All eyes were on Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bill Bratton today after news broke that 49-year-old detective Stephanie Ilene Lazarus was arrested for the cold-case shooting and beating death of her ex-boyfriend's wife Sherri Rae Rasmussen.
As one television reporter put it, “The long arm of the law ends up in Parker Center.”
“We will go where the truth takes us,” said Bratton, standing with Deputy Chief Charlie Beck at the 3 p.m. press conference at LAPD's Metropolitan Dispatch Center. Asked if the arrest of a veteran detective put LAPD in a bad light, Bratton said the Robbery/Homicide detectives who handled the case did a great job in a very tough situation: “This reflects very positively on the department. Our detectives go where the truth takes them. We take our oath very seriously.”
Lazarus, a well-regarded veteran cop dedicated to tracking stolen art, was arrested while working at Parker Center around 8 am today, June 5, according to Beck. In one of many creepy coincidences, Beck said that Lazarus worked next door to homicide detectives who were working the 23-year-old cold case in which Lazarus is now implicated. “You can't know a person that long and not be affected by this…There will be a period of disbelief.”
Asked whether Lazarus suspected she was a target of her own colleagues, Beck said, “We think it was unknown at the time to her.”
Beck said that it's been more than a decade since an LAPD officer has been accused of murder.
Rasmussen's father, Nels, who was tracked down in Arizona, told KNX 1070 News Radio that, “The family was not surprised at the arrest,” he said. “We can only praise the work of the chief of police and his loyal detective department.” (And much thanks to KNX for the below photos and images of the funeral service for Sherri Rasmussen).
Police allege that Lazarus beat and shot to death 29-year-old Sherri Rae Rasmussen, a hospital nursing director at her home in Van Nuys on February, 24, 1986. Rasmussen's husband, John Ruetten, found her body when he returned that night from work to the couple's condominium.
At the time, Homicide detectives believed the killing was the result of a burglary gone bad. Rasmussen's parents offered a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers. Lazarus, who was a new patrol officer in the valley and had previously dated Ruetten, was questioned but it never went anywhere.
The search for the suspected burglars sizzled and the detectives dropped the case. However, in February, cold case detectives tested old DNA left at the scene. The tests showed that it belonged to a woman.
Last week, undercover officers followed Lazarus as she did errands one day, waiting until she discarded something with her saliva on it. Her saliva was sent to the lab and the genetic code in the two samples matched conclusively.