Leonard Levitt: Living in the shadow of suspicion
Editor’s note: Leonard Levitt was hired by Greenwich Time and The Advocate in the early 1980s to investigate the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley. His article in 1991 helped re-launch the police investigation and led to the 2000 arrest of Michael Skakel. Levitt, a Stamford resident, wrote the book “Conviction” about the case with Frank Garr, the prosecution’s head investigator. This interview with Adolph “Al” Hasbrouck is in response to accusations in Robert Kennedy Jr.’s new book, “Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent Over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit.”
The black man who Robert Kennedy Jr. says was “obsessed with Martha Moxley’s beautiful blonde hair” and went “caveman” on her, killing her, says he never met Martha and was not in Greenwich when she was murdered 41 years ago.
“It’s been rough. It started in 2003 and it still goes on,” says Adolph Hasbrouck, who broke his 13-year public silence about Kennedy’s accusations to speak with me in the office of his lawyer in New York City.
He detailed why “there is nothing as devastating as being called a murderer.”
“It’s affected me mentally and physically. I see people looking at me. There is a change in attitude when they hear my name,” Hasbrouck says. “People drive by my house. They park in my driveway. They knock on my door. They camp outside for hours. Before I enter my house, I look to see if anybody is lurking. I keep my curtains drawn so people can’t look inside. I can’t sit out in my backyard. My wife gets physically sick whenever this comes up. I don’t want to be near anyone with a camera.”
Then 15, Martha was beaten to death with a golf club in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich on Halloween Eve, 1975. Investigators described her death — she was beaten with the club 10 to 15 times — as “overkill,” implying a personal rage and indicating the killer knew his victim.
A matching set of clubs to the murder weapon was found the next day in the home of Moxley’s neighbor, Rushton Skakel, the brother of Ethel Kennedy. In 2002, Rushton’s son, Michael, who is Robert Kennedy Jr.’s first cousin, was convicted of Martha’s murder and served 11 years in prison. In 2013, Connecticut Judge Thomas Bishop concluded that Michael’s attorney, Mickey Sherman, had been incompetent and ordered a new trial. Prosecutors appealed his decision. Connecticut’s highest court is expected to rule in the next few months.
Kennedy writes in his new book that Skakel was framed, and he suspects Hasbrouck and a friend from the Bronx, N.Y., Burton Tinsley, are Martha’s real killers.
Hasbrouck says he grew up in the South Bronx in the 1970s. “My mother and family were strong. My mother taught me character, integrity. That’s how I have conducted my life.”
He graduated from Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan, served three years in the U.S. Army, and graduated from SUNY Brockport in 1990. Now 56, he has been married for 20 years, has a grown daughter and lives in Bridgeport. For the past 15 years, he has worked as a network operations supervisor at ABC in New York.
“Then in 2003 along comes a telephone call from Bobby Kennedy. Do I know Martha Moxley? I tell him I never met her. He asks do I know Tony Bryant? Yes, I say, I knew Tony Bryant. He asked for Burt Tinsley’s number and asked if it was possible that we talk again. I thought nothing of it. I had no indication of his plan to use me as a scapegoat in his cousin’s defense.”
Kennedy based his allegations against Hasbrouck on the word of Bryant, a cousin to the basketball star Kobe Bryant. Bryant came to Kennedy’s notice after Kennedy wrote an article in 2003 in The Atlantic, maintaining that Kenneth Littleton, a tutor who moved into the Skakel house the night of the murder, was a more likely suspect than his cousin Michael.
Bryant attended a private school with Michael in Greenwich, then moved to the Bronx, where he met Hasbrouck and Tinsley. He often returned to Greenwich and brought Hasbrouck and Tinsley with him.
In 1993 Bryant was convicted of participating in an armed robbery/home invasion in California in which he claimed to have been kidnapped. He was later fired by a Texas law firm after the firm discovered Bryant had not passed the bar as he had claimed. Last year, he pleaded guilty in Virginia to under-reporting millions of dollars in his tobacco importing company, resulting in a $6 million tax liability.
Bryant told Kennedy that he, Hasbrouck and Tinsley had been in Greenwich the night of the murder, that Hasbrouck and Tinsley were “inebriated and out of control” and “began making sexually charged comments to some of the girls.” A day or two later, Kennedy writes, the two told Bryant they killed Martha.
No one could be found to corroborate any of Bryant’s claims. Most importantly, no one could be found who saw the three men in Belle Haven the night of the murder. Bryant subsequently refused to repeat his story under oath to Connecticut authorities.
In 2007, as Michael sought a new trial based on Kennedy’s newly discovered evidence, his lawyers presented Bryant’s statements to Connecticut Judge Edward Karazin. Karazin concluded they “lacked credibility” and are “absent any genuine corroboration.”
In granting Michael a new trial in 2013, Judge Bishop found that Bryant’s “trail of deceit would likely erode any confidence in Bryant’s credibility.”
Nonetheless, in his book, Kennedy repeats Bryant’s claims and adds one of his own: that in his first telephone conversation with Hasbrouck, which he secretly recorded, Hasbrouck admitted killing Martha. That recorded conversation, a transcript which was entered into evidence in 2007, includes no such admission.
Kennedy writes: “Using the evidence I have cited in this book, prosecutors have sufficient cause to indict Burton Tinsley and Adolph Hasbrouck for Martha Moxley’s murder.”
Hasbrouck says “the first time I read this I was taking the train to the city to work. I made it to the bathroom in Grand Central and threw up.”
He asked that no photos of him appear with this article.
“They always blame the black guy,” Hasbrouck says. “It’s like Charles Stuart or Susan Smith.”
In 1989 Stuart, who lived in Boston, killed his wife and said a black man did it, setting off a city-wide search. He committed suicide after his brother told police Stuart killed his wife for insurance money. Smith, in South Carolina, drowned her two small children and said a black man had carjacked her car and kidnapped them. She is serving a life sentence in prison
While publicizing his book, Kennedy has said in interviews that if Hasbrouck and Tinsley are innocent they should sue him for libel.
“Who could imagine this could happen to you?” Hasbrouck says. “I don’t have the time or funds to fight it. And it is twisting my gut. You can’t throw innocent people under the bus because it suits him (Kennedy). Somebody has to call him to account.”
“the first time I read this I was taking the train to the city to work. I made it to the bathroom in Grand Central and threw up.”