There are many reasons that a person might keep a journal. Sometimes, it’s for fun, a canvas to record their story. In some cases it’s a therapeutic device, a healthy outlet for raw thoughts and emotions. For whatever purpose we use them, they’re the story of ourselves — and that can come in handy.
Like when one Connecticut teen went missing, leaving her friends and family completely hopeless…until they found her diary. What they read inside finally unraveled the 15-year-old’s disappearance — and the answers were far beyond what they could’ve imagined.
Martha Moxley was born in 1960, in Piedmont, California. She spent the first 14 years of her life there, and had a relatively happy childhood. Before she turned 15, though, one fateful decision would change the course of her life.
In 1974, the Moxley family chose to overhaul their life and move across the country to Greenwich, Connecticut. At first, everything seemed like it was going to work out. The area they moved to was downright idyllic.
“It was one of these neighborhoods, the kids could just go meet people…very safe,” Martha’s mother Dorthy Moxley recalls thinking. It was one of those suburban safe havens where it seems like nothing bad ever happens…that is, until it does.
A quick adapter and warm, outgoing teen, Martha thrived after the move. She was a straight-A student and a member of the school’s basketball team, and she made plenty of friends, whom she hung out with often.
Some of these friends were two boys, 15-year-old Michael and 17-year-old Tom. The Skakel brothers lived right down the street from the Moxleys, and the children spent a lot of time together. The Skakels, however, had a special identity.
Tom and Michael were members of the famed Kennedy family. Their uncle was none other than Robert F. Kennedy himself, brother to president John F. Kennedy. This was a very impressive connection indeed.
Since they lived so close to each other, the young neighbors often spent time at each other’s houses. They got along well and made fast friends; however, the Skakel family was hiding some dark secrets beneath the pleasant facade…
Despite their connections to fame and privilege, the Skakel family was deeply dysfunctional. With seven children to watch over, the parents were often stressed out and overworked. Things only got worse when the boys’ mother died of cancer.
According to Michael Skakel, the family experienced a host of deep-seated issues including “chronic illness, alcoholism, and a repressive Catholic moral and sexual outlook” that contributed to much of their dysfunction.
For the most part, Moxley could overlook the family’s obvious issues, and the teens led a normal and peaceful existence in Greenwich. Then Halloween of 1975 came, and in one night everything changed.
In Greenwich, the night before Halloween was known by the youth as “Mischief Night.” Typically, it was filled with harmless pranks and shenanigans, but this year something was different.
That night, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was cruising the neighborhood with her friends. It seemed to be an average night, until Dorthy Moxley woke at 4 am and realized, to her shock and surprise, that Martha had never returned.
Dorthy’s maternal instincts kicked in, and she immediately began to phone all of Martha’s friends, asking if anyone had seen her, desperately trying to get a hold of her missing daughter.
One friend had an interesting piece of information for Dorthy. She reported that Martha had last been seen with her neighbor, none other than Tom Skakel. Hopeful that perhaps Martha had gotten tired and simply fallen asleep at the Skakel’s house, she went over there.
It was Tom’s younger brother Michael that answered the door. Unfortunately for Dorthy, the 15-year-old claimed that he hadn’t seen Martha. With nowhere else to turn, the worried mother waited for morning to come.
All night, Dorthy Moxley could barely sleep. It wasn’t like Martha to just disappear like that. Something must have happened to her. The next day, for better or worse, she would find the answers she was looking for.
Martha’s friend Sheila was the one to stumble upon the awful truth. At the edge of the Moxley’s property, lying face down in the grass, she found her friend’s body. It was a gruesome sight, to say the least.
Martha’s face was obscured, but the sight was unmistakable. A broken golf club was pointing out of the murdered girl’s neck. Beside the body lay the rest of the club, split into fragments. Someone had used it to beat her.
All Thats Interesting
Needless to say, Martha’s friends and family were absolutely devastated. A young life had been cut tragically short, and in such a brutal and violent manner. They had to find out who had done this.
Soon, investigators found some extremely eerie clues. The most damning evidence of all was found in none other than the Skakel’s house. Things were not looking good for these Kennedy relatives.
A golf club that matched the one found next to Martha’s body was discovered in their living room. Even worse, the same fragments were missing from that one as were missing from the murder weapon.
Another crucial piece of evidence was retrieved from Martha’s own diary. In the weeks and months before her death, the girl had journaled about the boys, describing what seemed like aggressive romantic advances and their resulting anger when she rejected them.
Given that eye witnesses had reported that Tom Skakel was the last one to be seen with Martha on that fateful night, suspicions were immediately placed on him. Investigators brought both boys in for questioning.
The New York Times
Both of the brothers had alibis. Tom had been watching The French Connection with his tutor, and Michael had visited with his cousins in a nearby county. Unable to prove otherwise, the suspects were released.
The French Connection
After this the case went cold for almost twenty years. The Moxley family still suspected the Skakel boys, but they had no recourse or legal way of proving so. They waited in desperation, hoping a break would come.
Ironically, the Skakels’ father, Rushton, would be the one to reopen the case. In 1991, he hired a private investigator, hoping to clear his family’s name. Unfortunately for him, this decision backfired.
The boys, now adults, were placed in the hot seat again when police found that they had changed their stories. Apparently, both Michael and Tom had lied to the police all those years ago.
Tom had a startling admission. He revealed that before he said goodbye to Martha that night, the two had engaged in “mutual masturbation” outside his home. He began to weep as he said this.
Michael, for his part, had an even more disturbing story to share. He confessed that after he left Martha that night, he had climbed into the tree outside her house and also began to masturbate…
Finally, in 1998, more than two decades after the killing, a judge found that there was enough evidence to charge Michael Skakel. Suddenly, he found himself at the center of a heated trial.
The evidence against him began to proliferate. Some old classmates of Skakel even revealed that he had confessed committing the murder to them. Recordings from the creation of Skakel’s own autobiography also didn’t do him any favors.
One recording in particular looked bad for Michael’s case. In it, he could be heard describing his state of mind the night of Martha’s death: he had been drunk, high, and sexually aroused.
For the defense’s part, they argued that there had been no clear physical evidence linking Michael to the crime. When the trial came to a close, the jury sat for deliberations. Both families, the Skakels and the Moxleys, waited in nervous anticipation.
Finally, in 2002, so many years after the crime took place, Michael Skakel was found guilty of murder and sentenced to twenty years in prison. This wouldn’t be the last the world would hear from him, though…
Throughout the entire time that Michael was imprisoned, his family continued to file appeal after appeal, hoping to clear his name and get him released. None of these were answered, until 2013, when something finally stuck…
The New York Post
After years of messy legal battles, Skakel was released and his conviction officially overturned in 2018. His team had argued that his defense back in the ’90s had been “constitutionally deficient.”
Harvard Law Today
Inevitably for such a high-profile case, there was a ton of controversy surrounding Skakel’s early release from prison. People on both sides wasted no time in making their opinions known.
Inevitably, some believe that Skakel is innocent — especially those in his family. Robert Kennedy himself wrote a 2016 book in which he argued that Skakel was innocent and had been wrongly imprisoned.
Others, however, are steadfastly certain that the initial decision to convict Michael had been the just one and are outraged at his release. One of these people is none other than Dorthy Moxley.
The New York Times
To her, the success of the final appeal was about nothing less than privilege: “If Michael Skakel came from a poor family, this would have been over. But because he comes from a family of means, they’ve stretched this out all these years.”