The Truth About The Menendez Brothers' Sad Childhood

On August 20, 1989, Beverly Hills police were called to the home of Jose Menendez (via ABC News). Jose Menendez's 21-year-old son, Lyle, had called 911 to report that someone had broken into their home and murdered both Jose and Jose's wife, Kitty.

What began as a home invasion case quickly became an investigation into Lyle Menendez and his 18-year-old brother, Erik. Police detectives noticed right away that both the Menendez brothers were going on lavish spending sprees, buying sports cars, Rolex watches, and taking expensive vacations around the world. 

Police had their big break in the case when they received valuable information from Judalon Smyth, the ex-mistress of Erik Menendez's therapist, Jerome Oziel (via L.A. Times). During recorded therapy sessions, Erik Menendez confessed to murdering his parents. Oziel relayed this information to Smyth, whom he had a romantic relationship with at the time of the confession. After ending the relationship with Oziel, Smyth went to authorities. Prosecutors were handed this information, and arrest warrants were issued for both Menendez brothers. Lyle was apprehended on March 8, 1990, and his brother on March 11, 1990 (via Crime Files).

What would motivate two clearly privileged young men to brutally murder their own parents? Was it greed? Or did the murder happen as a result of alleged events that occurred during the Menendez brothers' childhoods?

A charmed life

Hailing from Princeton, New Jersey, Erik and Lyle Menendez were born into a wealthy household. Their father, Jose, was a successful corporate executive. He and his wife, Kitty, saw that their sons would never want for anything. The brothers were living the lifestyle that many youths would envy: lavish vacations, private tennis lessons, a beautiful home (via People).

Moving to Southern California in 1986, the brothers began to fall into the wrong crowd (via Biography). Erik Menendez, in particular, was seemingly susceptible to peer pressure. On two different occasions, he and some friends were arrested for burglary. Meanwhile, Lyle Menendez was accepted to Princeton, where he excelled as a tennis player. Only an average student, his acceptance into this prestigious private university might have been helped by his father's $50,000 donation to the school (via ABC's 20/20). 

With the wealth of their parents, the two brothers seemingly lived a charmed life. What horrors from childhood would they allege that would make them commit double homicide?

Allegations of abuse

In court, both Menendez brothers testified about the horrific physical and sexual abuse they endured at the hands of their father, Jose (via ABC News). Lyle claimed that his father would abuse him with various objects, horrors he alleged that happened all through his childhood. He went on to state that he and his brother only murdered their parents so that the abuse on Lyle would stop.

Their allegations were supported by the testimony of an elder cousin, Diane Vander Molan. Vander Molan stated under oath that an 8-year-old Lyle had confided in her that his father would continuously touch his genitals. Alarmed by what she was hearing, Vander Molan immediately went to her aunt, Kitty Menendez. She testified that she assumed that her aunt had taken care of it, as Lyle never mentioned it again.

While some family members supported the brothers' claims that they were the victims of abuse, not all of them held the same opinion. Kitty Menendez's older brother, Brian Anderson, stated that the idea that his sister or brother-in-law would abuse either of their sons was utter nonsense (via In Touch Weekly).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The Menendez brothers today

From the time of their conviction in 1996, the Menendez brothers were kept in separate prisons, more than 500 miles apart (via The Sun). But in 2018, Lyle Menendez was transferred from Mule Creek State Prison to Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. It was here that is brother was serving out his sentence. 

In April 2021, the brothers were featured in an episode of ABC's 20/20. This episode began to pique the interest of a new generation of true crime followers, many of whom have demanded mercy for the convicted brothers. Petitions for Governor Gavin Newsome to reconsider their case have been sent to Sacramento. The growing support for the brothers is rooted in the idea that they were both severely abused as young children, and that they only acted in retaliation toward their alleged abusers. 

The brothers are still incarcerated by the state of California, serving consecutive life sentences without parole. 

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.