For decades, Los Angeles police believed Sherri Rae Rasmussen was killed in a home invasion

By Howard BreuerCaitlin Keating and Greg Hanlon
December 04, 2017 01:45 PM

In the decades after 29-year-old Sherri Rae Rasmussen was found bludgeoned and fatally shot in February 1986, her family never gave up hope of finding her killer.

Los Angeles police believed the nursing administrator died during a violent robbery and home invasion of the condo she shared with her new husband. But Rasmussen’s relatives suspected her spouse’s ex-girlfriend: LAPD officer Stephanie Lazarus.

Lazarus, Rasmussen’s parents said, had threatened Rasmussen at her workplace before she died, telling her, “If I can’t have John, nobody can.”

How L.A. police eventually traced the murder to one of their own is the focus of Monday night’s episode of People Magazine Investigates on Investigation Discovery. An exclusive preview appears above.

During the years the slaying remained unsolved, Lazarus thrived, becoming one of only two detectives in the LAPD’s elite art theft unit. But in 2009, cold-case investigators reopened their inquiry and got a break when they applied DNA technology that was unavailable at the time of the killing.

• For more on the case, watch the People Magazine Investigates episode “Once Bitten” on Mon., Dec. 4, at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.

Stephanie Lazarus, Los Angeles, USA
Stephanie Lazarus
| Credit: Nick Ut/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Sherri Rasmussen, the victim at centre of 1986 murder case
Sherri Rasmussen
| Credit: Rasmussen family/Splash News

“We were just getting into DNA, so our focus was sexual assault-type crimes or crimes where DNA evidence had been left behind,” Detective Clifford Shephard, now retired, says in the exclusive preview clip.

Lazarus was charged in Rasmussen’s death in 2009. During her 2012 trial, prosecutor Paul Nunez told jurors that Lazarus’ “grief” as a scorned woman and her skills as a police officer provided the “perfect cocktail” for murder.

Rasmussen’s husband, John Ruetten, tearfully testified at trial that he had been friends and lovers with Lazarus since they were students together at UCLA.

He said that after Lazarus heard of his engagement to Rasmussen, Lazarus invited him over and told him she was still in love with him, and the two had sex.

“The motive in this case was jealousy – jealousy toward Sherri,” Nunez argued. “The ring on Sherri’s finger was supposed to be hers. It was ripped from her.”

Lazarus was convicted of first-degree murder in March 2012. The state’s supreme court reportedly declined a defense request to review the case in 2015.

People Magazine Investigates: Once Bitten airs Monday (10 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery.