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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.

A recording of the 911 call made from the scene captures the hysteria that followed. "They shot and killed my parents," says the frantic caller. As dispatchers ask repeatedly, "They were shot?" the caller screams, "Erik, shut up!" and later, "Erik! Get away from them!"

Erik said he spent the night of the murders "going through convulsions. . . . We'd never seen our dad helpless before. To see him in such a helpless stage, gave such revenge . . . in our hearts." Police officers questioned both brothers for several hours that morning, but relatives say police never performed a special chemical analysis of the brothers' hands and clothing designed to show whether either had fired a gun.

Police suspected that the crime had been perpetrated by mobsters and characterized the murders in first reports as a "gangland-style killing." And early in the investigation, Lyle suggested the name of someone who might harbor a deep grudge against his father: Noel Bloom, Jose's former business rival. Bloom has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murders, and authorities say they think the brothers could have planned all along to make the murders look like a mob hit.

Almost immediately after the slayings, the brothers' behavior began to attract the attention of police. Lyle went on a shopping spree, picking up several thousand dollars' worth of clothes, and was seen cruising around Princeton, N.J., in a rented limousine, with a bodyguard. Within a few weeks after the deaths, he bought a $64,000 special edition Porsche Carrera. A friend who asked Lyle how he was bearing up was flabbergasted to hear his answer: "Well, I've been waiting so long to be in a position like this that the transition came easy."

Then police heard that Lyle had made a sudden trip back home from Princeton and destroyed something in the family computer, one week after the killings. According to an expert hired by Lyle to help him access the family's computer files, this was a reference to a new will Jose had prepared that conceivably would have left less to his sons and something for other members of the family. A relative says Jose had only that summer been discussing ways to restructure his growing estate.

Lyle told his friend Glenn Stevens what happened. According to Stevens, Lyle said a relative "found a new will and I went there and erased it," a dumbfounded Stevens remembers Lyle telling him. "I was in disbelief. I just laughed." Stevens says Lyle displayed signs of nervousness as he discussed the incident. And in a somber moment, Stevens recalls, Lyle said: "My father wasn't very happy with me."

Two months after the murders, as police continued to follow leads, Erik and Lyle Menendez sat down for their first detailed interview in the family mansion. Erik sat stiffly at one end of the sofa in the sunken living room, while Lyle, dressed in a stylish blue-and-white exercise outfit, slouched with athletic nonchalance in a chair, doing most of the talking.

Lyle said he and his brother would like to put the grisly episode behind them. "Finding out who it is, Erik and I are probably not going to be able to do anything about it. To find out who it is and not be able to do anything is probably worse (than not knowing). So it's a hard thing for Erik and I to decide whether or not we want it solved. It would be great if whoever did it went to jail. But it really doesn't help us in any way. The loss is much greater than the benefits of finding out who did it," he said in a flat, unmodulated tone.

(This same distant way of talking would bother Beverly Hills detectives, but relatives say someone who didn't understand Lyle could easily misinterpret him. "He doesn't display emotion," says his uncle, Brian Andersen of Chicago. "He is very unique in that regard. He would retain all the emotion inside him.")

Then the brothers began to relive the night of the murder. "There was initial hysterics and then, after that night was over, I just sort of entered into my dad's sort of mode," Lyle said. "Sort of like an ESP sort of thing. You just sort of take over his position in the family."

According to Stevens' computations, Lyle spent $700,000 in the first weeks after his parents were killed. A relative put the figure closer to $500,000. Whatever the amount, that included the Porsche, a Rolex watch, as much as $40,000 in clothes and a Princeton cafe. Asked about the purchases, Lyle replied: "It's consistent with the way I've led most of my life. I like quality things. . . . I don't feel it's ostentatious; I just enjoy it more."

Andersen explains Lyle's spending spree as the only way he knew of acting out his rage over the loss of his parents. "My speculation is that . . . a little of what we're seeing in (him), trying to move too fast, is sort of a way to reach out because he's angry."

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