“I’m not even angry at those who have done all of this to us. I just feel sorry for them, because they’re so unenlightened. They just don’t know, you know?” 64-year-old Charlene Marshall sighs in her living room. It’s a sad November afternoon, foggy and dim. Her husband wears a blue-striped shirt and red tie and has a badge from William Holden’s Mount Kenya Safari Club on his blazer. No one ever looked so starched, crisp, elegant—and beaten. Anthony Marshall, 85 years old, sags in an armchair near his wife like a ruined prime minister.
In October, he was convicted of stealing millions from his mother, Brooke Astor, who allegedly spent nights in tattered nightgowns on a urine-stained couch. Though Mr. Marshall wasn’t charged with the abuse of his elderly socialite mother, who died in 2007 at age 105, he was convicted on 14 counts, including the theft of two $500,000 paintings, one a Tiepolo of dancing dogs, and of misusing $655,000 of Astor’s money to pay the captain of a yacht and maintain his own real estate. At Mr. Marshall’s sentencing next Monday, he faces up to 25 years in prison, though his attorneys have asked the State Supreme Court to throw out the only charge that carries mandatory jail time.
Though his wife was never charged, she has been painted in the press as the motive behind Mr. Marshall’s crimes, the evil schemer behind the tainted son. “It was she—a woman of humble origins and grand designs—who motivated him to steal from his philanthropist mother,” the Daily News thumped.
Throughout a long conversation in the Marshalls’ Upper East Side apartment, she seems genuinely perplexed by the way things have played out. “Oh, I’ve been very introspective. What did I do wrong? What part have I played in this? What’s in me that has caused this reaction from others?”
In 1989, she left her husband of two decades, the Episcopal minister at Brooke Astor’s century-old Maine church, for Mr. Marshall. She says their love has only intensified. “We were a we about this size.” Her arms stretch. “And then as the years went on, we were a we about this size.” They stretch more. “But having had this experience, we are now a we like this. In fact we’re so we that we’re one. There is no he and I. There’s only the one. We’re the one. We’re one.”
She doesn’t think her husband has done anything wrong. “He’s still the most decent, honest, honorable, compassionate, intelligent, humorous man I know. And I’m going to stick by him.” But does she feel angry? “Why should I get mad at him?”
She turns the heater off to help her husband’s hearing. Mr. Marshall, who had quadruple bypass surgery last year, is almost inaudible when he speaks, which isn’t often. But his velvety accent survives. “As dull as it might seem to others,” he says very slowly, “we’ve never had an argument.”
ON THE MORNING of the Marshalls’ 17th wedding anniversary, a May New York Times cover story pointed out that Astor had told her ear doctor she’d rather have her dachshunds, Boysie and Girlsie, “than her son and his wife, whom she described as a bitch.” In the fall, Philip Marshall, Anthony’s son, called her a sugarcoated poison pill, a description that stuck. “I saw a woman of steel who would rip your throat out to protect what is hers,” the Post’s Andrea Peyser wrote. “Anthony did it for love. He did it to keep Charlene in sensible shoes and shapeless suits. He did it to please this coarse and devoted woman on whose heaving breast he always found a comfortable home.” The Post has taken to calling her Miss Piggy, from a code name that one of Astor’s nurses used in her diary.
In closing arguments, prosecutors called Mr. Marshall a morally depraved son—“a son,” an assistant district attorney repeated, “an only son”—who robbed an incapacitated woman to line his wife’s pockets. In particular, they said, a will amendment in 2004 gave him control of a $60 million chunk of the Astor estate at her death, steering money away from charity. After it was signed, her housekeeper testified, Astor was panicked, worrying that “men in suits” were lurking in her closets and under her bed.
“If that’s what they think, that he did it for me, I’d say God bless him!” Ms. Marshall now says. “The man really loves me!