The Menendez brothers will always stand out for their carriage and theatrical antics during their court trials which lasted for a long time. In the annals of true crime, few cases have captured public attention and stirred intense debate like that of the Menendez brothers.
Born into a seemingly privileged life, their life took a dark and shocking turn and this led to one of the most notorious criminal trials in American history. The release of yet another documentary provides an insight into a new side of the Menéndez brothers’ story and virtually everyone is eager to see the outcome.
But, first, who are the Menéndez brothers? How did they become celebrated criminals?
Who are the Menendez brothers?
The Menendez brothers – Erik Menendez and Joseph “Lyle” Menendez – are American siblings who gained infamy for their involvement in the murder of their parents, José Menendez and Mary Kitty Menendez. The murders took place on August 20, 1989, in the family’s Beverly Hills mansion.
José Enrique Menéndez, born in Havana, Cuba, sought a better life for himself and his family and migrated to the United States of America. He met Mary Louise “Kitty” Andersen and their marriage in 1963 marked the beginning of a seemingly normal family life.
Their first son, Joseph Menéndez, commonly known by his middle name, Lyle, was born on January 10, 1968, in New York. Following Lyle’s birth, Kitty decided to leave her teaching career and this prompted the family’s relocation to New Jersey.
It was in Gloucester Township that Erik Galen Menéndez, their second son, entered the world on November 27, 1970. The Menéndez family established their residence in Hopewell Township, where both brothers attended Princeton Day School.
During the summer of 1976, Lyle and Erik Menéndez had their cousin, Diane Vander Molen, stay with them. The Menendez family’s facade of normalcy began to crumble when allegations of sexual abuse emerged. Lyle confided in his cousin that he was a victim of abuse by his father. Despite Vander Molen’s efforts to raise awareness, Kitty sided with the eldest Menéndez, dismissing the claims of her children.
In 1986, Menéndez’s career as a corporate executive led the family to relocate to Beverly Hills, California. The patriarch of the Menéndez family had joined a company known at the time as International Video Entertainment.
The following year, Erik Menéndez enrolled at Beverly Hills High School, where he achieved average grades but exhibited an exceptional talent for tennis, ranking 44th in the United States as a junior player.
Nearly two weeks before the tragic events that would unfold, Erik Menéndez, accompanied by his friend, Michael Joyce, participated in the 1989 Boys’ Junior National Tennis Championship. While Erik Menéndez made it to the second round of qualifying in the Boys’ 18 singles, Joyce reached the quarterfinals.
On the academic front, Joseph Lyle Menéndez pursued his studies at Princeton University. However, his academic performance was poor and he was subsequently placed on academic probation due to poor grades. Ultimately, he faced suspension from the university for plagiarism.
After murdering their parents, the Menéndez brothers initially attempted to cover up the crime by making it appear as a random act of violence but luck ran out for them. In 1994, they were arrested and stood trial for the murders.
During the highly publicised trial, the defence counsel claimed that the brothers had endured years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their parents, which led to their actions.
However, the prosecution counsel argued that the motive behind the murders was financial gain as the brothers stood to inherit a substantial fortune from their parents’ estate. The trial ended with both brothers being convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole.
The Menendez brothers’ case garnered significant media attention and continues to be a subject of public attention due to the complexities surrounding the motivations and dynamics within the family.
Menendez brothers story
On August 18, 1989, Erik and Joseph Menendez made a chilling purchase at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store in San Diego. The following day, their parents, unaware of the impending doom, chartered a yacht and set out for a day of shark fishing. On August 19, 1989, an air of sinister purpose took hold of Erik and Joseph Menendez.
August 20 1989 arrived and it was a day which was filled with acts of unspeakable violence. In a horrifying turn of events, the brothers stormed into the den of their family home.
In a frenzy of hatred and despair, they unleashed a barrage of 15 shots upon their unsuspecting parents, who sat innocently on the couch, engrossed in their television program.
Erik admitted to firing the first shot, but it was Joseph who ultimately dealt the fatal blow. With a cold precision that defies comprehension, Joseph’s bullet found its mark in the back of Jose Menéndez’s head while Kitty met her demise with a devastating shot to the face.
After committing their heinous act, the Menendez brothers, aged 21 and 18 at the time, embarked on a chilling charade to cover their tracks. They left the scene of the crime and made their way to a local movie theatre, where they purchased tickets to watch Batman. In a surreal twist, they nonchalantly disposed of the guns used in the murders, ensuring no trace would lead back to them.
With calculated precision, they changed into fresh, untainted clothing, in an attempt to erase any visible evidence of their dark deeds. Returning to their residence, they feigned shock and horror, as if stumbling upon the gruesome scene for the first time. Theatricality became their shield, a desperate attempt to deflect suspicion away from their guilt.
In a bizarre turn of events, Joseph Menéndez’s desperate cry for help echoed through the phone lines as he dialled 911. His hysterical plea of “Someone killed our parents!” would later become a subject of mockery, finding its way into a Jim Carrey movie where it was parodied for comic effect.
However, the wheels of justice turned slowly and it was not until six months after the brutal murders that the Menendez brothers were finally apprehended.
Before their arrest, the brothers indulged in a lavish and reckless lifestyle by painting the town of Los Angeles with reckless abandon. It is said that they squandered an astonishing $1 million on extravagant parties, luxurious travels and extravagant shopping sprees.
With their parents’ wealth at their disposal, Erik and Joseph Menéndez embraced a hedonistic existence, seemingly unfazed by the heinous crime they had committed. They revelled in the spoils of their parents’ fortune, basking in a world of excess and indulgence. Their extravagant spending spree was a stark contrast to the sorrow and grief that engulfed those who mourned the loss of the Menendez couple.
Amidst the glitz and glamour, they sought solace and guidance through therapy sessions with Dr. Jerome Oziel, a pivotal turning point that would ultimately seal their fate. It was during a therapy session with Dr. Oziel that Erik Menéndez, unable to bear the weight any longer, revealed the crime they had committed.
Unbeknownst to Erik, the session was being recorded and his confession was captured in chilling detail. Little did he know that Oziel’s mistress was also present. Unable to ignore the gravity of what she had heard, she made the courageous choice to step forward and share the incriminating tape with the authorities.
As the tape reverberated through the law enforcement circles, the wheels of justice began turning and the net began to close around the Menendez brothers.
On March 8, 1990, Joseph Menéndez was taken into custody by Beverly Hills police. Meanwhile, Erik Menéndez, who had been playing tennis in Israel, returned voluntarily to face the consequences of their actions and was arrested on March 11, 1990.
The revelation of the brothers’ confession during therapy sessions marked a shocking breakthrough in the case. However, what followed was a frustrating and protracted period of legal limbo that would span years.
Initially, a judge deemed certain portions of the therapy session tapes admissible as evidence, a decision that the brothers’ attorneys promptly appealed. The battle over the tapes dragged on for 30 months, leaving the case in a state of prolonged uncertainty. It was not until the Supreme Court of California intervened that a resolution began to take shape.
Indictments were finally handed down on December 7, 1992, as Joseph and Erik Menéndez were charged with murder. The subsequent trials proceeded separately for each brother.
During Erik’s trial, the jury got to a deadlock on January 10, 1994, unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Two weeks later, in Joseph’s trial, the jury found themselves in a similar impasse. The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial and this left the case in a state of uncertainty once again.
The prolonged legal saga finally reached its culmination on April 17, 1996, nearly seven years after the harrowing murders took place. A third and final jury, tasked with jointly evaluating the evidence against both brothers, ultimately rendered a verdict of guilt. The verdict brought closure to a process that had tested the patience and endurance of all involved.
Despite their pleas to be together, the Menendez brothers faced the unfortunate reality of being separated.
Nonetheless, life behind bars has not deterred the brothers from pursuing relationships. Joseph, in particular, has experienced marriage twice within the confines of prison. His first wife, a former model, entered his life during his incarceration. His current spouse, Rebecca Sneed, transitioned from being a magazine editor to becoming an attorney.
Erik, on the other hand, found love with Tammi Saccoman, an attractive blonde with whom he had been corresponding for six years through heartfelt letters. Their connection blossomed during this time and led to their eventual marriage.
Menendez brothers documentary
Over the years, several documentaries have been released by different production companies about the story of the Menendez brothers.
- Blood Ties: The Menendez Brothers (2017)
- The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All (2017)
- Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers (2017)
- Monsters: The Lyle and Erik Menendez Story (2022)
- Menendez Brothers: Misjudged? (2022)
- Menendez + Menudo (2023)
Menendez brothers now
Erik and Joseph Menendez were convicted of the murder of their parents in 1996 and subsequently began serving life sentences, without the possibility of parole.
For years, the brothers were incarcerated in separate prisons until 2018 when they were relocated to the RJ Donovan Correctional Facility. In an emotional reunion, Joseph was led down a hallway to a room where his brother, Erik, waited.
As the guard opened the door, an overwhelming wave of emotion swept over them, and both brothers immediately burst into tears, embracing each other tightly. No words were exchanged initially as they held each other for several minutes, allowing their deep bond to speak volumes. The prison officials granted them a precious hour together in that room. Presently, Joseph Menendez is 55 years old while his younger brother, Erik Menendez, is 52 years old, as confirmed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Despite exhausting their appeals, the legal team representing the Menendez brothers still has the option to file a petition presenting new evidence, which includes the allegations against their father made by Roy Roselló.
Peacock’s recently released three-part docuseries, Menéndez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed, sheds light on a revelation made by Roy Rosselló, corroborating the claim that he, too, was subjected to sexual abuse by José Menéndez, the former RCA executive and father of the Menéndez brothers.
The series delved into the history of Menudo, a renowned boy band created in 1977 by Edgardo Díaz, which gained immense popularity and drew hordes of fervent fans, comparable to the young Latin Beatles.
The group served as a launching pad for numerous artists, including Ricky Martín and Draco Rosa, who joined the band in the 1980s.
However, in 1991, allegations of sexual abuse against Díaz emerged, casting a dark shadow over Menudo’s fame. Despite Díaz’s denial of all accusations and his lack of response to the requests for comment from the docuseries team, it remained undeniable that most band members were replaced when they reached the age of 16.
Rosselló became a member of Menudo in 1983 at the age of 13, taking over from 15-year-old Xavier Serbiá. It was a year later that Rosselló alleges he was drugged and sexually assaulted by José Menéndez at the Menéndez family’s residence in New Jersey.
The docuseries explores the brothers’ recollections of their encounters with Menudo members, often crossing paths during barbecues at their home or backstage at Menudo shows.
Following this revelation, Alan Jackson, a criminal defence attorney, explained the requirements that must be met for the possibility of the Menendez brothers “breathing free air one of these days”.
“First, they have to file the petition. The petition has to be reviewed by a superior court judge. The judge has to grant a new trial, and the defence has to win at trial,” Jackson said. “So those procedural and factual hurdles — that’s a big mountain to climb.”
“Is this a glimmer of hope? It’s a glimmer,” Jackson continued.