It’s over with now! Stephanie Lazarus was convicted of the first-degree murder of Sherri Rasmussen (her homicide occurred on February 24, 1986) last Thursday (March 8th) in a Los Angeles courtroom. Stephanie’s sentencing with be on May 4th. Simple enough, but just one problem, Lazarus was an LAPD officer herself for 26 years. I scratch my head in disbelief! Is this real? How could it be? A seasoned police officer, with what looks like a perfect record (and an almost perfect crime), mingles amongst us, liberally enforcing the law, while all along she is a murderess.
I was forcefully motivated to rewind history’s tape-loop back to early in the year, that is, the year of 1986. ‘What was I up to in those more innocent days?,’ I ask myself, as I attempt to get some context for what was happening at the time Sherri was murdered in her condominium. Not that what I was doing has anything to do with her case (which is now finally solved), but I realize it helps ground me to the salient facts surrounding her case, which remained a cold case in Los Angeles for what looks like 23 years.
Putting this flagrant narcissism aside, in those days (early 1986) I lived in a small, second-story flat in Dallas, Texas, in some fairly seedy apartments on McKinney Avenue. Going back in time to a place in history is an important tool for an investigation journalist. I see myself day-dreaming, gazing out my window, casually reading the Dallas Morning News, and conceivably, some classic rock music is blaring out of a cheapo cassette boom-box. For proper ambience today (used as an inspirational writing tool), I listen to Phillip Glass’s 9th Symphony.
Getting situated. Getting focused. To start with, I review the usual articles summarizing the outcome of Stephanie Lazarus’s trial. But I needed to go further back, way back to 1986, so I ransacked the Google news stream for this mysterious ex-cop (as the search tag), who roamed so freely in our society, enforcing the law, all the while keeping a carefully guarded, dark secret of killing the wife of her ex-boyfriend (John Ruetten), buried from the ken of anyone snooping around, trying to find out the truth of this matter.
Still, it’s hard to believe this actually happened, but I’m starting to realize now why this is so. I was fortunate enough in finding a really excellent article on the Sherri Rasmussen/Stephanie Lazarus case, which does a good job of retracing how the case was investigated (or not investigated) by the LAPD throughout all these years. This article is The Lazarus File, written by Matthew McGough, for the June 2011 issue of Atlantic Magazine. I’ll definitely linked it for you!
I learned a great deal about this troubling case from Matthew McGough’s exquisitely researched piece, and especially about the evolution of DNA evidence, and how it played a growing role in the courts. One chilling item I was able to deduce from reading McGough’s article, is that when Stephanie killed Sherri, she utilized her police skills to cover up her crime most skillfully. But in the ruckus and madness of completing her dastardly task, Stephanie had bit Sherri’s arm.
She leaves DNA behind, but stages the condo to look as if a two man robbery, gone awry, is a likely scenario to explain away her homicide. She even steals Sherri’s BMW, then abandons it on the streets of LA, carefully removing any latent fingerprints that could tag her for the crime. An account (as described in The Lazaras File) for how she faked another burglary of her car, when her police .38 was swiped, is equally fascinating. What’s most puzzling, is why the LAPD accepted her story that her police revolver was suddenly stolen (while knowing she was indirectly connected to Sherri’s murder)?
For the most part, it’s all over with. But why are there so many loose-ends, you and I are still asking? Why did Stephanie Lazarus get a carte blanche red carpet treatment by the LAPD, when Sherri’s parents had advised them that Lazarus was a very good candidate to investigate as a potential suspect? I’d like to thank Matthew McGough personally for shining the light on so many of these developments, dating back to the mid-1980s. Memories of 1986 are getting clearer, but could still use some more focusing.