The Screenplay

On January 1, 1988, Erik Menendez and his best friend, Craig Cignarelli, adjourned for three days to the Cignarelli family’s cabin. They spent the time there writing a screenplay. The two of them brainstormed, went through scenarios, and kept throwing out ideas. The end result was a murder mystery titled “Friends”.

There are three drafts of the screenplay (according to a motion filed by prosecutors.) They were written both before and after the killings of Jose and Kitty Menendez.

In the first screenplay, the central character, Hamilton Cromwell, is introduced “flipping through the files” until he finds one entitled, “Cromwell Financial Status.” “He sits down and lights a candle and the light reveals a book of the family’s will titled ‘Will and testimony of Arthur Cromwell.”‘ The will reads:]

To my beloved son Hamilton, a man I have respected and felt proud to father, I bestow the Cromwell estate, and the money in my Swiss account…one hundred fifty-seven million dollars and the pride of the family, the portrait of Oliver Cromwell.

In the next scene Hamilton Cromwell enters his parents’ bedroom carrying a ‘razor rope,” which is described as a “weapon designed to strangle:

” The door opens exposing the luxurious suite and Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell are lying in bed. Their faces of questioning horror as Hamilton closes the door behind gently, saying…. Hamilton: Good evening mother, good evening father (his voice is of attempted compassion but the hatred completely overwhelms it). He is intensely psychotic and extremely anxious to obtain his inheritance. A character worthy of Jekyll and Hyde.

The script continues: “All light is extinguished and the camera slides down the stairs as screams are heard behind.”

In the second screenplay, the story begins with the murder of Jonathan Cromwell. He is “lying in the rug in a pool of blood. His neck has been slashed. Camera tracks man as he begins to walk slowly up the stairs. In his gloved hand he carries a ‘razor rope.”‘ The murderer continues upstairs into the bedroom and is shot by Mrs. Cromwell. Then “Mrs. Cromwell throws the gun in the man’s direction and rush past him out of the room. Camera tracks them as man chases her, razor rope in his hand.” She runs from the house and is chased by the murderer, who catches her as she runs across the front lawn. “He overtakes her halfway to the gate, wraps the razor rope around her neck and kills her in the brilliant light of the spotlights…”

Later in the story the central character, Hamilton Cromwell, argues with his friend Joe:

HAMILTON: … Let me tell you what I think! My parents died when I was eighteen. I was ignorant, young… JOE: You killed them! You killed them and froze them in your fucking ice cemetery. HAMILTON: That was ten years ago, you fucking asshole! Ten years. I was a teenager. I didn’t understand. I thought they hated me. I didn’t know. I changed. I had a new life. I started a business. I had friends, real friends, I even had a wife.

Later in the story, a character named Mike tells Hamilton Cromwell:

You’re in the driver’s seat, Hamilton. You’re right. I was planning to kill you. You figured it all out. Do you want a medal or something. Yes, I wanted the money. Knocking off a stranger for a few hundred million…well, that’s not such a big deal. I mean, it was nothing personal. But you are a lot slicker than I figured. I have to hand it to you. You killed your parents and you killed Jacoln and Fred and then, you crazy bastard, you froze them all and kept them like some king of trophies….

In the third screenplay, the central character is once again Hamilton Cromwell, who is once again introduced “flipping through the files” until he finds one entitled, “Cromwell Financial Status.” “He sits down and lights a candle and the light reveals a book of the family’s will titled ‘Will and Testimony.”‘ The will is identical to the will in the first screenplay:

To my beloved son Hamilton, a man I have respected and felt proud to father, I bestow the Cromwell estate, and the money in my Swiss account…one hundred fifty-seven million dollars and the pride of the family, the portrait of Oliver Cromwell.

Later he is described ascending the stairway to his parents’ bedroom:

Camera halts at the fine brown leather boots climbing stairs with a razor rope dangling at his side. Razor rope-has a handle for gripping on each side which is connected by a thin razor sharp wire. Weapon designed to strangle. Holding the razor rope is a gloved hand. As the boots are shown reaching the pinnacle of the staircase a crack of light is exposed through the door of Hamilton’s parents’ bedroom suite. A gloved hand is seen gripping the doorknob and gently turning it. The door opens exposing the luxurious suite. Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell are lying in bed. Their faces are of questioning horror as Hamilton closes the door behind gently. Hamilton: (voice is attempted compassion but hatred completely overwhelms it) Good evening mother, good evening father. All light ejected from the bedroom is extinguished as the camera slides down the stairs. Screams are heard behind.

Later in the script two of the characters, Joe and Mike, are trying to determine if Hamilton is the razor killer. A room in the basement is described:

The room is made of ice. The floor, walls, and ceiling are all made of ice. The temperature in the room is somewhere in the teens. Enclosed in the wall of ice is Mr. Cromwell. Mike and Joe shine the light along the wall; Mrs. Cromwell–the names are engraved in red above their bodies–then continue along the wall.


The prosecution wanted to introduce the screenplay into evidence. In his opening statement prosecutor Lester Kuriyama told the jury, “Erik was involved in writing a screenplay in which the hero is -” at which point the defense objected and the judge sustained the objection.
The judge ruled that the screenplay was inadmissible, noting that it was a collaborate effort by Erik Menendez and Craig Cignarelli, and that it was written well before the killings of Jose and Kitty Menendez. Erik would later testify that he wrote screenplays but didn’t say what they were about.

The prosecution tried again in the second trial to get the screenplay into evidence. But the judge wouldn’t allow it. The word “screenplay” was never uttered in the jury’s presence during the second trial.

In a pretrial to the retrial motion the prosecution argued their theory:
“It is clear that in all three screenplays Erik Menendez was contemplating scenarios in which parents are killed for financial gain. This demonstrates that he was not only contemplating such scenarios, whether in a fictional setting or not, before he murdered his own parents and benefited financially from their murders, but that he even continued to do so afterwards, at a time when he was allegedly in the throes of a horrible unplanned tragedy. His contemplation of such scenarios, and his persistence – even after he murdered his own parents, is strong circumstantial evidence of his motive and his state of mind before and after the murders of Kitty and Jose Menendez.”

The defense dismissed the screenplay as pure fantasy, and also pointed out that it was typed by Kitty Menendez.

Defense attorney Barry Levin was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, “This was no prediction of what was to occur.” “It was just creative writing.” The similarities to what happened eighteen months later in the Menendez house are “somewhat coincidental,” Levin added.

Is the screenplay evidence of Erik’s motive and his state of mind? Or merely puerile, amateurish fiction by teenagers?

Draw your own conclusion.