Since True Crime Report first blogged about the case of Stephanie Lazarus — an LAPD cop who was arrested in June for a 1986 murder — many disturbing details have surfaced in the story — including the fact that the LAPD knew about her possible involvement in the murder, but did nothing about it in order to avoid bad PR…
|Stephanie Lazarus is accused of brutally beating Sherri Rae Rasmussen, then shooting her three times in the chest.
On February 24, 1986, John Ruetten walked through the door of his Van Nuys, California condo to find the bloodied body of his wife Sherri Rae Rasmussen laying on their living room floor. It appeared that she’d been badly beaten and shot several times, including three bullets to the chest.
Sherri’s parents had a good idea as to who was responsible. On several occasions, she had complained to them that Ruetten’s ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Lazarus, had been harassing her at home and at the Glendale Adventist Hospital, where Sherri worked as a critical care nurse. Even her co-workers had become aware of Lazarus’s creepy antics.
Apparently Lazarus was distraught over the fact that Ruetten had left her to be with Sherri in 1985. For the following year, Lazarus stalked Rasmussen and wrote in her journal that she was shattered by the fact that the two were engaged to be married. “This is very bad,” Lazarus wrote
. “My concentration is negative-10.”
She also wrote that she had asked for time off work because she was “too stressed about John.”
Sherri’s bloodied body was found by Ruetten just three months after they were married. When the police interviewed Sherri’s parents, they were adamant that Lazarus had something to do with their daughter’s murder. But investigators never followed up on their lead. After all, Lazarus was an LAPD detective and the Department didn’t need any more bad press.
1986 wasn’t a particularly good year for the LAPD’s image. In 1983, two police officers were arrested for the attempted murder of an exotic dancer. Officers Richard Ford and Robert Von Villas became known as the “killer cops,” notorious for taking on murder-for-hire work when they weren’t busy working their beats. In the case of the exotic dancer, the two men hoped to cash in on a $100,000 life insurance policy. They were the first LA cops to ever be convicted of first-degree murder and they weren’t the only ones.
Three years later, William Leasure, another LAPD cop, was picked up for stealing luxury yachts. Apparently, he was also moonlighting as a well-paid hit man. In 1991, he was convicted of collecting on at least two murder-for-hire contracts.
To top it all off, the LAPD was also experiencing a great amount of pressure to put more female cops on the force. How would it look if one of their most recent hires turned out to be a cold-blooded killer?
Rather than follow up on Lazarus as a suspect, detectives pointed to a burglary in Sherri’s neighborhood that happened just two days after her murder. They claimed that the same men responsible for the theft likely tried to burglarize Sherri’s home and killed her when she caught them in the act. Of course, their hypothesis led them nowhere and Sherri’s case collected dust.
Since then, Lazarus has lived a charmed life. A few years after the murder, she got married to another LAPD detective and is now the proud parent of a 2-year-old girl. She also received numerous accolades for her police work. In 1990, while working as a DARE training officer, she was profiled by the Los Angeles Daily News
when she paid a visit to her old junior high school. She was also the treasurer for the Los Angeles Women’s Police Officer’s Association, and again received props from the Daily News
when she ran a fund-raising effort for a 24-hour childcare center for parents working in local law enforcement. This year, Lazarus was even profiled in the LA Weekly
for her work as a detective on the LAPD’s stolen art unit, to which she transferred in 2006.
But at the same time that Lazarus was making headlines for her good deeds, the LAPD cold case unit was hot on her trail. After reopening Sherri’s case, investigators finally acknowledged that the burglary-gone-bad scenario was impossible.
Twenty-three years after the fact, the LAPD finally decided to follow-up on its Lazarus lead. They sent DNA evidence from a saliva sample left from a bite mark on Sherri’s arm to the lab to be analyzed along with a plastic fork that Lazarus used during lunch and which they snatched out of the trash can while tailing her.
By June, the results of the DNA test put Lazarus at the scene of the crime and she was quickly charged with Sherri’s murder.
Lazarus, who has plead not guilty, is now awaiting trial and faces life in prison. Last week, the judge in her case set her bail at $10 million claiming that it was “near certainty” that she would try and flee. In the meantime, the LAPD is also busy dodging questions about its own involvement in any cover-up of the crime.