Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Stephanie Lazarus and the Murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen

New Details & Trial

After Lazarus's arrest, new details emerged. One key piece to the puzzle was missing: the gun used to shoot Rasmussen three times in the chest.

Similar .38-caliber detective special revolver.
Similar .38-caliber detective special revolver.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Lazarus had called the Santa Monica Police Department a few weeks after the murder to report that her car had been broken into near the Santa Monica Pier. She reported a stolen gym bag, money, clothes, and her .38-caliber handgun. The two departments never put two-and-two together.

Twenty-three years later, the break-in looks like a cover up—and police now believe that she ditched the gun in the Pacific Ocean.

The scene was more gruesome than originally revealed: Rasmussen's head had been bludgeoned; she had wounds on her wrists that indicated she'd been tied up. A robe laying on the floor nearby had bullet holes in them; it appeared the killer used it to muffle the shots.

Stephanie Lazarus at arraignment.
Stephanie Lazarus at arraignment.
And the slaying might have been averted, had a maid working in a nearby apartment who'd heard screams called the police. But she hadn't.

Lazarus could have been apprehended even earlier. The DNA had been proven to be a woman's in 2005, but the investigators hadn't realized that the original suspects were male at that time. When the case came up for re-review in February, they realized the mistake, and a secretive four-month investigation was launched.

The Other Side of the Thin Blue Line

On June 9, 2009, Stephanie Lazarus found herself on the wrong side of the law. She appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit, appearing distressed, her eyes wide-open. Lazarus spoke just once, answering the judge about the continuance. "Yes, your honor."

On March 9, 2012, Lazarus was found guilty of first degree murder.  During testimony heard prior to sentencing, John Ruetten said, "The fact that Sherri's death occurred because she met and married me brings me to my knees." On May 11, Lazarus was sentenced to 27 years in prison, with credit for time already served.  She will be eligible for parole in 22 years.

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