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Jury Selection Begins For Dentist Accused Of Killing His Wife On African Safari To Cash In On Life Insurance
Bianca Rudolph died on the final day of a two-week excursion to Zambia with her husband Lawrence Rudolph after suffering a gunshot wound "straight to the heart."
Jury selection got underway Monday for a Pennsylvania dentist accused of killing his wife on an African hunting safari as part of an alleged plot to cash in on more than $4.8 million in life insurance and start a new life with his longtime mistress.
Lawrence “Larry” Rudolph, 67, is facing federal charges of murder and mail fraud in connection to the death of his 56-year-old wife Bianca, who was found shot to death in the couple’s hunting cabin in Zambia during a big game hunting trip in 2016, according to The Associated Press.
It’s taken nearly six years for the case to reach a U.S. District Court in Denver, where several insurers tied to the insurance payouts are based.
Lawrence, who was known for his successful chain of dental practices in Pittsburgh, has pleaded not guilty and has insisted through his attorney that his wife’s death was merely a tragic accident.
Bianca was killed on the final day of the couple’s safari in Kafue National Park in Zambia, an expansive park that is home to an eclectic mix of wildlife including hippos, lions, cheetahs and antelopes.
Bianca, who like her husband was a big game hunter, had been hoping to shoot a leopard during the two-week excursion but had been unsuccessful, according to an affidavit in the case obtained by The Daily Beast.
On the morning of Oct. 11, 2016, Lawrence told authorities he had been in the bathroom of the cabin when he heard a gunshot go off and rushed out to find his wife bleeding from a gunshot wound “straight to the heart,” according to the court documents also obtained by The New York Times and Law & Crime. A 12-gauge shotgun, partially packed into a case, was found nearby.
“Lawrence told the Zambian Police he suspected the shotgun had been left loaded from the hunt the previous day and that the discharge occurred while she was trying to pack the shotgun into its case,” authorities wrote.
The police in Zambia concluded that Bianca had failed to take the proper safety precautions while packing the gun and accidentally shot herself—but authorities in the United States grew suspicious about the speed with which Lawrence had cremated his wife.
The same day Bianca died, Lawrence called the U.S. Embassy to report that his wife had died of an “accidental gunshot wound” and said that he hoped to cremate the body before he left the country, according to the affidavit.
The consular chief he spoke to later told the FBI he had a “bad feeling” about the situation and had gone to the funeral home to take photographs of the body before it was cremated.
A close friend of Bianca’s also called the FBI legal attache in South Africa several weeks after her friend’s death to report that she did not believe Bianca would have wanted to be cremated due to her Catholic faith and told authorities that Lawrence had been having a longstanding affair with Lori Milliron, a manager at his Pittsburgh-area dental clinic.
Milliron is facing charges of her own of lying to a grand jury about their relationship and being an accessory after the fact.
During an investigation, authorities discovered that Lawrence had cashed in on an estimated $4.88 million in life insurance policies in 2017 and also moved with Milliron to wealthy area in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
According to investigators, Milliron had given Lawrence an ultimatum, demanding that he leave his wife, before he embarked on the ill-fated trip.
Authorities also don’t believe the forensic evidence in the case matches with an accidental shooting and performed a series of tests with volunteers similar in height to Bianca to support their theory, according to the court documents.
None of the people were able to pull the trigger of the shotgun while it was pointed at an angle matching the gunshot wound.
However, in comments made previously to The New York Times, Lawrence’s attorney David Oscar Markus has denied the allegations that Lawrence killed his wife.
“This is an outrageous prosecution against Dr. Larry Rudolph, a man who loved his wife of 34 years and did not kill her,” he said.
His defense team also dismissed the idea that Lawrence had killed his wife for financial gain, noting in previous court documents that his dental practice was already worth millions, arguing that he had no motive to want his wife dead.
The federal trial is expected to include testimony from Zambian investigators, FBI analysts and others who knew the couple, The Associated Press reports.
If convicted, Lawrence could face a maximum sentence of life in prison or death.