Kennedy Family Rules

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and From Mainline to Sideline. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason and many other publications.


skakelOn November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down John Fitzgerald Kennedy as his presidential motorcade passed the Texas Book Depository in Dallas. The assassination was captured on film and so was the assassination of the assassin, so it is only right that 50 years later JFK should be getting attention. The conspiracy theorists are out in force and PBS has become a virtual JFK channel even as other stories confirm the lingering clout of the Kennedy family.

In 1960 JFK defeated Richard Nixon by a whisker and in his search for an Attorney General, the new president looked no farther than his brother, Robert Francis Kennedy. Robert wanted to be president in the footsteps of his brother but Sirhan Sirhan assassinated RFK on June 5, 1968. Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, is the sister of Rushton Skakel, father of Michael Skakel. In 2002 Michael Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life for murdering his neighbor Martha Moxley with a golf club in Greenwich, Connecticut, on October 30, 1975. Judge Thomas Bishop recently awarded Skakel, now 53, a new trial on the grounds that his attorney Michel Sherman was negligent. That comes as good news to Skakel’s cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

In 2003 RFK Jr. wrote a lengthy article in the Atlantic charging that Michael Skakel was innocent and his imprisonment a miscarriage of justice. Kennedy recently squared off on Fox News with detective Mark Fuhrman, author of Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley? That 1998 book made a strong case that Michael Skakel bludgeoned Martha Moxley to death with a golf club. Four years later Skakel had been convicted and imprisoned. Furhman told Fox’s Geraldo Rivera he has no doubt of Skakel’s guilt. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. denounced Fuhrman and charged him with botching the O.J. Simpson case.

The author shows how the Greenwich police practically served as a private security force for the wealthy Skakel family. The local police, inexperienced with murder cases, also botched the investigation, particularly the crime scene. The 6-iron murder weapon was from a set owned by the Skakels, and the evidence pointed strongly to someone in the family, particularly Michael, known for violent behavior. So Martha Moxley had good reason to fear him.

The police tendered a theory of some mysterious transient and did their best to block Fuhrman’s investigation. The case went cold and Michael Skakel continued his privileged life. When busted for drunk driving his family avoided criminal charges by packing him off to a remote school for alcoholism treatment. In 1994, after graduating from Curry College, Michael Skakel worked on the reelection campaign of Edward Moore Kennedy, JFK’s youngest brother and better known as Ted.

In the Kennedy tradition Senate seats are proprietary, like a dukedom. True to form, Ted Kennedy was elected to the Senate in a 1962 special election to fill the seat of his brother John F. Kennedy. He was also involved a case that showed special treatment for the Kennedy family.

On July 18, 1969 Ted Kennedy drove a car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. Kennedy escaped unharmed but 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne died. George Killen, detective with the Massachusetts state police, and chief of a never-revealed investigation of the case, told author Leo Damore that Ted Kennedy “killed that girl the same as if he put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.”

In the 1988 Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-up, Damore showed how the Kennedy family deployed their influence to quash investigations of the incident and shield Kennedy from accountability. He got only a two-year suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident and in 1970 was reelected to the U.S. Senate. There he became an object of derision even to liberal Democrats. “Every image that the Democrats have to overcome – that they overtax the Middle Americans, try to meet social problems only with a proliferation of programs, are the junior partners of vociferous but marginal interest groups, look too carelessly at the credentials of the Third World movements and leaders, and neglect the security of the nation and of the free world – is kept alive by this buffoon.” That is from “Hamalot,” a 1987 article by Henry Fairlie in The New Republic.

Meanwhile, the old newsreels of JFK’s Camelot confirm that the Kennedys were something of a royal family for the world. They do not, unfortunately, tell the whole story. Viewers don’t learn much about family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, FDR’s ambassador to England, who had problems with Jewish people. In 1940, when the Nazis occupied Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and France, Joe Kennedy wrote in the Boston Globe that “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.”  Finest hour indeed. That helped kill his political career, but he still had the kids.

For the whole story see The Kennedys: An American Drama by Peter Collier and David Horowitz. In his review of that book, P.J. O’Rourke called the Kennedys “sewer trout.” Even so, if Robert F. Kennedy Jr. succeeds in getting Michael Skakel off the hook the Kennedy clout will have outlived JFK by more than half a century. That would also answer the question Mark Fuhrman posed in Murder in Greenwich: “Are there two systems of justice in this country – one for the rich, and another for the rest of us?”

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.