"Student Detectives Take on Moxley Case"
Greenwich Time, Oct. 11, 1998
By J.A. Johnson Jr. Staff Writer
At the same time a grand jury sitting in Bridgeport investigates the 1975
slaying of Belle Haven teenager Martha Moxley, more than 50 additional sleuths
are probing the murder mystery at Greenwich High School.
These "detectives" are students in Kenneth Lyon's forensic science class, a
popular course being offered at the school for the second year. Students last
year were required to write papers on the O.J. Simpson double murder case and
the assassination of President Kennedy, and this year have been assigned a paper
on the 23-year-old Moxley homicide.
"For the Moxley assignment, I've asked the students two things: Why did it take
so long for progress to be made, and what kinds of things might have gone wrong
with the initial investigation?" Lyon said last week. "I want the kids to use
their own deductive powers to see what went wrong and what has occurred up to
the present time."
Although none of the 52 seniors taking the college-level forensic science class
is expected to crack the case that has stumped authorities for two decades, Lyon
said some have managed to glean previously unreported, but not crucial,
"We've got a couple of kids who live in Belle Haven who are friends with people
who lived there at the time of the murder, so they've been able to pick up some
tidbits," Lyon said.
Moxley was bludgeoned and stabbed with a golf club the evening of Oct. 30, 1975,
on her family's estate in the exclusive Belle Haven section of town. Although
suspects had been identified, no arrests were ever made in the case, which was
marked by such errors as a failure by police to obtain a search warrant for a
house from which they said the murder weapon came.
But earlier this year, hope for a resolution to the case was sparked with the
convening of a grand jury at the Fairfield County Courthouse in Bridgeport.
Students in Lyon's class have been closely following developments, devoutly
reading news articles and books and looking for the latest information on the
One student, Suman Mitra, simply said, "It's really cool" that the Moxley
murder is a local case, because while researching it he frequently comes across
names of people and places with which he is familiar.
Another, Dawn Zimmerman, said, "When I started the assignment I asked my mom
about it, and she told me she went to school with Martha." Zimmerman said she
read both books about the murder, "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich,
America's Wealthiest Community," by Timothy Dumas and "Murder in Greenwich: Who
Killed Martha Moxley," by former Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman and that she
concluded, "This is a really sad case, especially they way they mishandled
things in the beginning."
The forensic science course touches on most major aspects of a homicide
investigation: identifying the crime scene; establishing time of death;
determining the weapon the killer used; blood typing and splatter analysis; and
"It's just another science course that utilizes deductive reasoning, lab
exercises, et cetera," Lyon said. "Forensic science teaches the whole process of
investigation, of putting together the pieces of a puzzle."
The course textbook is Richard Saferstein's "Criminalistics," and videotapes of
the cable television series on forensic police work, "The New Detectives," are
shown in class.
Much of the course deals with the cold mechanics of forensic investigation, such
as determining what type of gun fired the fatal bullet.
Drawing a large circle representing the inside of a gun barrel, Lyon pointed out
the "lands" - raised rifling - and "grooves" that leave telltale marks on
bullets as they are shot and that are key in identifying murder weapons.
The teacher explained that when a gun is fired, the explosive byproducts are
specific metallic elements.
"If we detect any antimony or bismuth on somebody's hands, we know they fired a
gun," Lyon told his class.
Because many local police officers are products of the Greenwich public school
system, Lyon said he believes his forensic science course "can channel students
toward possible career opportunities."
A planned guest speaker to the class is an assistant Westchester County district
attorney. Senior Brian Morris said he has set his sights on following in the
footsteps of his great-uncle, retired Greenwich police chief Thomas Keegan, who
was head of detectives when Moxley was killed.
"I'm taking this class because I want to study the basics so I know what to
expect," Morris said.