One of the most enduring myths in Connecticut journalism is that the Belle Haven neighborhood where Martha Moxley was killed is a gated community.
Belle Haven is certainly a private community, but if anyone wanted to drive past the homes of Martha Moxley and Michael Skakel through the years, they could do it. I have driven in that neighborhood many times, including as a reporter for the Greenwich Time newspaper in the 1980s before any books had been written about the case and when few people outside of Greenwich had ever heard the name of Martha Moxley.
I also did it on Friday, June 7, 2002 – the day that Skakel was convicted of killing Moxley with a golf club in a long-unsolved case that dates back to Halloween 1975. Upon hearing about the conviction, I traveled to Greenwich for The Hartford Courant as part of the overall coverage of the case. There was no gate to stop me as I went all the way to the Belle Haven Club, which is at the southern tip of Greenwich along Long Island Sound.
Skakel has been back in the news lately because he is seeking a new criminal trial by claiming the ineffectiveness of his high-profile lawyer, Mickey Sherman. Now serving a prison sentence of 20 years to life, Skakel has been appearing daily in state Superior Court in Rockville at a habeas corpus hearing.
Belle Haven has long had wooden fences to slow down the drivers and scare outsiders away, but anyone going there can simply drive around them. There is also a guard booth along Field Point Road, but it has been frequently empty through the years.
There are other places in Greenwich, including nearby along the water, that are literally gated. In other words, drivers cannot get near the spectacular waterfront mansions unless the guard pushes the button to open the gate in the same way as an old-fashioned tollbooth. But drivers don’t have to pass through that type of gate to get into Belle Haven.
The lack of a gate is also among the many reasons why the Moxley murder remained unsolved for so long. When the murder occurred, police initially had no proof of who had committed the crime. Some residents thought it could not possibly have been committed by a Greenwich resident. As such, one of the many theories at the time was that a drifter had wandered into the neighborhood, which is not far from Interstate 95. That would have been impossible if the community was truly gated.
The drifter theory was eventually discarded, but it was part of the mix back in 1975 for an inexperienced police department that handled only three murders in the previous 30 years in one of America’s wealthiest communities.