A century after Lizzie Borden’s hatchet “over-kill” in Fall River, and 3000 miles away, another famous American murder case with compelling similarities took place. On August 30th 1989, 21-year-old Lyle Menendez and his brother Eric 18 entered their family’s 23-room mansion in Beverly Hills after carefully disarming the alarm. Having given the maid the night off, José and Kitty Menendez had fallen asleep watching television. José was guilty of one thing that we know of: having raised his sons in a wealthy childhood and then expecting them to work and achieve. Carrying two newly-purchased shotguns loaded with buck shot, the boys first fired a shot into their father’s head from in front before walking around behind the couch to fire another directly into his head. Trying to crawl away, Kit endured an onslaught of 9 or 10 blasts before her sons ran out of ammunition. Even though their mother wasn’t guilty of anything, the boys had decided she would be unable to do well without her husband’s income. (And then again, she might tell on them if spared.)
The only remaining ammo was bird shot they had to go back to the car for to complete the execution, taking time to fire into their knee caps to make it look like a “gang hit. Then they carefully (?) picked up the shot shells and other debris placing it in a garbage bag to drop off in the dumpster of a nearby gas station. Then, satisfied they went to a late night movie before returning home and calling the police to report finding their parents dead.
Who could believe that two such fine-looking young men from a prominent and successful family could possibly be involved in a murder of such sheer brutality with their own loving parents as victims?
And that very question explains why they were not treated as suspects by the investigators, why two juries with a mountain of evidence failed to find a clear “guilty” verdict and then just barely getting a conviction – without a death sentence -- three long years after the crime, finally inviting suspicion only when it was noticed that they had gone on a buying spree with one million dollars of their father’s money in the first six months!
The Menendez boys were no geniuses; nor can we claim brilliance on the part of the investigators for that matter. During the initial questioning by detectives, Lyle noticed they had missed one of the expended shot shells in their “careful” clean-up; he could see it just under the chair the detective was sitting on. He managed to pick it up minutes later. (They shouldn’t have been inside the “secure” crime scene to begin with.) Most basic of oversights was the failure to test the boys’ for gunshot residue – a routine which would be done just to eliminate them from the list of possibilities, even if not seen as suspects. After the expenditure of at least 20 shotgun shells, they would have been literally covered with powder residue, to say nothing of possible blood splatter. Later it would be learned that Eric had confessed the crime to his counselor – which would have been “protected testimony” of course – but when Lyle threatened the life of the Doctor, the legal umbrella of protection was broken. Only with the final of the three juries were portions of the doctor’s tapes belatedly admitted.
When the Menendez brothers fabricated a new story and testified that they had killed in self defense after a “lifetime of parental abuse”, they once again managed to elicit sufficient jury sympathy to avoid death. They got “life without possibility of parole.”
Searching into the background of this American family, it becomes clear that from the very beginning in their New Jersey days Lyle and Eric Menendez developed a relationship so unusual it must have been more than obvious to those around them – to the point where they operated as from a single identity. By theft and deception they lived a lifestyle far beyond any allowance from their demanding father and indulgent mother. They may have used a shotgun instead of a hatchet, but like Lizzy Borden a century earlier, it was hatred for an “overbearing” father that led to mayhem within the walls of family.