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Pictured: Clarendon Court via Zillow
Martha Sharp Crawford von Bülow, known as Sunny von Bülow was an American heiress and socialite.
On June 6, 1966, Sunny married Claus von Bülow, a former aide to oilman J. P. Getty, and they had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, in 1967. By 1979, significant stresses and tensions had developed in their marriage, and both Sunny and Claus spoke openly about the possibility of a divorce.
On December 26, 1979, after the family had come together for Christmas at their Newport, Rhode Island mansion, Clarendon Court, she was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into coma but was revived. After days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the result of low blood sugar and diagnosed her as hypoglycemic, warning her against overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating.
While no foul play was suspected at the time, Claus von Bülow was later accused of causing this incident by injecting her with insulin.
In April 1980, she was again hospitalized after appearing incoherent and disoriented; their doctors reconfirmed she suffered from “reactive hypoglycemia”. She was advised to maintain control of the hypoglycemia by following a strict diet, limiting her sugar intake, and avoiding alcohol.
On the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, Clarendon Court, in Newport, Rhode Island, she again displayed confusion and uncoordination. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning she was discovered lying on the bathroom floor, unconscious and unresponsive.
She was taken to the hospital where it became clear that 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 von Bülow did not want to terminate life support, as had been alleged.
Because of the increased marital tensions between Claus and Sunny von Bülow in the fall of 1980, her children were suspicious that her brain injury was the result of foul play by him. Her two eldest children persuaded Richard H. Kuh, the former New York County District Attorney, to investigate the possibility Claus von Bülow had attempted the murder of their mother. After the gathering of evidence, Rhode Island prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury who returned an indictment, and in July 1981, he was charged with two counts of attempted murder.
Her husband, Claus von Bülow, was convicted of attempting her murder by insulinoverdose, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. A second trial found him not guilty, after experts opined 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 Bülow lived almost 28 years in a permanent vegetative state until her death in a New York nursing home on December 6, 2008.