In fairness, Lyle and Erik had been matriculating for most of their young lives in advanced spending at their parents’ school of soft knocks. In fairness, too, severe emotional distress often leads to compulsive spending, and not just among the rich. Nevertheless, the epic scale of the brothers’ spree, together with their seeming indifference to the search for the killers, suggested to the cops and the district attorney that a case might more plausibly be made against the Menendez brothers than against some shadowy family with tenuous roots in Palermo or Medellin. The only problem, and a substantial one at that, was the absence of any evidence connecting Lyle and Erik to their parents’ death.
Then a woman named Judalon Rose Smyth came forward. Petite and attractive, with auburn hair, the 37-year-old Smyth presented herself as a former patient—and also a lover—of Dr. Jerome Oziel, the psychotherapist in Beverly Hills who treated the Menendez brothers after the Calabasas burglaries.
On March 6, 1990, Smyth sat down with Beverly Hills detectives for almost six hours and told them, in chilling detail, what she claimed to have overheard in Dr. Oziel’s office four months before: a confession to the murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez. She said Erik had confessed to Oziel, and Lyle, upon learning what his brother had revealed, threatened to kill Oziel if he reported it.
Smyth also informed the detectives of audio tapes on which Lyle and Erik had allegedly discussed details of the murders with Oziel, and she told them the shotguns used to kill Jose and Kitty had been purchased at a sporting-goods store between LA. and San Diego.
Those two facts checked out. When police opened Oziel’s safe-deposit box, they found 17 audio tapes, along with various files, papers and diaries. In San Diego, investigators discovered that two 12-gauge Mossberg shotguns costing $199.99 each had been bought two days before the murders by a young man using Donovan Goodreau’s driver’s license for I.D. Goodreau has said he can prove he was in New York when the guns were purchased. The prosecution contends the young buyer was Erik Menendez.
The woman who made the sale has reportedly been unable to identify either Erik or Lyle from a police photo line-up, but late last summer, Erik refused to provide prosecutors with a handwriting sample to compare with the signature on the purchase form, despite a warning that his refusal may be used as evidence. Prosecutors called the refusal “a very big deal.” Erik’s defense attorney, Leslie Abramson, disagreed: “I don’t think they have a right [to a sample] when it’s already known beforehand that they are going to misuse it.”
Police have little doubt that the shotguns, which have never been recovered, were the weapons used to kill Jose and Kitty. The guns purchased that day each held three rounds of ammunition. If they were the murder weapons, it was necessary for the shooters to stop and reload three times during their attack.
In the awful, enthralling drama of the Menendez murders, Smyth and Oziel are, strictly speaking, bit players. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, however, these bit players keep popping up on center stage, threatening to overshadow the main characters. No wonder. Their own life stories, not to mention the accusations they’ve been hurling at each other, are the stuff of soap opera, and their credibility will have significant bearing on the fate of Lyle and Erik. But credibility can be a sticky issue even with the best of witnesses. With Smyth and Oziel, attorneys might well feel as if they were waist deep in glue.
Smyth first came into Oziel’s life in June 1989, two months before the murders. She told him she was trying to find the man who had done something called Through the Briar Patch, a series of quick-fix, self-help audio tapes of the sort so popular in spread-out, strung-out Southern California, where commuters while away the miles by therapizing themselves. Oziel said he’d never done any audio tapes, so Smyth urged him to get started; she owned a small tape-duplicating firm (which also sold New Age crystals) and she would help him on the merchandising side.
He was more than willing. What began as a discussion of tape—he denies she was ever his patient—fast-forwarded into a torrid affair, despite the fact that Oziel was married: By September, Smyth was writing to him, “My heart is with you. I function when we’re apart, but I live when we’re together.” In October, she wrote, “I want to love you to the fullest each day. I’m trying not to drive you crazy.”
She may have been trying, but she wasn’t succeeding. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that they drove each other crazy—or crazier. Judalon Smyth was born in Seattle but grew up in Yokohama, Japan, where she claimed to have made a fortune as a teenage soap-opera star. She also claimed to have been abused by her mother, who, she said, once held her by her hair from a second-story balcony.
Her first husband died young after a plane crash, leaving her, she said, a $475-a-month pension. Her next romance placed her on the L.A. fast track. In 1974, she moved in with Kenneth Moss, a onetime Wall Street whiz kid who claimed to have made $1,500,000 in the stock market before opting for early retirement—at 26. Moss’s retirement was spent throwing lavish parties for his show-business friends in L.A., and he was indicted for murder when, at one of those parties, his stash of cocaine turned out to be heroin, killing Robbie McIntosh, leader of the rock group Average White Band. Moss went to jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. His attorney has said Smyth may have been a grand jury witness against him. She later told a friend she hated being in the middle of a high-profile murder case where TV news crews chased her down the street.