Hallowe'en murder haunts Kennedys

The unsolved killing of a teenager 23 years ago threatens to add another stain to the family's reputation. David Usborne reports

IN GREENWICH, Connecticut, it has long been bad form to mention the name Moxley. This is swell-town, USA, a seashore idyll of country clubs and mansions favoured by the well-heeled and the famous. But Moxley is a like a family secret that refuses to stay hidden and is casting its shadow once more.

It happened on Hallowe'en night 23 years ago. Fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley had left her home in Belle Haven, one of the best addresses in Greenwich, to play tricks with some friends. But she never returned. Her badly battered body was found under an old fir in the family garden the next day.

What befell Martha was never in doubt. She had been bludgeoned and stabbed with the shaft of a 6-iron golf club, sections of which remained on the scene. But, beyond that, there was nothing. Amid whispers of bungling if not actual evidence suppression, the police department failed to solve the murder. No trial has been held and no charges brought.

Spurred by two books about the case published this spring, one by Mark Fuhrman, the detective made notorious for his racism in the O J Simpson murder trial, state prosecutors have reopened the case, convening a grand jury in nearby Bridgeport. For weeks, the jury, consisting of a single judge, has been issuing serial subpoenas to compel anyone possibly tied to the murder to testify.

If and when charges are finally filed, the murder that Greenwich would rather forget is likely to burst, meteor-like, back into American consciousness. It is not just the high-society setting that will draw attention, or even the involvement of Mr Fuhrman. It is the identity - and the breeding - of the two individuals, who, according to press leaks, have surfaced as principal suspects.

They are Michael and Thomas Skakel, brothers who were among those who went out with Martha that night and who were identified even then as the last people to see her alive. Thomas and Michael, then 17 and 15 years old, lived across the road from the Moxleys, the sons of Rushton Skakel, a wealthy and respected industrialist. But something else distinguishes the family: they are part of the Kennedy clan.

Rushton Skakel, who is now 74 and lives in Florida, is the brother of Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F Kennedy. Thomas and Michael, therefore, are the late senator's nephews, a link which reinforced gossip that the boys were investigated with kid gloves. "I think they got deferential or preferential treatment," John Moxley, Martha's brother, said. "The Kennedy thing probably played a part."

Suspicion fell on the Skakel boys from the start. The golf club was matched to one that had belonged to the family. At first, Thomas came in for the closest scrutiny. He told the police he had left Martha outside his own house at 9.30pm, and had gone to the home of a cousin. He took a lie detector test that was reportedly inconclusive.

But in his book, Murder in Greenwich, Mr Fuhrman points the finger instead at Michael. Accusing the town police of hopeless sleuthing, he says that a critical item of evidence, the grip of the club, was embedded in the skull of Martha when her body was found, but then was lost or mislaid by detectives.

Indeed, it is on Michael that the closed-door grand jury is now said to be concentrating. As a child, it has been reported, he took pleasure in decapitating small rodents - with a golf iron. Critically, he is said to have confessed to the murder during a therapy session at a drug treatment centre in the late 1980s. Former workers from the centre testified to the jury last week.

"There is a powerful case there," said Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor and legal commentator. "The problem, though, will be figuring out which of the two brothers did it. Have you solved the case because you've narrowed it to two suspects? Probably not."

The brothers, both married and living in Massachusetts, have always professed their innocence. Michael assisted Senator Edward Kennedy in his 1994 re-election and worked for the late Michael Kennedy at his Citizen's Energy Corporation in Boston. Recently, Robert F Kennedy Jr, their cousin, came to their defence. "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."

The work of the grand jury threatens to add another stain to America's most famous - and famously troubled - political dynasty. But for Martha's mother, Dorthy, it promises relief. "It is like having an open wound and no hope to close it." That closure may, at last, be in sight.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'