Crimes of Passion

10 Ways The Stephanie Lazarus Case Was A Fatal Attraction

A jealous ex-lover (and cop) kills her ex's new wife in a tragic love triangle.

When John Ruetten met Sherri Rasmussen, no one knew how deadly the repercussions would be. A UCLA graduate and outgoing, charming guy, John had been casually seeing a woman named Stephanie Lazarus before he got serious with Sherri. But for Stephanie, their tryst was much more than casual sex, and John’s marriage to Sherri would end up tipping her over the edge. Stephanie killed Sherri, but she wouldn’t be caught until 26 years after the crime. Sounds like the plot of a movie – like Fatal Attraction – right? Listen to the whole story on this week's Martini's & Murder podcast. 

Here are facts from the Stephanie Lazarus case that seem pulled from a high drama script about jealousy, a love triangle and murder.

1. On the outside, Stephanie Lazarus was a star

One of the LAPD’s best and brightest, Stephanie was, by all accounts, a great person. Another UCLA student, Kathleen Blakistone, said "Stephanie was very gregarious and a wonderful ambassador in the dorm. She created a community around herself and had a lightness about her.” In 2007 she was handpicked for the LAPD’s high stakes art theft unit, and she received many accolades for her work. She was the last person anyone would suspect of murder.

2. Stephanie had a dark side too

Despite her clean record, Stephanie was known for her quick temper and “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Her co-workers nicknamed her “Spazarus.”

3. Stephanie was obsessed with John

Michael Hargreaves, Stephanie’s roommate said, “She didn’t date anyone but John. She told me she was in love with him.” Despite this, John saw their relationship as purely casual, even though they slept together a few times after graduation.

4. Stephanie was devastated when she found out about Sherri

In 1986, a year after John and Sherri got married, Stephanie wrote a letter to John’s mother, saying she loved John and was upset he had chosen Sherri over her.

5. Stephanie threatened Sherri

Unable to cope with John’s marriage to Sherri, Stephanie lashed out. Nels, Sherri’s father, said that a woman had come to their house to pick up skis wearing a police uniform complete with gun, and that Sherri found it unnerving, although she never told him the woman’s name. It would turn out to be Stephanie. On another occasion, Stephanie went to Sherri’s work, stormed into her office, and yelled at her, saying that she and John weren’t over. She told Sherri, “If I can't have John, nobody can." Sherri's roommate also told police that Stephanie dressed "provocatively and said she would be there to pick up the pieces if Sherri Rasmussen did not keep her husband happy.”

6. Stephanie started stalked Sherri

“She had been to the house at least three times,” Sherri’s father told police. Sherri even started spotting Stephanie whenever she’d go shopping or to the gym.

7. Stephanie turns to murder

When John found Sherri’s body at home, she was badly beaten and shot three times in the chest. The scene was staged to look like a robbery, which threw police off. It would take 26 years for them to connect the murder to Stephanie, based on overlooked DNA evidence from a bite mark on Sherri’s arm that would prove to be Stephanie’s.

8. Stephanie disposed of the murder weapon

On the scene of the crime, bullets fitting a Smith and Wesson gun that Stephanie had purchased at the police academy were found. Two days after the murder, Stephanie reported her gun stolen. This information also wouldn’t be linked until 26 years after the fact.

9. John had cheated on Sherri with Stephanie

During the trial, John finally broke his 26 year silence. John admitted that before marrying Sherri, he and Stephanie had sex on many occasions, even during the engagement period. "Here's the deal," he testified. "It was clear she was very upset that I was getting married and moving on." Sherri’s father said, “I think John wanted to save his own ass. I never thought John had anything to do with it, but he knows more than he’s said or admitted to. That bothered me, and it bothers me today. John could’ve helped more than he did, but he wouldn’t talk. If John would’ve backed me just a little when I was saying they needed to talk to Stephanie, I think the story would’ve been different.”

10. John also had sex with Stephanie after Sherri’s murder

Most chillingly, John and Stephanie slept together after she murdered his wife – and John was, apparently, none the wiser. 

[Images: Getty Images; It Takes A Killer]

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