This Week (August 18-24) in Crime History: U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was sentenced to prison for spying on the Soviet Union (August 19, 1960); West Memphis Three were released from prison after serving 18 years for murder (August 19, 2011); Menendez brothers murder their parents (August 20, 1989); Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico (August 20, 1940); Vincenzo Perugia steals the Mona Lisa from the Louvre (August 21, 1911); Irish revolutionary Michael Collins was assassinated (August 22, 1922); Barker gang robs Federal Reserve mail truck in Chicago (August 22, 1933); Sacco and Vanzetti were executed (August 23, 1927); Mark David Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life for killing John Lennon (August 24, 1981); Anders Behring Breiuik was sentenced to 21 years in prison for mass murder in Norway (August 24, 2012)
Highlighted crime of the week -
On August 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik Menendez shot their parents, Jose and Kitty, to death in the den of the family’s Beverly Hills, California, home. They then drove up to Mulholland Drive, where they dumped their shotguns before continuing to a local movie theater to buy tickets as an alibi. When the pair returned home, Lyle called 911 and cried, “Somebody killed my parents!” The Menendez murders became a national sensation when the new television network, Court TV, broadcast the trial in 1993. Although the Menendez brothers were not immediately suspected in the double homicide, Erik eventually confessed his involvement to his psychotherapist, Dr. L. Jerome Oziel. Ignoring his own ethical responsibilities, Dr. Oziel taped the sessions with his new patient in an apparent attempt to impress his mistress, but the woman ended up going to the police with her information and, in March 1990, Lyle and Erik were arrested. For the next three years, a legal battle was fought over the admissibility of Dr. Oziel’s tapes. Finally, the California Supreme Court ruled that the tapes could be played. When the trial began in the summer of 1993, the Menendez brothers put on a spirited defense. In compelling testimony lasting over a month, they emotionally described years of sexual abuse by Jose and Kitty Menendez. They insisted that they had shot their parents in self-defense because they believed that Jose would kill them rather than have the abuse be exposed. The first two juries (one for each brother) deadlocked, and a mistrial was called. At the retrial, which began in October 1995, the judge was much more restrictive in allowing the defense attorneys to focus on the alleged sexual abuse. In March 1996, both Lyle and Erik were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that include the award winning, Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949 (2012, Schiffer Publishing). The book was the WINNER of the 2012 International Book Awards and a FINALIST in the 2012 Indie Excellence Book Awards for True Crime.