Real Name: Martha Moxley
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Greenwich, Connecticut
Date: October 30, 1975
Details: After a night out with friends on October 30, 1975, fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley vanished. The next day, her body was found by that of her friend, Sheila, about fifty yards from her home; she had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death with a golf club. Although her pants and underwear had been pulled down to her knees, forensics showed no signs of rape or sexual assault. Fifty feet from her body, near her driveway, was the head of the golf club. One part of club was never located.
Police estimated that she had been murdered some time between 9:45PM and 10PM. At the time, everyone suspected that her killer was from outside of the gated community. However, to this day, the two main suspects in the case are her own neighbors, Thomas and Michael Skakel. There has never been enough evidence to charge either of them, so the case remains unsolved.
Suspects: The immediate suspects in Martha's death were seventeen-year-old Thomas and fifteen-year-old Michael Skakel, relatives of the Kennedy family. The suspicion intensified when they lost one of their golf clubs, the same blunt instrument used as the weapon; it was later confirmed that it came from their home.
Authorities questioned Thomas and Michael on October 31. Michael stated that he and Thomas had been with Martha on the night of her murder. Thomas was discovered to be the last person to see her alive. Thomas told police that he, Martha, Michael, and two other friends sat in their car from around 9 to 9:30PM. Their older brothers kicked them all out because their cousin needed a ride home. The two friends left, and a few minutes later Martha supposedly did so as well. Thomas told the detective that he then went inside because he had to write a report on Abraham Lincoln. He said that he last saw Martha at around 9:30PM. Detectives talked to his teachers and found that no such report had been assigned. Michael corroborated part of Thomas's story. He told police that he went with his oldest brothers, John and Rush Jr., to give their cousin a ride home.
Investigators soon identified another suspect in the Skakel household: twenty-four-year-old Kenneth Littleton, a live-in tutor for the Skakel children. He had move into the home on the same day that Martha was murdered. He claimed that he was watching the show "French Connection" on the night of the murder. He also claimed that the housekeeper, Mrs. Watson, had seen him inside at around 9:45PM. She told him that she had heard noises coming from outside her window. Kenneth claimed that before he looked outside, he decided to check on the seven Skakel children. Rush Jr., John, Thomas, and Michael were still not home. He claimed that he did not see anything outside.
Kenneth claimed that he did not see Thomas until 10:25PM, when he joined him to watch TV. The other three sons came home within half an hour. Over the next few months, detectives interviewed hundreds of people and gave several polygraph examinations. Thomas was given to tests; the first was inconclusive, but he passed the second one. Then, after months of cooperation, the Skakel family put a halt to any further questioning, on the advice of their attorneys.
Eventually, attention was returned to Kenneth after he was dismissed by the Skakels. In July of 1976, he was arrested in Nantucket, Massachusetts, for burglary and theft. He failed a polygraph in connection to Martha's murder. Investigators felt that Kenneth, Thomas, and Michael, were all plausible suspects in the murder. Thomas and Michael were known to have a crush on Martha, but she rebuffed advances from them, preferring to stay friends. This may have intensified the desire for her murder.
After the case flopped in 1976, it faded into obscurity. However, fifteen years later, the case of William Kennedy Smith became national news. As he is a famous blood relative of Ethel Kennedy's children, the Skakels, are her nephews, Martha's murder became the talk of the town again.
In 1991, the police brought in forensic pathologist Dr. Henry Lee. He re-examined forensic evidence with technology that was not available in 1975. Among the evidence was clothes that were found discarded in the Skakel's garbage around the time of the murder. This included pants and sneakers that were believed to have belonged to Michael. Some hairs on the clothes were microscopically similar to Martha's. Other hairs belonged to a male Caucasian; however, he had no hair samples from any of the suspects, so he was unable to make a match.
Based on crime scene photographs, Dr. Lee gave police a possible motive for the murder. To him, the blood smear on her body suggests that it was a sexually-motivated homicide. There were no defense wounds on her body, which suggested that she knew her attacker. Also, the multiple strikes to her head and stab wounds suggest that the killer was enraged with her.
In 1991, Rushton Skakel, the family patriarch, hired a private investigator to put the rumors to rest once and for all. This proved a serious error as both brothers changed their stories than what they gave police during their 1975 interrogations. In November of 1995, Leonard Levitt published an article about the case. In his article, he wrote about the new stories that the brothers had given to the private investigator.
Thomas and Michael both told the investigator that they had lied to the police about their whereabouts on the night of the murder. Thomas stated that after 9:30PM, he went into his home. Later that night, he went back outside and spent another twenty minutes with Martha. He also claimed that he and Martha had engaged in a sexual act and left her at around 9:50PM. To Levitt, the story does not make sense. At 1AM, Mrs. Moxley called around the neighborhood, asking about Martha. Thomas told her that he last saw her at 9:30PM. It would not make sense for him to lie about his whereabouts when no one even knew that she was dead.
Michael told the investigator that around midnight, he went to Martha's house, climbed up a tree and threw stones at her window to wake her. He then climbed down the tree and apparently passed the murder scene. He claimed that he heard something but did not see anything. Levitt felt that it was unlikely that he could have walked through that area without finding Martha.
Based on the changing of the stories and all of the other evidence, the police are almost certain that one of the Skakels killed Martha or at least has information about the case.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the February 16, 1996 episode. It also ran on Cold Case Files.
Results: Solved. A few years after Martha's murder, Michael had more scrapes with the law and was shipped to a military-style boarding school called the "Elan School". His roommate later recalled a conversation where he confessed to Martha's murder and commented, "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy." This witness did not come forward until 1996 as a result of the Unsolved Mysteries broadcast. Other witnesses also came forward from the Elan School, claiming that Michael had confessed to killing her. They even claimed that he had admitted to the crime during a group therapy session. Also, tutor Kenneth Littleton claimed that when he asked Michael if he had killed Martha, he did not deny it, saying "Who else could have done it?"
Furthermore, investigators noted that Michael had made other incriminating statements about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, including that he was fondling himself above the same tree that Martha would be found near. Investigators believe that he may have made this statement in order to explain his DNA being found on her body (although no DNA was actually found on Martha's body).
Michael was arrested for Martha's murder in 1999, tried for it, and was convicted on June 7, 2002. Adding to the evidence was that his roommate was subpoenaed to testify during the trial. Jurors believed that the circumstantial evidence (including his various confessions, statements placing him at the murder scene, access to the murder weapon, and motive) were enough to prove his guilt. They also said that they did not believe his alibi witnesses and that his siblings and cousin were covering for him. He was sentenced to 20 years to life for first-degree murder. In October 2007, a Superior Court Judge denied his motion for a new trial.
In a dramatic new development, in October 2013, Michael was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge who ruled his attorney had failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002 of killing Martha in 1975. He argued his trial attorney, Michael Sherman, was negligent in defending him when he was convicted in the golf club bludgeoning of Martha when they were 15 in wealthy Greenwich. Prosecutors have said they will appeal the decision. John Moxley, Martha's brother, said the ruling took him and his family by surprise, and they hope the state wins an appeal.
In his ruling, the judge wrote that defense in such a case requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense.
"Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense," Judge Thomas Bishop wrote. "As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability."
On December 31, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated Michael's murder conviction, holding that Sherman provided a constitutionally adequate defense. However, he has not yet returned to prison.
- Martha Moxley on Unsolved.com
- Martha Moxley on Wikipedia
- The Moxley case: From murder to trial, a 26-year history
- Skakel Is Convicted 27 Years After Girl's Murder
- The Sutton Report
- Skakel Gets New Trial in ’75 Killing of Teenager in Connecticut
- Freed Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel May Face Justice In New Murder Trial
- Timeline of the Michael Skakel-Martha Moxley Case
- Michael Skakel’s Murder Conviction Has Been Reinstated
- I tutored a Kennedy relative — and wound up accused of murder