In the 30-plus years since Erik and Lyle Menendez killed their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, the siblings’ motive has been a subject of intense scrutiny. While greed was originally used by the prosecution to explain the murders, the brothers claimed that their parents emotionally abused and molested them from a young age. Keep reading for details about the claims, the brothers’ convictions and more.
What Happened During the Menendez Murders?
On August 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik — who were 21 and 18 at the time, respectively — walked into their parents’ Beverly Hills mansion, armed with shotguns. Aiming at Jose and Kitty, who were sitting on the couch in the home’s den, the brothers shot their father in the head at point-blank range, firing an additional three shots at his legs and arms. Lyle exited the home and went to his vehicle to reload. He reentered and proceeded to shoot his mother through the cheek — Kitty was ultimately shot five times throughout the body and four times in the head.
“It was just absolutely savage,” the crime scene’s investigator Russ Olson recalled on an episode of the true crime series Snapped. “You’re looking at two human beings who had been ripped apart.”
What Have the Menendez Brothers Said About Being Abused?
While prosecutors tried to posit that the Menendez brothers killed their parents in order to get their hands on the family’s money, Lyle took the stand during the famed 1993 trial and turned that script on its head. Claiming that both he and Erik had been molested — with the abuse starting when they were just 6 years old — Lyle alleged that his father had raped him and forcibly tried to perform oral sex on a regular basis. “He used objects … a toothbrush and some sort of shaving utensil brush. He’d rape me,” Lyle claimed at the time.
The now-adults have always insisted that they killed their parents in an act of self-defense, explaining that they felt murder was the only way to escape the years of sexual abuse they experienced, particularly at the hands of their father (they claimed their mother also touched them inappropriately and would go topless or naked in front of them on a regular basis).
In his interview as part of the 2018 A&E documentary titled The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All, Erik shared his remorse about that night — and reiterated why it happened in the first place. “From the moment after, I wanted to go back in time and take back everything that Lyle and I did. It was so wrong. I didn’t want my parents dead — I just wanted the abuse to stop,” he said.
Did Jose Menendez Abuse Other Children?
Jose rose to prominence within the entertainment industry in the 1980s, working as a music executive and producing successful boy bands of the decade. One such group was Menudo, who signed with RCA Records and worked closely with Jose. More than three decades later, former group member Roy Rosselló came forward with sexual abuse claims against Jose, claiming in the 2023 Peacock docuseries Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed that Jose drugged and raped him while at the executive’s New York home.
“I know what he did to me in his house,” Roy said as part of the Peacock series, which was released on May 2.
Commenting on his father’s alleged actions relating to young boy bands, Erik claimed within Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed, “My dad was one of the guys that was choosing and selecting the new members of the group. I remember specifically taking one of the kids and going off and saying he wanted to talk to him alone and they went off into the house upstairs.”
When told of Roy’s allegations against his father by journalist and executive producer Robert Rand, Erik continued, “Frankly, to be honest, I feel horrible. It’s sad to know there was another victim of my father. I always hoped and believed that one day the truth about my dad would come out, but I never wished for it to come out like this — the result of trauma another child has suffered. It makes me very sad.”
Lyle, meanwhile, commented on what claims like Roy’s could’ve done back when he and Erik were facing the judge and jury, saying, “Of course you would know that would have made a difference at trial. Certainly that would have made an enormous difference because the entire trial centered on the belief about these events.”
Will Roy Rossello’s Claims Help the Menendez Brothers’ Case?
Throughout their original trial, the Menendez brothers’ claims against their parents, and their father in particular, were central to the defense’s argument. The 1993 trial eventually resulted in two hung juries and mistrials, forcing the brothers’ fate to be extended. By 1995, the siblings were back in court and were eventually found guilty of first-degree murder and handed down life prison sentences. They have remained in prison ever since and are not eligible for parole.
Meanwhile, Roy’s claims about Jose and their shared time in the 1980s has breathed new life into the case. The brothers’ case has been appealed numerous times to no avail, but criminal defense attorney Alan Jackson told TODAY that Roy’s allegations could potentially make a difference to their time behind bars.
“First, they have to file the petition. The petition has to be reviewed by a superior court judge. The judge has to grant a new trial, and the defense has to win at trial,” Jackson explained. “So those procedural and factual hurdles — that’s a big mountain to climb. Is this a glimmer of hope? It’s a glimmer.”
What Have People Said About the Menendez Brothers’ Claims?
In the years since the trial, many people — including those closest to the brothers — have shared vastly differing opinions about claims that both their parents abused them sexually. Their late mother’s brother, Brian Andersen, dismissed the idea that their mother did anything wrong, telling ABC News in 2017, “The idea that Erik and Lyle were abused by my sister Kitty is absolute insanity.” However, some relatives have come to believe the brothers.
Their cousin Diane Vander Molen — who testified at the trial about how the brothers confronted her about the abuse when she lived with the L.A.-based family for one summer — told ABC News that she “strongly” believes her cousins’ claims.
“I know that they would never, ever have done what they did unless they felt they had no choice — that it was either them or their parents,” she explained. “I know for 100 precent that there was [abuse in the family]. Their privacy was everything to them. They were completely different people when nobody was around. And then José and Kitty would turn on the charm when they had people over, which wasn’t very often.”
In light of the varying opinions of their story, Lyle has come to accept those dubious of his claims. “There’s always going to be skepticism,” he told People in 2017. “People think I just hopped on the witness stand and told a story that a sleazy defense attorney made up. But many people knew there was a sexual abuse in this family.”
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