Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bambi Bembenek

The Trial

Lawrencia was held for trial, which lasted three weeks. Her lawyer, Donald S. Eisenberger, called thirteen witnesses to the prosecution's thirty-six.

Prosecutor Robert Kramer pieced together a story that Bembenek had intended to frighten Christine into moving out of the house so she could move in. She hadn't planned to kill anyone, but when Christine had recognized her, she had pulled the trigger.

Against Bembenek were the following witnesses:

Frances Zess, mother of Judy Zess, claims she heard statements at a dinner party a few months before the murder, made by Lawrencia Bembenek, to the effect of having the victim "blown away."

Judy Zess, a former roommate of Bembenek and Schultz, confirmed what her mother said and added that she had seen a green jogging suit in the apartment she shared with Schultz and Bembenek, and that she knew that Bembenek had owned clothesline similar to that found bound around the victim's hands. Also that Bembenek owned a blue bandanna.

Kathryn Morgan saw a woman resembling Virginia Bembenek, Laurie's mother, rummaging through a dumpster on June 18 near Bembenek's apartment.

Gary Shaw said he had seen Bembenek in a green jogging suit.

Marilyn Gehrt, who owned The Olde Wig World Shoppe, remembered Bembenek purchasing a wig.

John Schultz, Fred's brother, testified that Sean had told him he hadn't seen anything the night of his mother's murder and that the killer had covered his face completely.

Bembenek's defense relied on a switched gun theory: Before the crime, someone replaced Schultz's off-duty gun with one that looked like it. Then that person killed the victim, and when the gun at the apartment was examined, it had not been used. Then during the next 22 days, the same person switched the guns again, and the tests showed that Schultz's off-duty gun killed the victim. (What saves this person is the incredible luck that no one thought to record the serial numbers—unless the police department was in on it.)

Trying to cast some doubt, the defense used the following people:

Sharon Niswonger, who lived in the apartment across from Schultz and Bembenek, says that Judy Zess visited her, asked to use the restroom, and left. The next person to use it found it clogged, and a plumber pulled out a reddish-brown wig.

Bembenek's mother, who seemed not to have been the person seen at the dumpster.

Bembenek herself, who made the mistake of wearing a Victorian blouse when she testified, making the jury members feel manipulated.

Bembenek was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in Taycheedah Correctional Institute in Fond du Lac County.

What jurors did not hear at the trial: Schultz's ties to Horenberger or that Horenberger was later convicted of robbing Judy Zess, and that one of the perpetrators in that robbery wore a wig. They did not hear the testimony of the two nurses, what Christine had told her divorce attorney, or the idea that Fred could have left another revolver at home and given his off-duty weapon to the killer, then replaced it.

Laurie at Taycheedah, 1989 (George Anich)
Laurie at Taycheedah,
1989 (George Anich)

They also did not hear that Judy Zess's boyfriend blamed Fred Schultz for the death of his best friend and claimed he would get even, according to Bembenek.

 

After Bembenek's conviction, Fred moved to Florida and they divorced. He later said he believed she had killed Christine.

There were three separate appeals, all of which Bembenek lost.

 

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