On the night of August 20, 1989, husband and wife couple Jose and Kitty Menendez were killed in their Beverly Hills mansion. Seven years later, their sons, Lyle and Erik Menendez, were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez gripped the nation and became one of the most notorious cases of the ’90s. Erik and Lyle’s first trial in 1993 was broadcast live on Court TV– two juries were present, one for each brother, and in the end, both resulted in a hung jury. The second trial occurred in 1995 under a different set of circumstances– it was not televised, there was only one jury, and the brothers’ abuse evidence was not allowed.
Tonight, in a two-hour ABC documentary titled, Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers—American Sons, American Murderers, Lyle Menendez will speak out for the first time in twenty years about the night he and his brother shot their parents, and he will discuss what life is like for him behind bars today.
Read on to learn more about Lyle and Erik Menendez.
1. Lyle Was 21 and Erik Was 18 at the Time of the Murders
Lyle and Erik Menendez, who were 21 and 18 at the time of the murders, respectively, came from a very wealthy family. Their parents lived in a $5 million, Mediterranean mansion that had been rumored to be rented to Prince and Elton John in the past, and their father, Jose Menendez, was a successful Cuban-American business executive.
After marrying Mary Louise “Kitty” Andersen, Jose Menendez worked for Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm in Chicago Illinois, before becoming the general manager of leasing of The Hertz Corporation in Princeton, New Jersey. He went on to work for RCA, where he signed musical acts like Eurythmics and Jefferson Starship. In 1987, the family uprooted to Calabasas, California, where Jose became the CEO of LIVE Entertainment.
Both Lyle and Erik attended Princeton Day School growing up. Lyle later studied at Princeton University (his father made a donation to the school) and according to a 1990 article in the LA Times, he was suspended from the university his freshman year for plagiarism.
2. The Brothers Went on a Spending Spree After the Killings
After killing their parents, Erik and Lyle went on a spending spree. In court, jewelry saleswoman Mary Ellen Mahar testified that the brothers spent about $15,000 on Rolex watches just four days after the murders. The Mendez’s former tennis coach, Mark Heffernan, also testified that Erik hired him for $60,000 a year to personally train him. Heffernan added on that Erik had purchased a jeep after Jose and Kitty’s deaths.
Lyle, meanwhile, spent his money on a Porsche sports car and a restaurant in Princeton. Writer Dominick John Dunne, who was present at the trials, says that in the few months after the murders, the brothers spent a total of $700,000.
3. They Claimed Their Parents Were Killed by the Mafia At First
In trial, Richard Wenskoski testified that Lyle Menendez blamed “underworld crime figures” for his parent’s slayings, according to CNN. “He believed it was either the Colombia cartel or the mob – meaning the Mafia.”
The brothers weren’t the only ones to point the finger at the Mafia– police initially suspected a mafia hit, too. A New York Times article from 1996 reads, “…police theorized… that the killings were somehow Mafia-related because the father was chief executive officer of Live Entertainment Inc., of Van Nys, which they suspected might have had ties to organized crime before being taken over by Carolco Pictures Inc.” As investigators began to delve deeper into Erik and Lyle’s reactions to their parents deaths, however, they realized that the brothers would become the sole beneficiaries of their parents $14 million estate.
In his interview with ABC News, parts of which will air tonight in the two-hour special Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers, Lyle says, “It’s shocking to think … that I could have been involved in taking anyone’s life — and my parent’s life… But I found that my own childhood prepared me surprisingly well for the chaos of prison life.”
4. The Motive for the Murder Remains Unclear Today
It wasn’t until seven months after Jose and Kitty Menendez were murdered that the brothers were arrested. At the time, prosecutors argued that the brothers killed their parents to inherit their family’s fortune.
The defense, meanwhile, said that the brothers were acting in self-defense, and had been sexually abused by their father for years. In trial, Erik testified that he and his brother feared his father, who had sexually abused him.
In tonight’s ABC Special, the Menendez brother’s cousin, Diane Vander Molen, will speak out for the first time, and say that she has “no doubt” that the brothers’ parents sexually abused them. Molen tells ABC news, “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. I believe that very strongly.”
5. Lyle Says He Is at Peace Now
In tonight’s two-hour documentary, Lyle will reveal that he and Erik “almost never” talk about the crime today, because it is “just too overwhelming”. He tells ABC News, “I am the kid that did kill his parents, and no river of tears has changed that and no amount of regret has changed it. I accept that. You are often defined by a few moments of your life, but that’s not who you are in your life, you know. Your life is your totality of it… You can’t change it. You just, you’re stuck with the decisions you made.”
In the upcoming ABC special, Lyle reveals, “My life is a struggle [to] not to be defined by what happened… I’m at peace with my life growing up. I’m at peace with it, because I’ve just sort of accepted [that] it’s okay not to understand.”