The Police Investigation
According to Greenwich Police records, Dorthy Moxley phoned at 3:48 AM October 31st to report Martha missing. Patrolman Daniel Merchant responded to the Moxley residence. Both he and Dorthy searched the Moxley property for any signs of Martha but were unable to locate her. They did not look underneath the pine tree where Martha lay dead. It would be several hours before the child's body would be found.
Shortly after 12:15 PM, Martha's friend, 15 year old Sheila Maguire, discovered Martha's body while using a cut through between her home and the Moxley backyard. Frantic, she ran to the Moxley home and informed the adults present that she had found Martha. The police were summoned. Not one of the police officers assigned to the Moxley case had ever participated in a homicide investigation. This fact would prove disastrous in the days and months to come. In fairness to the Greenwich police, the community had not had the opportunity to be involved in such an investigation as it had been decades since the last murder in town. Even still, their actions in the crucial first days of this case would bring the case to a stand still and impede on the Moxleys right to justice..
In 1975, forensics was in its infancy, and somewhat unheard of in the small community of Belle Haven. The collection of evidence and crime scene procedure which followed were subject to the naivete of the local police force. They were in a reactive state of confusion and disorganization in the crucial first hours and days after the murder. Hindsight is 20/20, but I believe it is safe to say that in 1975, the Greenwich police were trying their best to do the right things and find Martha's killer. The state of shock that fell upon the community of Belle Haven resulting from this horrific crime seem to have, extended over to the police officers in charge of tracking down Martha's killer.
According to police officials at the Moxley residence that day, the crime scene was chaotic. Perhaps in their sincere efforts to "collar the killer" and lack of communication between the officers and detectives assigned to investigate, what resulted would be a mishmosh of interviews, evidence collection and general mismanagement of the crime scene. The medical examiner at the time, Elliot Gross, was contacted and stated that he was not available to come to the scene. Gross ordered her body be taken to the morgue where he would perform an autopsy the following day. It is incredulous that something else could be so pressing that he could not come to the crime scene of the first murder in years, but that was the case. He would not view the body until the next day.
When the detectives set off on their mission to canvas the Belle Haven community, they already knew or should have known, that the murder weapon was a Tony Penna 6 iron and that the Moxley's neighbor, Tommy Skakel, was the last person known to have seen Martha alive. This information was made available to them from the victim's mother Dorthy, as she had spent the wee hours of the morning making frantic phone calls to Martha's friends and neighbors hoping to locate her daughter. This would have also been confirmed while interviewing Helen Ix. The murder weapon was still at the scene, so we can assume, those in charge gave the detectives this information, and had already viewed it themselves, before heading out to question neighbors.
In hindsight, it would seem Thomas Keegan, who had been in charge that day, would have sent a detective to the Ix home to speak to Helen, one to the Byrne home to speak to Geoffrey and immediately send someone over to the Skakel home to question Tommy. Why the Skakel home was not also roped off and treated as a crime scene after hearing Dorthy's statement that Tommy had last seen her alive at 9:30 at his door, is beyond me. As Mark Fuhrman suggested in his book "Murder in Greenwich" there certainly could have been trace evidence in the Skakel home or yard, that could have assisted the police in their investigation. Even if they initially did not wish to believe Martha's killer was a Skakel, after finding the matching iron in the Skakel home that day, not treating it as a second crime scene was negligent. Even if a Skakel was not involved in with the killing, it would have had to dawn on the officers that someone HAD been to the Skakel property to retrieve the murder weapon and perhaps may have left trace evidence somewhere in the home or yard. Had this person smoked? Did he chew gum and spit it out? Could he have dropped something of his to assist the police in revealing his identity? We will never know, as the Skakel yard would not be searched for months. When it was finally searched, it was for dirt samples.
One can only shake their head in amazement while reading how the rest of that afternoon and evening of October 31st unfolded. The following days and weeks would prove to be no better. Was it truly police ineptitude or was it something far more sinister? Rumors would begin that the police were paid off to take this case off track. Others have concluded that the Greenwich police had a clear desire not to arrest a Skakel until all other leads were exhausted, resulting in wasted time and a cold trail. Others felt the police were totally inexperienced with this type of crime and were in way over their heads. David Moxley, Martha's father, finally concluded the same.
Reviewing the Greenwich police investigation, a reasonable person feels a strong urge to question how the case was handled. The few solid clues they did have were not acted on quickly or forcefully enough. When it appeared that there were no other viable suspects than those living in the Skakel home, the police had no choice but to start knocking on their door. Unfortunately by then, the Skakel's had already circled the wagons and hired defense attorneys to feign off further questioning.
The deference shown to the Skakel family is obscene. Within hours of Martha's body being found, detectives had collected (5) bags of evidence from the Hammond home, a man that had met Martha only once, and had no motivation to kill her. At this exact time, another team of detectives interviewing residents of the Skakel home happened upon a match to the murder weapon. A Tony Penna 5 iron was spotted among a container of clubs but was not taken from the home. Rushton Skakel had been away and the detectives were awaiting his return to confiscate this crucial piece of evidence. Had the detectives in the Skakel home, responded the same as the ones in the Hammond home, we probably would not still be discussing the Moxley case a quarter of a century later.
Interestingly enough, Steven Skakel made a comment to a friend while riding to school the day after Martha's murder, before her body had been found. He related his friend Lucy Tart, that he had been awakened by Martha screaming the night before. When this was brought to Rushton Skakel's attention he was allowed to question his own son about what he heard. Clearly, this is an example of the deference extended to the Skakel family or the stupidity of the Greenwich police. The results of Rushton's talk with his son is plain suspect. Rushton told Greenwich police that Steven had not heard Martha scream, he had in fact heard Helen or Martha laughing the night of the murder. It appears that there was not follow up on what Steven Skakel did or did not hear the evening of October 31st.
The fact that a murder suspects father was allowed to question another one of his son's about what he heard is beyond ineptitude. Justifiably it opens the door for people to question what was really going on back then. Steven Skakel could have possibly been the only witness to this horrific murder, yet the police did not feel it important enough to question the boy themselves? Why did the police allow Rush SR to question him to begin with? When the story changed, why did they accept this without questioning Steven further? Didn't the police realize the man they were allowing to do their job for them, had an obvious bias and great motivation to lie?
Curiously enough, Chief Baran reported in a local Greenwich paper that it was possible that the killer was a transient coming off of nearby interstate 95 and the Skakel's were known to leave sporting equipment around their yard. So apparently Chief Baran theorized that this transient was lucky enough to have come across it just as Martha was returning home and even luckier still, to remain undetected through out his evening of pillage. Why on earth was the police chief providing an out for the Skakel family so soon after the discovery of Martha Moxley's body? That logic was not applied to the Hammond family because the police had no problem interrogating Ed Hammond, collecting evidence from his home and treating him as a very viable suspect in this case just hours after the body was found. Why did focus turn to a transient, when Ed Hammond did not pan out as a suspect? Why was the obvious suspect overlooked until months later?
It is hard to swallow that the police did not believe that a Belle Haven resident was a vicious animal, yet know how they treated the Hammond family that day. It makes one wonder if it wasn't so much that the Greenwich police could not fathom a Belle Haven resident as Martha's killer, as evidenced from the Hammond interrogation, but rather which Belle Haven family had given birth to such a monster. This is just one of the many mysteries that envelopes this case and keeps all of us intrigued wondering who killed Martha Moxley.