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Veteran LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus, 49, appears at the Criminal Justice Center for her arraignment on murder charges June 9, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Lazarus is charged with the February 24, 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen, her ex-boyfriend's wife, the arraignment was continued.
Grim-faced LAPD officials announced the arrest of one of their own for murder Friday. Detective Stephanie Lazarus was a patrol officer when she allegedly murdered her ex-boyfriend’s wife 23 years ago. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports on her extraordinary arrest at police headquarters.
Frank Stoltze: For more than a quarter century, Stephanie Lazarus carried a badge. She’d risen to the rank of detective. Last year, KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez interviewed her in the LAPD’s downtown headquarters about her work investigating stolen art.
Stephanie Lazarus: Stephanie Lazarus. I'm a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, also the art theft detail. Been interested in art as a kind of this hobby and photography, and can put those two together doing detective work and an activity that you like.
Stoltze: Today, 49-year-old Lazarus stands accused of murder. LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said that in February, detectives in the cold case unit began reviewing the 1986 murder of Sherri Rasumussen, a hospital nursing director at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. The 29-year-old victim was married to Lazarus’ former boyfriend.
Detectives reportedly knew this at the time, but they didn’t consider her a suspect. When fresh eyes re-opened the case they took a closer look at Lazarus, who was a young patrol officer at the time. Without saying how, Beck said detectives surreptitiously collected DNA from her.
Charlie Beck: This case had some evidence which in 1986 was of some value but not a key component, which when analyzed now with today's technology was able to lead to absolute identification.
Stoltze: The deputy chief’s known Lazarus for years. So have the detectives in the Robbery-Homicide Division who identified her as an alleged murderer. They’d worked on the same floor.
Beck: Commercial crimes division is right next door to it. You know, these are folks, one side of the hallway investigating a member of the other. You know, this is very difficult.
Stoltze: Lazarus’ colleagues reportedly thought well of her. Chief Bill Bratton called this case an example of the way his department is willing to go where the truth takes it.
Bill Bratton: My compliments to the detectives involved in the investigation of this case. Painful for them to be reviewing a case and then determine that the leads were leading to a current member of the police force who they knew.
Stoltze: He said he hoped the victim’s family, long in the dark about who’d murdered Sherri Rasmussen, would find some resolution in the arrest.
Police said Lazarus apparently had no clue she was under investigation. In her interview last year with KPCC, she proudly showed off her office on the third floor of police headquarters where fellow cops later arrested her.
Stephanie Lazarus: This is burglary special division, commercial crimes division. And we're in room 319 at Parker Center and this is our squad room. It’s basically a big open squad room.
Stoltze: Was Lazarus subject to less scrutiny in the original investigation because she was a cop? Deputy Chief Charlie Beck:
Beck: I don't know the answer to that at this point. Many, many things are going to be looked at. That's one of them.
Stoltze: Police plan to present their case against their colleague to the district attorney on Monday.