Dominick Dunne, where are you now?

The writer who chronicled the travails of the privileged would have been drawn to the tragic case of Yeardley Love

May 10, 2010|By Susan Reimer

The lurid details in the beating death of Cockeysville's Yeardley Love — allegedly by George Huguely, a one-time boyfriend who also played lacrosse for the University of Virginia — have a haunting familiarity to them.

Children of means and privilege. Spurned love. Drunken violence. And a beautiful, young woman's life ends in a pool of blood.

The news stories put me in mind of Martha Moxley, another child of means and privilege, who was beaten to death with a golf club at the age of 15 after a night of partying with neighbors in her wealthy Greenwich, Conn., enclave.

One of those neighbor boys, Martha wrote in her diary, had made drunken advances and had become angry at her.

It took 27 years, but that neighbor, Michael Skakel, a nephew of Robert Kennedy's widow, Ethel, was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

The news out of Virginia also made me think of author Dominick Dunne, who almost single-handedly brought the Moxley family justice by fictionalizing her murder in his novel, "A Season in Purgatory."

Mr. Dunne died last fall after a late-life career covering some of the most sensational trials this country has known: O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Phil Spector. His subjects were rich, glamorous and corrupt.

Mr. Dunne would turn several of these trials into novels, saying in fiction what often could not be said in traditional reporting. And he would speak for the victim.

He wrote a fictional account of the relationship of millionaire Alfred Bloomingdale and a doomed mistress. He covered the mysterious death of jet-setter Edmond Safra. And his loose-lipped theories about the role of Congressman Gary Condit in the death of Chandra Levy garnered him a slander suit. He fictionalized that experience, too, and "Too Much Money" was published after his death.

There was never any doubt which side Mr. Dunne was on during those trials, though he would often court the defendants or members of their entourage in order to gather every crumb of information.

His daughter, Dominique, was strangled in 1982 by a boyfriend who would be convicted but serve less than four years for the crime.

His anguished diary of that trial, published in Vanity Fair, would launch him onto a career writing about murder among the rich and famous with what the Los Angeles Times called "wicked glee." He was part gossip columnist, part crime reporter. Had he lived, Mr. Dunne would have had a field day reporting on Michael Jackson's death and the investigation into the role his doctor might have played in it.

And I am guessing that Mr. Dunne — though he most often focused on the travails of celebrities — would have been drawn to this case, too, but for more than the salaciousness of it. He would have written about it because Yeardley Love's death echoes the death of his own daughter and of Martha Moxley.

Dominick Dunne would have spoken for the victim, either in his dispatches for Vanity Fair magazine or in the novel that would follow, and he would have given Yeardley Love the justice that often eludes those who are victims of wealthy and powerful men.

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