Elder son, Lyle, was born Joseph Lyle on 10 January 1968 and his brother, Erik Galen, arrived nearly three years later, on 27 November 1971.
Their father, José, from Havana, Cuba, was a well-known football player, who, at age 16, moved with his family from Cuba to America in 1960 when Fidel Castro came to power. Mother, Kitty, three years older than José, was from Oak Lawn, Chicago. The couple met in 1962, whilst students at Southern Illinois University. The attraction was instant despite the difference.
When Kitty graduated, José dropped out of university and they eloped in 1963, moving to New York City. José transferred to Queens College and Kitty found work teaching at an elementary school. José graduated in 1969 as a Certified Public Accountant and began work for international accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand. The family moved first to Illinois and then to New Jersey, where Erik was born and Kitty became a full-time mother.
Lyle and Erik grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. The boys attended Princeton Day School and were academically average but enjoyed a strong bond, with Erik worshipping his older brother. Teachers at the school felt that both boys were immature for their age and had learning problems but their father would hear none of it. José was extremely controlling of his family, vicious and almost impossible to please. His strict rules covered all aspects of the family’s lives, including what they could eat, with whom they could associate and what they were allowed to read. They had to be accountable for their actions for every minute of every day.
José also decided that the boys should excel in a sport and by the time Erik was nine and Lyle twelve, they had both chosen tennis, at which they later became extremely talented. Their stressful home life took its toll on the young boys who began to grind their teeth, developed stomach pains and began stuttering. They also acquired rather alarming tempers. By age 14 Lyle was reportedly still playing with stuffed animals and wetting his bed.
Friends later described the brothers as quite different. Lyle was said to have been slightly remote, to have had trouble making the distinction between fiction and fact, but to have had a strong personality and remarkable wit. Erik was apparently sensitive, quiet and kept largely to himself.
The first sign of the brothers’ perverse and violent tendencies surfaced when Lyle was 15 and Erik 12. In 1982, their cousin, Diane van der Molen, came to stay with the Menendez family for the summer holidays. It transpired that one night, the brothers and Diane were wrestling playfully, when without provocation or warning, the boys began to remove her clothes. They wordlessly tied her up and took off her shirt but stopped as soon as she screamed. On another occasion, Diane and Lyle were watching television together, when he suddenly climbed on top of her and fondled her breasts. She quickly pushed him away and he did nothing further.
In 1985, José was offered the position of President of Live Entertainment at a video distribution and production company in California. He convinced the family that the huge move from the East Coast to the West would be in everyone’s best interests. Lyle, 17, was at the point of graduating from school and elected to remain in New Jersey to attend Princeton University. José, Kitty and the 14-year-old Erik moved to Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley, where Erik attended Calabasas High School. Lyle would make weekend visits to the family in California.
Lyle’s 1986 application to Princeton University was rejected. Accepted in 1987, he was accused of plagiarism during his first semester. Sent before the University’s disciplinary committee, Lyle was suspended for a year and told he could return in 1988.
José decided that Lyle needed some direction and also to learn what working in the business world was all about. He found work at his company, Live Entertainment, for Lyle who was treated like all the other employees. However, he showed no interest in his work, ignored orders and regularly arrived late or not at all, electing instead to play tennis when the weather was good. He was eventually fired.
Born 10 January 1968 - Joseph Lyle Menendez 27 November 1971 - Erik Galen MenendezThe Victims 20 August 1989 - José Menendez, 44 20 August 1989 - Kitty Menendez, 47Arrested 8 March 1990 – Lyle Menendez, 22 11 March 1990 – Erik Menendez, 18Trials 8 December 1992 - Indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury 20 July 1993–28 January 1994 - First trial 23 August 1995–20 March 1996 - Second trialConvicted 20 March 1996 – First-degree murder with special circumstances and conspiracy to commit murderSentenced 2 July 1996 - Two consecutive life sentences each, without the possibility of parole
Two television films were made about the Menendez murders, between their first and second trials. The first was ‘Honour Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders’ (1994), starring James Farentino (José), Jill Clayburgh (Kitty), Billy Warlock (Lyle), and David Beron (Erik). The second was ‘Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills’ (1994), starring Edward James Olmos (José), Beverly D’Angelo (Kitty), Damian Chapa (Lyle), and Travis Fine (Erik).The film ‘The Cable Guy’ (1996) parodied the Menendez trials and had Ben Stiller playing both brothers. There is a reference to Lyle Menendez in the film ‘Jane Austen’s Mafia!’ (1998). The play ‘Lion Hunting in North America’, by playwright Jonah Maidoff, is based on the Menendez murders.
PrisonThe Menendez brothers are currently in prisons in California, Lyle is in Mule Creek State Prison whilst Erik is in the Pleasant Valley State Prison. Both brothers have married whilst in prison but are denied conjugal rights.Erik’s wife, Tammi Menendez, published a book ‘They Said We’d Never Make It – My Life with Erik Menendez’ (2005). Subsequent to the book’s publishing, Erik appeared on the Larry King Live show and confirmed that he had made a large contribution to the editing of Tammi’s book. He also said that he and Lyle had not spoken in more than 10 years. The brothers are expected to spend the remainder of their natural lives in prison, and to both die without ever consummating their marriages.
More than three years after the crime, on 8 December 1992, the Menendez brothers were indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury on charges of murdering their parents, with special circumstances. This meant that if convicted, they could be put to death in the gas chamber.The two special circumstances were that it was a multiple murder and that they had been ‘lying in wait’. The third special circumstance, that they had committed the murders for financial gain, was thrown out by the grand jury.First trialThe brothers immediately became hot news when new television network, Court TV, broadcast their first trial. Possibly one of the most controversial of the decade, it took place at the Los Angeles County Fernando valley Superior Court from 20 July 1993 to 28 January 1994 and had Lyle and Erik confessing to killing their parents but claiming it was in self-defence. They said they believed their parents planned to kill them after years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in order to stop them telling anyone of the incest.Chief defence lawyers were Leslie Abramson, representing Erik, and Jill Lansing, representing Lyle. Pamela Bozanich was chief prosecutor and Judge Stanley M. Weisberg presided over both trials. Whilst the brothers’ cases were connected, they each had a separate jury.Despite the fact that the brothers had extremely good defence lawyers, they could not hide away from their past criminal records pointing towards the fact that they were devious and law-breaking rather than abused and frightened, as they would have everyone believe. Prosecution also wasted no time in pointing to the very obvious motive for murder being the millions the brothers stood to inherit upon their parents’ death.After six months, the trial ended with both juries in a deadlock and the verdict given was mistrial. Judge Weisberg set a retrial date for 28 February 1995.
Second trialHaving been postponed several times, the second trial took place from 23 August 1995 to 20 March 1996. Lyle and Erik were retried together, with a single jury and Judge Weisberg presiding. Chief defence lawyers were Leslie Abramson, Jill Lansing, and Barry Levin and chief prosecutor was David Conn.On 20 March 1996, a verdict was reached. Lyle, 28, and Erik, 25, were found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances and guilty to conspiracy to murder. On 2 July 1996, Judge Weisberg sentenced both Kyle and Erik Menendez to two consecutive life sentences each, without the possibility of parole
Mendez murderers ?
Detective Les Zoeller and his partner detective Tim Linehan headed the investigation into the Menendez murders. It was a momentous task, spanning opposite coasts of America, involving countless interviews, numerous suspects and various theories as to who had committed the crime and for what reason.Adding to police suspicions about Lyle and Erik’s involvement in the murders was the fact that they had begun a spending spree days after their parents’ death and had continued to lead extravagant lives of luxury ever since. In addition, it emerged that on 31 August 1989, Lyle had hired the services of Glen Stevens, a computer expert, to erase files on Kitty’s computer. Lyle told Stevens that he had deleted the latest version of José and Kitty’s will and instructed him to ensure that no trace of it could be found. This was to ensure they would benefit from the older will which bequeathed the entire Menendez fortune to Lyle and Erik.ShotgunsThe investigation team finally found a link between the Menendez brothers and two Mossberg 12-gauge shotguns, bought on 18 August 1989. The receipt for the sale of the shotguns had been signed Donovan Jay Goodreau and listed to an address in San Diego. Goodreau, a friend of Lyle’s, proved that he was at work in New York City at the time of purchase, that the signature did not even resemble his own and that the address given was false. Police finally had physical evidence in the case against the Menendez boys.Ideally, police would have arrested the brothers at the same time but on 7 March 1990, Lyle and some friends flew from New Jersey to Los Angeles. Police believed Lyle was not planning on staying long and would shortly be returning to New Jersey. At that time, Erik was playing in a tennis tournament in Israel, so they decided to go ahead and arrest Lyle first.
ArrestOn 8 March 1990, at around 1pm Lyle was arrested at the south end of Elm Drive, whilst driving with some friends to a restaurant for lunch. He and his friends were taken to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station, where Lyle was booked and transferred to the Los Angeles County Men’s Jail.Erik learned of Lyle’s arrest whilst still in Israel and immediately called his uncle for advice. He was told the most sensible thing to do would be to turn himself in. On 11 March 1990 detectives Zoeller and Linehan met Erik at Los Angeles International Airport, where they arrested him and took him to the Los Angeles County Men’s Jail.On 26 March 1990, supported by friends and relatives, the brothers were arraigned for the first-degree murder of their parents with special circumstances, in Judge Judith Stein’s courtroom at the Beverly Hills Municipal Court. Smirking and behaving as if they had nothing to worry about, they both pleaded not guilty. They were held without bail, pending trial, at Los Angeles County Men’s Jail. Lyle and Erik were in the prison’s 7,000 section, which has also held OJ Simpson and Richard Ramirez, ‘The Nightstalker’.
Turning to crime
In the summer of 1988, Erik graduated from Beverly Hills High School and played a number of tennis tournaments before starting at UCLA. It was also the time that the brothers began robbing their friends’ parents. They would break into the homes to take money and jewellery. It was later estimated that they stole in excess of $100,000, enough to have been charged with Grand Theft Burglary, a felony offence.
Erik was stopped for a driving violation in Calabasas when the detective discovered stolen goods in the boot of his car, implicating both the brothers. Irate but with no desire to see his sons in prison, José hired a reputable criminal defence attorney, Gerald Chaleff, to represent Lyle and Erik.
Chaleff worked a deal with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office that if Erik, who was a juvenile and had no previous record, pleaded guilty to all the crimes, Lyle would be absolved. The judge agreed and Erik was sentenced to community service with the homeless and both brothers were assigned to compulsory psychological counselling. In addition, José paid the victims for those stolen items that the brothers had already sold on and could not retrieve.
Not only was he underachieving academically at Princeton University, Lyle’s ‘I’ll do whatever I like’ attitude had him put on disciplinary probation for damaging pool tables in his hall of residence. He also had his driver’s licence suspended and lost the family’s privileges at their country club in Princeton.
Exasperated with their sons’ behaviour, José and Kitty threatened to cut out the boys from their wills. Kitty, who was undergoing psychiatric counselling, told her therapist on 19 July 1989, a month before she was murdered, that her sons were “narcissistic, lacked conscience and exhibited signs that they were sociopaths”.
In an effort to share some time together as a family and perhaps lessen some of the tension that everyone had been feeling, José and Kitty chartered a boat to go shark fishing with the boys. On Saturday 19 August 1989, a day before the murders, the Menendez family travelled to Marina del Ray, the largest man-made small boat harbour in the world, four miles from Los Angeles International Airport.
The boat’s crew later reported that the Menendez family seemed miserable and non-communicative, with José fishing from the back of the boat, the brothers keeping to themselves at the front of the boat, and Kitty below deck due to seasickness.
The following is an account of the events surrounding the murder of José and Kitty Menenedez, as pieced together by police investigators and medical examiners. Years later, at trial, Lyle and Erik would paint a very different picture.
On the the evening of Sunday, 20 August 1989, José and Kitty were relaxing in the family room of their extensive Beverly Hills mansion, 722 Elm Drive, eating dessert whilst watching a video. Their sons, Lyle, 21, and Erik, 17, were out for the evening. A teenage girl who lived a few houses down the road from the Menendez family was standing outside her home, waiting for her boyfriend to arrive. She noticed a car stop in front of the Menendez house and two men get out. They went to the boot of the car and then towards the house.
Ball-bearing sized pellets
It was Lyle and Erik and they entered the house via the study’s French doors and walked down the hallway towards the family room at the back of the house. José was sitting dozing, with his feet up on the coffee table, whilst Kitty was lying stretched out next to him on the sofa, with her head in his lap. The brothers raised their 12-gauge Mossberg shotguns, loaded with ball-bearing sized pellets, and fired at their parents.
José was shot at twice; the first shattered the glass door behind him and hit him twice in the right arm and the left elbow, effectively keeping him sitting down. The second was a contact shot to the back of his head that blew open his skull and killed him. His body slumped forward with his hands on his stomach and his feet on the floor.
Kitty had managed to jump up and begin to flee before she too was shot, in her right arm and right calf. She fell onto the coffee table but stood up again, long enough for her blood to flow vertically down her leg, before being shot again. She was hit in her right arm, her left breast, which pierced her lung, and her left thigh, from such close range that the force of the shot broke her leg. Not yet dead, Kitty attempted to crawl away but failed.
Out of ammunition, the killers ran out to their car to reload, this time with birdshot. Returning to the bloody crime scene, Kitty was killed by a contact shot to her left cheek that shattered her skull. She had been shot four times in her head and ten times in her body, including a shot that had almost severed her right thumb. As a parting gesture, they shot both victims in the left knee before carefully gathering up the spent shell casings. The brothers then drove via Mulholland Drive, in order to get rid of their shotguns and casings into the canyon, then on to a petrol station to throw away their bloodied clothes, before buying tickets for a film at their local cinema to use as an alibi.
Beverly Hills Police Department received a 911 call at 11:47pm on 20 August 1989. It was from a sobbing Lyle Menenedez, reporting that someone had killed his parents. The two-and-a-half minute call was tape-recorded and Erik could be heard shouting in the background. About a minute after the call, Beverly Hills police officers Michael Buktus and John Czarnocki arrived at the Menendez mansion to investigate.
Detective Les Zoeller was appointed as head of the murder investigation and he hastened to the scene of the crime. It was obvious to Zoeller that whilst the family room was dishevelled, nothing had been stolen from the mansion. It also appeared that the victims knew their killer(s) as the house bore no signs of forced entry.
As part of routine procedure, Lyle and Erik were taken in for questioning, although at that point, they were not considered suspects and were therefore not given gunshot residue tests. The police detective supervisor, Sergeant Thomas Edmonds, conducted the questioning, which lasted a mere 20 minutes before being brought to an end due to Erik’s inconsolable crying. During the questioning, Lyle appeared calm and was methodical in his answers, whilst Erik was unable to sit still and was quite distraught.
The following is a blow-by-blow account of their actions on Sunday, 20 August 1989, given by the Menendez brothers to the police.
In the morning, after a late breakfast, they played tennis on the court in their garden, before going inside to watch part of a tennis match on television. They spent the afternoon shopping at the Beverly Centre, a local shopping mall, before returning home.
At around 5pm, they made plans with a friend, Perry Berman, to meet later at a local food festival, called ‘Taste of LA’, in Santa Monica. The brothers left home again at about 8pm, planning to see the new James Bond film, ‘Licence to Kill’ (1989) at Westwood Village cinema. Discovering long queues when they arrived, they went to Century City mall to see ‘Batman’ (1989) instead.
Following the movie, Lyle and Erik drove to Santa Monica but apparently got lost en route and missed their friend. They called Berman from a public telephone and made further plans to meet him at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Beverly Hills. They then drove home allegedly to collect Erik’s fake ID so that he could buy alcohol when they were at the restaurant. It was then that they discovered their parents had been killed and placed the 911 call.
In their attempts to draw suspicion away from themselves, the brothers told the police some strange things. They said that upon their arrival home, before discovering their parents’ bodies, they noticed smoke in the house and in particular in the family room. Neither Buktus nor Czarnocki, the officers who arrived at the scene minutes after Lyle had placed the 911 call, had noticed any smoke. Lyle told police his mother had been suicidal for the past few years and had been edgy and behaving oddly, whilst Erik suggested possible Mafia involvement in his parents’ deaths.
Dr Irwin Golden, Medical Examiner of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office conducted the autopsies on José and Kitty Menendez on 23 August 1989.
Lyle and Erik held a memorial service for their parents on 25 August 1989 at the Directors Guild of America, Los Angeles. They arrived an hour late and Erik looked uncomfortable whilst Lyle remained calm and controlled throughout. On 28 August 1989, the brothers held a traditional church funeral at the university chapel in Princeton. Faculty fellow, Brendan Scott, conducted the service and Lyle spoke for half an hour, saying how much his parents had meant to him but Erik was too upset to contribute.
With no domineering father dictating their every move, the brothers were finally able to make their own life choices. Lyle became determined to succeed in the business world and dropped out of university, whilst Erik vacillated between continuing at UCLA and pursuing a career in tennis. Whatever they decided, they had no immediate financial worries, as they had been granted José’s personal life insurance policy of £650,000. Only a few days after the murders, the brothers began splashing out on Rolex watches, designer clothes, stereo equipment and expensive cars.
Claiming to be in fear for their own lives and not wanting to live in the house where their parents had been murdered, the brothers stayed in five-star hotels, hired bodyguards and travelled in limousines. They then rented expensive adjoining apartments in Marina del Ray, Lyle bought a Porsche 911 Carrera and Erik a Jeep Wrangler. By October 1989, they had charged over £90,000 to José’s American Express card.
Lyle began trying to form his own company, called Menendez Investment Enterprises, and flew frequently between California and New Jersey, always travelling business class. The company failed before it even started and Lyle then bought a restaurant, which also lost money.
Erik tried to sponsor a rock concert with a partner at the Palladium, Los Angeles, but the man ran off with $40,000 of his money. He then decided to turn to tennis and hired Mark Heffernan as a private coach. They began travelling extensively, spending on luxury hotels and anything Heffernan suggested, to improve Erik’s game. By the end of 1989 the brothers had spent over £1 million.
It transpired that on 31 October 1989, Erik visited his psychotherapist, Jerome Oziel. It was during this meeting that he turned to Oziel and said, “We did it. We killed our parents.” Oziel made Erik call Lyle, who was furious and immediately rushed over to Oziel’s office. The brothers visited Oziel’s office again on 2 November 1989 to discuss the fact that Erik had confessed to Oziel and Lyle threatened to kill him if he told anyone. Although being threatened meant that Oziel was no longer bound by the patient-therapist confidentiality privilege, he chose not to go to the police. Instead he continued to counsel the brothers, making notes and keeping tape recordings of their sessions. These were later taken in by the Los Angeles County courthouse in Santa Monica, as evidence in the first trial.