Damn - I knew John and Sherri
- Veteran LAPD detective arrested in 1986 killing
Police allege Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, 49, shot her ex-boyfriend's wife.
By Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin
12:37 PM PDT, June 5, 2009
A well-regarded, veteran Los Angeles Police Department detective was
arrested today in connection with the 1986 slaying of her ex-boyfriend's wife,
marking one of the few times in the department's history that one of its own
officers has been accused of murder.
Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, 49, was arrested this morning at 8 while working
at Parker Center, the LAPD's downtown headquarters. Police allege that
Lazarus beat and fatally shot Sherri Rae Rasmussen, a hospital nursing
director, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
"It's very bittersweet. Our goal is to always bring people to justice, but
this is somebody we know," said Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who oversees
the detective bureau.
Rasmussen's badly beaten body was found by her husband in the living room
of the couple's Van Nuys condominium on Feb. 24, 1986. Shortly after the
slaying, two men robbed another woman in the area at gun point and homicide
detectives came to believe the pair had killed Rasmussen when she came upon
them burglarizing her home, according to news reports. Rasmussen's parents,
newspapers reported, offered a $10,000 reward for the men's capture.
The search for the two men led nowhere. Like thousands of other homicides
from the period, the case remained open and was left to collect dust on
department storage shelves as detectives struggled to keep pace with L.A.'s
dramatic surge in murders and violent crimes.
But with homicides in the city falling to historic lows, LAPD detectives
have had unusual freedom in recent months to revisit cold cases. Detectives
returned to the Rasmussen killing, testing DNA material allegedly left by
the killer. The tests showed that it belonged to a woman, disproving the
theory that the victim had been killed by a man.
The original case file, Beck said, contained a reference to Lazarus, who
was known at the time to have had a romantic relationship with the victim's
husband, John Ruetten. When suspicion fell on an LAPD cop, the case took on
sensitive and explosive tones inside the LAPD. Only a small circle of
detectives and high-ranking officials were made aware of the investigation, in
order to minimize the chances that word would leak to Lazarus that the
Rasmussen case had been reopened.
Last week, undercover officers surreptitiously trailed Lazarus as she did
errands one day, waiting until she discarded a coffee cup, straw or
something else with her saliva on it, Beck said.
Her saliva sample was sent to a lab for comparison with DNA evidence
Rasmussen's killer left at the crime scene. The genetic code in the two samples
matched conclusively, police allege.
Lazarus was not pursued as a suspect at the time of Rasmussen's slaying,
police said. There is no indication that any other active or retired LAPD
officer knew about Lazarus's alleged role in the killing, Beck said.
Lazarus joined the department in 1983, LAPD records show. After several
years as a rank-and-file patrol officer in the San Fernando Valley, she was
promoted to detective and, in 2006, won a high-profile assignment to a unit
dedicated to tracking stolen artwork. There are references in department
publications to Lazarus earning commendation from the public for her work.
She hardly shunned the spotlight. In a recent LA Weekly article profiling
Lazarus and her partner, Don Hrycyk, she joked that all she knew about art
was that it "hangs on the wall," and added, "after working here and seeing
all the phony art, I said, 'I can do that.' " Lazarus, who has an adopted
5-year-old daughter, according to Beck, told the newspaper that she had
started taking oil-painting classes and had first become interested in art when
she visited Europe as a teenager. Last year, she gave interviews to
reporters after helping to capture two men convicted of a string of thefts of
bronze statues and sculptures in the Wilshire area and in Beverly Hills.
A black-and-white photograph taken for a magazine profile in 2007 shows a
petite, relaxed-looking Lazarus with curly hair leaning against a wall, her
hands informally stuck in civilian clothes.
Until her death, Rasmussen was director of critical care nursing at
Glendale Adventist Medical Center and her slaying stunned colleagues, who
referred to her as a vital member of the medical staff, according to news reports.
She had reportedly stayed home from work the day she was killed after
straining her back in an aerobics class. In an article about the family's
reward, her father said Rasmussen had entered college at 16 and had taught for a
period at UCLA.
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