Moneyed socialite who was convicted and then acquitted of trying to kill his wife
Questions over whether Claus von Bülow twice attempted to murder his multimillionaire American wife, or whether she was the cause of her own fate, are likely to re-emerge now that he has died, aged 92. Martha “Sunny” von Bülow, who died in 2008 after lying in a coma for 28 years, had collapsed in December 1980 at the couple’s Palladian mansion, Clarendon Court, on the Rhode Island coast at Newport. Claus was tried and convicted in 1982 on two charges of attempted murder, but the convictions were overturned on appeal in 1984. A second trial in 1985 acquitted him.
Tantalising questions nonetheless remain. Did he twice inject his wife with insulin, the central accusation? Or was she an alcoholic drug addict who, perhaps accidentally, inflicted her own destruction? Why did Claus hide the never explained “little black bag” containing syringes and an assortment of illicitly obtained drugs? Why, during Sunny’s first collapse, was he reluctant to summon a doctor? And did his mistress’s marriage ultimatum, combined with expectation of a large legacy from his wife’s death, propel him towards murder?
This was the first such court case to be televised in the US, and more than 70 hours of it was broadcast by CNN. American commentary during the five-year media spree that accompanied the case compared it to a soap opera, especially as Claus’s beautiful mistress, Alexandra Isles, had acted in a popular 1960s soap series called Dark Shadows. Soap-style, the case displayed an arrogant, unfaithful husband and an extravagantly self-indulgent wife, both people with immense riches but little to do.
A book by Claus’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, about the case, Reversal of Fortune (1985), was made into a 1990 film of the same name, starring Jeremy Irons – who won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Claus – and Glenn Close as Sunny.
Read more: www.theguardian.com