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March 8, 2012

Thursday, March 08, 2012 - ,, 3 comments

Former LAPD Art Crime Investigator Lazarus Found Guilty of the First Degree Murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen almost three decades later

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog editor

LOS ANGELES - A murder committed before DNA samples were used in court to convict ends in a guilty verdict due to the hard work of the Cold Case Homicide Unit for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Betsy A. Ross, Owner of the Trial and Tribulations (T&T), which has been covering People v. Stephanie Lazarus, reported a few minutes after 2 p.m. on Thursday:
Stephanie is facing 27 years to life." 
The former art crime investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department, Stephanie Lazarus, was found guilty after a four week trial for the 1986 murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the wife of Lazarus' former boyfriend.  The jury deliberated for about two days.

'Jealousy drove LAPD detective to kill woman, prosecutor says, ran the headline on the Los Angeles Times blog.

Twenty-six years ago last month,  29-year-old Sherri Rasmussen, a nurse, was found dead in the Van Nuys apartment she shared with her husband, John Ruetten, three months after their marriage. The six-foot tall Rasmussen had fought her assailant until shot three times in the chest with a .38 caliber gun. [Matthew McGough wrote "The Lazarus File" for The Atlantic Magazine in June 2011 that details the forensics involved in the case.]

Ross of T&T summarized the investigation which is covered extensively in McGough's Atlantic article:
It was Detective James Nuttal of the Van Nuys Homicide Unit that looked at the case with fresh eyes in early 2009 that eventually led to her [Lazarus] arrest.  The Cold Case Squad realized there was DNA and got that tested in 2005.  It wasn't until the file ended back up at the originating station and out of the Cold Case Unit's hands that the file was opened once again.
A time line of the case is offered here by, including information that Lazarus, now 51, met Ruetten when they were both students at UCLA in 1978 and dated before Ruetten met his wife in 1985, then again three years after Rasmussen's death.  According's time line "from investigation to People v. Stephanie Lazarus",  Lazarus purchased a .38 Smith and Wesson Revolver in 1984 and reported it stolen within two weeks after Rasmussen's murder.

Detective Lazarus, a police officer at the LAPD since 1983, worked on the nation's only full-time police squad dedicated to the prosecution of art crimes and recovery of art, LAPD's Art Theft Detail, until her arrest in 2009 when a DNA sample from Lazarus' discarded drink cup was allegedly matched with  the DNA of a saliva sample from a bite mark left on Sherri Rasmussen's arm.  Lazarus, in jail since her arrest, retired from the LAPD before her trial.

Closing trial arguments began on the morning of Monday, March 5, and lasted more than two days before the jury received its instructions.  Lazarus will be sentenced May 4, on her birthday.

For more details on the trial, consult Sprocket & Company's Trials and Tribulations.


There is no relation whatsoever between this personal matter and the problem of art crime. It is sensationalist to publish this on your blog. Shame on you!

Respectfully, Mr. Cremers, I disagree. A murder conviction is not a "personal matter". Detective Stephanie Lazarus was an art crime investigator when she was arrested for murder in 2009. She was a police officer when she committed the crime in 1986 according to a jury.

ARCA = Association for Research into Crimes Against Art... It would have been relevant if an art crime detective was involved in stealing art. This IS a personal matter.