Jose Menendez PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 20 October 2008 09:42

Jose Menendez

Born: 1944, Havana, Cuba.

Died: August 20, 1989. Beverley Hills.

Age:  45

Cause of death: Murdered by shotgun.

Notable because: Ambitious controlling influence over his two sons led to brutal double murder.


Jose was born in 1944 to an upper-middle class family in Havana, Cuba. His father was a well-known soccer player who owned his own accounting firm. His mother was a swimmer who was elected to Cuba’s sports hall of fame. Jose had two older sisters, Teresita, known as "Terry", and Marta. Although the family was not rich, Jose’s parents’ accomplishments in sports guaranteed them an honored place in Cuban society. Jose was five years younger than Terry and was spoiled and adored by his mother.

In 1960, Jose Menendez was 16 years old. After Castro came to power, Jose’s parents saw that their lives in Cuba were forever changed. They decided to send their son to the US.  Jose flew to the United States with Terry’s fiance and settled in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, located between Scranton and Allentown.

Jose arrived penniless and did not speak or understand English but was determined to succeed in his adopted country. Jose studied diligently in high school and worked part-time to earn spending money. Due to financial hardship, Jose was not able to achieve one of his dreams, which was to attend an Ivy League college.

He promised himself that someday, when he had children, they would achieve his dream and graduate from an Ivy League college. Jose won an athletic scholarship in swimming to Southern Illinois University. Jose did not like Southern Illinois University and is remembered by classmates as withdrawn and sullen. Jose supported himself financially with his athletic scholarship, but eventually walked away from athletics to concentrate on his studies.

In 1967, Jose graduated from Queens College with a CPA degree. He went to work for Coopers & Lybrand, an international accounting firm.

In 1969, Jose was sent to Chicago to audit Lyon Container, a client of Coopers & Lybrand. Jose so impressed the management of Lyon Container that they asked him to come to work for them as the company’s controller. Jose was 25 years old. Jose, Kitty and their infant son, Joseph Lyle, born on January 10, 1968, moved to Hinsdale, Illinois. Kitty became a full time mother, while Jose worked hard and turned Lyon Container into a profitable company.

In 1970, Jose was named president of Lyon Container. The position did not last long because Jose and the chairman of the board became involved in a fight over the direction of the company.

In 1971, Jose went to work at Hertz, as an executive in the car leasing division and the Menendez family moved from Illinois to the East Coast and settled in New Jersey. Jose’s second son, Erik, was born on November 27, 1971. In 1973, Jose became Hertz’s chief financial officer. Jose rose through Hertz’s ranks and in 1979, when he was 35, became Hertz’s worldwide general manager. At Hertz, Jose earned a reputation for abusing subordinates. This reputation would follow him for the remainder of his life. In 1980, Jose’s career ended at Hertz. Another man was brought in and made president and Jose was reassigned to the entertainment division of RCA, the company that owned Hertz.

In 1981, Jose was assigned to RCA’s record division, which was saddled with overpaid, aging recording stars. Jose tried to turn the division around by signing the Eurythmics and Jefferson Starship. At RCA, Jose’s ethics came under scrutiny. An example of Jose’s questionable ethics was his practice of shipping large quantities of albums to record stores in order to make sales appear larger than they were. In 1986 alone, RCA was forced to honor $25 million in returned albums. By 1985, at the age of 41, Jose had risen to become the executive vice president and chief operating officer for RCA Records' worldwide operations. However, as hard as he tried, Jose was unable to turn RCA Records around.

During his life, Jose acquired a number of mistresses. Jose’s longest lasting affair began in 1978 with a woman named Louise, who was a dark-haired, self-confident businesswoman. Louise and Jose traveled together and entertained as a couple in Louise’s townhouse in Manhattan. Jose cared deeply about Louise yet never gave any thought to leaving Kitty. He also never considered ending his affair with Louise. Jose felt good with Louise. She buoyed his ego. For some time Kitty was not aware of Jose’s indiscretions. Jose was able to sooth Kitty with false, yet convincing claims of his faithfulness, but Kitty became suspicious of his behavior.

In 1981, Kitty uncovered one of Jose’s relationships and walked out of their home for several days. Jose managed to convince her to come home, more so for the brothers than because he loved her, according to Jose’s brother-in-law.

In 1986, at about the same time that Jose’s career at RCA was coming to an end, Kitty found out about Louise. Jose told Kitty about Louise and his other affairs. This sent Kitty into a depressive spiral and she talked about committing suicide.

Through contacts that Jose had made while at RCA, he was able to find a position as the President of LIVE Entertainment in California. LIVE was a video-distribution and duplication company and was partially owned by Carolco, a movie-production company, best known for producing the Rambo pictures. Jose jumped at the chance to become involved in the film business and had no problem uprooting his family and moving them from the East Coast to the West Coast. At the time that Jose was brought in to run LIVE, it had posted a loss of $20 million for 1985. Jose saw another opportunity to turn a struggling company around. Kitty wasn’t so positive about the move. She had spent the past 16 years building a life outside of her marriage. Kitty had an established a network of friends who she cared about and who in turn cared about her. Jose and Kitty had recently purchased a home in Princeton, New Jersey, that Kitty considered her dream house. Nevertheless, Jose decided that it would be in Kitty and Erik’s best interests to move to California with him. They settled in Calabasas, an upper-middle class suburb in the northwestern part of the San Fernando Valley. Lyle remained  in Princeton to attend college.

 Jose dedicated himself to raising great sons who would carry out his plans for the future and continue his legacy. Because Jose had fought his way up the corporate ladder, he understood that there was an easier and more refined way to reach the top and he set about training his sons to reach that peak. When the brothers were young, Jose had rules for everything: what they could eat, whom they could spend time with, and what they read and thought about. Every hour of every day was to be accounted for.

Jose and Kitty did not take in to account that they were dealing with young children, nor did they consider that their children could be flawed or that they themselves might be flawed. Joses greatest flaw was his viciousness that probably grew out of his insecurity about his ethnicity. Jose relished humiliating Anglo colleagues who made mistakes, yet at the same time he sought acceptance from them through his efforts to transform himself into an American. He encouraged business colleagues to call him "Joe," rather than Jose.

In July 1988, Erik and Lyle began breaking into homes in Calabasas. The brothers burglarized the homes owned by parents of their friends and were surprised by the large amounts of cash and jewelry that they were able to steal. The brothers had found an easy source of spending money, rather than having to ask Jose for a hand out, or listen Jose lecture about hard work.

The amount of money and jewelry that Lyle and Erik stole was estimated to be more than $100,000, large enough to be classified as a felony offense called grand theft burglary. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective who investigated the burglaries received a break in the case after Erik was stopped for a driving violation in Calabasas and stolen property was found in his car trunk. Later the detective discovered that a safe in one of the homes that the brothers had burglarized was found in another home burglarized by the brothers. It appeared that the thieves had developed a guilty conscience and returned a safe they had stolen to the wrong home.

Jose was furious about the burglaries. Jose did not want his sons to spend any time in jail and hired Gerald Chaleff, a well-respected criminal defense attorney to represent them. Chaleff was able to work out an agreement with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office that would absolve Lyle of any participation in the burglaries, if Erik took responsibility for all the crimes. Erik was a juvenile and had no previous record. Chaleff was able to convince a judge to sentence Erik to community service with the homeless and for the brothers to undergo psychological counseling. Jose wrote a check for $11,000 to the victims to cover the stolen items. The brothers had already disposed of the items and could not return them.

The burglaries were the talk of Calabasas. It seemed that neighbors of the Menendez family were uncomfortable knowing that Lyle and Erik were free and not the least bit remorseful. Jose blamed Erik’s friends, instead of Erik for the burglaries, just as he had blamed Princeton for Lyle’s plagiarism rather than Lyle. Jose probably had a difficult time understanding the brothers’ behavior and why Lyle and Erik had victimized friends, people they supposedly valued.

Jose began to complain about living in Calabasas. He told people at LIVE that the family was receiving harassing telephone calls and that his tires had been slashed. It may have all been talk and a way of Jose saving face. He told associates that he felt that he and his family would be safer living in Beverly Hills.

These were not the only burglaries that the police were able to pin on the Menendez brothers. In April 1988, two burglaries took place at the New Jersey office of the Sierra Club and the office of the Princeton Friends of Open Spaces. In these burglaries, office equipment was stolen with a value of approximately $1,100. The offices were housed in the same property that the Menendez family owned just before they moved to California and the house in which Lyle had lived in before entering Princeton. Jose and Kitty had sold the house in November 1987. The police were left with few clues as to who committed the burglaries. In both burglaries, the burglar had entered the home through a second floor bathroom.

The police were finally able to connect Lyle to the burglaries after a confidential police informant came forward. The informant told the police that one day during the summer of 1988, he had been riding to the beach with the Menendez brothers when Lyle played a cassette tape. The tape was a recording of voices talking. There was also background noise. Lyle bragged to the police informant that they were listening to a tape recording of a burglary that Lyle committed at his old house in Princeton. Lyle was never charged with these burglaries. By the time the police were able to connect Lyle to these crimes, he was already in jail on more serious charges.

Jose was doing well at LIVE. His contract had recently been renegotiated and extended until December 31, 1991. In recognition of Jose’s importance to LIVE, the company invested in a "key man" life insurance policy that would guarantee that if Jose died, the company could continue operating without worrying about going under. The policy was valued at $15 million. LIVE also purchased a "key man" personal policy for Jose’s family that was valued at $5 million. Jose was to name a beneficiary as soon as he took a routine physical examination. It was expected that Jose would name Kitty as the beneficiary, which was customary under California community property laws. 

At 11:47 p.m. on August 20, 1989 a 911 call was received at the Beverly Hills Police Department. The department runs a tape recorder continuously in order to record every call received by the 911 emergency department.  Eventually it became clear that the boys had shot their parents.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:42

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