Los Angeles

Menendez Brothers Murder Case Continues to Fascinate Nearly Three Decades Later

The brothers are convicted murderers with no chance of parole

The mansion on a tree-lined street in Beverly Hills still stands. And still locked away are the two brothers who murdered their parents, then called 911.

"They thought they could get away with murder," said Detective Les Zoeller, of the Beverly Hills Police Department.

Lyle Menendez, now 49, is incarcerated near Sacramento. His 46-year-old brother Erik is 500 miles away in a San Diego prison. They are convicted murderers with no chance of parole.

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Twenty-eight years later the fascination and the controversy with the case continues.

Robert Rand, the author of The Menendez Murders, said Jose and Kitty Menendez worked hard and having the perfect facade for the family, but behind the gates of that mansion it was a completely different story.

"It was unspeakable what I was feeling growing up in that house and it all just poured over that weekend when I realized that this was happening to my brother for so long," Lyle Menendez said in an interview from behind bars. "My mother knew what happened to me and she made a series of choices -- choosing her husband over her children." 

On Aug. 20, 1989, neighbors on North Elm Drive hear bangs.

"This was probably the worst crime scene I had ever seen," Zoeller said.

Zoeller, the lead investigator, is behind the police tape, when the brothers return home hours after the shotgun slayings.

Lyle asks Zoeller if he can get some things from the house.

"I said, 'Well, what would you like to get?'" Zoeller said. "He said, 'Well, I'd like to get our tennis equipment.'"

Zoeller said it was very unusual.

"His main concern was going into the murder scene to get tennis equipment from there?"

In the following weeks, there was more behavior Zoeller considered unusual.

"We had learned they were spending money like it was water," Zoeller said.

Rand, the first journalist to interview Erik and Lyle after the killings, said the murder had nothing to do with greed.

"We talked about how close knit the family was held," Rand said. "There was no reason I had to be suspicious of Lyle and Erik."

Seven months later, the discovery of Erik's taped confession led to the brothers' arrests.

A year after the Los Angeles riots, the Menendez murder trial began.

For six months, millions of viewers watched, riveted by media coverage.

The tearful testimony of Lyle Menendez became the defining moment of the trial, as he recounted in detail being molested by his father. The defense was anchored on claims of sexual and psychological abuse.

"It's is a big fairy tale," Zoeller said. "I mean, they murdered the best witnesses that we have of whether this took place or not."

Lyle said he threatened to go to the police and reveal that Jose Menendez was still molesting his brother Erik and Jose Menendez said "I'm never going to let that happen," Rand said. "They were afraid they were going to be killed."

In the same month the devastating and deadly Northridge earthquake left much of LA in ruins; both juries dead-locked.

No cameras were allowed for the retrial two years later. By that time America was glued to the "trial of the century."

Six months after OJ Simpson found freedom for first-degree murder, the brothers lost theirs. They were found guilty of murder in the first degree.

"This was a case of manslaughter," Rand said. "This was not a case of murder."

"No, this was a premeditated murder," Zoeller said. "Erik and Lyle Menendez are cold-blooded murders."

The brothers who killed their parents together would be separated in the middle of the night just after they were sentenced and taken to opposite ends of the state.

They never said goodbye. They have never come face to face since.

"You cannot take vigilante justice in your own hands no matter how horrendous what happened here," Lyle Menendez said. 

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