Sons Named in Double Slaying in Beverly Hills : Crime: One arrested. Entertainment chief Menendez and wife were initially thought victims of a gangland hit.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The eldest son of slain entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murdering his parents last August in their Beverly Hills mansion.

The couple's younger son was being sought in Israel, where he has been playing in an international tennis tournament.

The gruesome shotgun murders shocked the Hollywood community and initially touched off widespread law enforcement speculation about a possible organized crime hit.

But from the outset, Beverly Hills detectives said Thursday, they suspected the Menendez sons, Lyle, 22, and Erik, 19, who stood to share exclusively in an estate valued at $14 million.

Lyle, who had been under police surveillance, was taken into custody Thursday afternoon as he left the family home on Elm Drive, and was booked at the West Hollywood sheriff's station. The district attorney could ask for special-circumstances allegations that make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

A murder complaint has also been issued for Erik, a professional tennis player who has been competing in a tournament in Israel.

Beverly Hills police said they believe they have a strong case against the two sons.

"We're on real solid, solid ground," Lt. Russ Olson, the Beverly Hills chief of detectives, said after the arrest. But he would not elaborate.

"I've been in this business for over 33 years and I have heard of very few murders that were more savage than this one was," Beverly Hills Police Chief Marvin D. Iannone told a news conference.

As for the motive, Iannone said it was not determined if "there was a sole motive or several motives."

He noted, however, that it was "no big secret that the Menendezes had an estate that was worth millions of dollars" and that the two brothers were the sole beneficiaries.

Iannone said 'there were all kinds of theories" about the murders which led to the gathering of "a lot of evidence," much of it "very circumstantial."

But "just recently," he said, detectives found "the glue, if you will, to bind (the case) together. . . . And I feel we have a very tight case."

He would not elaborate.

It was revealed on Thursday that police had served search warrants to seize the records of a psychologist who had seen the entire Menendez family. Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the arrest was "based on newly discovered evidence and did involve some conversations." Reliable sources said those conversations were with the psychologist.

Lyle Menendez's lawyer, Gerald Chaleff, was sharply critical of Beverly Hills police and the prosecutor for seizing the psychologist's records. "It is very troublesome," he said.

Suggesting that state law could have been violated, he said he was "astounded that the district attorney's office would violate the psychotherapist-patient privilege."

Chaleff declined to comment on any other aspects of the case until he had a chance to study the evidence.

The Menendez brothers are tall, handsome, athletic competitors whose easy self-assurance seemed to mark them for success. Lyle, in particular, was regarded as intimidating, with a deep self-confidence that bordered on arrogance. Friends and relatives described both brothers as articulate young men who seemed sure of their futures, even in the wake of the tragic deaths of their parents.

Their father, Jose, 45, chief executive of Live Entertainment Inc. of Van Nuys, a video and music distributor, and his wife, Kitty, 44, were killed instantly by more than a dozen close-range blasts from two 12-gauge shotguns as they were watching television in the first-floor library of their home about 10 p.m. last Aug. 20.

There was no sign of forced entry into the home. Nor was there any indication of a robbery, and no murder weapons were found.

The Menendez sons reported finding their parents' bodies when they returned from a night out.

"From the very onset we had suspicions of the boys' involvement," Olson said in a telephone interview. "As more evidence developed, it pointed only in one direction."

Olson and his two lead detectives believe that Lyle Menendez orchestrated the murders and that Erik could have been intimidated into going along. "Lyle was the heavyweight in this," he said.

Menendez, in the event of his and his wife's simultaneous death, left his entire $14-million estate to the two children. After estate taxes and other items were subtracted, Lyle and Erik stood to net $3 million each.

Additionally, a $400,000 personal life insurance policy on Jose Menendez already has been distributed to Lyle and Erik.

Initially, Beverly Hills detectives appeared to focus much of their investigation on the possibility that the slayings were the result of a dispute with characters having organized crime connections.

That was because Menendez's company, Live Entertainment Inc., had links to the pornography video business before it was acquired by Carolco Pictures Inc., a studio that produced the Rambo films.

Another area of organized crime interest had been Live Entertainment's acquisition early last year of a New England-based retail record chain once controlled by a reputed New York crime family boss.

But as the investigation unfolded, detectives increasingly focused their efforts on the two brothers.

Both Lyle and Erik had told police that they had spent that Sunday evening seeing the film "Batman" in Century City and that they had later attended a wine and food festival at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Still later, they said, they were to meet a friend at a Beverly Hills restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory.

Detectives began digging into their alibi and, according to an affidavit in support of a search warrant, examined outgoing calls from pay telephones at the auditorium. The brothers maintained they had made calls to a friend from the auditorium, telling him to meet them at the Beverly Hills restaurant.

Police did not disclose whether they found any flaws in the brothers' account of the evening. According to one knowledgeable source, however, police investigators were skeptical of the brothers' claim that they had seen "Batman" in Century City.

Detectives also discovered that a reference to a will was deleted from the family's home computer after the murders. They believe that the will, whether old or new, was intentionally destroyed by Lyle, according to several sources familiar with the police investigation.

Relatives told The Times that in recent years Menendez was discussing changing his will to take into account his rapidly growing wealth. But relatives said there was no evidence that such a will was ever written.

What is known, according to several sources, was that there was a reference to a will in the computer located in the upstairs bedroom of the Menendez home. The reference to the will was contained in a file name on a computer disk. Shortly after the slayings, a member of the Menendez family discovered the reference and attempted to view the file, these sources said.

Before an expert could be called in to reconstruct whatever might have been in the computer, the file was deleted from the disk in such a way that it could not be recovered by police experts.

Olson said the deletion of the information in the computer was important to the case. "The computer was a key factor for a motive," he said.

Olson also said there were new developments in the last few weeks.

"There were some witnesses we were able to develop. There was some physical evidence within the last couple of weeks and last couple of days."

After gunning down the Menendez couple, the killers--there were two, according to law enforcement sources--picked up the shotgun shell casings from the library's inlaid wood floor and walked out into the night. Robbery was not considered a motive. Nothing of value was missing from the home.

Olson said the crime had clearly been carefully planned.

"There definitely was planning," he said. "How long it was in the planning, I'm not sure."

Although his family had once been influential and wealthy in their native Cuba, Jose Menendez had virtually nothing when his parents sent him out of the country 30 years ago after Fidel Castro came to power.

Continuing his education in the United States, Menendez worked his way through Queens College in New York and obtained an accounting degree.

He married Mary Louise (Kitty) Andersen, an athletic, outgoing woman who had been a beauty queen in her hometown of Oak Lawn, Ill.

Jose Menendez's rise in business began when he audited a Chicago company and so impressed the firm's officials that they hired him and made him president of the company.

From there, he held executive positions at Hertz and RCA before coming to California in 1986.

"I don't think you will ever find a person that will ever say anything about Jose that wasn't to the effect that he was just extraordinary," Lyle said last year in an interview with The Times.

Lyle and Erik characterized him as a devoted father who never missed a soccer game in which his sons played. But he also was a perfectionist, never satisfied with his own success. "He really couldn't do something well enough," Lyle said.

The father's drive to succeed rubbed off on the sons. "You become very demanding," Lyle said, though he added that "it was sometimes difficult for Erik and I."

"It's extremely hard to believe anything like this could happen--that the boys were the ones who killed their parents," said Carlos Baralt, an uncle who is the executor of the family estate.

"It really is unbelieveable," he said. "For some time the whole family was seeing a psychologist; the parents and the boys were."

RELATED STORIES, PICTURES: A3, A29

--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---

Correction

Mary Louise (Kitty) Menendez was 47 when she died, not 44.

--- END NOTE ---

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°