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THE MENENDEZ BROTHERS : Jose Menendez Gave His Sons Everything. Maybe Even a Motive for Murder.

July 22, 1990|JOHN JOHNSON and RONALD L. SOBLE | John Johnson and Ronald L. Soble, Times staff writers, are working on a book about the Menendez case for New American Library.

WHILE ERIK MADE HIS troubled adjustment to life in Calabasas, Lyle was struggling through his first year at Princeton. After one semester in the fall of 1987, he was accused of plagiarizing a paper for a psychology class. The university asked him to leave.

In a four-hour hearing, Lyle defended himself before a disciplinary committee, explaining that he did not intend to cheat and reading a note from his father on ethics. This time, however, invoking Jose's name did not save him, and Lyle was suspended for a year.

Jose dropped everything. He requested and received a private audience with the university president but failed to budge him. According to some accounts, Jose was more peeved at the college than at Lyle's transgression. But when Lyle asked Jose to finance a long trip to Europe, Jose refused. Lyle went anyway, traveling with his fiancee, a tennis pro who was about five years his senior. He accompanied her on a 12-city, three-month tennis tour and took in the sights while earning a little cash by stringing rackets.

When the couple returned to New Jersey in early 1989, Lyle resumed his studies, and his fiancee, too, settled in Princeton, working as a waitress. There she met another just-hired waiter, Donovan Jay Goodreau, a free-spirited, well-mannered Californian who found a temporary home near the college while traveling around the country. She and Donovan shared a small apartment on a platonic basis, and she introduced him to Lyle.

Until mid-May, three months before the murders, "I was Lyle's best friend," says Goodreau, who became a kind of ex-officio member of a small circle of friends whose orbits revolved around Lyle's reserved but powerful personality. Lyle, according to Goodreau, talked to him for hours about his father's achievement-oriented philosophy and encouraged him to memorize whole passages from the Mandino book, a kind of cult work about a camel boy of 2,000 years ago who becomes a super salesman.

The book contains a number of "scrolls" of philosophy designed to be a blueprint for success. To this day, Goodreau can quote with reverence lengthy passages from the book, which Lyle often carried in his tennis bag. "I will persist until I succeed," he recited during an interview. "I was not delivered unto this world in defeat, nor does failure course in my veins. I am not a sheep waiting to be prodded by my shepherd. I am a lion and I refuse to talk, to walk, to sleep with the sheep. I will hear not those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious. Let them join the sheep. The slaughterhouse of failure is not my destiny."

At his father's urging, Lyle tried to live these lines. And yet, he could never crack the elite circle of top junior tennis players. And he seemed to develop a problem with authority. "Don't ever tell Lyle what to do," says one of his friends, who would caution new acquaintances that Lyle would lose his temper if someone insisted on giving him advice.

One of Lyle's favorite movies was "Scarface," which portrayed a Cuban immigrant who rises to the top of Miami's drug underworld. He liked it not so much for the bloodiness, but for the single-mindedness the Al Pacino character showed in taking on the world and winning, at least for a while.

"There was a lot of pressure on him" to excel and to be like his father, Goodreau says, and Lyle was eloquent in describing the need he felt to be somebody. A few weeks after the two met, Lyle took Donovan to the grave of Jose's father in northern New Jersey. For three hours in the bitter cold, the two stood in the cemetery while Lyle confided to him about the burden of emulating his father. "Lyle said he was the only son who could make it in his father's image," Goodreau says.

"His family was willing to do anything and everything so he would be that person," he says. Lyle's mother helped him write his papers all through high school. Yet, Lyle knew he fell short. "Sometimes he said he knows he's not the best role model, especially for his brother."

By April, Lyle had had a falling out with Jamie over his friendship with Goodreau, who then moved into Lyle's small dorm room in Gauss Hall at Princeton's Wilson College. Lyle had introduced Donovan to his close relatives and, over spring break, brought him home to Beverly Hills. Goodreau says it was a unique experience.

Lyle would bone up for dinner, he says, knowing that Jose would question him about world affairs and what he was studying at Princeton. "Lyle said dinner was like a debriefing session," Goodreau recalls.

"When Jose arrived at the door, (the brothers) would greet him with an embrace and a kiss," says Flor Suria, 28, the maid who worked at the mansion for about 10 months. She says that when Jose wasn't traveling, the family would eat together every night between 7:30 and 8. No matter where the brothers were during the day, Erik and Lyle always made an effort to be on time for dinner.

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