The Untold Truth Of The Menendez Brothers

Let's turn the hands of time back to 1989, a landmark year in entertainment and technology. The Simpsons and Seinfeld, Tim Burton's Batman swung into theaters, Nintendo introduced the Game Boy to the world, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee finished drafting his concept for a little thing called the World Wide Web.

It was also the year a horrific crime took place — a double parricide that, thanks to cable television, grabbed America's nigh-undivided attention (and arguably became the catalyst for the world's collective fascination with highly publicized true crime stories).

On Aug. 20, 1989, 21-year-old Lyle Menendez and his 18-year-old brother Erik stormed into their Beverly Hills mansion. With a flurry of shotgun rounds, the brothers violently killed their parents, José and Kitty, doing enough damage to their bodies to render them nearly unrecognizable. From the events leading to that night to the media-fueled spectacle that followed, here is the untold truth of the Menendez Brothers.

Despite their wealth, the brothers grew up in a turbulent environment

By all appearances, Lyle and Erik Menendez seemed to live an idyllic life. Their father, 45-year-old José Menendez was a self-made Cuban immigrant, reports Rolling Stone, who went from Manhattan dishwasher to West Coast film executive. At age 19, he tied the knot with Kitty, who was two years his senior.

The Menendezes lived in a posh New Jersey country estate before José's career made it necessary for them to relocate to a mansion in California. Aside from enrolling the brothers at an expensive private school, José also paid for thrice-weekly tennis coaching sessions, in order for the brothers to excel at their chosen sport. Unfortunately, neither Erik nor Lyle seemed to share their father's itching, burning need to succeed.

From Lyle's academic difficulties to the brothers burglarizing their own neighborhood, José's frustration allegedly reached the point where he all but eliminated his children from his will. Judging by how Lyle supposedly deleted a copy of this will from José's home computer "by mistake," this may have been one of the major catalysts for the crime.

Based on Erik's own recollection, their relationship with their father was far from healthy. In a weird, twisted way, Erik admired José, even as he constantly controlled, pressured, and pushed them to their limits. Perhaps Lyle, in an interview with ABC News published in 2017, said it best. "But I found that my own childhood prepared me surprisingly well for the chaos of prison life."

The Menendez Brothers were good actors

The night of their parents' murder, the police headed to the Menendez residence after receiving the brothers' 911 call (in which Lyle Menendez infamously wailed, "Someone killed our parents!"). According to some accounts (via Rolling Stone), the sight of a bawling Erik Menendez curled up on the front lawn greeted the officers. Upon entering the mansion, they beheld a crime scene so brutal, they thought it was the mob's handiwork.

When Sgt. Tom Edmonds of the Beverly Hills Police Department spoke with the brothers that night, they already had an alibi prepared — after seeing a movie, they went to a food festival, came home some time before midnight, and stumbled upon their murdered parents in the den. Lyle also mentioned that when they entered their home, he caught a whiff of shotgun smoke, reports the Los Angeles Times. Despite this strange and somewhat inconsistent detail — as the smoke couldn't have lingered that long — Edmonds found the brothers' testimonies and trauma so believable, he didn't ask them to undergo testing for gunshot residue.

In other words, Lyle and Erik successfully lied and cried their way out of trouble that night. In hindsight, considering how the younger Menendez's acting skills earned him recognition at Beverly Hills High, reports Vanity Fair, this wasn't entirely surprising.

Days later, Lyle hired armor-clad bodyguards for his and Erik's protection, which further sold their story. After they served their purpose, Lyle fired them without batting an eyelash.

The brothers spent their inheritance lavishly

One would think that the best way for the only heirs of a $14-million estate to get away with murder would be to keep things low-key. Well, that just wasn't how the Menendez brothers rolled.

After some rather convincing public displays of grief and pain, it didn't take long for them to dip their hands deep into the million-dollar Menendez cookie jar, notes The Irish Times. In the months that followed, the brothers blew their insurance payout on a gambling spree, high-end hotel rooms, condominiums in the posh Marina del Rey area, three Rolex watches, a $40,000 shopping spree on clothes, and a $64,000 gray Porsche Carrera, reports Town and Country.

In addition, Erik Menendez purchased a Jeep Wrangler and booked a $60,000-a-year tennis coach to further his pro-athlete aspirations, while Lyle Menendez reportedly plunked down $550,000 on a New Jersey restaurant that students frequented for its popular chicken wings. Lyle also set up a company, Menendez Investment Enterprises, with which he intended to penetrate the hospitality, entertainment, and real estate industries. He even invested $40,000 in a Los Angeles rock concert, an endeavor that ultimately failed when his associate bailed on him.

All in all, the brothers spent about a million dollars in just six months, a feat that Lyle would later attempt to justify as their perfectly natural response to a traumatic event.

Erik Menendez co-wrote a screenplay that seemed eerily familiar

In 1988, a year before the gruesome murder of his parents, Erik Menendez and his tennis pal Craig Cignarelli churned out a 60-plus-page screenplay titled Friends, which featured the lead character, a wealthy teenager named Hamilton Cromwell, murdering his parents to receive his inheritance. While the screenplay itself wasn't exactly Hollywood-worthy material, it unsurprisingly became relevant to the investigation. After all, the events in the script paralleled the real-world crime in which the author's own parents were the victims.

In a 2017 ABC News interview, Cignarelli noted the unnerving similarities between the opening scene of their screenplay and how the Menendez brothers ended the lives of their parents.

Cignarelli also revealed that Erik trusted his best bud so much, the younger Menendez confessed to him about the gruesome crime, sharing even the gory, hyper-specific details of what transpired that night. The truth turned out to be so horrifying, Cignarelli was secretly hoping for Erik to tell him that it was all a joke.

The most disturbing detail about this screenplay? Kitty Menendez herself helped Erik type it, meaning she may have unknowingly spelled out her own murder.

The Menendez Brothers spoke to (and threatened) their therapist

Due to the Menendez brothers' aforementioned knack for thrill-seeking thievery (and remember, this happened before the murder took place), the court ordered Erik Menendez to see Dr. L. Jerome Oziel, a Beverly Hills psychologist, reports Rolling Stone.

Killing their parents took a toll on Erik's mental health, one that his confession to Craig Cignarelli was not enough to address. He ended up telling Oziel about it as well, and when Lyle Menendez found out about it, he was understandably incensed. The older Menendez brother threatened to silence Oziel permanently if word got out about their guilt.

After almost five months since their parents' murder, this proved to be the brothers' downfall. Judalon Smyth, Oziel's estranged mistress, who knew about the recordings, reached out to law enforcers to tell them about the taped confessions. Los Angeles cops arrested Lyle on March 8, 1990 in Beverly Hills, and Erik surrendered to the LAPD on March 11. The brothers essentially roamed free for nearly seven months after the double parricide.

Under normal circumstances, the law would render the recorded sessions inadmissible in court, honoring the confidentiality clause between therapists and their clients. However, Lyle's rage-fueled murder threat voided the doctor-client privilege of the parties involved. Still, it took two years before the Supreme Court of California permitted two of the three tapes to serve as evidence in the brothers' subsequent trial.

Their 1993 trial became a TV spectacle

Long before YouTube channels, police procedural television shows, and Netflix could feed our hunger for true crime stories, there was the Courtroom Television Network (Court TV), a cable television channel established in 1991 that specialized in crime-themed programming and broadcasts of legal proceedings.

When Court TV started airing the Menendez brothers' trial on July 20, 1993, audiences in the United States eagerly tuned in to the historical moment, as per Entertainment Weekly. Due in large part to the tragic details of the case, people at the time couldn't stop talking about it. According to network founder Steve Brill, the trial showed that even without star power, sheer drama is enough to keep viewers glued to their screens. It became "one of the most watched media events of its era," writes Rolling Stone

Aside from the brothers, another key player was their attorney, Leslie Abramson. At the time, she had already gained notoriety as a particularly ferocious defense lawyer. The Los Angeles Times even wrote about her peers' admiration and respect for her abilities.

Among the most significant and shocking developments in the trial was the revelation that José Menendez (and to a lesser extent, Kitty Menendez) allegedly harassed and assaulted the brothers. The defense team depicted José as a violent, abusive father and an unfaithful husband, while also accusing Kitty of substance abuse and neglect (via Biography). In the end, however, the defense team could not present undeniable proof of any of these allegations. And as prosecuting attorney Pamela Bozanich shared, the brothers' habit of high-fiving each other after testifying certainly didn't help make their accusations convincing.

Lyle Menendez's "secret" toupee

If the brothers are to be believed, their parents' alleged abuse would have remained a family secret, were it not for the exposure of another.

Lyle Menendez testified that on Aug. 15, 1989, his mother pulled off his toupee during a heated fight. Upon seeing this, Erik Menendez allegedly comforted his brother, who ended up confiding in him about their father's continued abuse. They vowed to put a stop to this by facing Jose Menendez together, but according to Erik, their father's response felt like a threat to their safety.

The wig itself, wrote investigative journalist Dominick Dunne in an article for Vanity Fair, looked convincingly real. Furthermore, no one in the police department expected a 21-year-old with a seemingly robust rug of hair to actually be bald underneath.

As the story goes, the truth behind Lyle's toupee only became widespread knowledge when an inmate at the Los Angeles County Jail sent the older Menendez brother's hairpiece flying in the shower. As prison rules prohibit inmates from wearing wigs — a bid to prevent them from smuggling drugs and other small contraband materials into their cells — Lyle could only wear his wig in the courtroom.

They were convicted after two trials and three juries

From an outsider's perspective, the Menendez brothers case may seem like an easy one. After all, the sheer amount of evidence should realistically be enough for the jury to reach a decision, right? Well, not exactly. Lyle and Erik Menendez underwent separate trials, with each of them having their own jury. Both of these initial proceedings, however, ended in mistrials in 1994, as the juries could not come up with a single verdict for either case (as per the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post).

One year later, the Menendez brothers' retrial took place, under just a single jury. This time around, however, they no longer had the nation's full attention. For starters, the presiding judge, Stanley Weisberg, prohibited cameras in the courtroom. Additionally, there was significantly less time spent on the abuse angle, and the jurors were made to vote on whether to convict the brothers of murder, not the lesser offense of manslaughter.

And of course, there was the fact that their retrial happened at around the same time as another high-profile trial — former NFL player O.J. Simpson's.

Ultimately, the jury reached a guilty verdict on March 20, 1996, but spared the brothers from the death penalty. Lyle and Erik received an arguably more lenient punishment — two consecutive life sentences, with no possibility of parole.

A former mob boss shared a cell with them

The noteworthy developments in the lives of Lyle and Erik Menendez definitely didn't end at their incarceration, though. A rather fascinating anecdote from ex-New York Mafia captain (and now motivational speaker) Michael Franzese revealed that the former mob boss actually encountered the brothers during his time at the Los Angeles County Jail.

According to Franzese, he was able to speak with the brothers about their case while he was detained there. Throughout their conversations, the brothers allegedly maintained their innocence, even though the other inmates didn't seem to believe their story. Franzese even noted that the prisoners particularly hated the brothers for their crime, often hurling threats of violence and even death at them as they walked into the visiting area.

The reformed mobster also shared that at one point, officers kept Lyle and Erik in separate cells upon discovering the brothers' alleged escape plan. It was during this time that Franzese got to know Lyle a bit more, who he described as "a pretty intelligent kid."

Both Menendez brothers got married while serving their sentences

Interestingly enough, being behind bars didn't put a damper on the Menendez brothers' love lives.

Lyle Menendez's first marriage was to Anna Eriksson, a former model and salon receptionist who reportedly felt drawn to Lyle after noticing that Erik Menendez was getting more of the spotlight. After a brief letter turned into an ongoing exchange, Eriksson relocated to Los Angeles from Colorado, eventually marrying her pen pal, reports People.

Based on records from the California Department of Corrections, Lyle got married to Eriksson in the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles on July 2, 1996. However, Eriksson found out that Lyle was writing to other women, including his eventual second wife, Rebecca Sneed, says Bustle. As a result, the couple divorced in 2001. Sneed, a former magazine editor from Sacramento, had actually met Lyle a decade earlier. They got married on Nov. 20, 2003.

Meanwhile, Erik also got to know the love of his life, Tammi Ruth Saccoman, as a pen pal. Their regular correspondence led to them meeting face to face. It was during one of Saccoman's visits when Erik proposed to Saccoman on bended knee, reports NBC. Saccoman married Erik on June 12, 1999, at the California State Prison. They even co-wrote and edited a book about their marriage. Despite being barred from conjugal visits, both couples are still together as of 2021.

They're still in prison - and likely never getting out

It took a grand total of seven years before José and Kitty Menendez obtained justice for their brutal murders. By the time they received their life sentences, Lyle Menendez was already 28 years old, while Erik Menendez was 25.

For more than two decades, the brothers were incarcerated in separate facilities. Erik served his sentence at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, while Lyle began his prison life at Northern California's Mule Creek State Prison.

Despite the fact that they both received double life sentences, Erik told People in a 2005 interview that he was still "working on [his] appeal," as he believed that he did not deserve to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Reports say that the brothers filed multiple transfer requests over the years. Regardless, it was only in 2018 when Lyle was finally transferred to Erik's housing unit in San Diego. When the brothers laid eyes on each other for the first time in 22 years, they reportedly burst into tears (via E! Entertainment Television).

Oh, they're also (likely) on a basketball card

Out of all the details about the Menendez brothers' story, the most peculiar one has very little to do with the murder or their prison life.

Users of web content aggregation and discussion site Reddit discovered a secret hiding in plain sight. On a fairly common 1990-91 Hoops basketball card depicting Mark Jackson of the New York Knicks, a pair of spectators strongly resembling the Menendez brothers could be seen sitting in the background, occupying front row seats.

Another hair-raising detail — internet sleuths confirmed that the card's photo was from a game that took place during the 1989-1990 season. In other words, the image was snapped sometime between the murder and the brothers' arrest, tweeted sports business reporter Darren Rovell.

To this day, no one can say for sure whether the two men sitting behind Jackson on this card are indeed the Menendez brothers. Still, this didn't stop speculators from driving up the prices of sealed sets containing the card, as they went from under $10 to an eye-raising $40 to $50, says Sports Collectors Daily.