Pushing Up Lilies

A Day in the Life of a Death Investigator: Exploring the Menendez Brothers

Episode Summary

Join me as I provide an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes into a typical day in my profession. We'll delve into the intricate workings of forensic investigations, shedding light on the duties and responsibilities that often go unnoticed. In this episode, we also take a look at the notorious case of Lyle and Eric Menendez, two brothers who shocked the nation when they brutally murdered their wealthy parents in Beverly Hills. We'll unravel the layers of this complex case, examining the motives, the evidence, and the psychological dynamics at play. So, join me on Pushing Up Lilies as we navigate the twists and turns of this chilling true crime tale and gain insight into the challenging yet essential work of death investigation. * Listener discretion is advised.

Episode Notes


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Episode Transcription

0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.

0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.

0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly True Crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

0:24 Do I have some stories for you?

0:26 Are you ready?

0:31 I think y'all know by hearing me talk in the past how much my job really means to me.

0:38 I felt very fortunate to have gotten into this field and I know a lot of people think they want to be, but once you're exposed to the elements, you know, the smells and the bugs, they quickly change their mind.

0:52 But one thing that I've always, I guess disliked more than anything is having to tell family members when their loved one has passed away.

1:04 And it's always just been difficult for me.

1:07 I can remember when I worked in Houston, I would always go into a room by myself where no one could hear me because at times I would get emotional.

1:17 It's hard not to because you totally know that's the worst way in the world to find out that you lost someone that you care about is by a phone call, but we didn't always have an address.

1:33 If we do, then we do send the police in that jurisdiction to the address to try to notify the family.

1:40 But many times we don't have an address and other than, you know, waiting to notify them, the best way possible is just to go ahead and give them a call and let them know.

1:51 We don't want them to find out from someone else.

1:54 If it's a car accident, we definitely don't want them to see a picture of the vehicle mangled on Facebook.

2:01 Because many people who take pictures like that and post them aren't really thinking of the consequences.

2:08 They just think it's cool that they came up upon this accident and they want to be the first to show everyone what they saw anyway.

2:15 Long story short.

2:16 And I think I've told y'all before, the very least favorite part of my job is to notify family, but also super important.

2:26 Something that we have to do, and we have to do it as quickly as possible.

2:32 And many times the family doesn't care, many times they're estranged, and they haven't talked to this person in years.

2:41 Sometimes we do get that attitude when we call.

2:46 You know, someone will say, well, just dig a hole and put him in it.

2:49 You know, of course, a lot of people become a little more willing to listen when they think there's something in it for them.

2:58 Oh, how do I get into his apartment?

3:00 How do I move his belongings out those types of things.

3:05 The family dynamics are so different, and I know we've talked about that before we run into all different things.

3:13 Last week.

3:14 Me and a coworker went to someone's house and dug through his belongings to try to find a family member's name and any kind of information, phone numbers, names of doctors, anything like that.

3:33 One thing we did find was old prescriptions when we find out what doctor he went to, you know, we would call and ask if they had anybody listed as next of kin.

3:47 Well, many times it's just a friend, it's not a family member and the friend may not have any knowledge of family or really know very much about them at all other than we're friends.

3:59 And I told him I'd be available if he needed anything because to my knowledge, he didn't have family.

4:05 This particular gentleman had moved away.

4:10 We found out later from where his family lived about five years ago and hadn't really been in touch with them in quite some time and the family didn't really know why.

4:22 But anyway, rewind a little bit.

4:24 Me and my coworker went to his hotel room where he resided in, literally were digging through all of his belongings and not to be disrespectful and not to invade his privacy, but just in an effort to find his family and let them know what happened, whether they care or not.

4:43 It's still our job.

4:45 We found nothing.

4:47 He was highly organized except the hotel room was very unclean and unkempt.

4:55 I think he was embarrassed to let housekeeping in.

4:58 And so they told us that he frequently would turn them away when they came to clean his room.

5:03 I believe he was homeless.

5:05 At one time again.

5:07 I think there's an element of embarrassment there somewhat.

5:11 You know, he didn't want anybody to come in there and see how little he had or how messy he was or whatever.

5:20 And so anyway, in searching, I found multiple notebooks, but they were all empty.

5:26 There was nothing written in any of them.

5:28 Now, I can't say anything about that because I am a hoarder of calendars.

5:33 I will buy 20 calendars in a year and never ever write on them one time, never use them.

5:41 And then by the time I find them, it's two years later.

5:45 And what I've found is an empty calendar with absolutely nothing written in it.

5:51 I don't know why I have a calendar obsession with me.

5:55 It's calendars, notebooks, and coffee mugs.

5:57 I guess we all have our thing.

6:00 He definitely collected notebooks and I get it.

6:04 I really do.

6:05 Anyway, in going through his stuff though, we did go through the notebooks and we didn't find any phone numbers.

6:11 We found nothing, no names.

6:15 Absolutely nothing.

6:17 His mail gave us very little clues.

6:19 However like I said, we did find some prescription receipts where we could call a doctor's office.

6:27 When we called the doctor's office, the friend listed as an emergency contact.

6:33 Actually, when we called her, we found out that she did think that he had a son, but she didn't know his name and she had no idea where he lived again.

6:42 We kind of have to take that information and do the best we can.

6:46 And thank goodness for social media.

6:49 When I got back to the office, I decided to look online because I had heard that he did have a Facebook page.

6:57 His phones, by the way, were taken to the medical examiner's office with the body because he died at the hospital.

7:04 There was no investigator to remove his property, but those were locked, and we were unable to get into them, because we didn't know his passcode.

7:13 We could not look through his phone to see who his contacts were.

7:17 And that's usually one of the best ways to find family or friends or somebody that knows something about them.

7:23 But in this case, it was kind of a dead end.

7:26 No pun intended.

7:28 We got online and saw people that were his friends on Facebook who had the same last name and he on Facebook and I don't know how familiar y'all are with it, but it does give you the option to add family members.

7:45 When you add them as your friend.

7:46 You can put cousin, aunt, uncle.

7:49 Now they have to accept that.

7:51 It shows pending until the other person has accepted that.

7:54 Yes, I am an uncle.

7:56 I am an aunt.

7:57 He had done that, which is very helpful knowing that if I reached out to an uncle or aunt, they might be older and might not be quite as good with Facebook and the internet as some of the younger generation, I reached out to cousins and nieces and nephews thinking that they're probably online more.

8:20 They're probably more familiar with Facebook and they're probably very familiar with private messaging and responding.

8:29 I did reach a nephew.

8:33 I'd also reached out to the nephew's wife.

8:37 They both responded very quickly, and we were able to find this gentleman's sister.

8:42 Now she did live out of state.

8:44 And again, she told us that he had moved to Texas approximately five years prior.

8:50 She did not know why, but he pretty much just lost contact with all of his family, and she did confirm that he did not have Children.

8:59 Next of kin was the sister.

9:03 No marriage, no Children, parents are deceased.

9:07 So siblings become legal next of kin.

9:11 And of course, we listed her name and address as his next of kin.

9:16 And we just advised her that that did not give her any financial responsibility as far as funeral arrangements goes because our county does have a county cremation program in place so that if the family can't afford a funeral, the county does cover that.

9:31 And the cremains are given back to the family.

9:34 In this case, she really had no reason not to give us her address and her contact information.

9:40 She had not talked to him in years and had no idea what was going on with him recently.

9:46 But she had heard that he was living in a hotel, and I was able to get some important information from her.

9:54 And this is another reason why reaching out to family is very important.

9:58 The information that she gave me was that their father died at a very young age from a massive heart attack.

10:05 And so that kind of tells us that heart disease basically runs in their family.

10:11 Now, he also had a brother who was only a couple of years younger.

10:14 This gentleman was only 56 and the brother had had a massive heart attack and a stroke at the age of 54 and had to be cared for.

10:26 We know by talking to her.

10:29 Now, even though she hasn't really talked to him in a long time and isn't super familiar with his personal medical history.

10:36 We did get a little bit of family history from her that maybe helped lead us the right direction as far as what may have happened.

10:44 And there was never foul play suspected he passed away at work, he collapsed at work coworker left the room and came back and he was on the ground and transported to a hospital and pronounced, that's just another reason.

10:59 And I just like to share kind of what I do in a day, and you wouldn't imagine that I'm double gloved in kind of a nasty hotel room going through people's belongings, just trying to find family members.

11:10 But again, that's very important to our office.

11:13 It's a very important part of our job.

11:16 We were able to get that additional family information and we could tell by being at his apartment, he was a smoker, there were a lot of cigarettes, there were ashtrays full of cigarette butts and ashes.

11:28 That's a good indication that he did smoke.

11:30 We didn't find any alcohol in the residence.

11:33 We didn't find any signs of illegal drugs.

11:36 We did not suspect that at all.

11:39 It was important in many ways because we were able to notify family and then also get that pertinent health background on him kind of a little bit in our day is a little bit different.

11:52 Not really what you would expect.

11:54 It's different from going on scenes and taking photos.

11:58 But to us it's a puzzle.

12:00 And I think that that's why many people feel like they would be very good at this job.

12:05 Because putting the puzzle together is what helps to solve the issues that we're having, whether it be not being able to find family or determining medical history determining social history, those types of things.

12:21 It was just to me it was like an Easter egg hunt.

12:23 I mean, it was a challenge.

12:25 And again, you know, not to be disrespectful, we put everything back where we got it.

12:31 We did try to log into his computer, and it was locked as well.

12:34 We couldn't find a passcode for that or his phone.

12:38 Typically, those are two things that give us a really good indication as to who family might be, who they call frequently.

12:47 At least a friend that's maybe familiar with family.

12:51 But anyway, I wanted to share that with y'all about this past week because it is a little bit different.

12:56 It's a different part of our job.

12:58 I guess something that a lot of people really don't realize that we do.

13:02 Last week we talked about Children who killed their parents.

13:07 And you know, one of the big, big cases that we can remember from 1989 was Lyle and Erik Menendez.

13:17 You remember when they murdered their parents?

13:19 And this was back in 89 and they cited emotional and sexual abuse for the murders of their parents.

13:28 In August of 89 Jose and Mary Louise Menendez were shot in their Beverly Hills home.

13:37 Now, there were three trials that lasted seven years and the boys, La and Erik were found guilty and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for killing their parents and this case became one of the most famous criminal cases of the late 20th century.

14:00 I can remember watching this on Court TV.

14:03 And I miss Court TV.

14:05 I don't think it's around anymore, but I used to love watching it.

14:08 I watched the Phil Specter trial.

14:11 I watched the OJ Simpson trial.

14:14 I love it.

14:15 It's amazing.

14:17 It's real life.

14:19 The acting stuff does not impress me.

14:23 I always find accidents that they make in filming that make the scene look unreal.

14:31 But in court TV, we always knew this was real.

14:34 This was raw.

14:35 This was what was happening.

14:37 We were able to watch it as it went down, and it made it interesting and very exciting.

14:42 But the Menendez family seemed to be a perfect model of the American dream.

14:48 Jose, the father was born in Cuba, and he immigrated to the US as a teenager in the fifties.

14:56 He lived in the attic of his cousin's house until he earned a college scholarship for swimming.

15:03 And at that point, he could go to college.

15:06 Now, he met Mary whose nickname was Kitty while he was in college, and she was a little older than him.

15:15 And they married in the sixties and moved to New York City.

15:19 Jose earned his accounting degree and went from washing dishes to being a successful entertainment executive.

15:28 That's quite an accomplishment to marry your college sweetheart and then get your college degree and then end up in the entertainment industry was really something to be proud of.

15:42 Jose spent the early eighties as head of RC A records and he had a hand in signing bands like Duran, Duran Menudo and even the eurythmics with their sons, the family moved to LA so that Jose can take a new job in the movie business.

16:04 The home where they lived had once been occupied by Elton John and even Michael Jackson.

16:12 Could you imagine as a teenager moving into a beautiful new home in LA where Elton John or Michael Jackson used to live.

16:23 Now, Lyle was a tennis star, but Erik was reportedly even better at tennis.

16:31 But Jose, you know, as many parents are, we push our kids, we want them to do their best, we want them to be successful.

16:38 Jose was very competitive, and he pushed them to do their best.

16:43 Sometimes that made the boys feel like they weren't good enough.

16:47 Erik began rebelling and he took a part in a string of burglaries in 1988 and then he actually avoided jail by attending court ordered therapy.

17:02 Lyle enrolled in Princeton, but he was suspended for a year for plagiarism.

17:10 Now I'm in grad school and I do know that every assignment I turn in goes through a program called turn it in.

17:18 And what that does is it looks through our paper, checks it for plagiarism and then gives us a percentage of plagiarism before our teacher grades.

17:28 It, it's a big deal.

17:30 It's a huge deal.

17:32 Anyway, Lyle was suspended from Princeton for plagiarism.

17:36 Jose was 45 and Kitty was 47 again.

17:41 She was a couple years older than him.

17:43 But after the murders, they were nearly unidentifiable because they had 15 rounds from 2, 12-gauge shotguns shot at them.

17:55 Now, police thought it was a mob hit due to the brutality.

17:59 I mean, there was a lot of blood, it was, you know, they were not recognizable, they could not really be identified.

18:05 They thought because it was so brutal that it had to have been a mob hit.

18:09 Investigators focused on rivals of Jose's, you know, related to the business that he was in and that's kind of the direction they were going when they were trying to find out who murdered them.

18:22 Now, the brothers told police that they went to a movie that night, but they stopped to get Erik’s Id at the house and that's when they discovered the bodies and phoned 911.

18:34 Now after the murders, the brothers acted like they won the lottery and we all know, you know, family members or close, family members are going to be the first ones that are suspected and they're going to be questioned.

18:49 And if there's a motive, then all fingers are going to point to them.

18:55 These guys, Erik and Lyle acted like they won the lottery.

19:01 Jose was worth about $14 million when he died.

19:05 And within six months, the brothers had spent $700,000 of his fortune.

19:13 Now, Lyle, who was 21 at the time, purchased a Rolex a Porsche clothing and a restaurant.

19:23 Like that's not something that you're just going to go by after your parents pass away.

19:28 And we're talking about within six months of their death, Erik purchased a Jeep Wrangler.

19:34 He paid $50,000 for a tennis coach and he spent $40,000 investing in a concert that never happened.

19:44 But the two of them also took really exotic vacations.

19:48 They did the best they could to try to spend this money.

19:52 And maybe that was because they knew that they would eventually get caught and wanted to have one last hurrah before they went to prison.

19:59 But there was also a $5 million life insurance policy on Jose and this 14 million did not include the life insurance policy.

20:10 This family was worth a lot of money.

20:14 And now Erik eventually confessed to killing his parents as did Lyle and they said that they did it to put their mother out of her misery because Jose they claimed had molested Lyle from the ages of 6 to 8 and had molested Erik from the age of 6 to 18.

20:36 Lyle was arrested on March 8th of 1990 at the time, Erik was in Israel at a tennis tournament and he turned himself in, when he returned back to LA on March 11th, the trials actually began in 1993 with separate juries for each one of them.

20:58 And it did air again on Court TV again, which I loved, I don't know why it went away.

21:04 I think it went away.

21:06 But if it was still airing, I would be watching it because I love that.

21:10 I like the real stuff again.

21:12 Now, they claim to have killed because of self-defense and not for the money, which money would be the obvious reason.

21:20 As we all know.

21:21 Now, Lyle provided graphic testimony and confronted Jose apparently about sexually assaulting Erik just days before the murders.

21:31 They also reported when they testified that Kitty, their mother struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and was devastated by Jose's constant affairs.

21:45 They really played Jose out to be a bad guy.

21:48 Now, the first trials lasted about six months and resulted in hung juries.

21:54 The two were retried together.

21:58 The second trial happened in 1995 and during that trial, there were no TV, cameras allowed darn it.

22:06 I would have totally watched that.

22:08 They found that there was no real sufficient evidence that they were ever abused.

22:14 I'm guessing apparently, they had never reported it prior to this.

22:17 If they had been sexually assaulted and reported it immediately, or even within a week, the police would have had a sexual assault kit down on them there would have been evidence and Jose would have been jailed immediately.

22:31 But because they never reported it, if it did happen, then there was no evidence, nothing had ever been called in or done or collected regarding those allegations.

22:44 But years later, a cousin said that she believed the sexual assault allegations.

22:51 There was though also one of the singers from the band Menudo who Jose worked with accused Jose of sexual assault as well.

23:02 There is a very good chance that that is something that was happening more than just at home.

23:10 However, Lyle and Erik were convicted on two counts of first-degree murder on March 21st of 1996.

23:19 And they were sentenced to life without parole, each receiving two consecutive life terms.

23:25 Now they were in separate prisons until 2018 when they were allowed to serve sentences together in San Diego.

23:34 They counsel other inmates there who've been sexually abused at the time.

23:40 Now Lyle is 55 and Erik is 52 and each of them got married while in prison and I know that we've talked about that before too.

23:51 I talked about the museum in New Orleans where you can read the letters of all the women who have written serial killers wanting to be their wife and wanting to marry them and meet them.

24:00 They had a pen pal; Erik married his pen pal Tammy Sockman in 1999.

24:08 And then Lyle married Anna Erickson in 2005.

24:13 Now, Anna was a former model and she divorced him when she discovered he'd been writing other women.

24:20 One reason women like to date men who are in prison is because they know where they're at all the time, they can't go anywhere, and they can't cheat however emotionally he was cheating by writing other women.

24:32 Anna divorced him at that time.

24:36 And Lyle then married Rebecca Snead in 2003 who is a journalist turned attorney.

24:45 Interesting story.

24:46 Again, just kind of a follow up on the Paris side cases that we were talking about last week.

24:53 And so I wanted to cover them because this was a big story back in the eighties.

24:57 And I know a lot of you are too young to remember.

25:00 But again, I watched them on TV, religiously every day.

25:04 I miss Court TV, so, so bad.

25:08 But I have actually written Lyle and Erik and reached out to them and asked for an interview.

25:14 This was just recently.

25:16 I have not heard back yet.

25:18 I know that because of COVID, a lot of the jails are hesitant to allow in person interviews now.

25:24 That might make it a little bit difficult for me.

25:28 But we'll see, I think it would be very interesting to go and just visit with them and just see what they have to say.

25:36 I know they've been interviewed a lot but maybe not recently.

25:40 I would just, I don't know, I just think it would be cool to sit and talk to them and just pick their brain and not really sound accusatory because that would shut them down and then they wouldn't want to talk to me just to get, you know, little information just to kind of, again, just talk to them as normal people just to see what their thoughts are and what prisons like.

26:01 And those types of things would really be cool.

26:04 Just kind of a little update.

26:05 We are in North Dakota visiting family.

26:09 We lost my mother-in-law this past week.

26:11 And so we're here for her funeral trying to get everything settled and in order and then we'll head back home, but just like home, it is unusually warm here.

26:22 I think it was 51 degrees when I landed, which is, I think crazy and unheard of here for this time of year.

26:29 I hope that y'all have had an amazing week.

26:32 I'm looking forward to next week and again, feel free to email us at Julie @ PushingUpLilies.com and then look on our website www.PushingUpLilies.com and click on ideas and maybe list stories that you would like for me to cover stories you'd like for to look into and again, opportunities to be a guest host.

27:00 I'm also available to speak at conferences and schools regarding forensics and forensic nursing and what forensic nurses have to offer in the field and even as a consultant on movie sets.

27:16 I hope everyone has a great week and I look forward to talking to you next week.

27:21 Bye.

27:23 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.

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27:34 This helps to make the podcast more visible to the public.

27:38 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.