Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Menendez Brothers

Summer of 1989

Jose Menedez
Jose Menedez

Jose was doing well at LIVE. His contract had recently been renegotiated and extended until December 31, 1991. In recognition of Jose's importance to LIVE, the company invested in a "key man" life insurance policy that would guarantee that if Jose died, the company could continue operating without worrying about going under. The policy was valued at $15 million. LIVE also purchased a "key man" personal policy for Jose's family that was valued at $5 million. Jose was to name a beneficiary as soon as he took a routine physical examination. It was expected that Jose would name Kitty as the beneficiary, which was customary under California community property laws.

As spring turned into summer, Lyle was facing several major problems. Lyle's girlfriend Christy told him that she was pregnant. Jose found out and went to see her. According to Lyle, Jose intimidated her into having an abortion. Kitty later told one of her friends that Jose paid Christy $100,000. After paying Christy off, Jose and Kitty demanded that Lyle give her up for good.

Lyle's spring semester report card from Princeton was terrible. His grades were dismal and included one F. Lyle was on academic probation despite Donovan's assistance with his papers and assignments. According to Carlos Baralt, Jose's brother-in-law, Jose tried to adjust his expectations to meet Lyle's academic performance and tried not to put too much pressure on Lyle; all he wanted Lyle to do was pass his classes.

Academic probation was not the only problem Lyle was having at Princeton. Shortly after he came home, Jose and Kitty were notified by mail that Princeton was placing Lyle on disciplinary probation after some pool tables in his residence hall were damaged during a party he had thrown. Lyle tried to place the blame for his being placed on disciplinary probation on his friends. This wasn't the end of Lyle's problems. His New Jersey driver's license was suspended. Lyle had also caused the family's privileges at their country club in Princeton to be suspended. He and Donovan took a nighttime golf cart ride across the club's greens that caused a large amount of damage. Jose made full restitution to the country club.

Jose and Kitty could not understand what was wrong with their sons. There were so many problems with Lyle and Erik. Jose was losing his patience and was less and less willing to be persuaded by Lyle's rationalizations. Jose and Kitty were so desperate to drive home to their sons how serious their circumstances were that they used the only thing that they thought would get through to them, they threatened to rewrite their wills and leave the brothers out completely.

Jose's first will had been written in 1980 before he had amassed his wealth. The will stated that if Jose and Kitty died in a common disaster, Lyle and Erik would receive the entire estate.

After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Erik competed in a number of tennis tournaments during the summer. He initially played well and he won his first round matches; however, he lost in the second round each time.

In August, Erik returned to Beverly Hills and waited to begin college at UCLA. Erik had also been accepted at UC Berkeley but chose to attend UCLA because it had a better tennis team.

In order to encourage Lyle to exert more effort in school, Jose purchased a condominium outside of Princeton for him. The condo had two bedroom suites and would be perfect when Kitty and Jose came to visit. They could stay in one of the bedrooms without intruding on Lyle. Lyle asked Kitty to decorate the condo for him.

As the summer came to an end, tensions in the house seemed to escalate. Kitty began to lock the door to her bedroom at night and she kept two twenty-two rifles in her closet. She would not allow Lyle and Erik to have keys to the house. When the brothers came home at night, Kitty would let them into the house, even if she had to be awakened from sleep. It was apparent that something was frightening Kitty. Her fears were probably exacerbated by something the brothers' psychotherapist, Jerome Oziel, told Kitty.

Dr Jerome Oziel (AP)
Dr Jerome Oziel (AP)

Kitty's psychiatrist had recommended Jerome Oziel when Erik and Lyle were ordered to undergo psychological counseling for the Calabasas burglaries. Shortly after Erik started treatment with Oziel, he gave permission to Oziel to discuss the contents of his sessions with Jose and Kitty. Kitty's fears may have been brought on by something she learned from Oziel. On July 19, 1989, Kitty went to her therapist and told him that she feared her sons were sociopaths, a psychiatric term used to describe a person who lacks a conscience. Kitty's therapist made notes of the session that indicated that Kitty was concerned that her sons were "narcissistic, lacked consciences and exhibited signs that they were sociopaths."

On August 19, 1989, the Menendez family chartered a boat from Marina del Rey and went shark fishing. According to the crew of the boat, they did not seem to be much of a family. Jose stayed in the back of the boat and fished, while Kitty went below and stayed in the boat's cabin because she was seasick. The brothers stayed to themselves at the bow of the boat.

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