LAPD chief issues rare apology in Stephanie Lazarus case
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has apologized to the family of Sherri Rasmussen for ignoring their repeated pleas to investigate one of the department's own in connection with the 29-year-old nursing director's 1986 murder.
A jury Thursday found former Det. Stephanie Lazarus guilty of first-degree murder, bringing an end to a remarkable case in which a new generation of the Los Angeles Police Department redeemed the failures of a past one.
She had served more than 25 years in the LAPD and retired while sitting in jail awaiting trial in the death of Rasmussen, the wife of a man Lazarus once dated, John Ruetten.
At the time of the killing, detectives were convinced Rasmussen had been killed by two men trying to burglarize her home, and police ignored pleas from her father to look into whether a woman he knew only as his son-in-law's "ex-girlfriend, who is an LAPD officer" could have killed his daughter.
The case went cold for years as Lazarus built a successful career as an art fraud and theft specialist. She married another LAPD detective and the couple adopted a young girl.
"To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter," Beck said in a statement. "I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy. We recognize that no verdict by a court can bring Sherri back, nor assuage the grief your family suffered over the past decades. I also want to thank the detectives that followed up on this case. It shows the tenacity of the detectives on the LAPD who will work tirelessly to bring a case to justice, whether that case takes them around the world or across the hall."
Although any officer put on trial for murder was bound to draw attention, the Lazarus case was particularly compelling. It pitted the LAPD against one of its own, forcing homicide detectives to push aside the strong familial bonds officers feel for each other and treat Lazarus as they would any other murder suspect.
The department's current leadership also had to confront awkward questions about why detectives had not pursued Lazarus, with her apparently obvious motive, as a suspect.
-- Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein
Photo: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times