By David Amoruso for Gangsters Inc.
The Mexican Mafia reigns through sheer terror. From behind bars they spread their influence far and wide to the outside world. All criminals knew that “La Eme” would come for them – either on the streets or in prison. If gangsters had that realization and fear, imagine how a couple of Beverly Hills trust fund babies felt being locked up with them.
At first, the Mexican Mafia focused primarily on protecting its own: Mexican-Americans from Southern California. Inside prison they were pushed around by blacks and whites. The only way to stop the bullying was to form their own tightknit group capable of committing violence at the drop of a hat.
Controlling the streets
Before landing in prison, these original Mexican Mafia members were part of notorious Californian street gangs like White Fence and Avenues. They were intimately familiar with violence and death. It wasn’t long before the Mexican Mafia established a fearsome reputation behind bars.
Several mobsters had bigger dreams than simply running a prison yard, though. They wanted to expand their influence to the streets. As the 1980s rolled around, “La Eme” controlled almost every Hispanic gang in Southern California.
If the “Carnales” sitting in a cell wanted someone on the streets killed, they simply gave the order and it was done. This power struck fear in the hearts of any gang banger operating on the streets of California as it meant they were never safe. If they stayed one step ahead of Mafia hitmen then they could still get caught by the cops and land in prison. Once inside, there chance of survival was slim to none.
Prisons are filled to the brim with killers, drug dealers, thieves, rapists, and fraudsters. Though many would fashion themselves as tough guys, the truth is a lot aren’t. Those that lack strength, but do have money, pay for protection.
The Menendez brothers
Among them the infamous Menendez brothers. Lyle and Erik Menendez had become tabloid fodder after they were accused and later convicted of murdering their parents at their mansion in Beverly Hills in August of 1989. The boys were 21 and 18 at that time.
Their father José was a self-made millionaire and Hollywood executive who expected – and demanded - great things from his sons. Unfortunately for him, Lyle and Erik had a mean streak. They frequently got in trouble. They stole from neighbors and tried to scam their way through school. Lyle left Princeton University after one semester after he was suspended for copying another student’s psychology lab report.
Younger brother Erik tried to go into the movie business. Well, as a 17-year-old he and a friend wrote a script about, wait for it, an 18-year-old who murders his rich parents. His mother Kitty helped type it out.
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Two years later she lay dead in her luxurious mansion. Her dead body had been hit in the leg, arm, chest and face. Her husband lay nearby with his head damn near blown off by shotgun blasts.
Lyle and Erik had had enough of their rich parents. They wanted their fortune all for themselves. They went on a spending spree and lived care-free despite just having lost their parents in a horrific crime.
Investigators looked at the case from all angles but quickly focused on the two brothers. Erik was seen as the weak link and police used one of his friends to get him to confess. It failed, but Erik did need to lift some of the guilt that was weighing on him.
He told his psychologist Jerome Oziel that he had in fact murdered his parents. Oziel was shocked and despite patient confidentiality, he too desperately wanted to share this information with another person. So, he told his mistress. After they broke up, she went to the police and told them everything.
The entire country watched in amazement as the Menendez trial was broadcasted on Court TV in 1993. The brothers claimed their father sexually abused them and that he was egged on by their mother, who they described as a drug and alcohol addict.
They claimed they were forced to murder them. “As I went into the room, I just started firing,” Erik testified.
Their defense worked, at first. The jury deadlocked. A retrial – this time without television cameras – was needed to establish a verdict. This time they were convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Menendez brothers were about to step into the world of the Mexican Mafia.
Beverly Hills babies meet the Carnales of La Eme
Members of the Mexican Mafia ran the prison tiers they were on. Among them, Rene “Boxer” Enriquez (photo below). A vicious killer who was part of the street gang Artesia 13 and became an official member of the Mexican Mafia in the 1980s after having put in a lot of work – murdering and plundering at the behest of La Eme.
Enriquez saw both brothers move through the prisons he was incarcerated in. Erik Menendez (right) would take Enriquez’ and other Mexican Mafia members’ orders to buy candy from the jail store. One time, Erik couldn’t deliver. Instantly, death flashed before his eyes and chills ran up his spine.
He immediately contacted his lawyer to reach out to Daniel “Cuate” Grajeda, one of the shot callers, to intervene. “I never understood why they did that,” Enriquez later said. “Actually, I liked those kids.”
What do you fear most? La Eme or…
Another time, Lyle was housed just a few cells from Enriquez. To a stone-cold gangster like Enriquez, Lyle Menendez was nothing but a mark. A pampered rich kid who ended up behind bars and could be taken advantage of. Imagine his surprise when all of a sudden, he saw a sergeant and two deputies stand in front of Lyle’s cell.
“Give it to us!” they demanded.
“What?” replied Lyle.
“Give it up now!”
“I don’t have anything.”
“Now hand it over!”
“What are you talking about, officer?”
To a “Carnal” – a made member of the Mexican Mafia - like Enriquez such a conversation meant Lyle must’ve been hiding drugs or a weapon, something serious. Maybe I underestimated this kid, he almost began thinking.
Then the bubble burst.
“Give us the wig!”
An ashamed Lyle (left) then handed over the toupee he was wearing. For the next couple of months, Lyle walked around bald and embarrassed. Luckily for him, a judge did allow him to wear his hair piece in court.
Is it safe to say, Lyle feared his baldness more than the Mexican Mafia? Probably not. But both certainly give him nightmares when he sleeps at night.
In 2003, after years of bloodshed, “Boxer” Enriquez decided to quit the mob and become a government witness. He remains behind bars. Journalist Chris Blatchford detailed Enriquez’ life of crime in the book “The Black Hand: The Story of Rene "Boxer" Enriquez, and his life in the Mexican Mafia”.
In April of 2018, Lyle and Erik were reunited for the first time since they began serving their sentences. According to press reports, they “burst into tears” after seeing each other during their first meeting in a San Diego prison housing unit.
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