Ten days after their parents were killed, Lyle and Erik told relatives they were coming out of a bank when a man brushed past them and, in a low voice, threatened, “You’re next.” Over the next few months, the brothers claim, they `received a number of telephone threats, including one three days after hooking up an unlisted number at a luxurious $2500-a-month apartment in Marina del Rey. Except for the threat at the bank, the boys never reported the calls.

The brothers became openly sentimental, paying lip service to a newfound altruism on which they never followed through. They claimed they wanted to help free Cuba in honor of their father and learn Spanish to get in touch with their heritage. They even spoke of entering politics and working with the homeless. Lyle collected some family papers in a backgammon box he carried almost everywhere: It contained letters from Kitty to Jose, including one that read, “I’m staring at a gun in the closet and thinking of using it—I love you so much.” There was also a letter from Lyle to Jose: “I know we don’t have a good relationship, but I love you and have the ultimate respect for you.”

To onlookers, Erik seemed more deeply affected by his parents’ death. At one point after the murders, he became overwhelmed and turned to a cousin for help. All the police questioning, all the media badgering, all the friends who meant well—it had gotten to be too much, Erik told him. He needed some privacy and a refuge.

He found it at his cousin’s home in the San Fernando Valley, only a few miles north but light-years away from Beverly Hills. Over the next week, a clearly terrified Erik was too frightened to sleep in a room alone, so he would go into his cousin’s bedroom. Sometimes he would lie on the floor. On other occasions, he would crawl into the same bed like a small child after a bad dream.

A few weeks later, Erik made his first trip back to the house with relatives. As he entered the grand, two-story foyer, he froze. His eyes locked on the family room at the end of the hallway. The bloody carnage of August 20 was gone, the walls and floors were scrubbed clean. He seemed drawn to the room, but as he approached the door, he stopped and
started to tiptoe as if trying to avoid disturbing someone. Relatives watched curiously as he craned his neck around the room’s wide doorway. After he was inside, he slowly moved around the room and crouched behind the large wooden wet bar in the corner. He was quivering. Relatives assumed it was a sign of terror.

In the wake of the carnage on North Elm Drive, and the media’s assumption of a Mafia hit, LIVE Entertainment leaped to defend its corporate honor. Officials from LIVE’s parent company, Carolco Pictures, released a statement saying, ‘All who worked with [Jose] find it inconceivable that he was involved in any unsavory dealings that might have led to this tragic event.” They considered the speculation that the killings were a Mob hit “bizarre and offensive.”

That statement may not have convinced everyone. The home-video business began in the mid-Seventies because people wanted to watch porn videos at home instead of going to dark theaters filled with men in raincoats holding newspapers over their laps. Long before corner video emporiums popped up everywhere, there were little storefronts selling grainy films of couples rolling around under bright lights. That original distribution network was dominated by organized crime.

When adult films gave rise to videos, mainstream movie studios saw a potential gold mine, and they moved into the business—the first major studio movies were released on tape in 1977—and absorbed a number of people who had adult-film experience on their résumés. Today, porn films, once relegated to bachelor parties and dingy theaters, are a $700,000,000-a-year business. Overall, home video rings up eight billion dollars a year in sales and rentals. Jose was part of the legitimization of the industry, and it was inevitable that some of the people with whom he did business had ties to organized crime. Nor was Jose the most popular man in town: Tough, aggressive, impatient—he made enemies in the Hollywood establishment, as well.

Yet police investigators were disinclined to blame the Mob. They noted that, with rare exceptions, Mafia hit men usually keep it neater and simpler than these bloody murders and that they rarely kill innocent wives. Much more compelling, from a police point of view, was Lyle and Erik’s behavior, and how they expressed their bereavement.

Detectives felt that the brothers weren’t doing a very good job of playing the role of grief-stricken orphans. Usually, family members of murder victims take an active, aggressive role as police investigate the crime. Lyle and Erik didn’t seem to care about the search for their parents’ killers, and their public behavior was decidedly mixed. At memorial services in Los Angeles and Princeton, Erik appeared to be a whimpering basket case, while Lyle, at least on the outside, seemed cool, somewhat detached, almost drained of emotion. Said one friend, “I’ve seen him get more up set about losing a tennis match than he was about his parents’ death.”

Had Jose been alive to see Lyle’s performance, he might well have been impressed. When his own father died in 1987, Jose would not cry, not even in front of his own sister Marta. “He went into the bathroom and wouldn’t come out,” she recalls. “He didn’t want the family to see him cry.”

But what fascinated investigators the most were the boys’ spending habits. According to police, Lyle and Erik spent a cool $1,000,000 in the first three months after the murders. Lyle’s purchases included a $64,000 Porsche 911 Carrera, a gold Rolex watch, $24,000 worth of merchandise bought in one afternoon at a stereo/TV store, and a chicken-wing restaurant in Princeton, Chuck’s Spring Street Café, for which he borrowed a $300,000 down payment from the unsettled estate. On top of that, he hired bodyguards, on the theory—his theory—that the Mafia was after him. He stayed at expensive hotels, shuttled between the East and West coasts on MGM Grand Air and made sure he didn’t leave home without his murdered father’s American Express card, with which he ran up a $90,000 tab. Erik, whose dreams initially seemed more modest, also took refuge in fancy hotels and condos, tried to promote a rock concert at the Palladium in Los Angeles and got ripped off by a partner, losing $40,000.

PLAYBOY MARCH 1991: The Killing of Jose Menendez
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