Even before he was indicted for the murder of Martha Moxley, Michael Skakel thought he had lived a fascinating life. In June 1998, when he was just 37, Skakel tried to interest book publishers in an autobiography.
He promised to write about his "patrician boyhood" in Greenwich, his long battles with addiction, and his insider's view of the "ruthless Kennedys." He even planned a chapter on the Moxley Murder. Back then, no one was interested in his life's story, but today, the murder charge has thrown even the smallest detail of his life into high relief.
A middle son of Rushton and Anne Skakel, he was raised with his six siblings in an enormous white brick house in Belle Haven, a wealthy enclave he remembers for its "corrupted values and toxic lessons."
Michael, whose dyslexia was not diagnosed until he was 26, was an awful student who failed out of a dozen schools. His father railed at him for his poor academics, and Michael says he was "the family scapegoat" even as a young child.
The central event of his childhood, and perhaps his life, was his mother's death from cancer in 1973 when Michael was 12. She had been the glue that held the family together, and Michael was devastated by her death. He even blamed himself, reasoning that if he had paid closer attention during prayers, she might still be alive.
"[I]n the aftermath (of her death), an even more intense level of chaos came to rule our household. I became a full-blown daily-drinking alcoholic by the time I was thirteen."
To neighbors and teachers, Michael was a violent kid who couldn't control his temper. Saying no to him or otherwise setting limits was futile. In his book proposal, Michael recalls as a 15-year-old ordering mixed drink after mixed drink on a school night while his live-in tutor, Kenneth Littleton, and Skakel siblings looked on but said nothing.
The tutor may have remained silent, but he was shaken by Michael's behavior. He described teenage Michael as a terror in an interview with John Moxley several years ago.
"Ken Littleton told me that they were playing golf one day, and Michael, in the foursome ahead of them, had killed a squirrel with a golf club and then crucified it by pinning its legs over the hole," said Moxley.
In his book, Murder in Greenwich, Mark Fuhrman describes an intense rivalry between Michael and his older brother Tommy. Fuhrman concludes that Tommy's romantic success with Martha outraged Michael and led to the murder. In his proposal, Michael admits that he was attracted to Martha the night of her death and "wanted her to be my girlfriend."
Michael was not considered a suspect until the early 1990s when he changed his account of the night Martha Moxley was murdered. Still, he maintains his innocence and when he writes of the night of her death, he describes himself as a victim.
"The personal and psychological consequences of that evening include the necessity for ongoing therapy, continuing painful suspicion by the community, (and) estrangement from several of my siblings."
In 1978, Michael was charged with drunken driving near the family's ski lodge in New York. To sidestep a prosecution, Skakel family attorneys worked out a deal with police: Michael would go to the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine to be treated for alcohol addiction and the state would not pursue the charges.
Michael passed two extremely unhappy years at Elan. He refers to it as a "concentration camp for kids" and says he suffered "beatings, humiliation and degradation" there. He tried to escape on at least two occasions, but his family sent him back. Elan's treatment method included confronting students on the bad behavior that had led them to the school. This peer pressure to confess happened during group therapy, but also in one-on-one meetings with staff and in private conversations.
Connecticut officials say in one meeting at Elan between Michael, his father and some staff, Michael reportedly made "admissions to his involvement" in Martha's murder. Michael's attorney denies this, but in his book proposal, Michael Skakel does describe a similar scene at Elan: "The sign around my neck: I am an arrogant rich brat. Confront me on why I murdered my friend Martha."
After Michael left Elan, he bounced around to a number of other rehab facilities before finally becoming sober in his mid-20s. He went to car racing school for a time, and then graduated from Curry College, a Massachusetts school catering to learning disabled students, in 1993. He dabbled in speed skiing, briefly competing for the U.S. World Cup team, and married a fellow athlete, golf pro Margot Sheridan.
He took a job working for his cousin, Michael Kennedy, in 1994 at the Citizens' Energy Corporation as director of international programs. He claims that he was a shining example of sobriety in a family of addicts and that his famous cousins approached him constantly for counseling about marital woes, alcoholism and other problems.
His relationship with the family reportedly imploded in 1997 when he cooperated with authorities investigating whether Michael Kennedy was having an illegal sexual relationship with his teenage babysitter. In his book proposal, Skakel attacks the family for covering up for Kennedy and says they blackballed him for doing the moral thing in an immoral situation.
Skakel now lives near his father in the private gated community of Hobe Sound, Florida. He and his wife have an infant son, George.