Welcome to Truth is Stranger than Fiction, where I invite one and all to share their true stories. Anyone have tea with Lizzie Borden and live to tell about it? Or survive lunch where Typhoid Mary was the short-order cook?
I'll kick it off by sharing my own true story. I debated whether to call it Killer Date or My Date with a Killer, but since it really is about a date with a convicted murderer, and not a great date, I went with the second title.
It was a blind date, arranged by my father, who had been to
the Department of Motor Vehicles in
We met at a bar/restaurant on the Upper East Side, near his home and my office. This was a long time ago, before the city was dotted with cafés. We sat at a small table near the bar, drinking coffee since he was a recovering alcoholic and I was recovering from a relationship that had recently ended and didn’t want to cloud my senses with alcohol.
There was no chemistry; that was immediately clear to me and
I think also to him. We chatted for a
while, he told me about how he lived part-time in
After that, I ran into him a few times at Al-Anon meetings, where I occasionally went to calm frustration still simmering over my former drunken-boyfriend on whom I’d wasted too many years. We’d say hello and move on. Once or twice, we spoke on the phone, though I can’t remember why.
Years passed, and the next time I saw him he was doing the perp walk on TV, exiting a courthouse through a throng of reporters asking questions about whether or not he had murdered his teenage neighbor in Greenwich back in the seventies. Her name was Martha Moxley. His name is Michael Skakel and today he’s serving twenty years to life for murder.
Whenever I tell someone that I once went on a blind date with Michael Skakel, the first question is always, “So, do you think he did it?”
Though I sat with Michael for about half an hour over coffee many years ago, long before his possible involvement in the Moxley murder came out, and though eventually I became a crime writer, I can honestly say that, while I didn’t particularly like him, nothing about him screamed killer. One thing that I’ve learned in researching my novels is that the most successful criminals often go undetected because they rarely appear suspicious on the surface. But even so, that doesn’t make this guy guilty of murder.
Unless I missed something--and I'm not an expert on this--Michael appears to have been convicted on circumstantial evidence, and because he’s from a rich family related to the Kennedys (i.e. it made for delicious media feasting), and because his boarding-school confession was given more weight than it probably should have been. I remember kids at my own boarding school inventing exploits—having sex with a teacher who barely knew them, doing drugs they’d never touched, stealing something they’d never seen—for all kinds of absurd reasons. The teenager-as-drama-queen is nothing new, and logical explanations don’t always suffice to explain regrettable tall tales. In my experience, transitioning from a dysfunctional family into a boarding school full of screwed-up kids only makes you crazier, especially if, like Michael, you were battling drug addiction at the same time. I wouldn’t trust a confession given under those circumstances.
All I can say is, “Thanks Dad!” for setting me up on a memorable blind date with a man who has become known as a notorious killer, whether he did it or not.