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Martha Moxley and the Boy Who was Convicted of Killing Her 27 Years Later


On October 30, 1975, also referred to as “Mischief Night,” 15-year-old Martha Moxley was murdered. For years, her case went unsolved. But in 2002, Michael Skakel—Martha’s 15-year-old neighbor at the time she was murdered—was convicted of bludgeoning her to death with a golf club.

After serving 11 years for the crime he maintains he did not commit, Skakel was released on bond—due to a judge citing that Skakel’s attorney failed to properly represent him in 2002. But the prosecution is still trying to appeal his release, making it unlikely that this saga is over.

Related: 10 Teen Murderers Who Committed Heinous Crimes 

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Michael Skakel’s cousin, has always been confident of Skakel’s innocence, and he wrote a controversial article regarding what he considered an unfair guilty verdict in The Atlantic Monthly‘s January 2003 issue. Now, Kennedy has written a book about the murder and Skakel’s subsequent conviction, entitled Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit, in which he argues that two other men are responsible for Moxley’s death.

Read on for an excerpt from Framed, and then download the book.  

CHAPTER 1: The Murder

Sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 P.M., on the evening of Thursday, October 30, 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley finished a grilled cheese sandwich and left her home on Walsh Lane to socialize around her Belle Haven neighborhood.

Belle Haven is a well-heeled enclave of 120 houses on Long Island Sound in Greenwich, Connecticut. Eighteen months earlier, the Moxleys had relocated there from Piedmont, California. Martha was a sophomore at Greenwich High School. Her brother, John, was a senior. Martha’s father, David, who headed the New York office of Touche Ross, an international consulting and accounting firm, was away that night in Atlanta for a conference.

It was Halloween eve, a popular anniversary that Belle Haven teens referred to as “Mischief Night” or “Hell Night.” Neighborhood children played pranks such as ringing doorbells, toilet papering houses, soaping windows, and throwing eggs. As she left home, Martha slipped into her blue winter parka against unseasonable cold; temperatures that night would dip just below freezing.

According to Martha’s mother, Dorthy Moxley, Martha and her friend Helen Ix set out from the Moxley property with 11-year-old neighbor, Geoffrey “Geoff” Byrne, who would unwillingly play a pivotal role in Martha’s murder and whose life would be destroyed by the event nearly as surely as Martha’s. The trio headed for the Skakel house in search of Michael and his older brother Tommy. According to the Skakel gardener, Franz Wittine, all six Skakel children—Rush Jr., 19; Julie, 18; Tommy, 17; John, 16; Michael, 15; David, 12; and Stephen, 9—together with their new 23-year-old tutor, Kenneth “Kenny” Littleton; their cousin James “Jimmy” Dowdle, age 17; and Julie Skakel’s friend Andrea Shakespeare, age 16, were having a 6:00 P.M. dinner at the nearby Belle Haven Club. Littleton, a football coach and teacher at Brunswick, the private day school the Skakel boys attended, had been hired a week earlier by Rushton “Rucky” Skakel Sr., father of the Skakel children and my mother’s brother, to help look after the children and to tutor Tommy and Michael. Rucky was away on a hunting trip, and would not return until the following evening. Rucky’s wife, Anne Reynolds Skakel, had passed away two years before after a prolonged battle with brain cancer. Littleton was celebrating his first day on the job by drinking with his teenage charges. Rucky, an alcoholic, exerted only anemic parental supervision. A minor household army, including a cook, a housekeeper, a gardener, and, now, Littleton, managed the chaotic homestead.

Related: 8 Terrifying Books About Murderous Children 

After leaving the Skakels’, Martha, Helen Ix, and Geoff continued, in Helen’s words, “messing around” Belle Haven, and then stopped for a short visit at the home of the Moukad family on Otter Rock Drive, where Martha ate some ice cream. There, they picked up another neighborhood friend, Jackie Wetenhall. The group, now a quartet, left the Moukad home and headed back toward the Skakels’.

According to various trial testimony, Littleton returned with the kids from the Belle Haven Club between 8:30 P.M. and 8:45 P.M. For about 15 or 20 minutes they all remained in the house, mostly drinking and playing games. Jimmy Dowdle recalled drinking at least one more Heineken along with Michael and John, with whom he was playing backgammon on the enclosed back sunporch. Michael recalls breaking out two Heinekens for Jimmy and John. As he handed them the bottles, according to his testimony during his 2013 habeas hearing, Michael looked down toward the Skakels’ backyard chipping tee and saw a group of large boys he did not recognize on the lawn. Michael also shared this detail with author Richard Hoffman in 1997, who was ghostwriting Michael’s memoir, four years before the identity of these figures would become a crucial factor in this case. Among those strangers, in all likelihood, was the murderer—or murderers—who would bludgeon Martha Moxley to death 75 minutes later.

Martha Moxley's House
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  • Front view of the Moxley’s home on Walsh Lane in Bell Haven as it looked in 1975. 

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sky Horse Publishing

On the day Martha’s body was discovered, Helen Ix told police that after leaving the Moukads’ house the night before, she, Martha, and Geoff appeared at the Skakels’ at “about 9:10 P.M.” Michael told police that at approximately 9:10 P.M., he saw Martha, Helen, and Geoff come into the backyard. He motioned for them to go to a door between the sunporch and the mudroom where he let them into the house. He told police that he led his three friends through the house and out the kitchen door into the driveway. Michael said he and his friends then climbed into Rucky’s Lincoln Continental that was parked by the side kitchen entrance to talk and listen to eight-track tapes.

“Martha was my friend,” Michael told me recently. “I would have liked to kiss her, but I would have liked to kiss just about any girl back then.” Michael, a virgin in early puberty, had teen crushes on Francie, the daughter of a family friend from nearby Armonk, New York, and on his Belle Haven neighbor Jackie Wetenhall. The runt of the Skakel litter, he was a scrawny kid who was always the smallest person in his class and at summer camp. “I was five foot five, weighed about 120 pounds and looked like a girl,” he said. “Martha was my size and could have kicked my ass.” The photo of Michael stolen by Detective Frank Garr that prosecutor Jonathan Benedict presented to Michael’s jury, without objection from Michael’s attorney, Mickey Sherman, depicted a beefy Michael four years after the murder. By then, he had passed puberty and had spent 24 months doing push-ups and bulking up for self-preservation at Élan, a brutal Maine reform school and drug rehabilitation facility he was attending.

Tommy told police that between 9:15 P.M. and 9:20 P.M., he had gone out to the Lincoln to find a tape. He climbed in the front seat beside Martha. Martha’s diary revealed that she, Michael, Tommy, and several other teenagers from Belle Haven enjoyed a close friendship, often socializing at each other’s homes. Martha and Tommy Skakel had developed mutual crushes.

Around 9:15 P.M., Rush Jr. along with John and their cousin Jimmy, having finished their backgammon game, appeared in the driveway, saying they needed to use the car to take Jimmy back to the Terrien/Dowdle home, a stone gothic fortress known as Sursum Corda (Latin for “lift up your hearts,” the opening line to the Eucharistic prayer). Sursum Corda sat on Jimmy’s mother, Georgeann Terrien’s, sprawling back-country estate 11 miles away, over a narrow, winding two-lane. The boys all intended to watch the 10:00 P.M. American premier of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Rush Jr., a Dartmouth junior, had fallen in love with the British screwball comedy when he saw it with a test audience in Hanover, New Hampshire, and was anxious to showcase it for his brothers and cousin.

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  • Michael is sitting on his mother, Anne’s, lap in a 1967 family photo. Front row, from left to right: Rucky, David, Anne, Michael, Stephen, Julie. Back row: Rush Jr., Tommy, John.

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sky Horse Publishing

In the 1990s, Michael told investigators from Sutton Associates—a Nassau County (New York) investigative firm that Rucky Skakel hired in 1992 to re-investigate the Moxley murder—that Martha declined his invitation to come with them to Sursum Corda, citing her 9:30 p.m. curfew. Michael and Martha made plans to go trick-or-treating the following night. With that, Rush Jr. backed the car out onto the street and headed off to Sursum Corda with his brothers John and Michael and his cousin, Jimmy, leaving Helen Ix, Martha, Geoff, and Tommy standing in the driveway. The facts of this departure and the occupants of the car have never been plausibly disputed. Tommy and Jimmy told this to police in 1975. John did as well; on December 9, 1975, he passed a polygraph administered by Connecticut State Police, asking him, “On October 30, from 9:30 to 10:30 P.M., were you with Mike, Rush, and James Terrien?” Georgeann Dowdle, Jimmy Dowdle’s sister (of the same first name as their mother, Georgeann Terrien), told police in November 1975 that she remembered seeing John, Michael, Rush Jr., and her brother arriving at Sursum Corda “just before 10:00 P.M.” A 1992 police report confirms the approximate time of the Lincoln’s departure from the Skakel home, as well as the four occupants of the car.

A few minutes after the Lincoln exited the driveway (around 9:20 P.M.), Helen Ix and Geoff decided to leave. Helen testified in 2002 that she felt like a “third wheel” because Martha and Tommy became “playful … flirtatious” at the end of the darkened driveway. Helen also had a 9:30 P.M. curfew. “It was time to go home,” she testified. It was the last time she saw her friend Martha alive.

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A gentleman at 11 years old, Geoff walked Helen to her door and then disappeared into a nightmare that would not end until his own death five years later. The day after searchers discovered Martha’s body, Geoff told the police that, after escorting Helen to her house, he heard “footsteps following him” and bolted home with someone in pursuit. He was too spooked, he said, to turn and see who was dogging him.

At approximately 9:30 P.M., only 10 minutes after Helen and Geoff departed the Skakel driveway, Julie drove Andrea home in the family station wagon, according to Julie’s October 31, 1975, interview. While she was in the driveway waiting for Andrea to get in the car, Julie “observed a shadow of a person” running in front of her house in a crouched position. She told police the figure disappeared into the wooded area adjacent to the asphalt. Andrea confirmed to police that she, too, heard the figure running by her. For many years various homicide investigators wondered about the identity of this mysterious figure that both girls saw or heard only 25 minutes before Martha’s murder.

On October 31, 1975, Tommy told police that after his brothers and Helen and Geoff left, he and Martha chatted for a few minutes, and said goodnight. He watched Martha walk toward the rear yard, and then he went into the side door of his house. Eighteen years later, Tommy changed his story, telling Sutton Associates investigators in an October 1993 interview that as soon as his sister, Julie, drove off, he and Martha snuck behind the toolshed and engaged in a sexual encounter that lasted 20 minutes, and ended in mutual masturbation to orgasm. Following their dalliance, around 9:50 P.M., the two rearranged their clothes and Martha said goodnight. Just before he ducked in the kitchen door, Tommy watched Martha hurrying across the Skakel rear lawn chipping tee toward her house, 20 minutes late for her curfew. It would have been a three-minute walk but for the savage ambush that extinguished her young life. When police discovered Martha’s body, they found that she had written the name “Tom” on her left moccasin.

Julie returned from dropping off Andrea at 9:55 P.M., a fact she has attested to on many occasions, including a March 1993 interview under hypnosis. Julie recounted that when she pulled into her driveway, she was frightened to see a large man, bigger than any of her brothers, “crouched, big, dark, maybe even hooded,” dashing across the Skakel property between her car and the front of her house. Julie recalled that the figure was carrying an object in his left hand, and ran across the driveway and into the hedge only feet from the toolshed, where Tommy and Martha had just completed their make-out session. Julie told me that she watched terrified from her car as the figure sprinted south to north the full length of the Skakel home. I believe that this man may have been one of Martha’s murderers closing in for the kill.

Want to keep reading? Download Framed now.

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