Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bambi Bembenek


During the years that Bembenek was in prison, numerous people had instigated investigations on her behalf, and a number of factors came out that put into doubt much of what had been said at her trial:

The off duty revolver owned by Schultz was examined the night of the murder and determined that it had not been shot recently. A team of officers also examined it the morning after the murder and they came to the same conclusion (although they did not admit to this meeting for many years). Yet the ballistics report indicated that this gun, not fired, was the murder weapon. Schultz had it in his possession for several weeks following the murder and before it was tested in the crime lab, and a neighbor of the victim's claimed someone had stolen his .38 the night of the murder. Could Schultz have switched guns? No serial number was recorded for his off duty weapon on the night of the murder. It could have been switched and no one would know.

Attorney Mary Woehrer contacted Chesley Erwin, medical examiner at the time of the murder, and he agreed that the bullet taken from the victim might have been switched. Woehrer discovered that when Elaine Samuels, associate medical examiner, removed the bullet, she had written three initials, CJS, on it. The bullet presented at the trial had six initials, three of which were in different handwriting from the original three.

Two sets of unidentified fingerprints were found at the murder site, but no match was made.

Bembenek dreaded the idea of taking care of Fred's children, so why would she get rid of Christine and make certain that happened by having them go straight into Fred's custody?

Judy Zess was not questioned about her whereabouts on the night of the murder, although she had canceled a date to go out with Bembenek.

On October 27, 1981, a convicted felon named Frederick Horenberger sent Bembenek's lawyer a six-page note detailing how Judy Zess had committed perjury in her testimony against Bembenek. He had overheard a conversation from her to her boyfriend in jail about the murder and said that she then told him that she was working out a deal with the police, with them exchanging favors for her testimony. She was having sex with one of the officers assigned to the case, and he was setting up the deals. She later told Bembenek that her statements had been twisted and taken out of context, but when her boyfriend was paroled, it was clear the deal had worked for her.

The investigator hired by Bembenek's lawyer reported that he had spoken to a man who claimed that Schultz had hired a hit man out of Chicago to kill the victim, and that there were two men in the home that night. They had awakened the boys with the specific intent of making them bear witness to the fact that it was not their father who was killing their mother.

The blood found on the walls in the victim's house was never examined to determine its origin.

The blood found under victim's fingernails was never examined, and no one checked to see if Bembenek had been scratched.

Bembenek's black police shoes were not confiscated or examined.

Marilyn Gehrt, the wig shop owner who came forward at the last minute, did not have a sales slip for the wig that Bembenek supposedly had purchased, and could not remember the date, but was sure that Bembenek produced ID to write a check. However, Bembenek did not actually have a checking account.

Assistant medical examiner Elaine Samuels, who had testified about hair samples that she had removed from the victim's body, said she never found a blond hair or red hair consistent either with the suspect or with a wig, and felt that evidence may have been tampered with. In fact, the gag on which the hair was allegedly found had been removed from the crime lab inventory to show to Judy Zess.

The state did not call Tom Gaertner to the stand to support the statements made by Judy Zess, a serious oversight not caught by the defense.

Hair analyst Diane Hansen was shown to have little experience or training in this field. She'd had less than six weeks of training in various law seminars, so her expertise on crucial evidence interpretation was questionable.

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