On '75 murder, police
and ex-Longmont headmaster differ
By DeeDee Correll
Daily Times-Call - Longmont, Colorado
LONGMONT - The name of the man who until last year ran the St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Longmont first appears on page 33 of a book about one of this country's best-known unsolved murders.
Then again on page 166.
"Get out!" Paul Czaja is quoted as screaming at the police in a scene from "Murder in Greenwich," Mark Fuhrman's best-selling account of the 1975 murder of a Connecticut teen-ager.
The day is Jan. 22, 1976, and Czaja is facing down a detective at the school he runs in Greenwich.
Nearly three months have passed since 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found under a pine tree outside her family's mansion, her skull battered by a golf club, her throat stabbed with its metal shaft.
Now the police are zeroing in on her next-door neighbor — 18-year-old Tommy Skakel, a boy from a powerful family with ties to the Kennedy clan.
On this day, an investigator arrives at the Whitby School where the boy and his brother Michael, 15, were once students. They have a note authorizing them to retrieve records, written by a father who doesn't seem to understand that his son is a suspect.
There Czaja stops them.
"Get out," the headmaster says.
When the detective presses him, his voice grows louder and more insistent.
"Get out!" he screams.
That's Fuhrman's fictionalized version of the truth, said Czaja, who served as principal of the Longmont school for three years before moving to Casper, Wyo., last year.
"I'm not that dumb to scream at policemen," Czaja said. "It's a bit of creative writing."
But it is true that he played a role in the standoff between the authorities and a family protecting its own that spanned 24 years and spawned two non-fiction works, a novel and a television movie before culminating this year in the arrest of Robert F. Kennedy's nephew, Michael Skakel.
First a teacher, then the headmaster at the private Catholic school, Czaja never met the murder victim, a newcomer from California whose family moved to Greenwich in 1974.
But he knew her neighbors well. As a teacher, he had members of the Skakel clan in his classes, although never Tommy or Michael.
By the time the two boys were old enough to attend the Montessori school, Czaja was the headmaster.
"I remember Tommy playing soccer. He was a handsome, athletic kind of guy," he said. "The other boy — Michael — was just a sweet, happy kid. He didn't stand out from the other kids ... They were all-boy. Just boys. There was nothing out of the ordinary about them."
Retired Greenwich police Detective Steve Carroll begs to differ.
The same detective who appeared at the school in 1976 to collect Tommy's files, Carroll believes Czaja knew more than he's ever told.
"He was hiding something," Carroll said in an interview with the Times-Call.
It's not difficult to figure out why, he said.
"The Skakels had a great deal of money, and they were big benefactors of Whitby School. Czaja's the headmaster. He's not going to bite the hand that feeds him."
The happy, sweet-tempered boy that Czaja describes is the same boy known to beat squirrels with — of all weapons — a golf club, Carroll said.
"The tempers that both boys had were extreme, and they came out on a number of occasions. They would throw such a tantrum that their father had to sit on them," Carroll said.
The detective already knew some of this before his confrontation with Czaja.
"That was probably one of the turning points in the investigation," he said.
In 1976, police were focusing their suspicions not on Michael, but on Tommy, the older brother with whom Martha was last seen on the night before Halloween.
She spent the evening known as "Mischief Night" with other teen-agers, playing pranks with shaving cream and toilet paper before visiting the Skakel home. There, she saw both boys before leaving for home. Her body was found the next afternoon, and the 6-iron used in the attack was quickly traced to the Skakels.
"Right from the beginning, young Michael was never considered a suspect," Carroll said.
The boy had an alibi — he told police that at the time of Martha's death, he was driving his cousin home.
"We believed what he said," Carroll said.
So that day in January, Carroll was only trying to collect information on Tommy.
Thanks to Czaja, he never got it, Carroll said.
It's true that Czaja never screamed at him. But the man was adamant, Carroll said.
"The only thing he ever said to me was, 'Get out,'" Carroll said.
When he tried to say something, Czaja repeated, "Get out," Carroll said.
So he tried a different tact.
"I tried to antagonize him. I said, 'The only thing I can determine from this is that the Skakel boys must have done some damage here. Did they break any of the statues? Did they pick on any of the students?'" Carroll said.
"Get out," Czaja repeated.
"I struck a nerve," Carroll said. "What nerve, I don't know to this day."
Czaja said he resents the implication that he was protecting the Skakels out of deference to their wealth and connections — "that because the Skakels were part of founding the school, that I'd resist the police," Czaja said.
He was only doing what he would do for any of his students, Czaja said.
The police had only verbal permission from Tommy's father, Rushton Skakel, to retrieve the files, Czaja said.
"I simply said to the policeman, 'That's not enough for me.'" he said.
"I asked if they had a subpoena, and they didn't. I couldn't by law let them have his files," he said.
Immediately after the detective left, Czaja called Skakel to tell him what had happened.
"He was very calm and not alarmed. I said, 'Listen to me. You ought to think carefully about releasing the files,'" Czaja said.
"It doesn't matter — there's nothing to worry about," he said Skakel told him.
"I don't think so either," Czaja said he replied. "But I wouldn't recommend releasing files before you review them. Make a decision after that. But make sure you read through all of them. Files are confidential. Why should the police have access to them?"
Contrary to the belief that Skakel was working to protect his son or sons from the consequences of what they'd done, the man was horrified by the girl's death and shocked that his son was a suspect, Czaja said.
"He was quite upset by it and puzzled," he said.
Skakel didn't seem to realize the seriousness of the situation until Czaja and a school lawyer spelled it out for him that day, said Timothy Dumas, author of "A Wealth of Evil," a book about the Moxley murder.
"It sounded as though it took Czaja and the lawyer to enlighten Mr. Skakel," Dumas said.
They apparently made their point, for later that day, Skakel told police they no longer had his permission to access the records.
The events that have transpired this year make it clear that denying police access to information about Tommy was appropriate, Czaja said.
"When they came searching for Tommy's records, they were going down the wrong trail. It would have been a breach of justice, because he's no longer a suspect," he said.
In the 1990s, Michael became a focus of the investigation after he changed his story about where he was the night of the murder.
In 1995, in an interview with private investigators hired by his family, Michael placed himself near the murder scene at about the time of the murder.
Then former patients at the Elan school, a substance-abuse treatment center in Maine that Skakel attended from 1978 to 1980, came forward and said Michael admitted to them that he killed Martha.
In January, a quarter of a century after Martha's death, a grand jury indicted Michael for the murder.
It was surprising to learn of that, Czaja said.
"They had trailed Tommy for years and years. Never in my mind did Michael ever come up," he said.
He hasn't formed an opinion as to Michael's guilt or innocence.
"I wouldn't wander into guessing like that. It would be speculation, and I don't speculate," Czaja said.
But he does think of the family, he said.
"I keep them in my prayers. I support everyone as being innocent until proven guilty," Czaja said. "They still haven't proven to me that it was either of those boys."
What he hears on the news seems to indicate that Michael's lawyers will be successful in their defense.
"They say his lawyer is very confident that it was hearsay that wouldn't hold up in court," he said.
Aside from watching the occasional television program, Czaja said he doesn't make a point of following the developments and doesn't know much about it.
"I just saw something on television about it ... It seems his classmates said he confessed to it," he said. "That's all I know about it."