Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Menendez Brothers

The Brothers

Jose with Erik (left) and Lyle
Jose with Erik (left) and Lyle

Jose dedicated himself to raising great sons who would carry out his plans for the future and continue his legacy. Because Jose had fought his way up the corporate ladder, he understood that there was an easier and more refined way to reach the top and he set about training his sons to reach that peak. When the brothers were young, Jose had rules for everything: what they could eat, whom they could spend time with, and what they read and thought about. Every hour of every day was to be accounted for. Jose and Kitty did not take in to account that they were dealing with young children, nor did they consider that their children could be flawed or that they themselves might be flawed. Jose's greatest flaw was his viciousness that probably grew out of his insecurity about his ethnicity. Jose relished humiliating Anglo colleagues who made mistakes, yet at the same time he sought acceptance from them through his efforts to transform himself into an American. He encouraged business colleagues to call him "Joe," rather than Jose.

The pressures of meeting Jose's demands appeared early on Lyle and Erik. Both brothers developed stutters, stomach pains and had a habit of grinding their teeth. Both brothers also developed nasty tempers.

As they grew older, the brothers were drawn to each other for companionship and solidarity in order to face their father's control. Erik grew up worshiping Lyle. Erik often told his friends how much he admired his brother. Erik's friends couldn't understand why. They thought Lyle was serious trouble. Erik's worship of Lyle probably came from the fact that Jose was so remote that his younger son did not feel he could approach him. Lyle was approachable, while Jose was an overwhelming presence.

The brothers' friends would comment that Lyle and Erik were extremely close, but that their personalities were very different. Lyle was described as aloof and witty, while Erik was described as sensitive and quiet. Lyle was also described as having the stronger personality.

Beginning when the brothers were in grade school, Jose posed questions about current events at the dinner table. Occasionally Erik was allowed to answer but most of the questions fell on Lyle to answer. As the brothers grew older, the questions became more complex. Jose decided that each brother should select one sport to excel in. Jose encouraged the brothers to pick a sport that did not require them to be members of a team. He felt that teamwork challenged his authority and called into question the way he was raising his sons. By the time Lyle was twelve and Erik was nine, they had selected tennis.

In 1979, the family was living in Pennington, outside of Princeton, New Jersey. Lyle and Erik attended the Princeton Day School, a private school. At the Princeton Day School both brothers were considered average students. Lyle developed problems academically when he was in the sixth grade. His teacher found that he was not well prepared and did not have the ability to concentrate. Teachers at the Princeton Day School felt that both Lyle and Erik had learning problems, but Jose would not accept that his sons had flaws. The teachers noticed that the homework the brothers turned in was far better than the work completed in class. Teachers also noticed that the brothers were immature compared to their classmates. At the age of 14, Lyle still wet his bed and played with stuffed animals.

Lyle and Erik Menendez
Lyle and Erik Menendez

There were other signs that Lyle and Erik were headed for serious trouble. In 1982, when Erik and Lyle were about twelve and fifteen, their cousin Diane Vander Molen stayed with the Menendez family for the summer. One night, the three cousins began to playfully wrestle. Suddenly and without warning, Lyle and Erik began to undress Diane. Without saying a word, the brothers tied her up and stripped off her shirt. Diane screamed and the brothers retreated from their attack. The brothers had attacked her like a pack of dogs, with no warning. As suddenly as the attack had begun, it ended. Around the same time, Diane experienced another attack. This time, she and Lyle were watching television. Without warning, Lyle struck. He climbed on top of her and began to fondle her breasts. Like the attack that came earlier, she had not enticed Lyle and the attack ceased as soon as she was able to free herself.


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