How the Menendez brothers have become unlikely TikTok stars after shooting their parents dead over 30 years ago04/12/2021
THE Menendez brothers walked into the den of their $5million family mansion armed with shotguns — they found their mother and father inside, and they opened fire.
Erik and Lyle Menendez became the most famous murderers in the US in the 1990s for killing their parents — but now a new generation of TikTok users are discovering their case and becoming big fans of the brothers, watching videos about them hundreds of millions of times.
Lyle and Erik, who were 21 and 18 respectively at the time of the shootings of José and Kitty Menendez in 1989, were sentenced to life without parole seven years after the massacre.
In one of the most high-profile televised courtroom dramas of the decade, the brothers argued that they'd been pushed to murder after suffering years of physical and sexual abuse by their parents.
But the prosecution said they were motivated by money, an argument which was bolstered by the brothers having spent around $700,000 on cars, watches and other luxuries between the time of the bloodbath and their arrests in 1990.
Now a documentary on Hulu about their newfound social media support, Inside the Menendez Movement, shows how young backers believe the brothers were treated unfairly.
"People are like, 'Oh, who is this like hot guy in the court stand?'" TikTok user Lulu Maiorescu says in the trailer for the documentary.
"And then I think people started doing the research into the Menendez case and being like, 'Oh, this is like sick and twisted'.
"Like this is so wrong."
When investigators arrived at the Menendez home, they were met with a horrific scene.
The back of José's head had been shot off, while Kitty was found in a pool of blood in a hallway outside the den with gunshot wounds to the arms, chest and face.
"One eye and part of her nose were missing," Vanity Fair reported of crime scene photos shown in court.
"However, her other eye was open and staring out. You could not help but think she was watching her son deliver the coup de grâce."
Both of them had been shot in the knees, too, in an apparent effort to make it look like an organised crime hit, E Online reports.
Lyle called 9-1-1 that evening to report their staged discovery of the bodies, which the brothers claimed to have found after returning from a night on the town.
In the weeks after the killings, Lyle and Erik began to spend extravagantly thanks to a six-figure insurance payout.
Lyle bought a Rolex, a Porsche, and a restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey, where he'd previously attended university.
They also hired a private tennis coach who trained them in their adjoining Marina del Rey condos.
And they even employed a limousine driver to chauffeur them around between fancy overseas holidays.
The spending didn't go unnoticed by the police, who suspected the brothers were really to blame for the killings.
Cops got one of the brothers' friends, Craig Cignarelli, to wear a wire in an unsuccessful bid to record them confessing to the murders.
As it turned out, Erik confessed to the murders to his therapist, Jerome Oziel, which eventually led to their arrest.
Subjected to sick abuse
It wasn't Oziel who tipped off police — it was his mistress, Judalon Smyth.
Oziel told Smyth that the brothers had confessed to the crime during a session, and he planned to make a recording of them making more incriminating statements.
On the tape, which was played in court, the brothers say they killed their mother to put her “out of her misery” and that their father deserved to die because his infidelity led to that misery, the LA Times reports.
They were arrested in 1990 and, after a lengthy dispute about whether or not Oziel's tape was admissable as evidence, the trial began in 1993.
It was broadcast on Court TV and became a sensation as the brothers' lawyer, Leslie Abramson, argued they'd been pushed to the killings out of self-defence after a lifetime of horrific abuse.
Lyle testified that his father sexually abused him when he was between six and eight, and that his mother would invite him into bed with her as a teenage boy and he would touch her "everywhere", the LA Times reports.
Erik said his father molested him between the ages of six and 18.
"I had dismissed what had happened to me as something that happened to little boys," Lyle said in court.
Explaining his motive in killing his dad, he added: "I thought we were in danger. I felt he had no choice.
"He would kill us. He'd get rid of us in some way."
Their simultaneous trials resulted in two deadlocked juries — they were then tried again, this time by a single jury, and were both convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
In 1996, they were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
“We did think there was psychological abuse to some extent. I think most of us believed that,” juror Lesley Hillings told the LA Times after the sentencing.
“Sexual abuse? I don’t think we’ll ever know if that’s true or not.”
The Menendez brothers were sent off to separate prisons and their crime fell out of focus — until recently.
A string of renewed media interest in their story began in 2017 with the TV film Menendez: Blood Brothers, in which Courtney Love plays Kitty.
And in the same year, Erik gave in-depth interviews from prison for the A&E docuseries The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All.
When the series started streaming on Hulu in 2019, interest in the story exploded and social media accounts started cropping up arguing the brothers had been wrongly convicted.
Some TikTok posts are purely commenting on the killers' good looks — something which reportedly accounted for them receiving 1,000 letters a week in jail when they were first arrested, sometimes accompanied by nude photos.
But many of the new accounts sincerely believe the abuse they described in their testimony at trial was overlooked and unfairly downplayed in the media.
Fabienne Bersching, a 20-year-old from Germany who found out about the case from TikTok posts, was inspired to create her own Instagram account defending the brothers.
"My mom is a person that says like, ‘You know, they killed their parents, and that’s wrong,’” Fabienne told the New York Times.
“I’m always like, ‘Yeah, it is wrong.’ I’m not supporting the fact that they killed their parents, and I never will.
"But it’s the background story that’s so much more important to me.”
The 20/20 special Inside the Menendez Movement is streaming now on Hulu
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