American Dentist Accused of Plotting Wife's Murder During Africa Hunting Trip
A dentist and big-game hunter is accused of killing his wife on a hunting trip to Zambia so he could collect millions of dollars in life insurance benefits.
Lawrence Rudolph, 67, is charged with foreign murder and mail fraud in the 2016 death of his wife, Bianca Finizio Rudolph, PEOPLE confirms.
In a federal criminal complaint obtained by PEOPLE, prosecutors allege that Lawrence, who owns dental offices known as Three Rivers Dental in Pennsylvania, killed his wife, had her quickly cremated in Africa and then once back in the U.S. collected nearly $5 million in life insurance money, claiming her shooting death was accidental.
"This is an outrageous prosecution against Dr. Larry Rudolph, a man who loved his wife of 34 years and did not kill her," Lawrence's attorney, David Oscar Markus, said in statement obtained by PEOPLE. "Back in 2016, his wife had a terrible accident during a hunting trip in Zambia. The investigators on the scene concluded it was an accident. Several insurance companies also investigated and agreed."
"Now, more than five years later, the government is seeking to manufacture a case against this well-respected and law-abiding dentist. Dr. Rudolph looks forward to his trial, where he will demonstrate his innocence."
According to the criminal complaint, the couple traveled to Zambia in late September 2016 so Bianca, also a big-game hunter, could hunt a leopard. They were getting ready to leave their hunting camp in Kafue National Park on the morning of Oct. 11, 2016, when Bianca was shot in the chest with a Browning shotgun.
Lawrence allegedly told the local police that he heard the gunshot while he was taking a shower and that he found his wife on the bedroom floor bleeding from the chest.
"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," the complaint alleged.
Zambia law enforcement ruled her death as an accidental discharge but federal authorities were not convinced.
According to the complaint, the consular chief at the U.S. Embassy in Zambia told the FBI he had talked to Lawrence about cremating his wife's body.
"He had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too quickly. As a result, he traveled to [the funeral home] with two others from the embassy to take photographs of the body and preserve any potential evidence," the complaint alleged.
He told investigators that Lawrence was "livid" when he discovered the consular chief had gone to see his wife's body and taken photographs.
A friend of Bianca's told authorities on Oct. 27, 2016, that she wanted the FBI to investigate her friend's death because she suspected foul play, claiming that Lawrence had cheated on his wife and had been having an affair at the time of her death.
"[Friend] said Lawrence had been verbally abusive in the past and that the two had had fights about money," the complaint states. "Friend also said she believed the cremation to have been against Bianca's wishes because Bianca was a strict Catholic who had once expressed disapproval that friend's husband was cremated. Similarly, friend stated, 'Larry is never going to divorce her because he doesn't want to lose his money, and she's never going to divorce him because of her Catholicism.'"
"In addition to the evidence of motive — the insurance proceeds and the possible desire to live openly with [a] girlfriend — additional evidence gathered during the investigation supports [the] conclusion that there is probable cause to believe that Bianca Rudolph did not die by accident and was, rather, killed by Lawrence Rudolph," the complaint alleged.
In a filing by Lawrence's defense attorneys, they wrote that Bianca did want to be cremated.
"The agents' belief that Dr. Rudolph cremated his wife's remains to destroy evidence was proven false as her will expressly directed cremation," the filing states. "Additionally, the government's contention that Dr. Rudolph plotted to 'escape rigorous scrutiny and maintain control of evidence,' is flatly false. The Zambian investigators, who ruled the death accidental, maintained that Dr. Rudolph did nothing to improperly influence the investigation or to obstruct justice."
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Authorities also said that Bianca could not have shot herself with that type of shotgun because of its long barrel. A Colorado medical examiner opined that "it would be physically impossible to accidentally fire this shotgun in its carrying case and produce the entrance defect noted on the body of Ms. Rudolph," the complaint states. "Further, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Ms. Rudolph to reach the trigger of this weapon even if it was placed in the case with the muzzle pressed against her chest."
An arrest warrant was issued for Lawrence on Dec. 22. He was indicted in early January in Colorado, where one of the insurance companies involved is based, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Lawrence has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 28, according to TribLive.