On August 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik Menendez fatally shot their wealthy parents in their Beverly Hills home. The double-homicide turned into a spectacle when their first trial, which ultimately resulted in a mistrial, was shown on TV, captivating the country’s attention – and ridicule – and becoming one of the biggest “pop culture” moments of the 1990s.
After 27 years in prison, ABC took a deeper look into the lives of the two brothers, and the complicated family that raised them, in the two-hour special Truth And Lies: The Menendez Brothers. The program also featured an interview with older brother Lyle, who is serving his two life sentences away from his younger sibling in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California.
Truth And Lies: The Menendez Brothers reveals an intensely troubling past for the Cuban American brothers as well as chilling details about the deadly night. Here are some of the biggest moments you missed if you didn’t tune in Thursday night.
1. Lyle and Erik always felt like they needed to impress their father. The brothers’ father, Jose, a Cuban immigrant, was a man that many described as a tyrant, someone who felt like he had ownership over his children, a man who, along with being unfaithful to his wife, Kitty, also emotionally, and potentially physically, abused her. Lyle was expected to grow up and be a more polished version of his father, shoes he and his brother were always made to feel they couldn’t walk in. They allegedly spent much of their childhood and early adult life longing for the approval of their father, and never received it.
2. The brothers used to rob houses in Calabasas. As teenagers, the brothers used to break into their neighbors’ homes and steal items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Karen Ferrell, a close friend of the late Kitty, said, "They were bored. … Robbing houses was a challenge. … They didn’t think they’d be caught.” When the brothers did eventually get caught, their father was ashamed, though many believe he was humiliated that they got caught, not that they committed the crimes. To him, they were supposed to be “winners,” in everything that they did.
3. Jose Menendez allegedly sexually abused his children. During the trial, Erik said that he revealed to his brother that their father was molesting him just days before the murders. This sexual abuse, which purportedly started in his childhood and continued into his early adulthood, was just one of a series of horrifying claims. During the trial, Lyle, too, said his father molested him, asking the then-boy to "fondle me and asked me to do the same with him." He also said that his father would attempt penetrating him with objects like toothbrushes and shaving utensils. The young Lyle, who also alleges he slept and touched his mother sexually as a kid, claims that were contested by Kitty's brother, also disclosed that he used to take his little brother out to the woods and molest him in the way his father was doing to him. While the prosecutor in the case didn’t believe the men’s assertions, many did, viewing the vivid accounts and emotion of the men as clues that they were telling the truth.
4. The brothers were aware that they were being taken out of their parents’ will. Kitty and Jose were disappointed in their children, believing that they were spoiled and out of control. The two wanted their kids removed from their will, and Lyle and Erik were aware of that. During the program, Kitty's friend Karen remembers a conversation she had with her late pal, where Kitty told her she was updating her will and removing her sons. Karen told Kitty that Erik was nearby and could hear her. "She said, 'I don’t care. They know I’m not gonna give them any money,'" Karen recalled.
5. Erik laid out his plan to kill his parents in a screenplay. According to Craig Cignarelli, a former friend of Erik's, the two wrote a screenplay, as they always had, but one of the last ones Erik wrote was about a son killing his parents to collect their insurance money. According to Cignarelli, “as time went by, Erik took that screenplay and reworded the first four or five pages to exactly what happened in the crime.” Philip Kearney, a photographer who used to take modeling photos of Erik, read the script, and had a "chilling realization" the morning after when he turned on the news and heard about the murder of his client's parents.
6. The night of the murder, Kitty Menendez tried to get away. During the shooting, the brothers said that they left the den to reload their gun but quickly returned to kill their mother. At the time, Kitty was begging for her life and even attempted to run away, but Lyle admitted that he "shot her close."
7. After the murders, the brothers went on a lavish shopping spree. Five weeks after the double homicide, the brother received an insurance policy payout of $400,000, which they used to go on a shopping spree, buying a Rolex, a Porsche and a restaurant in New Jersey.
8. Both the brothers received life sentences. While the first Menendez case resulted in a mistrial, they were soon tried again, and in July 1996 were found guilty. Both Lyle, now 48, and Erik, 45, were sentenced to murder in the first degree and are serving consecutive life sentences in separate prisons.
9. They wed women while behind bars. Erik is married to Tammi Menendez, who in 2002 told Barbara Walters that she "fell in love with him unexpectedly … And now I’m very happy.” Lyle has been married twice and described his current relationship with Rebecca Sneed as "healthy." “Physical comfort is much less important than your connection with the people around you. … We’ve been married 15 years,” he said.