Entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife were murdered in their Beverly Hills mansion in a fashion typical of mob-style executions, informed law enforcement sources said Tuesday.
"It was definitely a message killing," said a source familiar with the slayings. "There's no question it's organized crime."
Investigators believe that at least two hit men, wielding 12-gauge shotguns, confronted Menendez, 45, and his wife, Kitty, 44, as they watched television in their home on the evening of Aug. 20 and shot them at close range.
Coup de Grace
Fueling speculation in investigative circles that the killers intended to send a message to others was the kind of coup de grace administered to Menendez.
As described by a law enforcement source, a shotgun barrel was thrust into Menendez's mouth, undoubtedly after he was dead, and a final blast blew off the back of his head.
Beverly Hills police have refused to divulge details of the slayings and have maintained publicly that the double-homicide may not necessarily have been the work of professional hit men.
But knowledgeable law enforcement sources, who asked not to be identified, told The Times that investigators "are proceeding along the lines" that the slayings were done in classic mob fashion.
Menendez and his wife were found slain by their two college-age sons, Lyle, 21, and Eric, 18, who had been out for the evening.
Slumped on Couch
When detectives arrived at the family home on North Elm Drive, they found Menendez slumped on a couch in the family's first-floor library; his wife was on the floor nearby. The couple were dressed casually in shorts, and both apparently had been watching television. Fresh bowls of berries and cream were still on a coffee table.
What authorities ultimately learned, according to law enforcement sources, was that Menendez had been shot eight times with a 12-gauge shotgun from a distance of about three feet.
His wife, who apparently tried to flee after her husband was shot, caught five shotgun blasts, one of which nearly severed one of her wrists, one source said.
Another shotgun blast ripped into a library wall, the source said.
The killers then picked up the empty shell casings and left the house, sources added.
Nothing of value was missing from the house, according to Lyle Menendez.
Police found doors to the home unlocked, with no signs of forcible entry, a law enforcement source said.
The Menendez family apparently had a habit of leaving doors unlocked, he said, and "someone must have known" about this practice.
Beverly Hills police have released little information about the murders.
"We're not absolutely convinced it was anything, including organized crime," said the department's spokesman, Lt. Robert Curtis.
On average, Beverly Hills police handle two murders a year and have two detectives who specialize in robberies and homicides. But given the nature of the Menendez slayings, most of the department's 15 detectives have been pressed into round-the-clock efforts to crack the case.
So far, Beverly Hills police have attempted to conduct the investigation largely in-house, asking for information from the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department's Organized Crime Intelligence Division--but not requesting outside investigative manpower.
Much of the investigation currently turns on individuals and companies that have suspected organized crime or pornography ties and might have had business dealings with Menendez's company, Live Entertainment Inc. of Van Nuys, a video and music distributor.
Menendez's associates have stressed that the slain executive attempted to distance himself from any elements of the pornography business.
One possible lead being pursued is the killing on Aug. 1 of Theodore Snyder, 47, a San Fernando Valley producer of X-rated videos. He was shot nine times on a residential street in Northridge. Law enforcement sources said there are "similarities" in the slayings of Menendez and Snyder, but they would not elaborate.
Court affidavits show that Snyder's company, Video Cassette Recordings Inc., did business with and owed money to a firm allegedly controlled by a man linked by federal prosecutors to an East Coast crime family.
Another area of interest to investigators is Live Entertainment's acquisition this year of Strawberries Records, Tapes & CDs, a Milford, Mass.-based retail chain that was owned by Morris Levy, a New York City record executive. Levy, sentenced last year in New Jersey to 10 years in federal prison for conspiring to extort money from a Philadelphia-area record distributor, has had a long association with Vincent (The Chin) Gigante, reputed boss of the Genovese crime family, according to law enforcement officials and court records.
According to FBI documents, the Genovese family had an interest in the Strawberries chain before Levy bought it.
In 1986, Menendez joined Carolco Pictures Inc. of West Hollywood, which owns 49% of Live Entertainment. That same year, Carolco purchased International Video Entertainment Inc. of Canoga Park, then owned by Noel C. Bloom of Hidden Hills.
Bloom was identified in a U.S. attorney general's report on pornography and organized crime as a "major Los Angeles-based distributor" and "associated with Michael Zaffarano," whom the attorney general said was a captain in an East Coast Mafia family.
In a dispute arising out of the sale of International Video Entertainment, Bloom sued Carolco in Los Angeles Superior Court and last September a court referee found in his favor.
No one has accused Bloom of any wrongdoing in connection with the Menendez investigation. Bloom declined to comment on Tuesday.
--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---
Mary Louise (Kitty) Menendez was 47 when she died, not 44.
--- END NOTE ---