In the nearly 30 years since Lyle and Erik Menendez became recognizable names, the infamy of their parricidal crime has not lost its ability to magnetize interest. As their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, watched TV in the living room of their Beverly Hills mansion on August 20th, 1989, the brothers ambushed them with shotguns, killing them with a collective 15 bullet wounds. Those are the basic facts. Two decades since they were sent to separate institutions to serve life sentences without the possibility of parole, there’s not much new information to unearth and reveal about the murderous pair. That didn’t stop Lifetime from trying to do just that in their new made-for-TV-movie, Menendez: Blood Brothers, which recounts the circumstances leading up to that day.
At the apex of media fascination around the case, the storyline was irresistibly juicy: two handsome, wealthy young men execute their mother and father in one of the most notorious double-murders in American crime history. The authorities said they were trying to speed up getting their hands on their inheritance money. The defense claimed their clients put an unequivocal stop to years of alleged physical and sexual abuse. Now that Lyle and Erik Menendez have spent more time in prison than they did in freedom, their story continues to be fodder for filmmakers and folklorists alike, inspiring multiple TV movies and docudramas. Most recently, the Menendezes have been the subject of a special two-hour episode of Snapped in 2016.
The new Lifetime movie lays bare the dysfunction of the family that even loved ones only subjectively knew with Courtney Love in a serious turn as Kitty Menendez, a heavy drinker emotionally programmed to overlook the indiscretions of her husband at the expense of her sons. For all of its creative lackluster – the script reveals nothing we haven’t read or heard about the case already – the movie makes viewers sit with the uncomfortable reminder that two parents gave two sons access to the best and finest of everything and died at the ends of two loaded shotguns because, the defense would have you believe, of their family secrets. Here, five WTF moments from Menendez: Blood Brothers, fact-checked.
Was Jose Menendez that horrible to his kids?
One thing is for sure: the Menendezes are not offered up as sympathetic characters to be liked or pitied in this retelling of their tragic story. In an opening scene, after Erik loses a tennis match, his father scolds, “If you’re not going to be the best at something, don’t bother doing it at all,” then bluntly tells Erik that he’s not good enough. The elder Menendez’s obsession with success comes across in his own coming-up story, from paying dues as a dishwasher to calling shots as an executive, but it’s also evidenced in the pressures he puts on his sons to be high performers. Menendez was a taskmaster who maintained high measures for his sons that he bluntly and aggressively articulated. By most accounts, the ferocity for excellence is true to life, though it was reportedly tempered more with love than the vitriol attributed to him in the film.
And did he really club a shark to death?
It’s nighttime. On a boat. In the middle of a body of water. The camera cuts to a half-crazed Jose Menendez pummeling a small shark on the deck with a baseball bat again and again and again. His horrified sons are huddled together outfitted with huge life vests while Kitty, with a flawless face of makeup, looks on in horror. Its reenactment is almost comical but in real life, there’s no evidence that this part of the trip actually happened – though the IRL shark-fishing outing the day before the double murder does seem pretty bad. The captain who chartered the 31-foot boat to the family testified that the brothers stayed in the bow most of the time, out of their father’s reach. Defense attorneys claimed the brothers feared their parents were going to kill them that day, possibly to legitimize a kill-or-be-killed defense. But luckily, it seems that no sharks were harmed in this way.
Did Erik have otherworldly conversations with his parents after he murdered them?
Would a Lifetime movie be a Lifetime movie without the insertion of an over-the-top villain, apparition or demon? There’s no evidence that Erik Menendez engaged in beyond-the-grave conversations with either of his parents in the days following his partnered murder of them. But when Jose and Kitty Menendez die in the film, they never really go away from the storyline. Their spirits appear to Erik alone – maybe because, of the two brothers, he wrestles more with loss and remorse than the money-thirsty Lyle. His father shows up to haunt him, his mother to be his guardian angel, dressed head-to-toe in an off-white pants ensemble because everybody loves a ghost who dresses the part. Chalk this one up to creative license.
Was that a toupee that Kitty snatched off of Lyle’s head?
Yes, yes it was. It was a revelation of an epic secret when she ripped the custom-made hairpiece during an argument. Even Erik claimed he didn’t know that his brother was wearing it – though other witnesses testified that he did. Either way, it became a punchline during the trial.
Was Fidel Castro really suspected to be involved?
Early on, a list of people possibly involved even included the adversarial Castro. Jose Menendez started his life in Cuba and moved to the U.S. when he was 16. His well-to-do father, also named Jose, owned an investment property that Castro ultimately seized. It was just one of numerous reasons why Menendez was passionate about deposing the dictator from control of his home country. Ambitions like that levied by powerful men with a deep well of influential connections don’t go unnoticed and it seemed possible, however fleetingly, that the Menendez’s gory murders were sparked by his plan to unseat the Castro regime. It’s mentioned as a possibility for a brief moment in the movie – just about as long as it took police to zero in on the real killers in this case.