One of the good guys died today.
Peter Robbins, the Greenwich police chief, died at the age of 66.
Robbins was the head of the Greenwich detective bureau back in the 1980s, and he worked on the Martha Moxley murder case when nobody else was paying attention. No one had been arrested at that point, and the case certainly had not gotten the national media attention that it received when Michael Skakel went on trial in 2002.
Robbins was always a straight-shooter who understood the role of the press and the role of the police. If he could not disclose a certain piece of information on a particular case, he would explain why. That is often not the case in a business where reporters and cops frequently go toe to toe, and the reporters end up with a “no comment.”
Robbins was different. On a pending case, he might say, ’Look, I’ll be able to give you more information next week.’ When the arrest was made in the following week, he gave the information. He often said that it was important for the press to publish certain information so that the public would be informed about what was going on in Greenwich.
The long-unsolved Skakel case was a heavy burden on him. A veteran of 32 years with the Greenwich police, he had great pride in the department and wanted badly to see the case solved.
After Michael Skakel was convicted on a hot summer day on June 7, 2002, I drove down to Greenwich to get reaction on the verdict. I had not seen Robbins much in the previous 12 years since I had left working as a reporter at the Greenwich Time.
By 2002, Robbins was the chief of the department, and he had a big, big smile of relief on his face when I saw him that day.
“A lot of people are just glad this is over, especially me,” said Robbins, who was a dispatcher when Moxley was killed in 1975.
For more than two decades, Greenwich police had been criticized harshly for their inability to solve the Moxley murder, and questions had been raised constantly about whether they had bungled the investigation or were intimidated by the Skakel family.
“The public beat us up a lot through the years,” Robbins told me after the conviction. “We were under a lot of pressure that there was a coverup. I can tell you unequivocally that there was never any intimidation [by the Skakel family]. There was a lack of cooperation.”
At times, Robbins thought the case might never be solved. And that is why he had that smile on his face as he talked about the verdict.
“It’s a historic day,” Robbins said in his corner office. “I honestly never thought I’d see this.”
As the word spread quickly around the police department that the verdict was in, about 20 detectives, officers, and police brass gathered in a conference room to watch on television. When Skakel was pronounced guilty, there was little emotion.
The conventional wisdom among residents for decades was that the murder was committed by Thomas Skakel, Michael’s brother. The police focused for years on Thomas Skakel – not realizing that they had the wrong suspect.
On that summer day in 2002, life had certainly returned to normal in the upscale Belle Haven neighborhood where Moxley had lived. The sun broke through the clouds in a community — with its private security force and exclusive clubs — that is buttoned down even by Greenwich standards.
Children, dressed in white, took lessons on outdoor tennis courts. Music was played at a young girl’s birthday party at the Belle Haven Yacht Club. Despite the international attention the Skakel trial received, visitors to Belle Haven could see that life returned to normal long ago.
Jeffrey Grey, who knew Moxley in the 1970s when they were growing up together in Greenwich, said that day: “Things are right in the world.”
With the burden lifted off his shoulders, Robbins retired as police chief on December 1, 2002 – less than six months after the Skakel conviction.
The case was finally over.
On the day of Robbins’s death, a three-judge review panel announced that it would not reduce Skakel’s prison sentence in the slaying of Martha Moxley.