On the night before Halloween, 1975, the wealthy community of Greenwich, Connecticut, was rocked by the murder of fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley, who was discovered in her backyard, bludgeoned and stabbed with a women’s golf club. Yet despite the horror of the crime, the well-to-do neighborhood stymied the investigation, which had drawn nationwide attention due to one suspect’s ties to the Kennedy family.
For twenty-three years, the killing went unsolved and the killer unpunished, until the first edition of this book was published, outlining the chilling murder and the community’s response. When a special grand jury was finally convened, it took two more years for the police to bring the Moxley’s next-door neighbor, Michael Skakel, to trial and convict him of the gruesome homicide.
Determined to share the eventual conclusion to the crime that shattered families and haunted Greenwich for almost a quarter century, the author has updated the book called by Greenwich Time, the “literary authority on the Martha Moxley murder.”
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THE TOWN of Greenwich sits near the crook of Long Island Sound. Upon its landscape of soft green hills live sixty thousand bodies (and considerably fewer souls, the devil whispers), proud people who have done well in life.
On the Belle Haven peninsula they have done better than well. The peninsula juts a mile or so into the Sound, reaching out into the slate-gray water as if to detach itself from the rest of town. Strangers entering Belle Haven feel this detachment as keenly as they do a change in weather. They tighten their grip on their steering wheels, check their rearview mirrors for private police, and round the little white speed fences with edgy, excessive care.
Then, forgetting themselves, they slow at old mansions. They notice how some have turrets and gables that thrust through the tall trees. How others rest wearily, ponderously, as if subdued by centuries of Atlantic wear. It does not seem possible that some of the oldest-looking houses date only to the 1920s and that Belle Haven itself flowered as late as the 1880s.
A brochure from 1884 informs us:
Of the many beautiful spots on the borders of Long Island Sound none is more beautiful than Greenwich, Connecticut. It possesses not only the charm of its natural advantages, which, without exaggeration, are innumerable, but is also of historic interest, some of the most exciting episodes of the Revolution having been enacted in its immediate vicinity.
To come down to a later period, in our own times Greenwich has been widely known as a popular resort for the tired mortals of the busy metropolis, who find here in its delightful scenery and invigorating air all the needful appliances for the promotion of health, happiness and comfort, not to mention wealth.
Then the brochure wanders round to the lovely geography of Belle Haven itself, "grandly placed as it is upon a ridge, commencing with an elevation of one hundred and sixteen feet above tide-water, and sloping gradually to the water's edge...." It tells of Belle Haven's salubrious breezes and the fine pitch at which its "sewage matter" is delivered into the depths of the Sound. It notes especially the talismanic qualities of health that Belle Haven living brings. Neither the man who originally owned the land, an obscure Dutch sea captain named Busch, nor any of his descendants, "has suffered in the slightest degree from malaria, chills or fever."
That is good news for the proposition at hand:
The property on which Belle Haven is situated has recently passed into the hands of a small company of capitalists, whose intention is to develop it into a Residence Park, and who will spare no expense to make it in all respects un- equaled as a place of residence for summer or permanent location....
Mission accomplished. Belle Haven rapidly became the most dazzling neighborhood in what was fast becoming one of the nation's wealthiest towns — a sanctuary for New York society, captains of industry, and other tired mortals of the busy metropolis.
By 1975 the mansions of Belle Haven are fading beauties, clinging to remnants of past glory. They are burdensome to keep up. Costly to make over. But their fusty grandeur adds a note of magic and mystery. "Belle Haven was the land of fairy tales," recalls Sheila McGuire, whose most vivid neighborhood memory happens to be a nightmare — but we'll get to that. "I'll tell you, there are hidden treasures in Belle Haven. It really was like Alice in Wonderland."
Other Belle Havenites tell me of mythical folk and haunted houses. "You know that house on Mayo Avenue, the small Victorian that's like the House of the Seven Gables?" asks Chip White, who lived down the street from Martha. "That was the Sutter house. Only, we called it the monkey house. It was haunted. The ghost wore long tennis whites. You'd see him glide behind the upstairs windows. When the new people moved in we asked, 'Did you see the tennis player?' and they said, 'Uhh, yeah.'"
Like much that I learned for this story, the tennis player turned out to be half truth, half invention. "I can tell you who the ghost in tennis whites was," says Sam Sutter, now a prosecutor in New Bedford, Massachusetts. "He was my father. Clifford Sutter. Fifth-best tennis player in the world in 1932. He was the ghost in tennis whites — but he wasn't dead."
I'LL TELL YOU A GHOST STORY.
One day when the sky breathes gray and the leaves curl up like cold hands, an old yellow school bus smokes past the great houses of Greenwich and down the rain-slicked roads toward Long Island Sound. The bus chugs up Shore Road, breasts a long hill, squeaks to a halt in front of a tiny white guard booth with green shutters and a green roof. Upon the booth hangs a sign reading "Belle Haven. No Trespassing." The man in the booth waves a pale hand; leaves swim past his window like tropical fish. The bus gathers speed and rolls along under splendid bursts of color and into the heart of the Belle Haven peninsula.
The school bus runs through fading tunnels of yellow leaves. Past turreted Victorians, sulking Tudors, proud Georgian colonials, tile-roofed villas — each the symbol of someone's dream. But for all their grandeur, these houses lack the elbow room they need. Few of them preside over more than two acres (far from the loose, farmy spaces of early Belle Haven), and this endows the peninsula with an opulent and eccentric density.
At the top of Walsh Lane, the door folds in like a concertina and two girls tumble out into the autumn air.
Martha Moxley and Sheila McGuire.
Wind blows. Leaves fatten against the sky, snap loose, and flutter down.
The girls seize upon the brightest ones on the damp road, deepred maple, golden oak, and crush them under their shoes. Twirl on them like ballerinas. Their hair flies out as they sparkle down the lane, pressing the leaves into the black road and saying, "How pretty, how pretty, look, did you see this one, look at this one."
This joyful movement is their ode to the season, and they call it the Leaf-Smashing Dance.
Veils of leaves drop away from the great houses in flakes of gold. Mexican laborers are raking the leaves onto bolts of burlap, when the wind gusts and flings them all across the grass again. Martha brushes a leaf from her hair and smiles. Her hair shines bright gold. She blew in from San Francisco Bay fifteen months earlier. A California girl.
She has attended five schools in five years; lived in three neighborhoods and in two radically dissimilar states. For some, keeping upright in shifting terrain is an acquired skill, necessary for social survival. For Martha, this skill is inborn. Motion does not throw her. She thrives on it, instigates it, steers its course. Among a certain crowd of girls, whatever fun thing is happening has likely spun from the mind of Martha Moxley.
Consider tonight. Tonight is Mischief Night, the night before Halloween. Mischief Night is license to set free childish devils. Armed with toilet paper and shaving cream and eggs (M-80 firecrackers and baseball bats for real hellions), the youth of Greenwich scurry about in the dark, festooning the town with mischievous designs.
Tonight Martha Moxley will be among them.
Hey, Martha, look! When the leaves are down, the houses have faces. See? It looks like they're staring out at you!
People inside are looking out at us, crazy people with lots of booze and nothing to do.
The sun slips behind a roof, and the mansion windows burn a dull orange. Pumpkin lanterns smirk through unlit holes. Crows sit fearlessly in the grass as Martha and Sheila send clouds of girls' laughter up into the air and stamp Walsh Lane with yellow and gold and red.
The girls turn in at Martha's house. Sheila goes on through the backyard to her own house, on the other side of the long brick garden wall. She does not take a good last look at Martha Moxley — there is no need; she will see her again tomorrow.
DUSK. The sun sits low. Liquefies. Flames.
A man steps from the kitchen door of the Belle Haven Club, a beach and tennis club that is also the social axis of this neighborhood. The man is striding along, a cup of coffee raised to his chest. His fingers burn under a slanting plume of steam. He pauses in a rectangle of lighted lawn. At his back, the long sleek shining Sound goes dark and still, and he feels the cold air move through him.
Muffled voices leak out of the dining room and settle lightly on the water. The voices complain about the abrupt change in the weather. The day before, October 29, the temperature hit seventy, and everyone opened windows to the faint bitter smell of decay. But this morning the people of the town rose to a killing frost that grayed their lawns and carved designs on their windows.
The man looks up. Night has come, moonlessly. The eastern sky is purple, black higher up, and the first stars hang overhead. Cloud traces track across the orange light of the west.
The man walks beyond the voices and becomes a vague shape sliding past the tennis courts. He heads toward a 1970 Chevrolet Impala angled up against the seawall. Workingman's car. The Impala coughs, kicks to life. The man sips his coffee. He is ready to begin.
This dark, these trees, the anticipation of unrest — they are nothing to special police officer Charles Morganti. He has been hardened by his time in the jungles of Vietnam. Tonight the Belle Haven Association has hired him to keep watch over this gated patch of heaven. Piece of cake.
He rattles away from the club, climbing above the black water. His taillights advance into the tall trees and then vanish. Suddenly he feels it: a strangeness in the cooling air, a dreamlike quality that offends his sense of duty. Morganti later recalls, "It was dark. It was cold. There was a breeze going. But it was somehow very still too. You know how you get those still nights when you get down near the water? Like that. It felt strange, very strange, no doubt about it."
These qualities of night remind him of the air force base at Columbus, Mississippi. One night a guy on midnight duty hanged himself in a maintenance hangar. His limp body was found swaying gently from the upper deck. "Everybody who worked midnights after that was scared to go in there."
Now that feeling is coming round again.
And then things happen.
A car knocks down a speed fence on Otter Rock Drive and darts off in a swirl of lamp-lit leaves. Morganti steps uneasily from his patrol car and sets the fence upright. He stands on the roadside, alert. There are voices in the trees. He peers down Walsh Lane, a narrow, leafy street that dead-ends with a length of chain at Otter Rock.
"I saw a whole mob of kids down there. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen of them, by the Moxley house. Among those trees over where Martha was found. Kind of caught me strange. So I went walking down the drive toward them, to try to see what was going on, and they all came running out and they all ran over to the Skakel house."
Walsh Lane is lit by a streetlight that flickers and flickers as if under the burden of the dark. Morganti stops, shudders. "After I spotted those kids in the trees, I walked up Walsh Lane from Otter Rock to see if there was anybody still screwing around. You know how you walk into some area and it just gives you the willies? Two and a half years in Vietnam, not too many things got me scared. I pulled patrols in Vietnam, the whole bit. But you get a sixth sense, you know what I mean? So I walk up into that area and it just feels weird. I don't know what it was. I had two friends with me that night, Smith and Wesson. All kidding aside, I felt really strange walking down that road. To this day, I don't know why."
He drives around the block and spies a man walking north on Field Point Road. The man is in his twenties, with blond hair and glasses. He has his head tucked into the collar of his fatigue jacket. This guy looks out of place, Morganti thinks. Morganti drifts over to the roadside and questions him. "I ask him if he lives in the neighborhood, and he says he lives down Walsh Lane. He's just out for a walk, he says. But I make a mental note to watch for him on my next sweep."
At about nine-thirty, Geoffrey Byrne, one of the children whom Morganti dispersed, starts home from the Skakel house. It is not far from there to the great dark Tudor in which he lives. He will walk across the Skakels' backyard to Walsh Lane, cross the front of the Ix house, then turn in at a wooded path that leads up to Mayo Avenue.
As he goes into the thickening trees, he hears heavy footfalls on the leaves, thumping rapidly toward him. He stops, but the steps keep coming, and so he flies through the trees, raising his arms against the black whips of bare branches, his long blond hair marking him like a white-tailed deer. He vaults over a low stone wall and sprints up a silvery lawn toward the mammoth silhouette of home. He touches against the back door; he does not remain outside to listen for the sound that he thinks is rushing through the trees.
As the clock nears ten, twelve-year-old Stephen Skakel of 71 Otter Rock Drive wakes to the sound of screaming; Margaret Moore, fifteen, of 25 Walsh Lane, hears leaves rustling; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Gorman, of 21 Walsh Lane, hear the growling of an agitated dog; Morganti spies a big man, perhaps six feet tall and weighing two hundred pounds, with blond hair and dark-rimmed glasses, walking across the lawns of Otter Rock and vanishing between two houses. Same darn guy, he thinks, picturing the man he questioned earlier.
Ken Littleton, a teacher at the Brunswick School, a private boys' school in town, moved into the Skakel house that afternoon. He's a tall, thick-shouldered man with a square jaw and wire-frame glasses. After taking his charges to dinner at the Belle Haven Club, he ensconces himself in the master bedroom to watch the network premiere of The French Connection, starring Gene Hackman.
The Skakels' Irish nanny, eighty-three-year-old Margaret Sweeney, calls upstairs.
"Mr. Littleton, check into that fracas outside, if you please." Littleton rises from his lounge chair, keeping an eye on Popeye Doyle roughing up a stoolie in a bar. He goes downstairs, opens the front door. The night is eerily still. He sees no kids, but he hears movement in the brush —"a noise like rustling leaves," he tells me years later. "I got spooked."
Robert Bjork, a prosecutor who works in New York City, is sitting in the library of his home on Otter Rock when he hears a collision outside his window — the speed fence — and the damaged cargo beetling down the road. Soon he notices a Chevy parked in front of his house and goes outdoors to investigate. He finds Morganti. The two men chat for a moment, and then Bjork goes back inside.
Bjork has one piece of business to take care of before he turns in — corralling his springer spaniel, Mokui, and letting him out the back. Normally Mokui sniffs around, relieves himself, and paws at the door to be let in.
Tonight Mokui does not return.
Bjork steps outside and whistles. As he stands there, not even the floodlights illuminating his lawn can push back an invading presence. "It was an eerie night, bitter cold, wind blowing fiercely," Bjork remembers. A funny look comes over his face. "I had a sense of evil. That's the best way I can describe it."
The dog appears finally on the perimeter of the yard, a brushy patch that abuts the property of David and Dorthy Moxley. "He came from the junction point of our property and the Moxleys'. He was wavering in his step. He seemed disoriented and jumpy, whining a bit. Do you believe in the intelligence of animals? Well, that dog was trying to tell me something was wrong."
Bjork stares at the dog a moment and then beckons him toward the door, shutting it hard against the night. "I'm not a guy who's afraid of things. I'm not trying to be boastful or macho. That's just the way I am. But I can remember being very happy to get back inside the house."
The time is a few minutes past ten. Something has happened out there. You can feel it alive in the air, like the smell of lightning that has struck the earth.
Steven Hartig, twenty-three, lives across the street from the Skakels and three lots away from the Moxleys. Before he shuts off his bedroom light, at about eleven o'clock, he hears noises coming from the end of Walsh Lane. And now the night is winding down, all except for the high wind in the trees.
Sheila McGuire returns from a Halloween party at midnight. She hustles up the long driveway in the dark. She pulls on the door. It's locked. This, in a night of oddities, isn't terribly odd.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Greentown"
Copyright © 2013 Timothy Dumas.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not only is Martha Moxley's murder described and the suspects and motives discussed, but you get a real view of the politics of upper-class Greenwich. This town of 'beautiful people' is no better than any other place where money can buy anything--including silence. It also brings you into the life of Martha Moxley and her family making you feel compassion for them and real anger towards the perpetrator.
I loved reading this book. It really helps you to understand the politics in Greenwich, Conn. at the time Martha Moxley was murdered. And how the "old" families protected each other from everything. Nobody would say anything against the Skakals, but were more than willing to throw a stranger under the bus. Fascinating book.
May 27, 2002Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America¿s Wealthiest CommunityTimothy DumasGREAT non-fiction book about the murder of Martha Moxley. I¿ve been fascinated by this story for years, and I knew Mark Fuhrman had written a book about it, but I never bought it because it was, well, Mark Fuhrman. I actually went ahead and bought his book at the same time I bought this one, though. Figured I¿d read both. Only bought the paperback of Fuhrman¿s book, though. Haven¿t read it yet. Don¿t know if I will anytime soon, because Dumas¿ book was just so good! He tells it like a suspense thriller, in the present tense, and it¿s really riveting. Not your typical true crime fare, usually so dry and technical. Quite a revelation was made. A woman who dated one of the younger Skakels years after the murder says that he confirmed that his brother did indeed kill Martha. He appeared to be referring to Tommy, though the name was never said. Of course, Michael is the one on trial now for the crime, 25 years later. I don¿t think he¿ll be convicted, though. He shouldn¿t be, really - not on the evidence they¿ve got, which is none. Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. I¿ll definitely read it again.
When I first read this book, Martha Moxley's murder hadn't been solved. I remember getting shivers as I read this. I reread it after Michael Skakel was convicted and it still gave me the creeps. It is better written than most true crime and makes for a spooky read on a dreary day.
Brought the case up to date. Sad tale of innocence lost.
This writer is fabulous! Reads more like a novel but it also gives you all the facts! Amazing!
BUY THIS BOOK. It was mindblowing.
This book was poorly written and it is a rehash of previous ones. No new evidence. Save your money.
Well written, i wish the killer was where he should be.....
This is a very detailed book about an unsolved murder and all of the problems surrounding an event that no one was prepared for, especially the police. I enjoyed most of the book but there were a few spots that I think the author got a little long-winded. It was very interesting to compare what the police would do back then as compared to how murders are investigated today.
The errors are numerous and were distracting.