California · Female Killers

Woman beaten, shot to death in home

February 24, 1986
Van Nuys, California
Sherri Rasmussen (29) is killed in her home; her murder remained unsolved for more than two decades

Rasmussen’s body was found by her husband of three months, John Ruetten, when he returned to their condominium. Rasmussen had been beaten, with one eye swollen shut while the other was wide open, and shot three times. Ruetten also found Rasmussen’s BMW had been stolen which led police to believe Rasmussen had been killed in a botched robbery.

Eventually, Rasmussen’s case went cold. In 2003, Rasmussen’s case was among several others dating as far back as the 1960s that were reopened. With more advanced DNA capabilities, the investigators were able to determine the saliva left on Rasmussen’s arm, deposited when her attacker bit her, was from a woman rather than a man.

When investigators questioned Rasmussen’s family, her father pointed them in the direction of Stephanie Lazarus, an LAPD detective who had been romantically involved with Ruetten before his marriage to Rasmussen. Rasmussen’s father had previously told police of his suspicions shortly after Rasmussen’s murder but had been largely ignored. Ruetten‘s friends also commented on the “tense” relationship he and Lazarus shared.

In 2009, an undercover officer was assigned to follow Lazarus to obtain DNA evidence to link her to the murder. After the DNA left at the scene of the murder was matched with Lazarus, the detective working the case invited her — under the pretense of using her expertise for a case he was working on — into an interrogation room. The interrogation began, Lazarus stumbled in her responses, and she was taken into custody.

At trial, the prosecution proposed Lazarus killed Rasmussen out of jealousy, suggesting she became enraged when Ruetten married Rasmussen instead of her. Lazarus’ lawyers contested it was nearly impossible to determine if she had been involved in Rasmussen’s murder as witnesses had long forgotten the details of the crime and the DNA evidence had degraded over time.

Lazarus was convicted and sentenced to a total of 27 years to life: 25 years to life for first degree murder and 2 years for personal use of a firearm.

Sources:
“Stephanie Lazarus, former LAPD detective, sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for 1986 murder.” CBS News. May 11, 2012. Accessed: February 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stephanie-lazarus-former-lapd-detective-sentenced-to-27-years-to-life-in-prison-for-1986-murder/
“Shocking pictures open Los Angeles detective’s murder trial.” Fox News. February 7, 2012. Updated: March 26, 2015. Accessed: February 24, 2019. https://www.foxnews.com/us/shocking-pictures-open-los-angeles-detectives-murder-trial.amp
Garcia, Barbara. “How LAPD Detective Got Busted for Murder.” ABC News. November 25, 2010. Accessed: February 24, 2019. https://abcnews.go.com/amp/US/transcripts-video-show-lapd-detective-stephanie-lazarus-busted/story?id=12239026
“Nursing Director Fatally Shot in Home.” The Los Angeles Times. February 27, 1986

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