“Someone killed my parents!” At 11:37 p.m. on August 20, 1989, the Beverly Hills emergency call center received a call for help from a 21-year-old man named Lyle Menendez. The latter explains having found, with his younger brother, Erik, the lifeless bodies of their parents in their house at 722 North Elm Drive. On the spot, the Californian police officers face a scene of horror. The victims, José and Kitty Menendez, were murdered with a gun as they slept on their couch. The mother’s face, riddled with bullets, is barely recognizable. Shocked, Lyle and Erik Menendez explain that they attended a session of the film Batman before ending their evening at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, where the Taste of L.A. festival was held. On returning, they found that the electric gate and the front door of their house were open. That’s when they discovered the unthinkable…
The brothers’ alibi verified, the inspectors Les Zoeller and Tim Linehan turn to the track of a settling of accounts. Indeed, as a very influential businessman at the head of a very large fortune, José Menendez had many enemies. A producer in the pornographic industry, in particular, had a grudge against him. Nevertheless, the first track of the investigators are not slow to run out of steam, especially as other suspects attract the attention of the investigators.
Confession on tape
After the death of their parents, Lyle and Erik Menendez are quick to rebuild their lives. The first buys a Rolex watch, a Porsche Carrera, a small house in New Jersey and a Buffalo wing restaurant. The second hires a personal tennis coach and leaves to compete in Israel, while moving his main residence to Marina del Rey, in an apartment adjoining that of his brother. Surprising extravagances, which do not go unnoticed by the police. And finally, the truth ends up being known. On March 6, 1990, Judalon Smyth, the mistress of Jerome Oziel, a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, claimed to have vital information about the Menendez investigation. According to her, the sons of the victims confessed to the murders during sessions with her companion. During a search of Oziel’s office, the police find 17 tapes. Lyle and Erik Menendez admit the crimes without the slightest ounce of regret, explaining that they perpetrated the murders before going to see Batman at the cinema. In the 11th tape, the young Erik confesses to having killed his mother to “shorten his suffering”, since his father had an extra-marital relationship.
After their arrests, in March 1990, the Menendez brothers will explain that they were victims of abuse by their parents, and sexually assaulted by their father. Several family members will confirm the version of the two defendants. Sentenced to incompressible life imprisonment on July 2, 1996, Lyle and Erik Menendez are now 54 and 52 years old. They were separated for 22 years, before reuniting at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Center in 2018. Both were married in prison.
In 2017, the story of the Menendez brothers inspired a spin-off miniseries from New York City, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.
Richard J. Donovan © Backgrid USA