What Greed Can Do: The Menendez Brothers Case

“The door opens, exposing the luxurious suite and Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell lying in bed. Their faces are of questioning horror as Hamilton closes the door gently… Zoom camera to [typing] paper; it reads ‘Five deaths to perfection – Chapter one: Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Cromwell.’”

Erik Menendez sitting in court / Lyle Menendez sitting in court in a nice shirt smiling / Jose and Mary Louise Menendez posing in front of a half-built home
Photo by Ted Soqui, Sygma, Getty Images / Kim Kulish, Sygma, Getty Images / Source: Twitter

This 61-page screenplay, briefly extracted in The Los Angeles Times, is about an 18-year-old boy who killed his parents for their money. Since it came off as amateurish and predictable, it was unlikely to have been made into a movie. However, the story gained attention after the horrific murder of a Cuban-born Hollywood millionaire and his wife. This screenplay was written by the couple’s youngest son, Erik Menendez.

A Coincidence or a Prediction?

The existence of the script was intriguing and appeared to be quite a crazy coincidence at first. In August 1989, the bodies of Jose Menendez and his wife, Mary Louise (“Kitty”), were found dead in the den of their $5 million Beverly Hills mansion. Initial evidence pointed to a mob hit.

Jose and Mary Louise Menendez posing in front of a wallpapered wall
Jose and Mary Louise Menendez. Source: Twitter

45-year-old Jose was a chief executive at Live Entertainment when eight gunshot blasts struck him. The attack looked like a gangland-style coup de grace. A gun was shoved into his mouth, blowing off the back of his head. Poor Kitty, who was just 44, was shot five times.

A Devastating Discovery

Jose and Kitty’s bodies were found by their sons Lyle, 22, and Erik, 19. The brothers told police they returned from a night out when they saw the front door open and discovered their parents’ lifeless bodies in the house. Two months after the murders, Erik told reporters, “I’ve never seen anything like it, never will see anything like it.”

Jose and Mary Louise Menendez posing in front of a half-built home
Jose and Mary Louise Menendez. Source: Twitter

“They looked like wax. I’ve never seen my dad helpless, and it’s sad to think he would ever be.” Erik then ironically noted, “He went to the U.S. at 16 without a father. Now, almost at the same age, we don’t have a father.”

Let’s Start at the Beginning

Lyle and Erik Menendez were born into a rich family and grew up as privileged children in Beverly Hills. The kids seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths and were set up for happy, successful lives. But, on August 20, 1989, everything changed. Their parents, José and Kitty, were brutally shot in their home.

Lyle and Erik Menendez posing in suits
Lyle and Erik Menendez. Source: Facebook

Since the family had money, police initially suspected it might have been some dangerous people, like the Mafia or gang members. Unfortunately, there weren’t many leads, and the case was left unsolved for months. But when police checked in on the brothers, they noticed that the boys were living off their parents’ wealth quite lavishly. Is this how the rich grieve? Or was there more to the story?

A Picture-Perfect Family

Everyone felt sorry for the boys when they lost their parents, but it quickly became evident that Lyle and Erik Menendez did, in fact, have something to do with their parent’s gruesome homicide. The murders created a media frenzy, and headlines took a deeper look into this dysfunctional family.

The Menendez brothers with their parents
The Menendez family. Source: Twitter

The brothers claim that their father was a strict and harsh perfectionist, but that wasn’t the extent of their allegations against him. They also accused their mother of being a mentally unstable alcoholic. Lyle and Erik were tried three different times and were eventually convicted of first-degree murder in 1996. They are currently serving their sentence in the same California prison.

Looking for Clues

Following the dreadful murders of José and Kitty Menendez, police immediately started looking for clues in José’s complicated business affairs, but, contrary to popular belief, there was always a little bit of suspicion surrounding the two handsome sons. After all, they were the sole beneficiaries of their parents’ $14 million estate.

Kitty Menendez standing in front of a car / A page out of a screenplay
Kitty Menendez next to a page from Erik’s screenplay. Source: menendezmurders.com

Interestingly, Erik discussed this matter in the screenplay he had written two years prior. His proud mother even helped him type it. Could it be? Can two young boys really kill their parents for some extra cash? It seems extreme and definitely abnormal.

Collecting the Evidence

The two weapons that investigators believe were used in the killing were never discovered. However, a shotgun shell casing was found in one of Lyle’s jackets by a friend. One of Jose’s relatives found a reference to a will on Jose’s home computer but was unable to gain access to the document.

Marta holding Erik when he was a baby
Marta with Erik Menendez. Source: menendezmurders.com

Suspiciously, before a computer expert would be called in to locate the file containing the will, it was deleted. Jose’s sister, Marta Cano, said Lyle erased it by accident. The boys seemed innocent enough, and the fact the Lyle and Erik were able to murder their parents didn’t cross their relatives’ minds.

The Notorious Therapy Tapes

Later, in a strange and unusual move, investigators got a hold of cassette tapes of Lyle and Erik’s therapy sessions with a Beverly Hills psychologist, L. Jerome Oziel. The tapes reportedly contained crucial evidence against the brothers, including a possible confession.

Dr. Jerome Oziel with his wife and others sitting at a press conference desk
Dr. Jerome Oziel with his wife are holding a press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Source: menendezmurders.com

The state of California has laws protecting most patient-therapist confidentiality; however, if there is a threat of violence involved, the law makes an exception. According to Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Elliot Alhadeff, the brothers did indeed threaten Oziel.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

The police started making moves. They arrested Lyle Menendez after stopping him and his friends after leaving their home in Beverly Hills. Three days later, his brother Erik was arrested at the Los Angeles airport after his flight home from Israel. He was there playing a tennis tournament and surrendered himself voluntarily.

Erik Menendez’s mugshot / Lyle Menendez’s mugshot
Photo by Kypros / Getty Images

Both brothers were charged with the horrific crime of killing their own parents. But what was their motive? According to the police, it was greed. Since the nature of these murders were brutal, and there is evidence that the crime involved planning, authorities may ask for the death penalty if the boys are convicted.

The Arrests Were Shocking

As you can imagine, family and friends were in complete shock by the arrests. They said the brothers were bright, ambitious, and grew up in a close, loving family. To make matters worse, these charges were so incomprehensible. It seemed like an insult to the memory of José and Kitty, who worked so hard to give their children a good life.

The Menendez family posing in front of a building
The Menendez family. Source: Twitter

José’s immigrant odyssey started in 1960. At the age of 16, he was sent to the United States by his father, a former soccer star who stayed in Cuba until Fidel Castro seized his last investment property.

José Menendez

Young José was living with friends and family in Pennsylvania when he won a swimming scholarship to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. His mother, Maria, was a swimming champion when she was younger. But she eventually gave it up due to the draining training schedule.

The Menendez and Llanio families posing together in a yard / Jose Menendez as a young boy
The Menendez family was posing in Cuba circa 1950s, Jose Menendez in the front row, second from the left. Source: menendezmurders.com

Before graduation, José left New York and took Kitty Andersen with him, a strong-minded young woman who was first charmed by José in debate class. His father objected to the wedding and told him he was too young to get married. He replied, “If I was old enough to be on my own at 16, I’m old enough to be married at 19.”

A Savvy and Successful Businessman

José attended Queens College in Flushing, N.Y., where he earned a degree in accounting. He then took a job with the Manhattan firm of Coopers & Lybrand. He was hired by one of his clients at age 23 and worked as a comptroller at a Chicago-based shipping company.

Jose with his two sisters and Marta's daughter
Marta, Terry, and Jose Menendez with Marta’s daughter. Source: menendezmurders.com

The company blossomed while José was there, but, unfortunately, he was forced out when the company was sold. His next job was with Hertz, where he was in charge of commercial leasing. When RCA bought Hertz, José switched to the parent company’s record division. He was involved in launching pop groups like Duran Duran and the Eurythmics.

Climbing Up the Corporate Ladder

Shortly after he convinced RCA to open an office in Miami, he was responsible for singing Menudo and Jose Feliciano. In 1986, he was passed over for an executive vice presidency, and José headed over to International Video Entertainment, a California video distributor later known as Live Entertainment.

Erik and Lyle sitting on their father's lap as young boys
Jose with Erik and Lyle Menendez. Source: Twitter

“I never knew anyone who worked harder, worked towards more goals,” the former Hertz Chairman told Bob Stone. “If he had stayed at Hertz, he would have become president of the company.”

A Strict but Loving Father

José was just as demanding with his sons as he was with himself. José was comfortably settled in a Princeton, N.J. country estate overlooking a beautiful lake, and he insisted on excellence from his two sons. When they were just 12 and 9, Jose told them to focus on either tennis or soccer.

Jose Menendez with his parents and Lyle
Jose Menendez with his parents and son Lyle. Source: Twitter

When Lyle and Erik chose soccer, Jose signed them up for private lessons three times a week. They also spent hours drilling over the weekend. “We are prototypes of my father,” Erik said after his dad’s brutal death. “He wanted us to be exactly like him.”

Lyle at Princeton

Lyle and Erik were both students at the private Princeton Day School and, in 1987, Lyle started Princeton University, where he got a spot on the varsity tennis team. He was a popular student but left school after just one semester. Princeton officials only reveal that he withdrew, but the student newspaper reported that Lyle was suspended for copying someone else’s psychology lab report.

Lyle Menendez posing with his father and grandfather
Lyle Menendez with his father and grandfather at Princeton University. Source: Twitter

He asked his dad for some money to travel to Europe with his girlfriend during his year off. Unsurprisingly, José refused and told him that he should find a job if he wasn’t in school. Lyle ended up going to Europe, but his girlfriend paid for the trip.

Spending Big Bucks

In 1989, Lyle returned to Princeton for the spring semester, but after the murders, he dropped out again, apparently so that he could achieve entrepreneurial success. That fall, he took an apartment nearby and showed up driving a grey Porsche Carrera, according to the students.

Jose Menendez with Lyle and Erik posing next to the tennis courts at Princeton University
Jose Menendez with Lyle and Erik at Princeton University. Source: Twitter

“That’s no big deal with the money some of the kids have around here,” commented Princeton junior Paul Krepelka, who knew him. But Lyle and his brother Erik shared a $400,000 insurance payout after his parents died and didn’t confine themselves to just spending their newly obtained cash on cars.

Spending the Cash

High-end, upscale clothier Stuart Linder remembers Lyle visiting his store, Tom Tailor, while wearing an expensive, black cashmere jacket and a Rolex watch that Linder said must have cost about $15,000.

Lyle Menendez sitting in court in a nice shirt, smiling
Lyle Menendez. Photo by Kim Kulish / Sygma / Getty Images

Lyle bought five $90 silk shirts and spent a total of $600 worth of clothes that day. “We’ve had bigger sales, but not in four minutes,” Lindner revealed. “And he paid cash, of course.” So, he clearly had a spending problem. But he was also a rich Beverly Hills kid. Is this his strange way of dealing with pain?

Lyle Bought a Café

That January, Lyle bought Chuck’s Spring Street Café, a popular student hangout famous for their buffalo chicken wings. He spent a reported $550,000 on the place. The restaurant’s manager Gus Tangalos says Lyle spent long hours at the café and was a hard worker.

Lyle Menendez posing together with his roommate Hayden Rogers outside of a restaurant
Lyle Menendez and his roommate Hayden Rogers outside of Chuck’s Spring Street Cafe 1989. Source: Flickr

Tangalos recalled a day when Lyle showed up and started mixing the chicken wing sauce while still wearing his expensive jacket. “I said, ‘Boss, why are you doing that?’ and he said, ‘We gotta take care of the people. We can’t have them waiting in line too long.’ That’s what I call an aggressive businessman.”

Starting a Career

Shortly after buying the café, Lyle changed its name to Mr. Buffalo’s, and he had plans to redecorate in a Western motif and then open up new locations around New Jersey and California. Lyle wanted to do more than just serve chicken wings and thought he could make a fortune in other show business and real estate areas.

Lyle Menendez sitting in the courtroom in a prison uniform
Lyle Menendez. Photo by Ted Soqui / Sygma / Getty Images

Lyle started traveling more often. He went to California that month, where he hoped to be the new promoter of a Soul II Soul rock concert and even hired David Bros, a 20-year-old Princeton sophomore, to be his advisor.

Menendez Investment Enterprises

Even though Lyle only met Bros six weeks prior, he quickly became a $125-a-week consultant to Menendez Investment Enterprises. From Bros’s perspective, the corporate shell was going to get cash from Lyle’s inheritance, but he got a little suspicious.

Lyle Menendez sitting in the courtroom with a lawyer next to him
Lyle Menendez. Photo by Kim Kulish / Sygma / Getty Images

In order to find out more about his new boss, Bros started to investigate. He found nothing to implicate Lyle in the murders. “For someone to commit a crime like this, I saw no psychological leads,” Bros explained. “I’m not standing by his word. I’m standing by my own research.” Bros said that the arrest put the investment operation on hold.

Erik’s Expensive Ambitions

As for Erik Menendez, his dreams were even more expensive than his brother’s. During an interview, he revealed that he wanted to fulfill his father’s dream of becoming the first Cuban-born U.S. senator and then make Cuba U.S. territory. Erik said:

Erik Menendez and his cousin Andy posing together in front of a painted wall
Erik Menendez and his cousin Andy Cano 1999. Source: Flickr

“He hated Fidel with a passion. He wanted to spend the rest of his life getting Castro out of Cuba. He probably would’ve done it, and he probably would’ve been assassinated somewhere down the line.” He went on to express their plan to move to Florida to embark on political careers:

They Wanted to Be Politicians

“My brother wants to become President of the U.S.,” Erik said. “I want to be a senator and be with the people of Cuba. I’m not going to live my life for my father, but I think his dreams are what I want to achieve. I feel he’s in me, pushing me.”

Erik and Lyle at Erik’s high school graduation
Erik and Lyle Menendez. Source: Twitter

Obviously, the murders and the brothers’ subsequent life sentence crushed any career goals they had, especially in politics. But before saving Cuba, Erik had dreams of playing tennis professionally, but those dreams were also shattered on that fateful 1989 night.

Escaping Into Tennis

Erik planned to enroll at UCLA, but after the murders, he spent his cash on a full-time tennis coach to help him improve his game. A family friend and founder of Miami’s famous Easter Bowl tennis tournament, Seena Hamilton, didn’t take Erik very seriously as a tennis player.

Erik Menendez with his parents posing on his graduation day
Kitty, Erik, and Jose Menendez at his high school graduation. Source: Twitter

In her opinion, Erik was playing tennis as “an emotional escape.” But before his arrest, Erik flew to Israel for several matches. He brought a private coach along, and everyone was raving about his free-spending. He lost both of the tournaments he competed in.

Living Up to Daddy

Reaching José’s success would certainly be a challenge for the most determined of sons. Former Ralph King described José to The Wall Street Journal: “He was by far the brightest, toughest businessman I have ever worked with. He was always ahead of his competition.”

Jose Menendez posing in the center of a group of artists
Jose Menendez (center) with Grace Slick and other Jefferson Starship members circa 1980s. Source: Twitter

José joined International Video Entertainment (IVE) through Rambo movies producer Carolco (who now owns 49% of the company). Menendez immediately turned a staff of 550 workers to 167. He also closed the Woodland Hills, Calif., office, which was extremely expensive for the company. IVE flourished and profited under Menendez’s leadership.

Hard Work Pays Off

After the company lost an astonishing $20 million in 1986, IVE revealed an $8 million earning in 1987 and an unbelievable $16 million by 1988. He really knew how to use his skills to benefit the company as well as his family. He worked really hard to give them a good life.

Jose Menendez and Rick Springfield posing at RCA Records
Jose Menendez and Rick Springfield. Source: Flickr

All the while, he was making important connections in the world of entertainment. He sat on the board of Carolco with Sylvester Stallone. His friends in the music industry included Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, and Kenny Rogers.

Sketchy Business Associates

But José was also required to negotiate with some not so pleasant associates along the way. When Carolco first began its acquisition process in 1986, LIVE was owned by Noel C. Bloom, who was a major distributor of X-rated movies and once had ties with the mob, according to the California Attorney General’s office.

Jose Menendez attending a concert in front of a large crowd of people
Jose Menendez at a menudo concert in 1984. Source: Twitter

Even though the deal started before José joined the company, he was left to deal with Bloom’s problem- that he was owed $500,000. Luckily, a court referee eventually ruled in Bloom’s favor, and Carolco settled.

Connection to the Mob

However, that wasn’t the only deal that attracted the investigator’s attention after the shootings. Live bought BeckZack Corp., owner of about 80 Strawberries audio-video stores. The principal owner of BeckZack was a man named Morris Levy.

Newspaper articles about the Menendez brothers murdering their parents sprawled out
Source: Twitter

Levy was convicted of conspiring to extort payments from a record wholesaler in May 1988. The chain was investigated by Live, who found it to be “whistle clean,” but the possibility of an underworld hit led law enforcement to dig deeper after Menendez’s death. The crime’s calculated nature made it difficult to believe that José and Kitty were the victims of family rage.

They Went to the Movies

Lyle and Erik didn’t crack under pressure. They told police that on that fateful August 20th evening, they went to see the new James Bond movie, Licence to Kill. But when they realized the line was too long, they decided to see Batman instead. After the movie, the brother claimed they went to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to attend the “Taste of L.A.,” an annual food festival with flavors from the top restaurants.

Erik and Lyle Menendez posing on their front steps with tennis rackets
Erik and Lyle Menendez. Source: Flickr

They told authorities that they were supposed to meet a friend at the Cheesecake Factory after that, but it didn’t end up happening. They got home shortly after midnight, and they said they found the gate to the driveway unlocked and the front door open. When they walked into the den, they found their parents’ dead bodies holding bowls of half-eaten fresh berries and cream.

Family Coming Together

In the days after Lyle and Erik’s arrest, the Menendez family members gathered in the lavish eight-bedroom family home, where the blood-stained Oriental rug had been replaced. The relatives in attendance were José’s mother, Maria, 72, and his sisters, Marta Cano and Terry Baralt, who is married to Carlos, the executor of the estate.

A witness being questioned during the Menendez trial
The Menendez brother’s trial. Photo by Kim Kulish / Sygma / Getty Images

Carlos wanted to sell the home or a second Menendez home near Calabasas to raise money for tax estates. But the family’s number one concern was Lyle and Erik’s fate, especially since most of them thought they were innocent. “We thought murder was bad enough,” Terry said. “You grieve, and life goes on. We felt 1990 had to be a better year. Now, this. This is even worse than the murders.”

See You in Court

We now know that their story was a complete lie, and Lyle and Erik were the ones to kill their parents. They got caught when Erik revealed this disgraceful secret to his therapist, Oziel. Unfortunately, the doctor’s mistress took this information to the police.

Dr. Oziels mistress posing for a photograph
Dr. Jerome Oziel’s mistress Judalon Smyth. Source: Twitter

The case wasn’t easy because of the debate on whether or not the tapes could be used as evidence. It was the best evidence they had, but there were patient-doctor confidentiality laws in place. However, the judge allowed the tapes to be used, so the boys needed a convincing defense.

Their Weak Defense

The brothers went into court with a commonly used defense. They came in with strong accusations against their deceased parents. The brothers claim that their father was abusive toward them, physically, emotionally, and also sexually.

The brothers' lawyer standing up in front of the judge
The Menendez brother’s trial. Photo by Kim Kulish / Sygma / Getty Images

Their lawyer explained that Erik and Lyle reached a breaking point and wanted the abuse to end. Apparently, their mom did nothing about this alleged abuse. However, prosecutors didn’t believe it and insisted that the motive was greed, and the brothers wanted their parents’ money, which they began spending as soon as they could.

Found Guilty

The jury also didn’t believe this abuse story. The brothers never complained about it before, and this defense was their last resort. The jury found both brothers guilty, and Erik and Lyle Menendez were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The judge speaking with hand gestures
The Menendez brother’s trial. Photo by Kim Kulish / Sygma / Getty Images

Although they were convicted, it’s possible that this case would have gone differently nowadays. In light of the #MeToo movement, sexual assault is taken much more seriously, and the reason why people don’t speak out is much more understood. At the time, it felt like their last get-out-of-jail-free card.

Life Behind Bars

However, these are incredibly strong accusations against two people who are not here to defend themselves. Unfortunately, we will never know the truth about the abuse. But what we do know is that Erik and Lyle were convicted of murdering their parents.

Terry Baralt, Lyle Menendez, and Marta Cano posing together in prison in 2003
Terry Baralt and Marta Cano attending Lyle’s second wedding in prison 2003. Source: Twitter

In addition to two consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole, the brothers were required to serve their time in separate jails. Of course, not being able to see each other made their punishment much more severe. After being separated for years, Lyle was moved from Mule Creek State Prison in Northern California to R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, where his brother is serving his time.

Reunited After All These Years

Although the brothers are finally reunited and got to see each other after spending decades apart, they aren’t getting out of jail anytime in the near future and will likely die in jail. However, they are trying their hardest.

Erik and Lyle sitting in court
Erik and Lyle Menendez. Photo by Ted Soqui / Sygma / Getty Images

Reportedly, the reason why the boys were initially sent to different prisons wasn’t necessarily to punish them. Law enforcement just assumed that if the brothers were together, they would conspire to escape together. Regardless, they remained close and wrote to each other quite often. The brothers noted that their close bond is because of the alleged abuse they suffered, not the murders.

Speaking From Prison

Lyle Menedez told ABC News that he is still extremely close with his brother: “It’s so painful and complicated and confusing. We have an intimacy related to that shared experience… (and) the bond became very great and intense.”

Lyle Menendez posing with his wife Rebecca in prison
Lyle Menendez and his wife, Rebecca. Source: Twitter

In a different interview, Erik said that he regrets the events of that horrible night and felt remorse for the killings. He told ABC News, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what happened, and I wish I could take it back.