Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Menendez Brothers


Erik grew up emulating his older brother and for a time lived in the shadow of Lyle, especially at the Princeton Day School. It seemed that neither brother fit in at school. They were both considered mysterious loners, who laughed only at their own private jokes. They did not join in or play with other children. Erik's schoolwork, like Lyle's, was average. Throughout grade and high school, Kitty completed much of Erik's homework for him. Erik learned early in life that Jose was grooming Lyle to become the future leader of the family. He grew up sad and withdrawn.

When Jose, Kitty and Erik moved to California in 1986, Erik was a sophomore in high school. Erik enrolled at Calabasas High School. Away from his brother and the comparisons that were often made between them at the Princeton Day School, Erik found his own identity. Erik made friends with a group of boys who were like him, cocky, loud and with a rebellious streak.

Kitty had been worried about Erik's sexual orientation for some time. Kitty believed that Erik was homosexual. When they moved to Calabasas, Kitty gave Erik an order to find a girlfriend in six months. Erik found an older girl at Calabasas High, but their relationship was short lived. At a party, Erik and the girl argued and Erik locked the girl in a room. He would not let her leave. She screamed and yelled, but Erik would not let her out. Finally, Erik let the girl go. The girl had enough of Erik. Later she recalled that he was "one of the oddest guys I've ever met." "He's very arrogant, very confident, but deep down he's got a lot of problems and insecurities."

Erik Menendez (AP)
Erik Menendez (AP)

Erik later had another girlfriend, Janice, whom Kitty and Jose both liked. Unlike Lyle's girlfriends whom Kitty found cheap, Kitty thought highly of Janice. Perhaps Erik's most important relationship at Calabasas High was with Craig Cignarelli. Craig was the captain of the tennis team and Erik was the number one-ranked player on the team. Craig and Erik spent a great deal of time together and wrote a third rate screenplay entitled Friends. The script was a sixty-two-page thriller about a son from a wealthy family who reads his parents' will and learns that upon their deaths, he will inherit $157 million. The son murders everyone to get his hands on his parents' money before being killed.

In July 1988, Erik and Lyle began breaking into homes in Calabasas. The brothers burglarized the homes owned by parents of their friends and were surprised by the large amounts of cash and jewelry that they were able to steal. The brothers had found an easy source of spending money, rather than having to ask Jose for a hand out, or listen Jose lecture about hard work.

The amount of money and jewelry that Lyle and Erik stole was estimated to be more than $100,000, large enough to be classified as a felony offense called grand theft burglary. The Los Angeles County sheriff's detective who investigated the burglaries received a break in the case after Erik was stopped for a driving violation in Calabasas and stolen property was found in his car trunk. Later the detective discovered that a safe in one of the homes that the brothers had burglarized was found in another home burglarized by the brothers. It appeared that the thieves had developed a guilty conscience and returned a safe they had stolen to the wrong home.

Jose was furious about the burglaries. Jose did not want his sons to spend any time in jail and hired Gerald Chaleff, a well-respected criminal defense attorney to represent them. Chaleff was able to work out an agreement with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office that would absolve Lyle of any participation in the burglaries, if Erik took responsibility for all the crimes. Erik was a juvenile and had no previous record. Chaleff was able to convince a judge to sentence Erik to community service with the homeless and for the brothers to undergo psychological counseling. Jose wrote a check for $11,000 to the victims to cover the stolen items. The brothers had already disposed of the items and could not return them.

The burglaries were the talk of Calabasas. It seemed that neighbors of the Menendez family were uncomfortable knowing that Lyle and Erik were free and not the least bit remorseful. Jose blamed Erik's friends, instead of Erik for the burglaries, just as he had blamed Princeton for Lyle's plagiarism rather than Lyle. Jose probably had a difficult time understanding the brothers' behavior and why Lyle and Erik had victimized friends, people they supposedly valued.

Jose began to complain about living in Calabasas. He told people at LIVE that the family was receiving harassing telephone calls and that his tires had been slashed. It may have all been talk and a way of Jose saving face. He told associates that he felt that he and his family would be safer living in Beverly Hills.

These were not the only burglaries that the police were able to pin on the Menendez brothers. In April 1988, two burglaries took place at the New Jersey office of the Sierra Club and the office of the Princeton Friends of Open Spaces. In these burglaries, office equipment was stolen with a value of approximately $1,100. The offices were housed in the same property that the Menendez family owned just before they moved to California and the house in which Lyle had lived in before entering Princeton. Jose and Kitty had sold the house in November 1987. The police were left with few clues as to who committed the burglaries. In both burglaries, the burglar had entered the home through a second floor bathroom.

The police were finally able to connect Lyle to the burglaries after a confidential police informant came forward. The informant told the police that one day during the summer of 1988, he had been riding to the beach with the Menendez brothers when Lyle played a cassette tape. The tape was a recording of voices talking. There was also background noise. Lyle bragged to the police informant that they were listening to a tape recording of a burglary that Lyle committed at his old house in Princeton. Lyle was never charged with these burglaries. By the time the police were able to connect Lyle to these crimes, he was already in jail on more serious charges.

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