Rushton Skakel dies at 79
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
STAMFORD -- Rushton Skakel Sr., father of convicted murderer Michael Skakel and patriarch of what was once one of the wealthiest families in the nation, died in Florida Thursday following a long battle with brain illness, his attorney said yesterday.
He was 79.
Family members, including Michael's older brother Thomas, traveled to Hobe Sound, Fla., to make arrangements for a service in Florida scheduled for today, according to Stamford attorney Emanuel Margolis.
Preparations also are being made for a wake, funeral service and burial in Greenwich later next week, according to the Fred D. Knapp & Son funeral home in Greenwich.
"In the four years that I've had contact with him, he's always been in failing health, both mentally and physically," said Michael Sherman, Michael Skakel's trial attorney. "It's a very tragic ending."
Rushton Skakel was one of seven children born to George and Ann Skakel. His sister, Ethel, married the late Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 1950, forging an alliance between one of the wealthiest families in the country and one of the most politically powerful.
Rushton Skakel took over the family business, Great Lakes Carbon, in the mid-1960s, after the deaths of his parents and brother, George Skakel Jr., in separate plane crashes.
The company, which manufactured carbon coke, was once one of the largest private companies in the country, and was the source of the family's enormous wealth, according to published accounts.
That wealth was on display in the Tudor-style mansion on Otter Rock Drive in Belle Haven, where Rushton Skakel and his late wife, Anne Reynolds Skakel, raised their seven children.
But while his father succeeded in building the company into a powerful concern, Rushton Skakel apparently did not possess the same drive, according to motions filed during the sentencing phase of Michael Skakel's murder trial last year.
"The family company was turned over to Michael's father, who did not seem to relish the role, nor had the same skill and talent to run the business," according to a motion written last summer by Michael Skakel's appellate attorneys Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley. "Apparently, his father grew exceedingly unhappy in his role running the family company. Over the years, the company's profits declined and it was eventually sold in the early 1990s."
Rushton Skakel's disappointment with the family business, however, was nothing compared to the pain he suffered when his wife died of cancer in 1972 at age 42.
"Anne Skakel seemingly was Rushton Skakel's emotional compass," the motion continues. "According to family members, her death left Rushton Skakel with a deep sense of loss and emptiness in his life."
He numbed his pain with alcohol and prescription drugs, and was hospitalized on several occasions for alcohol abuse, the motion states. His alcoholism "exacerbated his abusive behavior toward his children," the motion states.
These included burning his daughter Julie with matches, hitting Michael with a hairbrush, and once firing a rifle in Michael's direction, the motion states.
Discipline, by many accounts lax in the household before Anne Skakel's death, veered toward non-existent, as Rushton Skakel relied on tutors and caretakers to look after his children during his frequent travels.
Skakel was away on one of these trips -- reportedly hunting in New York state -- when he heard the news on Oct. 31, 1975, that Martha Moxley, a 15-year-old neighbor girl, had been found savagely beaten to death.
He would later learn that the murder weapon was a 6-iron from the set owned by his late wife and that Moxley had spent part of the previous evening with his sons Michael, then 15, and Thomas, 17.
According to trial testimony, Skakel initially allowed police full access to his home and children, but withdrew his cooperation when it became clear detectives considered Thomas a suspect.
Years later, in an apparent effort to clear his adult sons of any involvement in the crime, Skakel hired a private investigation firm, Sutton Associates, to look into the case and write a report.
The effort backfired when the report made it into the hands of prosecutors and the press.
Michael Skakel, whom detectives had initially dismissed because of an alibi that placed him miles from the neighborhood at the time of the murder, had changed his story about that night in a way that intrigued detectives.
Publication of the details of the report caused former classmates at The Elan School to come forward with tales of Michael Skakel confessing to the crime while at the drug abuse treatment center in Poland Springs, Maine.
Hints of Rushton Skakel's ill health surfaced in 1998 when prosecutors called him to testify before a grand jury investigating the Moxley murder. His lawyers fought the subpoena on the grounds that he was incompetent to testify.
During court hearings in Florida, Skakel's second wife, Anna Mae Skakel, and others testified to his poor hygiene and erratic behavior, including "belly bumping" perfect strangers.
His efforts to evade testifying failed, and he was ordered to testify before the grand jury.
Prosecutors called him again to testify at his son's murder trial in Norwalk last year. They asked Skakel whether his son had ever told him he drank so much he might not have remembered killing Martha.
But Skakel offered little additional information, and had difficulty describing the events of Sept. 11, 2001, or remembering the names of his children.
Some questioned whether Skakel was pretending not to remember to avoid incriminating his son.
"Believe me, that was not acting. That was the truth, and it was most unfortunate," Margolis said.
Skakel's sister, Ann McCooey of Greenwich, confirmed her brother's death but declined to comment. Other members of the family could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Contacted yesterday on vacation in Utah with his mother, Dorthy, and family, John Moxley, brother of Michael Skakel's murder victim, said Rushton Skakel's death was "a tragedy."
The real tragedy, however, was the way Skakel lost control of his family after his wife's death, Moxley said.
"For a family that had everything going for them, they did nothing with it," Moxley said. "You look at them on paper, and you say, 'Gee, I wish I had everything they had,' and then you look at the other end, and you say, 'I wouldn't want to be them for all the money in the world.' "
After a service today at St. Christopher's Catholic Church in Hobe Sound, Skakel's body will be returned to Greenwich.
A wake will be held on Thursday (1/9/2003)at the Knapp funeral home at 267 Greenwich Ave. Calling hours are 4 to 8 p.m.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday (1/10/2003) at St. Mary Catholic Church, 178 Greenwich Ave., followed by burial at St. Mary's Cemetery on North Street in Greenwich.