Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Stephanie Lazarus and the Murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen

Robbery Gone Awry

Newspaper Clipping shows the two suspects.
A 1986 newspaper clipping shows the
victim and two suspects
Investigators had focused on the possibility that the crime had been a robbery -- Sherri Rae's car had been stolen. The silver BMW was discovered two miles from the couple's house ten days after the murder. Because stereo equipment had been stacked next to the body, police fixated on the possibility of a botched robbery.

Their hunch was reinforced by events that occurred just after the Rasmussen murder. A few days after the slaying, two men had robbed a woman at gunpoint. A few months after the murder, they held another unsuspecting woman at gunpoint after she walked into a break-in. Her house was just a few blocks from Rasmussen's house. They were described as Latinos between 5 feet, 4 inches and 5 feet, 6 inches tall. They therefore emerged as the primary suspects in Rasmussen's death, but they were never found.

Other than the car, the only other object taken from the scene should have given investigator's pause: the couple's marriage license was missing. Also undermining the random theft theory were the deep bite marks left by the assailant on Rasmussen's arm.

"If I can't have John, then nobody else will."

After months of stalemate in the case, Rasmussen's parents began holding press conferences asking for people to come forward with clues, and offered a $10,000 reward. During the initial investigation, Lazarus was only a blip on the radar screen, despite repeated pleas from Rasmussen's father, Nels Rasmussen, for the LAPD to consider that Rasmussen and Lazarus had both dated John Ruetten, and that Lazarus had turned up at the Glendale Adventist Hospital, where Rasmussen worked as a critical care nurse, and allegedly threatened her: "If I can't have John, nobody else will."

The Glendale Adventist Medical Center as it looks today.
The Glendale Adventist Medical Center as it looks today.

Another confrontation had occurred a month before the murder, her father recounted. When Rasmussen had arrived home, she found Lazarus waiting for her inside. She was wearing her uniform. And just a few days before the murder, Lazarus had allegedly called Rasmussen and threatened her; Rasmussen had told her father that she thought the officer had been stalking her on the streets.

At the time, Mr. Rasmussen's allegations were dismissed. He was told to stop watching so much television. He wrote letters to the head of the police department at the time, Daryl F. Gates. His pleas for the department to take a second look at the case went unheeded, and, after five years, Mr. Rasmussen gave up.

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