watch a network broadcast of "The French Connection" on pre-cable TV.
The Moxleys were relative newcomers to exclusive Belle Haven, arriving from California the previous year and immersing themselves in the cocktail party circuit. In a town of sprawling old-money estates, miles of exclusive coastline, numerous yacht clubs and private golf courses, Belle Haven's leafy peninsula was one of Greenwich's best addresses. The Moxleys quickly fell into its golf, tennis and boating idyll.
"People were so friendly and we were all happy," Dorthy Moxley recalls. Her husband, David, was managing partner of the Touche Ross accounting firm in Manhattan. Martha's older brother, John, played football at Greenwich High.
A 10th-grader, Martha had been grounded for staying out late with her boyfriend the previous weekend -- but Halloween was a school holiday, and her mom told her, "Oh, go ahead." She and her buddies sprayed some shaving cream on mailboxes. They ended up chatting with Michael and Tommy outside the Skakel residence -- located diagonally across Walsh Lane from the Moxleys'.
Two of Martha's friends say they last saw her talking with Tommy at the side door as they headed home at 9:30. Tommy later told police he had said goodbye to her then, and she headed home across his back lawn. Michael had already left with two other brothers to drive a cousin home. Dogs barked as 10 p.m. neared, and as she painted window trim upstairs, Dorthy Moxley heard a commotion of voices outside. Kids were always cutting across the lawns, but the disturbance was enough that she went to the window. She saw only the inky night.
David Moxley was away on business. His wife was worried by the time John arrived home and Martha hadn't. Eventually drifting to sleep in front of the TV, she awoke at maybe 2 a.m. to find Martha's bed still empty. Her mind racing in panic, she called all of Martha's friends, and then the police.
"It bothers me. I hate to tell you how many times it's been thrown up to me in conversation. You know, How many homicides have you solved?' That does bother me."
Police Chief Peter Robbins, a lanky, graying man, sits beneath wall photos of himself with Greenwich's most famous offspring, George Bush, discussing Martha's murder. A police dispatcher in 1975, Robbins became chief just last year.
The department has a spotty record for sleuthing out the few homicides it encounters. Like Boulder, Colo., police two decades later in the JonBenet Ramsey case, the suburban Greenwich police took their lumps for not measuring up to big-city standards. The chief hears criticism about how the police never got a warrant to search the Skakel house -- even after spotting a golf club there that matched the murder weapon. The cops did not insist on a same-day visit by the state medical examiner; he didn't show up until the next day, losing a chance to narrowly pinpoint the time of death.
It wasn't as if detectives weren't trying. They collected soil samples, combed through trash, dragged the waterfront for a missing piece of the murder weapon, and rounded up strangers who were around Belle Haven that night. Police reports logged pages of interviews with potential suspects and witnesses and golf club owners.
"That investigation was very intense, very intense. There were a lot of people involved in it," Robbins says. And yet the failure to obtain a search warrant "has always been an issue."
Police maintained they did not want to squelch the magnanimous cooperation Rushton Skakel initially provided. He submitted his son Tommy to hours of questioning and two lie detector tests -- one reportedly inconclusive and one the boy passed. He allowed investigators the run of his house, serving up coffee and snacks.
In fact, police officers knew the Skakels well. In a practice that continues today, off-duty cops made extra money, good money, by working for the wealthy -- driving kids to school, staffing parties, running shuttles to the airport. The Skakels were just one client family among many.
"Nobody was impressed or intimidated or in any way influenced," insists Inspector Frank Garr, who worked the case longer than anyone as a police detective and then in his current investigative job in the state's attorney's office.
But Charles Morganti, a former part-time officer in Greenwich, says many cops did tread lightly with rich residents. "You watched who you hassled in town. You're dealing with people who have immense amounts of financial wherewithal."
Referring to the officers in lime-green vests who direct downtown traffic, Morganti adds: "You always wonder whether you're going to end up doing traffic on Greenwich Avenue because you stopped so-and-so's son or daughter."
Obsessed with Martha Moxley's murder? "Yeah, I suppose I am." Retired detective Steve Carroll smiles self-consciously. Rarely does he let a day go by without a few phone calls or a chat with a reporter. He's done TV. He helped Fuhrman with his book, was with him when the new owner of the Moxley place ran both of them off for approaching the house.
On Oct. 31, 1975, Carroll was called to the Moxley home. Martha's body lay face down in the bright fall sunshine, her head so seeped in blood that her golden hair was dark. A blood trail led across the leaf-strewn yard where she was dragged to the shallow cover of the pine boughs. A golf club head and part of the shaft littered the site, broken in what police said was an attack of maniacal rage. Martha had not been sexually molested.
As he worked the case, Carroll came to question Belle Haven's cooperation. "When we first went around . . . people were very nice. If you had to go back for a second interview, people were very negative. People would say: Just get on with it. You know who did it. Why don't you just take care of it?' "
Carroll, now 66, readily admits flaws in the police work, including his own. He says he should not have omitted from his official reports an interaction that he now sees as a key detail: that in the presence of Michael Skakel and two friends, Martha spurned Tommy's efforts to touch her leg the night of the murder. Carroll conveyed the information to detectives years later when a reinvestigation of the Moxley case was launched.
Carroll's public criticisms have rankled old colleagues. He shrugs it off, saying he only wants the case resolved: "It just seems like such a waste for a 15-year-old girl to be killed and not have somebody answer to it."
Hollywood couldn't have invented a more cliched murder weapon: the rich man's leisure instrument, a golf club.
But the 6-iron wasn't as incriminating as it might sound, by Rushton Skakel's account. Yes, his was a golfing family, he told police. In fact, he had recently hosted a company picnic with lots of putting on the expanse of lawn out back. It wasn't unusual for his kids to carelessly leave their clubs outside. Someone else could have happened along and plucked the murder weapon from the Skakels' yard.
Chairman of his family's Great Lakes Carbon Corp., Skakel was a convivial man who volunteered at the local hospital. He frequently had a drink in his hand and a priest by his side. Neighbors were used to seeing ambulances come and go from the Skakels' Belle Haven home until Anne, the mother of the seven Skakel children, succumbed in 1973 to cancer.
The Skakel boys had a reputation for being rambunctious, and some of their behavior was typical in a privileged neighborhood where youths had considerable freedom. Detectives learned that both Tommy and Michael had emotional problems. Both were prone to temper outbursts, police were told.
Rushton Skakel abruptly withdrew permission for police to obtain Tommy's school records three months after the murder. His attorneys also refused to make any family members available for further interviews. Detectives continued to track the boys, noting in police reports that Michael was stopped for speeding, drunken driving and fleeing police in 1978. He was sent to a school for troubled youths and kept running away. Academic problems forced Tommy out of college that same year.
As members of one of the nation's leading industrial families, the Skakel brothers were financially secure. Thomas worked in real estate for a time. Michael worked as an aide on Sen. Edward Kennedy's 1994 reelection campaign and then for cousin Michael Kennedy, who died in a skiing accident last New Year's Eve, at Citizens Energy Corp. in Boston. Neither brother is employed now.
Their stepmother, Anna Mae Skakel, says both underwent alcohol rehabilitation and have been sober for years.
After her friend's murder, 10th-grader Tori Fuchs went door to door through her neighborhood, across Belle Haven's lush yards, asking for donations. She collected enough to plant a tree in Martha's memory down at the waterfront Belle Haven Club -- a cherry blossom, Martha's favorite.
Today, in between interruptions from her two small sons, Fuchs, 37, remembers how Martha had said goodbye that day at the school bus. They'd agreed to talk later and maybe go to a party together. "She was in a great mood," Fuchs recalls. "I can't remember her ever being in a bad mood. She always smiled. You just wanted to know her."
Martha liked to be part of the action, and often instigated it. Sometimes it was late-night pool-hopping or trying to cadge beer from older kids, says another friend, Christy Kalen. Martha had a large circle of friends. "She was a flirt, in a 14-year-old harmless way."
Tori and Martha never did call one another on doorbell night. After a frantic middle-of-the-night call from Dorthy Moxley, Tori set off the next day to join a friend and look for Martha. She had to pass the Moxley house en route. She found her legs inexplicably taking her away from the side she always cut across, the area where Martha's body was about to be discovered by another neighborhood girl.
"Courts don't solve cases. Detectives do." Mark Fuhrman is wound up, his contempt for the Greenwich cops oozing through the telephone. "This is incredible, amateur, naive police work that's been done."
Ex-LAPD detective Fuhrman, unbowed by his drubbing during the Simpson trial, looked into the murder at Dominick Dunne's suggestion. Fuhrman got a frigid reception in Greenwich. When he ventured past the guard booths of Belle Haven, private security guards ordered him out of the enclave. Police wouldn't cooperate with him. They later called his book -- a scathing portrayal of a botched investigation -- full of errors. They said it offered nothing new.
Fuhrman's research produced an explosive allegation: that the never-found grip portion of the golf club -- where police believe an identifying name band would be attached -- was actually lost at the scene, an incredible blunder. Two officers who had been first on the scene talked to Fuhrman these many years later and told him they had seen it impaled in Martha's head. Funny, they never said so at the time, nor did any other officers ever see that part of the weapon, officials retort.
Police have always said the grip was missing. It was not anywhere at the scene, Chief Robbins insists. "Dumbfounded," was the reaction from Thomas Keegan, former captain of detectives and former police chief.
Fuhrman is unrelenting, and unapologetic for the amount of speculation he uses to bolster his theory implicating Michael Skakel. Nor does he suffer modesty about the grand juror appointment coming within weeks of his book's publication. "I would take a large percentage of the credit," he says, "because I put it together for them." Nothing much happened on the Moxley case in the 1980s. People mostly stopped talking about it. Then, in 1991, the media frenzy around William Kennedy Smith bounced to Greenwich. The Greenwich Time subsequently unleashed an exhaustive story on the murder -- held for eight years -- divulging police records that the newspaper obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The article described missteps by a well-meaning police department. Within weeks, authorities announced a reinvestigation of the dormant case.
In a pivotal development, Rushton Skakel hired a private investigative firm, Long Island-based Sutton Associates, presumably to clear his boys once and for all. But the move proved damaging to the brothers when the firm's findings made their way into a surprising 1995 Newsday article by Len Levitt, a Connecticut journalist who has tracked the case for years.
The brothers' recollections with Sutton Associates interviewers were significantly different from what they had told police as boys. Tommy said that instead of saying goodbye to Martha at 9:30, he had a 20-minute tryst with her outside, involving sexual touching. Then she went home, he said. Michael said that after he returned from his cousin's around 11:30 p.m., he went to the Moxleys' property, climbed a tree, called Martha's name and threw pebbles at her window. Getting no response, he masturbated in the tree and then ran home. En route, he heard noises in the bushes on the Moxley property.
According to Newsday's sources, the boys withheld those details in 1975 for fear of angering their father.
The Sutton findings, also reviewed by The Washington Post, included a psychological profile of the killer by the Academy Group, a firm headed by former FBI agents. The offender was an unsophisticated teenage male whom Martha knew, the analysts said. Other characteristics included low self-esteem and explosive temperment. The killer was likely enraged by rejection, and inflicted a stab wound through Martha's neck to ensure her death.
The profile was closer to the Skakel boys than to Ken Littleton, the Greenwich private school teacher who moved into the Skakel house the day of the murder.
Littleton's alibi is that he was unpacking boxes on that first night in the Skakel household and watching TV. Rush Skakel was out of town. Littleton and Tommy told police that they watched "The French Connection's" dramatic chase scene together after 10 p.m.
The summer after the murder, Littleton's behavior turned erratic and he was convicted of burglary and larceny in Nantucket. Greenwich police put him under heavy scrutiny. He lost his teaching position and bounced from job to job. His mental stability declined, according to several published accounts.
Littleton's lawyer, Max Beck, says his client was neither involved in the murder nor had any knowledge of it. Today Littleton lives quietly in the Boston area, reportedly suffering from manic-depression. Writes Timothy Dumas in his book about the case, "Greentown": "Ken Littleton is the most psychologically damaged person in this story."
The Skakel brothers -- now 37 and 40 years old -- aren't giving interviews. They've both married. Thomas has three children. Both live in Massachusetts, but spend time visiting their father, who is remarried and lives in the country club community of Hobe Sound, Fla.
Rushton Skakel, 74, reached there by telephone recently, said Michael and Thomas were there, but out golfing.
The senior Skakel's health is said to be wavering. But he offers a terse, ringing defense when asked for his view of recent developments: "I feel totally that he's innocent," he says, a reference to Michael. "If they gave me a question, I would say Ken Littleton did it."
As to the death of the girl who was once his neighbor, he says, "I just feel very badly about it, and I pray for her every day. And I hope everything will go all right with our family and the Moxley family."
According to his wife, Anna Mae, lawyers have long advised the family not to comment or talk with police. Through their attorneys, Thomas and Michael Skakel repeated their denials of any involvement.
Their lives have been "pure hell" because of the investigations, Anna Mae adds. Intimates describe them as warm, religious and generous -- though emotionally fragile after the years of suspicion.
"Michael Skakel has a conscience," his stepmother says. "Believe me, if Michael ever did anything wrong he would have to tell you, because that's the way he is."
Thomas, she says, "has become very quiet and subdued. It's always hanging over your head."
In her opinion, the grand jury has no case and Judge Thim will recommend no charges: "It's all hearsay."
No confession. No eyewitnesses. Circumstantial evidence that is a generation old. Can a conviction ever be obtained, or is the grand jury mostly a bow to public pressure?
Henry Lee, who reviewed the Moxley murder in 1991 as head of Connecticut's forensic lab, says that of 6,000 cases he has investigated, this one is among the 10 toughest. "Unfortunately it takes luck," he says, to solve an old case.
Former state's attorney Donald Browne never sought a grand jury in the 22 years he oversaw the case because, he says, the evidence always seemed to ricochet among what he called the few prime suspects. "Every time you get a piece of evidence that points in the direction of one of those individuals, at the same time it serves to exculpate the other individuals," he says. Browne's resignation in April, however, paved the way for his successor, Jonathan Benedict, to be more aggressive.
By law, Thim has up to 18 months to complete the investigation -- and report whether he had found probable cause for an arrest.
Dorthy Moxley now lives comfortably near her son and grandchildren in low-key Chatham, N.J. Her husband retired, then got involved with Bob Dole's 1988 presidential campaign. David Moxley never really could talk much about Martha. He kept his grief inside. Ten years ago, at age 57, he died in his sleep of a heart attack.
Dorthy Moxley never could stop talking about Martha. And Martha had shared her mother's need to verbalize. "Martha would come home from school and she would come into the kitchen where I was and she would talk and talk and talk," the mother says. "Oh my God, she told me everything that went on."
Recently Mrs. Moxley received a visit from old Walsh Lane neighbors, close friends of the Skakels. Mildred Ix and her daughter Helen -- Martha's companion the last night of her life -- made clear that they felt harassed and wanted Dorthy to stop drawing attention to the case, even to tell people not to call them.
"They're lovely people, but they just cannot believe the Skakels had anything to do with it," Mrs. Moxley says. She doesn't speak ill of anyone. But she does want an ending to Martha's story.
"My life is really simple now. I don't have to entertain fancy people. I just do my grandmother things."
Yet she still belongs to the Belle Haven Club, her final connection to the Connecticut social whirl. It's also where Martha's cherry blossom flowers every spring. Thinking of the inscription on the plaque, she grows teary-eyed. "Martha," it reads, "your smile will always bring happiness and love to all your friends. 1975."
Dorthy Moxley composes herself again. "Anyway. And the tree is now 22 years old. It's a huge, big tree . . ." CAPTION: Pieces of a puzzle, clockwise from above: the local paper several days after the murder; Dorthy Moxley; daughter Martha, whose body was found in the back yard of the family home in Greenwich; Mark Fuhrman's book about the case; suspects Tommy and Michael Skakel and their live-in tutor, Kenneth CAPTION: Michael Skakel and his Aunt, Ethel Kennedy, in 1996. It was mostly the linkage to the Kennedys that kept Martha's story alive. CAPTION: Dorthy Moxley and her son, John, beneath a 1973 portrait of John and his sister. "Martha would come home from school and she would talk and talk and talk," Dorthy says. "Martha was just so cute." CAPTION: Former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman: "Courts don't solve cases. Detectives do."