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1975 'Mischief Night' Murder Probe Revived by Kennedy Case : Slaying: Rumors that William Kennedy Smith knew something about teen's death led nowhere. Officials have reopened the case.

September 08, 1991|JANET BLAKE and ROBERT DVORCHAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS

GREENWICH, Conn. — It was "Mischief Night" in posh, peaceful Greenwich.

In the uncommonly chill air that Halloween eve, young pranksters were out, scrambling over lawns and back yards. Laughter rang down the country lanes. Houses glowed with flickering jack-o'-lanterns. The evening's autumn shadows swallowed up the roadside woods.

The private guards standing watch over the posh enclave called Belle Haven had been reinforced for the evening, but the threat was less than fearsome: Teen-age fun might get out of hand.

Belle Haven, after all, was a shoreline refuge within one of New York's wealthiest suburbs, a place where people left their doors unlocked. On that crisp October evening in 1975, there had not been a murder in Greenwich for 30 years.

Among the kids of Belle Haven, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was special.

She had come to town just two years earlier, when her father, a partner in the international accounting firm of Touche Ross & Co., moved here from California.

Martha was voted "best personality" in junior high. An A student, the 5-foot, 5-inch teen-ager with the long blonde hair played basketball and worked on the school newspaper. Her braces had just come off. She was an effervescent girl coming of age.

On that Mischief Night, she hurried down a sandwich, called some friends and arranged a rendezvous at her end of Belle Haven's Walsh Lane.

She and her companions, the sons and daughters of the corporate elite, rang doorbells, scattered toilet paper, sprayed shaving cream in mailboxes and eventually quieted down and dispersed.

A few, including Martha, stopped in at the home of the Skakel kids--cousins of the famous Kennedy clan of Massachusetts. Their wealthy father, Rushton Skakel, is the brother of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.

Sometime around 9:45 p.m., Martha left the Skakels for her home, 150 yards away across a sprawling back yard.

Within minutes, within that short distance, Martha Moxley was killed. She was bludgeoned with a golf club, a 6-iron swung so violently that it snapped in two.

Police quickly focused on suspects close to home: Thomas Skakel, 17, the last person seen with Martha, and Kenneth W. Littleton, a 24-year-old tutor residing with the Skakels.

The long-ago crime has never been solved. Interest in the case revived this spring when rumors arose that another Kennedy cousin--William Kennedy Smith, charged with rape in Palm Beach, Fla.--knew something about the Greenwich crime.

The vague rumors led nowhere, but it was enough to draw official interest back to the baffling Moxley case. Connecticut authorities now are interviewing suspects and witnesses again and re-examining physical evidence. Technology such as DNA testing, unavailable in 1975, could come into play, said Henry Lee, head of a forensics team working the case.

"I'm optimistic we are traveling in the right direction," said Inspector John Solomon of the state's attorney's office, working full time on the new investigation. "We're either going to solve it shortly, or it's going to take a long, long investigation."

A nationwide toll-free number--1-800-221-LEAD--has been set up to gather more leads. The local newspapers--Greenwich Time and The Advocate of Stamford--published lengthy retrospective articles. Dorthy Moxley, Martha's mother, last month added $30,000 to a $20,000 reward the state offered in 1978 to help find the killer.

An Associated Press review of 500 pages of Connecticut police files, along with dozens of interviews, provides this picture of the crime:

When her daughter failed to return home by her 9:30 p.m. curfew that night of Oct. 30, 1975, Dorthy Moxley began phoning neighbors. At 3:45 a.m., the distressed mother, whose husband was away on business, called police.

Just after noon that day, one of Martha's 15-year-old girlfriends discovered the body in the Moxleys' back yard.

Police said Martha was first struck on the left temple in the Moxley driveway, and apparently knocked unconscious. She then was dragged face down to a spot near a willow tree where she was struck at least a dozen times in the head and stabbed five times, including once through the neck, with a jagged piece of the club shaft.

It was "a maniacal attack," says retired Detective Stephen Carroll.

The girl's body was hidden under the low-hanging boughs of a fir tree, just 100 feet from her home. She still wore her blue ski parka, but her jeans and panties were down at her ankles. Police have no evidence of a sexual assault, but they believe that her attacker may have planned one and ran off when an automobile approached.

One of the Mischief Night kids, 11-year-old Geoffrey Byrne, told police he saw Thomas Skakel with Martha at the rear of the Skakel house shortly before 9:30 p.m., and saw the girl take a tumble as she frolicked with Skakel.

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