The Menendez Brothers Are Behind True Crime’s Strangest Coincidence

With a Peacock documentary out and a Netflix series on the way, the Mendendez brothers are back in the spotlight. Here's something you may not know about them.

Menendez and Menudo: Boys Betrayed
Photo: Peacock

As distasteful as it might feel to admit, infamous killers often receive multiple lives in pop culture. This is particularly true in the streaming era, where a need for countless hours of programming can lead streamers to mine true crime stories from the past to enthrall and disturb new generations of viewers.

That’s how 1970s serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer came to be one of 2022’s most unsavory “stars.” Ryan Murphy’s tortuously titled Netflix series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story dramatized Dahmer’s gruesome crimes for a whole new audience. Now, thanks to the announcement of Netflix and Murphy’s “Monster” followup, we have a pretty good idea what true crime event could next captivate the streaming world.

On May 3, Netflix announced that the next installment of Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s “Monster” franchise would actually be subtitled “Monsters” and feature two killers rather than one. Monsters: The Lyle and Erik Menendez Story will follow the early ’90s murder of José and Kitty Menendez by their two sons, Lyle and Erik.

The murder of José and Kitty and the events that followed was one of the biggest crime stories of its era. In fact, if it weren’t overshadowed by The O.J. Simpson trial just two years later it might still be remembered as the defining legal media circus of the 20th century. Funnily enough, in another Ryan Murphy true crime anthology The People v. O.J. Simpson, Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) mentions feeling prepared to take on the O.J. case after having just gone through “Menendez.”

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In its announcement, Netflix also notes that it has exclusive access to Lyle and Erik Menendez for an upcoming documentary feature. Perhaps the streamer felt compelled to do so because one of its competitors also just released an attention-grabbing Menendez documentary of its own. Peacock’s Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed takes a fresh look at Lyle and Erik’s main trial defense. The brothers claimed that they committed the murders out of fear for their own lives from their father following a lifetime of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse.

The Peacock documentary, which premiered May 1, reportedly contains fresh evidence supporting this claim and it’s something Netflix will undoubtedly want to look into both with its Monster(s) sequel and untitled Menendez documentary.

But why is the Menendez case enjoying renewed interest in 2023? Probably for the same reasons that made it a media spectacle in the early ’90s. The Menendez murders had pretty much everything a true crime story needs to become a sensation. The Menendez family was both respected and rich and the boys’ odd behavior after killing their parents was perfect fodder for the tabloids at the time.

In the months following their parents murders on Aug. 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik engaged in an opulent spending spree that included the purchasing of a Buffalo wing restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey, a Rolex, a Porsche, and extensive tennis lessons to compete in a tennis tournament in Israel. Whether this was an unexpected reaction to grief or outright gloating over successfully killing their parents is up for debate. But the Menendez’s $700,000 months of spending did contribute to one of the strangest true crime coincidences of all time.

In 2018 a true crime fan decided to look for evidence of all the expenses the brothers made in the time between their parents murder and their own arrest. Eventually that fan-turned-investigator, Stephen Zerance, uncovered something truly bizarre. You see, at some point during Lyle and Erik’s post-murder binge, they decided to check out a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. And since no expense need spared, they likely sat courtside. Zerance ordered a bunch of bulk 1989 season basketball cards off of eBay, starting flipping through them, and made a startling discovery.

Zerance’s tweet would eventually go viral when it was posted to Reddit and boosted by ESPN reporter Darren Rovell. Here’s a clearer version of the card, Lyle and Erik are seated courtside to the left of Jackson.

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And that is how evidence of two killers’ opulent post-murder spending spree forever came to be immortalized on New York Knick Mark Jackson’s basketball card. For what it’s worth, Jackson’s career wasn’t cursed by it as he went on to become an NBA coach and currently is a live commentator of NBA games for ESPN.

For some time after the discovery of the Menendez brothers on Jackson’s card, eBay disallowed sales of the card due to its policy forbidding anything “affiliated with murders or serial killers.” They appear to have backed off of that now as several copies of the card are now available again on the site. Technically you could go buy a few now and start hoarding them for when the Menendez name spikes in popularity after Monsters: The Lyle and Erik Menendez Story premieres. But also: maybe don’t do that. That’s a bit much.