Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Menendez Brothers

The Murders

The evening of Sunday, August 20, 1989, was warm in Beverly Hills. The maid had the night off and the white, $4 million, 23-room Mediterranean-style mansion at 722 Elm Drive was quiet. The owners of the home, Jose and Kitty Menendez were in the family room dozing while a James Bond thriller, The Spy Who Loved Me, played on the VCR. The couple's sons, Lyle, 21, and Erik, 18, had gone out for the evening.

Although she was 47 and a little overweight, Kitty was still attractive. She had blond hair and green eyes. At 44, Jose could pass for someone much younger. He still had a full head of thick black hair and was in good physical shape from playing tennis.

Around 10:00 p.m., a teenage girl was outside her home, located down the street from the Menendez mansion, waiting for her boyfriend. The girl noticed a small car drive up and stop in front of the Menendez home. There were two men inside the car. The men exited from the car. One man went to the trunk and the other walked toward the house. The girl lost interest and looked away.

The Menendez mansion was set back from the street, shaded by dense foliage and protected by an elaborate security system. The house had previously been rented to a succession of business and entertainment people, including the artist formerly known as Prince and Elton John. A high iron fence surrounded the mansion and there were iron gates barring the entrance to the semicircular driveway in front of the home. On this evening, the gates located in front of the driveway were open and the security system was off.

The men entered the home through the french doors in the study. They walked down the hallway toward the family room, located in the back of the house. The men entered the family room, which was illuminated only by the light coming from the television screen. Jose was dozing on the tan leather couch, sitting at the end nearest the door leading to the hallway. Jose's legs were stretched out in front of him; his feet were on the coffee table along with two dishes that contained the remains of a berry and ice cream snack. Kitty was lying under a blanket, her body stretched out across the couch, her head in Jose's lap.

One of the men pointed his twelve-gauge Mossberg shotgun at the couple and squeezed the trigger. Two shots were fired at Jose; one shattered the glass and splintered the wood of the french doors behind the couch where Jose was sitting. One pellet struck Jose in the left elbow; another struck him in the right arm, followed by another. The shots immobilized Jose. One of the killers walked behind Jose and placed the shotgun against the back of his head and fired. The shot blew off the back of Jose's head. Jose's lifeless body came to rest on the couch, slumped slightly to the right. His hands rested on his stomach and his feet on the floor.

After the first shots were fired at Jose, Kitty became alert. She woke up to find herself spattered by Jose's blood and body tissue. Kitty stood and began to turn away from her attackers, taking a step or two before being shot in the right leg near her calf and in her right arm. Kitty fell between the couch and the coffee table. She struggled to stand again and tried to regain her balance, but she slipped as she stepped into her own blood. She stood long enough for her blood to flow vertically down her leg. She tried desperately to walk away, but another shot was fired, which brought her down. Now that she was on the floor, her killers fired indiscriminately, riddling her body with shotgun pellets. Kitty was hit in the left thigh from a range that was so close that the paper wadding that contained the pellets caused her leg to break. She was shot in the right arm, then the left breast, which perforated her left lung. A quart of her blood flowed into her chest cavity. Kitty was not dead. She continued to breathe and tried to crawl away from where she was felled, but could not.

The killers were out of ammunition. They paused, unsure of what to do next. They probably wondered if Kitty would be able to identify them and tell the police who they were and what had happened. They decided they could not take a chance on this happening and ran to the car to get more ammunition. They reloaded their shotguns with birdshot, instead of the ball-bearing sized pellets that they had used before.

Menendez home at 722 Elm Drive in L.A.
Menendez home at 722 Elm Drive in L.A.

One of the killers ran back inside the house and into the family room where Kitty lay dying. The killer leaned over the coffee table and placed the shotgun against Kitty's left cheek and fired. Kitty's body was shot ten times. Her head had been struck four times. Her skull was shattered.

The killer was not finished. He shot both Jose and Kitty near the left knee. The final act the killers performed was to carefully gather the shell casings from the spreading pools of blood that now covered the couch, floor and rug under the coffee table.

This was the scenario that the police and medical examiner pieced together about the murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez. Years later, the killers would provide an entirely different account of the murders.


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