1976, four years before she
coma that led to two trials for her second
husband, Claus von Bülow.
in court during his attempted
murder trial on Feb. 9, 1982.
von Bülow case was the first major criminal trial
to be televised in the United States.
The trial began an international media circus which
remained in the
spotlight for five years. The elements
of: enormous wealth, adultery, and allegations of attempted murder in
society made this trial one of the most sensational trials of the 20th
(named after her sunny deposition) was born Martha Sharp Crawford in Manassas, Virginia
on September 1, 1932. Her father, George
W. Crawford was founder of Columbia Gas, Lone Star Gas and Northern
Gas. He died when Sunny was only four,
leaving her an immense fortune. Sunny
attended Chapin School
in Manhattan and St. Timothy’s in Maryland as a
child. She often accompanied her mother on
visits to Parisian haute couture houses, and appeared in Vogue
of the World’s 10 Best-Dressed Women.
one of her
while visiting the Tyrolean country club Schloss Mitersill, Sunny met
in love with its tennis professional, Prince Alfred von Auersperg. The couple married in 1958 and had two
children, Annie Laurie (Ala)
and Alexander. Alfred had a widely
publicized affair with Italian film star Gina Lollobrigida which
the couple divorcing in 1965. At the
time of the divorce Sunny’s net worth was over $75 million. Alfred died in 1992 after lingering in an
irreversible come for nine years following a 1983 car accident in Austria.
On June 6,
married Claus von Bülow, a Danish-born financier.
He was closely associated with J. Paul Getty
Sr., then one of the world’s richest men. They had a daughter in 1967,
von Bülow. The couple lived a charmed
and glitzy existence becoming one of America’s most socially
Bülow's accusers. Left to
right (second row): Ala
and Franz Kneissi,
Maria Schrallhammer, Alexander von Auersperg, and their attorney
Incident and Indictment:
On the evening of December 21, 1980, while
celebrating Christmas with her family in Newport, Rhode Island,
displaying signs of confusion and lack of coordinaion.
Her family put her to bed only to find her in
the morning lying on the bathroom floor, unconscious and unresponsive. She was taken to the hospital where she
slipped into a coma but was revived. After
days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the
result of low
blood sugar and diagnosed Sunny as hypoglycemic, warning her against
overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating.
von Bülow’s first trial
for attempted murder by insulin injection began on January 11, 1982 and
on March 16, 1982 in Newport,
Rhode Island. The prosecution claimed that Claus stood to
gain $21 million from his wife’s will, and that her death would have
free to marry his mistress, an actress named Alexandra Motlke Isles. The defense stated that Sunny’s coma had been
self-induced by a binge of drugs and sweets, including a “sugar bomb”
eggnog—12 eggs and a bottle of bourbon.
Bülow’s maid, Maria
Schrallhammer, told the court that when her mistress had fallen ill on
previous occasion, in 1979, Claus von Bülow had been slow to send
for a doctor;
and that she had found a bag belonging to Claus containing a hypodermic
encrusted with insulin and a bottle marked “insulin”.
convicted Claus of
attempted murder of his wife Sunny and sentenced him to 30 years in
conviction von Bülow
hired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz for his appeal. Von Bülow’s conviction was overturned, on
grounds that the trial judge had been wrong to admit certain key pieces
evidence due to evidence being gathered without a search warrant. The defense asked and was granted by The Court
of Appeals the right to see the Auerspergs’ private detective’s initial
interview notes. These notes cast doubt
on the veracity of Maria Schrallhammer. The
court ordered a retrial, which began in April of 1985.
second trial began on April 25, 1985 and ended on June 10, 1985 in Providence, Rhode Island. The
crime charged was two counts of attempted murder by insulin injection. No fewer than nine experts in endocrinology
and forensic science quickly established to the satisfaction of the
there had been no exogenous insulin in Sunny von Bülow, and no
insulin on the
hypodermic needle. It appeared that her
coma had been caused by the consummation of barbiturates, alcohol,
beta-blockers, hypothermia and aspirin. Of
note was the fact that three weeks earlier Sunny had
been rushed to
the hospital after she had ingested nearly 100 aspirin.
Claus von Bülow was acquitted on all counts.
Aftermath: Ala and Alexander the two children of Sunny and
husband, Prince Alfred von Auersperg, filed a $56 million civil lawsuit
Claus von Bülow, on their mother’s behalf. On
December 24, 1987 this case was settled out of court
agreed to divorce Sunny, give up all claims to her fortune, then
between $25 million and $40 million, and leave the country.
remained in a coma
until her death from cardiopulmonary arrest on December 6, 2008, at
Manning Walsh Nursing Home in New
York City. She was
76, had spent the past 28 years in a coma, unaware that she had played
central role in one of the most sensational trials of the 20th
century. Her memorial service, given by
her three children, took place on January 14, 2009 at the Brick
Church in New York
which was the same church where the von Bülows were married.
survived by her
daughter and son by Prince Alfred von Auerperrg, and by her daughter
Countess Pavoncelli, who stood by her father throughout his ordeal in
Bülow moved to London
in the late 1980’s
after his marriage was dissolved. He is in his 80’s and a popular
figure in London
Tracy. "Von Bülow's Victory." The National Law Journal
24, 1985): 24ff.
Alan M. Reversal Of Fortune. New York: Random House, 1986.
"Boomerang." American Lawyer (November 1986): 36ff.
Stewart. "Evidence." Temple
(Winter 1988): 1561-1586.
William. The Von Billow Affair. New York: Delacorte Press, 1983.