Stephanie Lazarus Murders Sherri Rasmussen

Stephanie Lazarus is a killer from California who was convicted of the murder of Sherri Rasmussen

According to court documents Sherri Rasmussen was found dead inside of her home. The woman had been beaten and shot multiple times. At the time of the murder the police thought it was a robbery gone bad however the case would quickly go cold.

The murder of Sherri Rasmussen would go cold for over twenty years until a cold case squad at the LAPD began to reinvestigate the case and their number one suspect was Stephanie Lazarus who was then a LAPD detective.

Apparently Stephanie Lazarus previously had a relationship with the husband of Sherri Rasmussen. The husband who was also dating Sherri Rasmussen at the time decided she was the better match for him and Stephanie did not take it well. Sherri Rasmussen and her husband in 1985 and three months later she was found dead in her apartment

Stephanie Lazarus would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 27 years

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Stephanie Lazarus Now

CDCR NumberWE4479
Admission Date06/05/2012
Current LocationCalifornia Institution for Women
Location LinkDirections
Parole Eligible Date (Month/Year)07/2023

Stephanie Lazarus Case

On February 24, 1986, Rasmussen lived in a condominium on Balboa Street in Van Nuys with her husband John Ruetten and worked as a nurse at a Glendale hospital.   Ruetten left for work at 7:20 that morning.   Rasmussen called in sick.   Both Ruetten and Rasmussen’s sister tried to call Rasmussen at home several times that day, beginning at approximately 10 a.m., but Rasmussen did not answer.   At approximately 9:45, a neighbor, Anastasia Volanitis, noticed the garage to Rasmussen’s condominium was open with no cars inside.2  When Ruetten returned home at 6:00 p.m., he noticed the garage door was open and Rasmussen’s BMW was missing.3  There was broken glass on the driveway from a shattered sliding glass patio door.   The door from the condominium to the garage, which Ruetten had closed and locked when he left that morning, was ajar.4  Rasmussen was lying dead on the living room floor, still wearing her sleep shirt and robe.

The pathologist who examined Rasmussen declared the cause of death to be three gunshots to her chest, all fatal.   One was a contact wound and at least one was inflicted while she was lying on the floor or against a similar hard surface.   There were abrasions on Rasmussen’s arms, near the wrist, consistent with injury from a rope or cord.5  There were signs that Rasmussen had struggled with her assailant, including multiple contusions, lacerations and abrasions on her hands, mouth, face, head and neck.   Broken pieces of two of Rasmussen’s fingernails were found on the floor near the condominium’s front door.   An injury on her face was consistent with a blow from the muzzle of a gun, with a size and configuration matching a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.   There was a blow to her head consistent with a broken vase found near her body.6  On Rasmussen’s left inner forearm was an apparent bite mark.   The pathologist examined it under a microscope.   Based on the amount of hemorrhaging and the absence of inflammation, she determined that the injury had been inflicted at or about the time of Rasmussen’s death.7

Based on distinct physical characteristics, experts in the field of identifying ammunition testified at trial that bullets recovered in or near Rasmussen’s body were “.38J Plus–P” ammunition, manufactured by Federal.   In 1986, LAPD officers were required to use Federal .38J Plus–P ammunition, even when off duty and carrying a personal weapon.

A sleeved quilt found near Rasmussen’s body was taken into evidence and examined.   The presence of multiple bullet holes and gunshot residue on the quilt led authorities and experts to conclude that it had been wrapped around the assailant’s weapon to dampen the sound of the gunshots.   At trial, a forensic firearms expert testified that based on the location of the bullet holes in relation to linear gunshot residue that appeared to have been discharged from the cylinder, the weapon was a revolver with a two-inch barrel.   Any number of guns were capable of firing the bullets found at the crime scene, but less than a dozen had two-inch barrels.

Criminalist Lloyd Mahaney took samples from the bite mark on Rasmussen’s arm at the scene.8  Investigators and criminalists also collected the two broken fingernails found near the condominium’s front door, clippings from Rasmussen’s remaining fingernails, and samples of tissue and debris from the underside of the fingernails.   Additional items and samples were collected at the scene and from the interior of the BMW, including multiple fingerprints, multiple samples of what appeared to be blood, and multiple hairs.9

Stereo equipment had been pulled from a cabinet inside the condominium’s living room and stacked by the door to the garage.   A drawer in a living room table had been pulled out and the contents dumped on the floor.   Although there was no evidence of forced entry, and rooms containing other valuables—including additional stereo equipment—were undisturbed, the detectives who initially investigated the crime concluded that the murder was committed in the course of a burglary.   Specifically, they theorized that one or two burglars had came in through an open door, were surprised by Rasmussen’s presence, and shot her during a struggle over a gun.10

In December 2004, members of LAPD’s cold case unit re-opened the case, asking the coroner’s office to locate the bite mark tissue sample, which had been in a freezer in the coroner’s evidence room since 1986.11  In 2005, Jennifer Francis, a criminalist with LAPD, examined a piece of one of the swabs under a microscope and also performed DNA testing on it.   Under the microscope, she saw nucleated epithelial cells, which are found in large numbers in saliva and provide a good medium for obtaining a complete DNA profile.   The DNA testing indicated the presence of two profiles:  a major profile and a minor profile.   The minor profile was consistent with Rasmussen’s, although there was insufficient material for a complete match.12  The major profile was complete.   The DNA that comprised the major profile was from a female.

Authorities initially attempted to find a match by uploading the major DNA profile from the bite into a national database system.   This was unsuccessful.   In 2009, the investigation turned toward specific women who might have had reason to harm Rasmussen.   LAPD officers surreptitiously obtained a sample of appellant’s DNA by taking possession of a drink cup and straw discarded by appellant.   LAPD criminalist Michael Mastrocovo developed a partial DNA profile for the drink cup and straw.   Stephanie Lazarus’s DNA profile matched the major profile found on the bite mark.13

Stephanie Lazarus was arrested on June 5, 2009.   A criminalist swabbed her mouth in order to develop a complete DNA profile.   Francis analyzed the DNA on one of those swabs.   Stephanie Lazarus’s DNA profile matched the major profile on the bite mark swab at 13 loci.14

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