The Murder That Shocked Beverly Hills: 5 Things To Know About Erik & Lyle Menendez
In 1996, the Menendez brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder after a second trial and sentenced to two life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
When brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez fatally shot their wealthy parents, Jose, 45; and Kitty, 47; in cold blood at their Beverly Hills mansion on August 20, 1989, the case became a national sensation.
At the time of the murders, Erik was 18 and Lyle was 21. In 1993, their first trial — which was broadcast on Court TV — ended in a mistrial when jurors announced that they were deadlocked and unable to come up with a verdict.
In 1996, the brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder after a second trial and sentenced to two life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
Below, five things to know about the Menendez brothers.
1. Erik and Lyle tried to convince police that the murder had been a mob hit.
The brothers planned the crime meticulously: They bought 12-gauge shotguns, and after shooting Jose and Kitty they picked up the shells, drove away from the home at 722 North Elm Drive, and dumped the guns somewhere off of Mulholland Drive.
They then threw the spent shotgun shells and their bloody clothes in a dumpster at a gas station.
They bought movie tickets in Century City for a film they didn't see and drove around, trying to firm up their alibi, before returning home.
At 11:47 P.M., Lyle called 911, crying, to report that someone had killed his parents.
A bodyguard who was hired by Lyle testified that his parents were "murdered by either the cartel or the mob and he was in fear for his life." The brothers told police that Jose, a wealthy and powerful entertainment executive, had many enemies. Newspapers reported that Jose and Kitty were shot “gangland style” with wounds to the kneecaps.
After the murders, early reports from The Los Angeles Times quoted “informed law enforcement sources” as stating that the murders could have been mob-related — and were “intended to send a message.”
2. The brothers did not see each other for 22 years.
Lyle and Erik were constant companions growing up and through the trial. But after they were convicted, the state of California separated them by sending Erik to Folsom State, and Lyle to Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.
Erik was transferred to the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in 2013, and the brothers were reunited in 2017 after Lyle was transferred to the same prison. Lyle was quoted at the time, saying: “I just felt a lot of adrenaline and just, I ended up bursting into tears, which is quite an emotional moment ... just wonderful as you'd expect.”
3. They claimed that their parents sexually abused them.
At their first trial in 1993, defense lawyer Leslie Abramson argued that Lyle and Erik shot their parents in self-defense because they feared their parents would kill them if they went public about the years of alleged sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their father.
Lyle testified that both parents sexually abused him — and both brothers claimed that this was a major motivating factor for the murder. Lyle testified that his father Jose raped him – and that he had abused his younger brother Erik when he was six years old. He also stated that Kitty would bathe him and have him get into bed with her up until he was 13, after which she continued to "harass" him and be inappropriate.
Many experts and family members claim that the abuse claims are completely fictional. But others have stated publicly that they believe Lyle and Erik. The brothers’ cousin, Diane Vander Molen, has said that she has no doubt that Jose and Kitty sexually abused them.
“I know that they would never, ever have done what they did unless they felt that they had no choice — that it was either them or their parents,” Vander Molen told ABC News. “I believe that very strongly.”
She stated that Lyle told her about the alleged abuse in 1976, when he was eight years old, and that at that time, it appeared that he was afraid to sleep in his own bed.
4. Details of Lyle and Erik’s spending sprees were constantly in the headlines.
After Jose and Kitty’s murders, the brothers spent a reported $1,000,000 in six months.
Immediately after the killings, Lyle returned to New Jersey and test-drove a Porsche, shopped for clothes, and put down a $300,000 down payment on a buffalo wing joint in Princeton — near the Ivy League university that suspended him for plagiarism.
Meanwhile reporters covering the trial, including Vanity Fair’s Dominick Dunne, reported on every juicy tidbit of the brothers’ reported excesses. Lyle’s hairpiece even made the news: Dunne wrote in Vanity Fair that Lyle wore an expensive toupee for years, and became upset when he was not allowed to wear it in jail.
5. Both brothers have maintained active love lives while behind bars.
Lyle has been married twice: On July 2, 1996, he married former model Anna Erikkson – but in 2011, they couple divorced amid rumors that she had caught him “cheating” by writing letters to another woman.
In 2003, he then married magazine editor Rebekah Sneed, who later changed careers and found work as a defense attorney.
Erik tied the knot wth Tammi Saccoman, who wrote a book about the couple’s relationship in 2005 called They Said We'd Never Make It: My Life With Erik Menendez.
California does not allow conjugal visits for prisoners serving life sentences or sentenced to death. But according to In Touch Weekly, the couple keeps in touch via regular visits and 15-minute phone calls.
For more on this case, watch Investigation Discovery's Barbara Walters Presents Menendez Brothers: The Bad Sons on ID GO now!