From Academic Kids

Martha Sharp Crawford von Bülow (Sunny) (born September 1, 1932 in Manassas, Virginia) is an American heiress. She was the wife of Claus von Bülow. Since 1981 she has been in a persistent vegetative state following an unexplained coma. The coma was attributed to hypoglycemia from injected insulin, and her husband was convicted of attempted murder after a highly publicized trial. The conviction was overturned by an appeals court, an incident dramatized in the movie Reversal of Fortune. Many aspects of her coma remain unexplained and a subject of conjecture and controversy.

Sunny was born to a wealthy family and inherited many millions of dollars as a result of her father's death when she was only four. She married Prince Alfred von Auersperg, a virtually-penniless aristocrat, on July 20, 1957. They had two children, Annie Laurie ("Ala") and Alexander Georg. Sunny and Alfie von Auersperg were divorced in 1965.

On June 6, 1966 she married Claus Cecil Borberg von Bülow. He had been born and raised in Denmark, until he was sent to England during World War II to complete his education in law. In the 1960s he had worked as a personal assistant to J. Paul Getty but did not have a personal fortune comparable to Sunny's, which was valued at over $75 million.

Sunny and Claus had a daughter, Cosima; however, significant stresses and tensions developed in the marriage by 1980.

Another 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 followed to some extent a "hypoglycemic diet" over the next several months.

On the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their Newport, Rhode Island, cottage, she again displayed confusion and incoordination. 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. After debate between her husband and children about turning off life support, with Claus reportedly arguing vehemently for terminating life support, it turned out Sunny continued to breathe on her own.

Because of the increased marital tensions between Sunny and Claus in the fall of 1980, her children were suspicious that her brain injury was the result of attempted murder by Claus. The terms of Sunny and Claus's prenuptial agreement stipulated he would get nothing if they were to divorce; however, as her widower, he would inherit approximately $14 million. Sunny's children persuaded a New York prosecutor to investigate the possibility Claus had tried to murder her. 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. The trial began in February 1982. Evidence presented by the prosecution consisted of circumstantial evidence, imputation of financial motive, much testimony by various maids, drivers, doctors, and personal exercise trainers and a used syringe reported to contain traces of insulin. 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.

Von 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 (former wife of Johnny Carson). They managed to get some of the evidence that had been damaging in the first trial, such as the "black bag" from the closet, excluded on grounds it was improperly obtained. Some of the expert witness testimony was excluded as hypothetical or hearsay. Additional expert witness testimony cast doubt on the validity of evidence a syringe contained traces of insulin. After seven months, the appeals court reversed the conviction.

Sunny's family remained convinced Claus had tried to murder her. He reportedly renounced his share of his wife's estate to have their daughter retained as an heiress to her maternal grandmother's fortune. Ala Kniessel (now Isham) and Alex von Auersperg both reportedly received $45 million upon their grandmother's death several years later; Cosima von Bulow received $30 million. For inheritance tax purposes, Sunny's individual fortune is earmarked for her future grandchildren rather than her children, which effectively absolved all of Sunny's children of any suspicion of guilt during the numerous investigations into her comas.

As of 2004, there has been no published report of her death, and she apparently remains in a permanent vegetative state in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, to which she was transferred in 1981 after initial treatment in Boston.

External links


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools