Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Stephanie Lazarus and the Murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen

Cracking the Cold Case

Mr. Rasmussen's reports had been dismissed as products of viewing too much crime fiction, but the discovery that led to the new charges against Lazarus would have been perfect for an episode of Law and Order. In February 2009, the Cold Case squad, with time on its hands due to the dwindling number of murders in the area, reopened some additional old cases. Investigators ran DNA tests on all the old evidence, including the bite marks on Rasmussen's body. The DNA testing revealed that the suspect had to be a woman, disposing of the linkage to the other robberies. At the time of the initial investigation, Lazarus had been duly interviewed, but never pursued as a likely suspect.

The LAPD officers working the case were now faced with an uncomfortable prospect. A person who worked literally next door (Lazarus' department and the Cold Case department were situated across the hall from each other) was now their prime suspect.

After a day of following Lazarus around, they nabbed a discarded item with her saliva on it. It proved to be a match.

On June 5, the announcement of the arrest of Stephanie Lazarus in the 23-year-old case sent shock waves through the press and the LAPD.

She had been sitting in her third-floor office when she was told that a suspect in custody in the jail might have information on one of her cases. She immediately left to check on the suspect.

But, in accordance with policy, to get through jail security she had to surrender her weapon.

Stephanie Lazarus.
Stephanie Lazarus.
It was a trap. Once disarmed, the 49-year-old was arrested. The announcement stunned the police department. One veteran officer told the Los Angeles Times, "Never in my wildest imagination would I ever think she could do something like this. We drank beers. She was always quick to give you a hug or tell a joke."

She had been described as "bubbly" and "vivacious" in a story about her private investigation firm, Unique Investigations, in the Ventura County Star in 2000.

She was the type who made homemade soaps and chocolate-covered cherries to give her neighbors for Christmas.

But other details about Lazarus began to appear on the Internet. She was nicknamed "Spaz" or "Spazarous" for her erratic behavior when she became flustered or angry.

Redemption

Nels Rasmussen held a press conference the day of her court appearance and told the press corps what he'd been telling the Los Angeles Police Department all along: the likeliest suspect is one of your own.

He recounted for the Los Angeles Times the numerous attempts he had made to get the LAPD to take a closer look at the jealous ex-girlfriend of his daughter's husband.

The Rasmussen family attorney said, "They provided information on the first day that there was a woman who was problematic." Taylor added that, "the family is extremely pleased and relieved" with the arrest of Lazarus.

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