Martha “Sunny” von Bulow RIP Photos of her and & Videos about case
Martha Sharp Crawford von Bülow (September 1, 1932 – December 6, 2008), known as Sunny von Bülow, was an American heiress, socialite, and philanthropist. Her husband, Claus von Bülow, was convicted of twice attempting her murder by insulin overdose, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. A second trial found him not guilty, after experts showed that there was no insulin injection and that her symptoms were attributable to over-use of prescription drugs. The story was dramatized in the book and movie, Reversal of Fortune. Sunny von Bulow continued to live almost 28 years in a persistent vegetative state until her death at a New York nursing home on December 6, 2008.
Early life and marriages
The only child of utilities magnate George Crawford and his wife, Annie-Laurie Warmack, she was born on a train en route from Hot Springs, Virginia, to New York, and was known as, “Choo-Choo,” as a child before being called, “Sunny.” She inherited many millions of dollars as a result of her father’s death, when she was only 4-years-old. Her mother, the daughter of the founder of the International Shoe Company, later married Russell Aitken, a sculptor and writer.
Von Bülow married His Serene Highness Prince Alfred of Auersperg, an Austrian tennis instructor, on July 20, 1957. They had two children, Annie-Laurie (“Ala,” born 1958) and Alexander Georg (born 1959, who uses the surname Auersperg, without the von). Sunny and Alfred were divorced in 1965. At this time, Sunny’s net worth was valued over $75 million dollars. Alfred died in 1992, ironically, after lingering in an irreversible coma for nine years following a 1983 car accident in Austria.
On June 6, 1966, Sunny married Claus von Bülow, a former aide to oilman G.P. Getty, and they had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, in 1967. By 1980, significant stresses and tensions had developed in their marriage. An episode of confusion and impairment in April 1980 was evaluated in the hospital, reportedly with confirmation of a diagnosis of “reactive hypoglycemia.” She recovered uneventfully and over the next several months she followed a “hypoglycemic diet” to some extent.
1980 incident and indictment
On the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, Clarendon Court, in Newport, Rhode Island, Sunny again displayed confusion and discoordination. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning it was apparent she was more deeply unconscious than could be attributed to ordinary intoxication. She was taken to the hospital where it became gradually clear this time she had suffered severe enough brain injury to produce a “persistent vegetative state.” Although clinical features resembled a drug overdose, some of the laboratory evidence suggested hypoglycemia. The Court of Appeal ordered disclosure of the notes taken by the Auersperg children’s attorney. These showed that Claus did not want to terminate life support, as had been alleged.
Because of the increased marital tensions between Claus and Sunny in the fall of 1980, her children were suspicious that her brain injury was the result of attempted murder by Claus. Sunny’s two eldest children persuaded Richard H. Kuh, the former New York County District Attorney, to investigate the possibility Claus had tried to murder their mother. After accumulating some evidence, Rhode Island prosecutors were persuaded to present the evidence to a grand jury, and in July 1981, Claus was charged with two counts of attempted murder.
The case attracted nationwide publicity in the United States. The trial began in February 1982. Evidence presented by the prosecution consisted of circumstantial evidence, imputation of financial motive, extensive testimony by various maids, chauffeurs, doctors, and personal exercise trainers, a black bag with drugs, and a used syringe reported to contain traces of insulin found in Claus von Bülow’s mansion. There was much evidence of excessive use of sedatives, vitamins, and other drugs by Sunny, including testimony of alcohol and substance abuse problems. Harvard endocrinologist George Cahill testified that he was convinced that her brain damage was the result of injected insulin. The jury was convinced and Claus was convicted.
Bülow hired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz for his appeal. Dershowitz and his other attorneys produced evidence of Sunny’s excessive drug use, including testimony by both Truman Capote and Joanne Carson (second wife of Johnny Carson) and more than ten of Sunny’s friends. Some of the expert witness testimony was excluded as hypothetical or hearsay. Additional expert witness testimony cast doubt on the validity of evidence that a syringe contained traces of insulin. The appeals court reversed the conviction on several grounds, especially that justice for the accused required should override the attorney-client privilege, and therefore the notes taken by Kuh, the Auersperg children’s attorney, should be disclosed. These notes cast doubt on the credibility of Sunny’s maid, who had been a key witness for the prosecution.
At the second trial the defense called eight medical experts, all world-renowned university professors, who testified that Sunny’s two comas were not caused by insulin, but by a combination of ingested (not injected) drugs, alcohol, and chronic health conditions. The experts were John Caronna (chairman of neurology, Cornell); Leo Dal Cortivo (former president, U.S. Toxicology Association); Ralph DeFronzo (medicine, Yale); Kurt Dubowski (forensic pathology, University of Oklahoma); Daniel Foster (medicine, University of Texas); Daniel Furst, medicine, University of Iowa); Harold Lebovitz (director of clinical research, State University of New York); Vincent Marks (clinical biochemistry, Surrey, vice-president Royal College of Pathologists and president, Association of Clinical Biochemistry); and Arthur Rubinstein (medicine, University of Chicago).
Other experts testified that the hypodermic needle tainted with insulin on the outside (but not inside) would have been dipped in insulin but not injected (Injecting it in flesh would have wiped it clean). Evidence also showed that Sunny’s hospital admission three weeks before the final coma showed she had ingested at least 73 aspirin tablets, a quantity that could only have been self-administered, and which indicated her state of mind.
Sunny’s family remained convinced that Claus had tried to murder her and were upset that Cosima had chosen to take her father’s side. As a result of this, in 1981, Sunny’s mother, Annie Laurie Aitken (formerly Warmack), disinherited Cosima , denying her share of the estate upon Aitkin’s death on May 4, 1984. In July 1985, ten days after Claus was acquitted at his second trial, Ala and Alexander filed a 56 million dollar civil lawsuit against Claus, on their mother’s behalf. On December 24, 1987 this case was settled out of court when Claus agreed to divorce Sunny, give up all claim to her fortune, then estimated between 25 million and 40 million dollars, and leave the country. In exchange for Cosima being reinstated into Aitken’s will and receiving 30 million dollars for her one-third share of the estate. 
After the trials, the Ala and Alexander founded the Sunny von Bulow National Victim Advocacy Center in Fort Worth, Texas and the Sunny von Bulow Coma and Head Trauma Research Foundation in New York.
Sunny remained in a coma until her death in December 2008, at Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home in New York City.
Alan M Dershowitz, Claus’ attorney, wrote a book about the case, Reversal of Fortune (New York, Random House 1986 and London, Penguin Books 1991).
Professor Vincent Marks (an insulin expert of the University of Surrey, England) and Caroline Richmond have a chapter on the science underpinning Sunny’s medical condition in their book, Insulin Murders (London, Royal Society of Medicine Press 2007).
The television series Biography produced and aired a documentary episode titled “Claus von Bülow: A Reasonable Doubt”, with interviews of Claus Von Bulow and Alan Dershowitz.