In the ’90s, brothers Lyle and Erik Menéndez captured the attention of the American public when they went on trial for murdering their parents. More than two decades later, new information is being revealed about the case and their story is still very captivating.
Here’s the story of the Menéndez brothers and the murder of their parents.
The story of the Menéndez brothers goes back to their father, Jose, who came to the U.S. from Cuba at a time when Cuba was going through a revolution. Jose married Mary Louise “Kitty” Andersen and got a job as a dishwasher at the high-end 21 Club in Manhattan. At the same time, Jose earned a degree in accounting from Queens College.
Jose worked his way up and eventually took on leadership positions in companies like RCA Records (where he was key to signing on acts like Eurythmics and Duran Duran) and Hertz. He was also a VP at an independent film company called Carolco Pictures and with time he amassed a comfortable fortune. Jose eventually moved his family into a $5 million California mansion that was once owned by Elton John.
Having worked his way up from nothing, Jose had big aspirations for his sons, Erik and Lyle, and he expected them to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps. He sent them to the best schools and they took on activities like tennis, but they also had a lot of pressure from their Jose. The pressure led to the boys to retaliate in their own way, to the point that they were caught breaking and entering neighboring homes.
The youngest of the brothers, Erik, had been toying with the idea of murder long before his brother Lyle. At one point Erik and a friend went away to a cabin where Erik wrote a 66-page screenplay. The story focused on a person who murders five people, including his own parents.
On the night of August 20, 1989, Jose and Kitty were at their home, relaxing in the den, while Erik and Lyle went out to the movies.
Around 10 p.m. neighbors heard gunshots coming from the Menéndez home and at 11:46pm the brothers came home to find their parents lying in blood. Jose had been shot point-blank in the back of his head and Kitty had multiple gunshot wounds in her arms, chest, and face. Both of them also had a gunshot wound in the knees.
Lyle called 911 and screamed into the phone “someone killed my parents!” One thing that bothered investigators was the fact that the perpetrators were able to get past the high security system that was in place at the Menéndez home. As for Lyle and Erik, they appeared really shocked and sad, and the police never thought that they should test their hands or clothing for gunshot residue.
A Crime Of Passion
According to investigators, the crime scene was similar to a “gangland-style” killing, particularly because Jose and Kitty had been shot in the knees. It was this particular aspect of the crime that the brothers used to blame the mob for their parents’ murder. However, the investigators also said that since there were more than a dozen gunshots involved in the crime, it was more likely a crime of passion than mob retribution.
The investigators eventually came to the conclusion that the brothers were responsible for the murders. However, tests were never done on the brothers on the night of the crime so the police had no evidence to support their conclusion. So for now, the brothers were free.
In the months that followed the murders, Erik and Lyle went on a spending spree and spent more than half a million dollars. Lyle bought a Porsche, a Rolex, and interestingly, a restaurant in New Jersey. Erik resumed tennis with a a full-time coach and made trips to Israel where he participated in tennis competitions.
The brothers also bought two penthouse apartments in Marina Del Rey, took trips to the Caribbean and other pricey destinations. Meanwhile, the police kept a close eye on them, particularly because their lavish living was in stark contrast to what was expected of grieving sons.
In October, 1989 Erik confessed to his psychiatrist that he and his brother had killed their parents. When Lyle found out about the confession, he threatened to kill the doctor. However, what the brothers didn’t know was that the doctor’s girlfriend had recorded confessions from the waiting room. She handed the recordings over to the police and that was all the proof the police needed to arrest the brothers.
Set For Trial
Several hearings were held to convince the court that the recordings were valid and the California Supreme Court eventually ruled that Lyle’s threat to murder the doctor made the doctor-client privilege null and void. The brothers were now set to go on trial for murder.
A Very Public Trial
The trial took place in 1993 and it was a media obsession. Each hearing was broadcast live on TV and the brothers’ lawyer took advantage of the publicity to try to create sympathy for his clients. The lawyer focused a lot on abuse as one of the reasons why the boys murdered their parents.
A History of Abuse
During the trial, the defense attorney said that the boys had been abused physically and sexually as young boys, and Lyle added that their mother participated in the sexual abuse. These claims were supported by family members under oath and their lawyer said all of the abuse had led to mental instability in the brothers.
A Life Sentence
Despite the defense lawyer’s efforts, the fact still remained that the brothers killed their parents. During a retrial the brothers were indicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of paroles
The judge decided that the brothers were to be separated and they were to serve their sentences in different maximum-security prisons. They would not be allowed to interact with each other or with other inmates.
A Life In Letters
The brothers are now in their early 40s and have not seen each other since the trial. They do, however, write letters to each other and they’ve had chess matches through their letters.
While in prison, the brothers have managed to get married, since California law allows for marriage over the phone. Lyle is currently on his second marriage while Erik has been married for 20 years.
In a recent documentary, Lyle revealed that he found and hid a stray shotgun shell during the investigation. If the police had found that shell, it would have shown the brothers’ fingerprints and they would have been arrested immediately. He also admitted that they shot their parents in the knees because they wanted to give off the impression that the murders were gang-related.