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From the Archives: Video Executive and Wife Slain in Beverly Hills

A Los Angeles video entertainment executive who once headed RCA/Ariola records as well as U.S. operations for the Hertz Corp. was found shot to death along with his wife in their Beverly Hills mansion, authorities said Monday.

The bodies of Jose E. Menendez, 45, and Mary Louise (Kitty) Menendez, 44, were discovered in their North Elm Drive home by their two college-age sons, who had been out for the evening. Police received a 911 call from one of them at 11:47 p.m.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 23, 1989

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

“It was a very hysterical call,” said Lt. Robert Curtis, spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department.Officers arrived at the scene about one minute later and discovered the bodies of the Menendezes in the family room of their Mediterranean-style mansion. Both had been shot repeatedly “throughout the body,” said Craig Harvey, acting investigative supervisor for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Authorities declined to discuss what kind of weapon may have been used in the killing. It could not be learned whether a gun was found at the scene.

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Menendez was chairman of LIVE Entertainment Inc. of Van Nuys, a rapidly expanding firm of 2,000 employees that buys video rights to feature films and delivers video and music software to big retailers.

He was found slumped at one end of an L-shaped sectional couch. His wife’s body was found on the floor at the other end of the sofa, Harvey said.

There was no indication of a struggle nor evidence of a burglary. Neither victim was bound or gagged. Both were casually dressed in street clothes. Menendez, described by associates as an avid tennis player, was wearing shorts, Harvey said.

The coroner’s office estimated the time of death to be somewhere between 8 and 11 p.m. Both victims were declared dead at the scene at 11:50 p.m., three minutes after officers arrived.

Authorities declined to discuss a possible motive in the case but said they were not aware of any threats against the couple.Curtis said the Menendezes’ sons, Lyle, 21, and Eric, 18, were taken to police headquarters and questioned, but were not considered suspects in the case. A LIVE Entertainment spokeswoman said Lyle Menendez is a student at Princeton University; Eric is to attend UCLA in the fall.

In their search for a motive, a knowledgeable source said, Beverly Hills detectives called the Los Angeles Police Department’s Organized Crime Intelligence Division on Monday morning, asking whether they had any information on Menendez. The source said the LAPD had no immediate information on the victim.

Although Beverly Hills police would not comment on their investigation, records show that in 1988 LIVE Entertainment acquired Strawberries Records, Tapes and CDS, a Milford, Mass.-based retail chain that was owned by Morris Levy, a New York City record executive.

Levy was sentenced last year in New Jersey to 10 years in federal prison and fined $200,000 for conspiring to extort money from a Philadelphia-area record distributor. Levy, according to court records and law enforcement officials, has long acted as a business front for Vincent (The Chin) Gigante, reputed by law enforcement officials to be the underboss of the Genovese crime family.

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Beverly Hills detectives, meanwhile, canvassed the neighborhood Monday, hoping to find someone who might have seen something.

The homicides, the first to occur in Beverly Hills since the April, 1988, murder of a Wilshire Boulevard pawnbroker and his son, shocked those living on placid, tree-lined Elm Drive, among the most upscale streets in the Los Angeles area.

Said one elderly resident, who declined to be identified: “Things like this just don’t happen here.”

The Menendezes, property records show, bought their house in October, 1988, for $4 million, after selling a home in Calabasas for $950,000. The couple took out a $2-million loan and paid the balance in cash for their Beverly Hills property, records indicate.

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They were not, apparently, well-known in their new neighborhood, where houses and those who live in them are often obscured by tall security fences and long driveways. Indeed, a man who resides next door said Monday that he had never met or even seen the Menendezes.

If anything, Menendez was far better known in business circles where, observers say, he was regarded as warm and well-liked, an astute executive with a moneymaking track record who stood as a role model for other Latinos in the entertainment industry.

LIVE’s vice president of operations, John Powell, said Monday he was dumbfounded as to why anyone would kill Menendez or his wife.

“The whole company is in shock,” a shaken Powell said.While little could be learned Monday of Kitty Menendez, records show that Jose Menendez was a certified public accountant who received his college education in New York City. Menendez spent 14 years with the RCA Corp., according to a biography released Monday by LIVE Entertainment, the company that he has directed since leaving RCA in August, 1986.

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Between 1972-1980, he was executive vice president in charge of all U.S. operations for RCA’s Hertz Corp. car rental subsidiary. From 1980-1986, he was with RCA/Ariola, ultimately directing its worldwide operations as chief operating officer.In 1986, Menendez left RCA to run International Video Entertainment (IVE), then in Woodland Hills, which holds the video rights to more than 1,300 feature films and children’s programming.

About a year later, IVE bought an interest in Lieberman Enterprises, a Minneapolis firm that delivers video and music software to major retailers, thus becoming LIVE Entertainment Inc.Menendez initially took charge of the Lieberman and IVE operations in July, 1987, before the restructuring that resulted in LIVE’s formation was complete. He tightened operations and slashed inventories to boost profitability at the companies, while moving IVE away from dependence on so-called “B” video titles.

Stock OwnershipToday, 49% of LIVE’s stock is owned by Carolco Pictures, the Los Angeles-based motion picture company that is best know for producing some of Sylvester Stallone’s films, including all three Rambo movies. Carolco, on whose board of directors Menendez sat until his death, is controlled by two relative newcomers to Hollywood, Hungarian-born Andrew Vajna and Lebanese-born Mario Kassar.

Last week, LIVE Entertainment posted second-quarter net income of $1.5 million, almost triple the profit it made in the 1988 period, on revenue of $82.2 million. The company said a strong performance by the newly acquired Strawberries Records played a key role in what it called “record” results.

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A registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year shows that Menendez was covered by a $15-million “key man” insurance policy with LIVE Entertainment as the beneficiary.

The statement said LIVE’s business was “substantially dependent” on Menendez’s services, and added: “The loss of Mr. Menendez’s services could materially adversely affect the business of LIVE, although management believes that LIVE and its subsidiaries possess sufficient management depth to operate successfully” without him.

In addition, Menendez had a second $5-million life insurance policy, provided by the company. Available records do not indicate the beneficiaries of the policy.

Under an employment contract running through 1991, Menendez was guaranteed a salary of $500,000 a year, plus as much as $350,000 in bonuses. According to the SEC registration statement, the company owed Menendez $2.3 million in deferred compensation as of April 1.

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Replacements Named

Within hours of his death, LIVE’s executive committee had named two senior executives to replace him. Peter M. Hoffman, Carolco’s president and chief executive officer, will serve as LIVE’s acting chairman and chief executive. Roger R. Smith, LIVE’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, will serve as acting president and chief operating officer.Funeral arrangements for the Menendezes were pending. A LIVE Entertainment spokeswoman requested Monday that donations be sent in their names to the Leukodystrophy Foundation, 2304 Highland Drive, Sycamore, Ill., 60178.

Menendez, according to LIVE’s Vicki Greenleaf, had been actively raising money for two girls suffering from leukodystrophy, a degenerative brain disease, after having seen a cable news show describing the girls’ condition.

“He was really a great person,” Greenleaf said. “Once I dumped a cup of coffee on the man and ruined his suit. He just laughed.”

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Times staff writers Stephanie Chavez, Mathis Chazanov, Gregory Crouch, Darrell Dawsey, Michael Cieply and Ronald L. Soble contributed to this story.


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