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Laurie BEMBENEK

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Bambi"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Escape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 28, 1981
Date of arrest: June 24, 1981
Date of birth: August 15, 1958
Victim profile: Christine Schultz, 30 (her husband's ex-wife)
Method of murder: Shooting (Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver)
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in March 1982. Paroled on December 9, 1992. Died on November 20, 2010
 
 

 
 

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Lawrencia "Bambi" Bembenek (August 15, 1958 – November 20, 2010), known as Laurie Bembenek, was convicted of murdering her husband's ex-wife, Christine Schultz, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 28, 1981.

Her story garnered national attention after she escaped from Taycheedah Correctional Institution and was recaptured in Canada, an episode which inspired books, movies and the slogan "Run, Bambi, Run". Upon winning a new trial, she pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was sentenced to time served and ten years probation. For years after, she sought to have the sentence overturned.

Bembenek was a former Milwaukee police officer who had been fired and had gone on to sue the department, claiming that it engaged in sexual discrimination and other illegal activities. She worked briefly as a waitress at a Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Playboy Club. At the time of her arrest, she was working for Marquette University's Public Safety Department in downtown Milwaukee.

On November 20, 2010, Bembenek died at a hospice facility in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 52.

Biography

Bembenek was born on August 15, 1958. In March 1980, she joined the Milwaukee Police Department as a trainee. There she met and became close with a fellow trainee named Judy Zess. At a rock concert in May 1980, Zess was arrested for smoking marijuana. Bembenek's subsequent dismissal from the police department on August 25 stemmed from her involvement in filing a false report on Zess' arrest

Murder of Christine Schultz

On May 28, 1981, at approximately 2:15am, 30-year-old Christine Schultz was murdered by a single .38 caliber pistol shot fired point-blank into her back and through her heart. She had been gagged and blindfolded and her hands were tied in front of her with rope. Her two sons, then 7 and 11 years old, found her face down on her bed and bleeding. The older boy, Sean, had seen the assailant and described him as a masked male figure in a green army jacket and black shoes. He also said the man had a long (approx. 6" or 15 cm) reddish-colored ponytail.

Christine Schultz was the ex-wife of Laurie Bembenek's then-husband, Elfred "Fred" Schultz, a Milwaukee Police Department detective. They had been divorced six months at the time of the murder. Fred Schultz initially stated he was on duty investigating a burglary with his partner, Michael Durfee, at the time of the murder, but years later he admitted they were actually drinking at a local bar. When ballistics testing revealed it was his off-duty revolver that had been the murder weapon, suspicion shifted to Laurie Bembenek, as she had been alone in the apartment she shared with Schultz and had access to both the gun and a key to Christine's house that Fred Schultz had secretly copied from his oldest son's house key.

Fred Schultz had previously been exonerated in the fatal shooting of a Glendale, Wisconsin, police officer on July 23, 1975. The Glendale officer, George Robert Sassan, had arrested a subject in a bar while off-duty. Milwaukee police officers, including Schultz, responded to the call in suburban Glendale (outside their jurisdiction), reportedly mistook Sassan for a suspect and shot him to death when he turned toward them, holding a gun. Schultz and his partner were cleared by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office in the shooting.

Trial

Bembenek's trial generated tremendous publicity, and newspapers began referring to her as "Bambi" Bembenek (a nickname she disliked). The prosecution portrayed her as a loose woman addicted to expensive living who wanted Christine Schultz dead so that her new husband would no longer have to pay alimony. The prosecution pointed out that Bembenek also had financial problems. The prosecution claimed that Bembenek was the only person with the motive, means and opportunity to carry out the crime. The strongest evidence was two human hairs found at the crime scene, which matched ones taken from the hairbrush of the defendant. The gun used to kill Christine Schultz turned out to be Bembenek's husband's off-duty revolver. The prosecution claimed that Bembenek was the only person besides Fred Schultz who had access to this weapon. Blood was found on the gun. Bembenek supposedly also had access to a key to Christine Schultz's home. There were no signs of a break-in and no valuables taken. Schultz's eldest son, however, stated that Bembenek was not the person who had held up their house and shot his mother.

Witnesses testified that Bembenek had spoken often of killing Christine Schultz. The prosecution produced a witness who said Bembenek offered to pay him to carry out the murder. According to witnesses for the prosecution, Bembenek owned a green jogging suit similar to the one described by Schultz's son. It was pointed out that Bembenek owned a clothes line and a blue bandanna similar to what was used to bind and gag the victim. A wig found in the plumbing system of Bembenek's apartment matched fibers found at the murder scene. A boutique employee testified that Bembenek purchased such a wig shortly before the murder.

Conviction

She was found guilty of first-degree murder in March 1982 and sentenced to life in prison in Taycheedah Correctional Institution.

Post-trial publicity

Shortly after Bembenek's conviction, Fred Schultz filed for divorce and began saying publicly that he now believed Bembenek was guilty. Bembenek filed three unsuccessful appeals of her conviction, citing police errors in handling of key evidence and the fact that one of the prosecution's witnesses, Judy Zess, had recanted her testimony, stating it was made under duress.

Bembenek and her supporters also alleged that Milwaukee police may have singled her out for prosecution because of her role as a key witness in a federal investigation into police corruption. Bembenek's supporters suggested that Fred Schultz may have arranged to have someone else murder his ex-wife. One possible candidate was Frederick Horenberger, a career criminal who briefly worked with Schultz on a remodeling project and was a former boyfriend of Judy Zess. A disguised Horenberger had robbed and beaten Judy Zess several weeks prior to Christine Schultz's murder and would later serve a ten-year sentence for that crime.

According to a number of affidavits which emerged following Bembenek's conviction, Horenberger boasted of killing Schultz to other inmates while he was in jail. Yet publicly, Horenberger vehemently denied any involvement in the Schultz murder up until his suicide in November 1991, following a robbery and hostage-taking stand-off in which he had been involved.

There were questions raised as to the accuracy of the information and the evidence used in the trial. Dr. Elaine Samuels, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, had originally concluded that hairs recovered from the body were consistent with that of the victim; after Dr. Samuels had come to that conclusion, the hair evidence was examined by Diane Hanson, a hair analyst from a crime lab in Madison, Wisconsin. Hanson stated that two of the hairs were consistent with samples taken from Laurie Bembenek's hairbrush. Dr. Samuels refuted that claim, stating in a 1983 letter, quoted in the Toronto Star in 1991, that "I recovered no blonde or red hairs of any length or texture ... [A]ll of the hairs I recovered from the body were brown and were grossly identical to the hair of the victim ... [I] do not like to suggest that evidence was altered in any way, but I can find no logical explanation for what amounted to the mysterious appearance of blonde hair in an envelope that contained no such hair at the time it was sealed by me."

The apartment where Laurie and Fred lived shared drainage with another apartment. In the shared drainpipe was found a brownish-red wig which matched some of the hairs found on the victim's body. The woman who occupied the other apartment testified that Judy Zess had knocked on her door and asked to use her bathroom; after Zess used the woman's bathroom, the plumbing was mysteriously clogged. Also, Zess had admitted to owning a brownish-red wig.

In prison, Bembenek became a model inmate who was highly respected by her fellow prisoners. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin–Parkside and helped found a prisoners' newspaper. She also met and became engaged to Dominic Gugliatto, who had been visiting another inmate. On July 15, 1990, she escaped from prison with Gugliatto's help. Her escape reignited publicity surrounding her case, and she became something of a folk hero. A song was written about her, and T-shirts were sold with the slogan "Run, Bambi, Run".

She fled with Gugliatto to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, while sensational stories about their relationship swirled through American tabloids. The couple spent three months as fugitives before being apprehended. Gugliatto was sentenced to one year in prison for his role in the escape. Bembenek, however, sought refugee status in Canada, claiming that she was being persecuted by a conspiracy between the police department and the judicial system in Wisconsin. The Canadian government showed some sympathy for her case, and before returning her to Wisconsin, obtained a commitment that Milwaukee officials would conduct a judicial review of her case.

The review did not find evidence of crimes by police or prosecutors, but detailed seven major police blunders which had occurred during the Christine Schultz murder investigation, and she won the right to a new trial. Rather than risk a second conviction, however, Bembenek pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and received a reduced sentence which was commuted to time served. She was released from prison in November 1992, having served a little over ten years.

Life after prison

Bembenek wrote a book about her experience, titled Woman on Trial. After her release, she had various legal and personal problems. She was arrested again on marijuana possession charges and filed for bankruptcy, as well as developing hepatitis C and other health problems. She also admitted to being an alcoholic. She legally changed her name to Laurie Bembenek in 1994.

In 1996, she moved to Washington state to be near her retired parents in Vancouver. There she met a local resident, U.S. Forest Service employee Marty Carson, whom she eventually married.

Bembenek was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by a growing addiction to alcohol. As a form of therapy, Carson encouraged her to devote time to her passion of painting. Bembenek had made paintings since childhood, and her early work had been the subject of an exhibition at UW–Milwaukee in 1992. Carson constructed a studio for her, and she eagerly returned to her art. She had a fragile recovery, and after several years she had amassed about thirty paintings which she put on display at a local art gallery. This potentially transformative return to public life was wrecked when the gallery burned down in a freak fire and all the paintings were destroyed.

In 2002, Bembenek either fell or jumped from a second-story window, breaking her leg so badly that it had to be amputated below the knee. Bembenek claimed that she had been confined in an apartment by handlers for the Dr. Phil television show and was injured while attempting to escape.

Bembenek continued to insist she was innocent, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to overturn her no contest plea, saying such a plea cannot be withdrawn. In April 2008, Bembenek filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court, seeking a reversal of the second murder conviction. Bembenek's attorney pointed to evidence not heard in the original trial, including ballistics tests matching the murder bullets to the gun owned by Fred Schultz, male DNA found on the victim, evidence the victim had been sexually assaulted and the eyewitness testimony of the two young sons who said they had seen a heavyset, masked man. Bembenek's petition argued the court needed to clarify whether defendants who plead guilty or no contest have an opportunity to review evidence comparable to the rights of those who plead not guilty. Her appeal was denied in June 2008.

Her case was the inspiration for two television movies and various books and articles portraying her as the victim of a miscarriage of justice. In 2004, MSNBC produced and aired a biography of Laurie Bembenek on their Headliners and Legends television show. Bembenek did not take part in the show. She was interviewed by WTMJ-TV anchor Mike Jacobs for a two-part sweeps interview that aired on that station's 10pm newscast on October 28 and 29, 2010.

Death

On November 16, 2010, WTMJ reported that Bembenek was slipping in and out of consciousness and was near death in a hospice care center, suffering from liver and kidney failure. On November 20, 2010, she died at a hospice facility in Portland, Oregon, aged 52.

Television movies about Bembenek

  • Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story (1992) starring Lindsay Frost.
  • Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story (1993) starring Tatum O'Neal.

Wikipedia.org


Laurie Bembenek dead at 52, was at center of well-known murder saga

By Amy Rabideau Silvers and Mike Johnson

The Journal Sentinel - JSOnline.com

November 21, 2010

Laurie Bembenek, the former Milwaukee police officer known as "Bambi" who was convicted of killing her then-husband's ex-wife, escaped prison and whose legal saga played out in papers, books and tabloid TV shows, has died, relatives confirmed Sunday.

Bembenek, 52, died early Saturday evening in Portland, Ore., where she was in hospice care, her sister, Colette Bembenek of South Milwaukee, said Sunday.

Bembenek continued to maintain her innocence for the rest of her life, repeatedly trying to clear her name. In recent developments, Bembenek applied for a pardon from the governor's office. That application was not complete, and no immediate review was planned, a spokesman for Gov. Jim Doyle said last week.

Sunday night, her attorney, Mary L. Woehrer, said Bembenek's death would not stop the effort to win a pardon.

"It's her dying wish that she be pardoned. Based upon the evidence we gathered, it's clearly a case of wrongful conviction," Woehrer said, adding that she has been advised by the pardon board that death does not preclude the granting of a pardon.

Bembenek, who later changed her first name to Laurie from Lawrencia, had been admitted to a hospital and then was transferred to a hospice, her sister said. Her health problems included hepatitis C and liver and kidney failure, Colette Bembenek said.

"It went real fast. I'm glad she didn't linger," Colette Bembenek said. "I knew it was inevitable that she probably would be expiring early in life."

Colette Bembenek said she did not have a chance to speak with her sister before she died. She said she was told of her sister's death by Martin Carson, Laurie Bembenek's ex-husband. According to Martin, Laurie Bembenek was in and out of consciousness, said Colette Bembenek, adding that she last saw and spoke to her sister when their father died in 2003.

Laurie Bembenek was the former Milwaukee police officer charged with killing her then-husband's ex-wife, Christine Schultz. She was convicted in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison, but that was far, far from the end of the story.

In 1990, with the help of fiancé Dominic Gugliatto, the brother of another inmate, she escaped from Taycheedah Correctional Institution. They were captured three months later in Thunder Bay, Ontario. More legal proceedings resulted in her pleading guilty to second-degree murder and being released on parole for time served.

'Run, Bambi, Run'

After Bembenek's 1990 escape, supporters held a rally, many of them wearing Bembenek masks so that "she'll be able to walk around more freely." T-shirts declared, "Run, Bambi, Run." One club held a Lawrencia Bembenek look-alike contest.

Events were enough to inspire books and two television movies and to make international news.

Villain or victim? Nearly 30 years after the murder, the jury of public opinion remained out.

Bembenek grew up on a comfortable block on the south side, the daughter of Joe and Virginia Bembenek. She was the child that the family prayed for after a brother was born prematurely and died. Many years later, during a family feud over their father's estate, her sisters spoke about those early years and more.

They did not think that she killed Christine Schultz but felt all the drama had transformed a troubled woman into a folk hero.

"We were just raised differently," Colette Bembenek said in 2003. "When Laurie was born, we all danced around and accommodated the baby that lived and survived. She was raised with indulgence. It became an emotional problem.

"Laurie has this bizarre charisma. . . . But  . . . she needs help," Colette then said.

Over the years, stories would detail every aspect of Bembenek's life. She played "very fine flute" at Bay View High School. She was a good student, though not scholastically driven. Depending on who was talking, she was intelligent but aloof, or quiet and shy, or cool and manipulative.

She grew to be a strikingly beautiful young woman, finding work as a model by her senior year in high school. She later worked at a Playboy Club, a detail included in countless stories.

"It's always a negative - if not a sexual - image they paint," she said in 1994. "I was a waitress at the Playboy Club for three weeks, but I'll always be known as the Playboy bunny."

In March 1980, she joined the Milwaukee police force. Months later, she was fired during her probationary period, subsequently filing a sex discrimination complaint against the department with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

After she lost her job with the department, she became involved with police officer Elfred Schultz. They married in Illinois on Jan. 29, 1981, less than three months after Schultz divorced his wife, Christine.

His ex-wife was found murdered May 28, 1981. She had been tied and gagged in her home, fatally shot with Elfred Schultz's service revolver, according to court testimony. One of their children originally described the suspect as a man.

It was just the beginning of conspiracy theories about the murder and the legal case. Early on, Bembenek said she was framed for the death, saying she was threatened and harassed after filing the discrimination complaint.

"I was on the police department," Bembenek said just weeks after the murder. "I sure wouldn't be stupid enough to use my husband's gun. I can't believe they would think that."

The largely circumstantial case was enough to convince a jury. Testimony included details of a hairlike fiber near the body. That fiber was considered a match with a reddish-brown wig found in plumbing in the apartment building where Bembenek and Elfred Schultz had been living.

Appeal efforts were not successful, including a request in 1990 before Bembenek escaped through a tiny laundry room window at Taycheedah. The Wisconsin Supreme Court soon rejected a request to consider her appeal, citing her fugitive status.

'Tired of being Laurie Bembenek'

After her capture, a secret John Doe investigation in 1992 found that there were mistakes in the police investigation but that there was no evidence of a conspiracy or wrongdoing.

Bembenek was released on parole late in 1992 after her original conviction was set aside. In a complicated deal, she agreed to plead no contest to second-degree murder.

Suddenly out of prison, she rode a new wave of celebrity. There were offers of limos and an expensive makeover. Her life became the stuff of movies and tabloid TV. She appeared on talk shows, including a visit with Oprah Winfrey. Bembenek wrote a book - "Woman on Trial" published by HarperCollins - and tried to sell her paintings and give speeches.

Despite having a college degree, it was hard to find work or make a living.

"I'm tired of being Laurie Bembenek," she said in 1996. "Any face would do."

She talked about her situation as she sought permission to live in Washington state with her parents.

"Being recognized doesn't make me any money," she said then.

Months later, a one-way ticket in hand, she boarded a plane with her mother. Still on parole, she had received the necessary permission only hours earlier.

"This is it," a tearful Bembenek said. "I'm leaving a lot of friends behind, but I've got to go."

Her legal battle continued, with questions regarding ballistics and DNA, withheld evidence and who else might have killed Christine Schultz. She won the right to have murder scene evidence tested for her DNA, but even that testing took a bizarre and unexpected twist in 2002. The "Dr. Phil" show agreed to conduct the expensive testing, with the results to be revealed on air.

The show's producers kept Bembenek in an apartment - with a body guard and videotaping - apparently to shield her from media reports about her case, said Woehrer. Bembenek suffered a panic attack and flashback to prison confinement, and she tried to climb out of a window, Woehrer said.

She fell and badly injured her right foot, which later had to be amputated.

Her appeal efforts were not successful. Ira B. Robins, who worked as an investigator on her case and remained her friend, pursued the case for more than 20 years.

"We promised her dad on his deathbed that the family name would be cleared," Robins said in 2008. "We've got to do it."


Bambi Bembenek

by Katherine Ramsland


The Crime Scene

On May 28, 1981, at approximately 2:00 a.m, someone entered the Milwaukee, Wisconsin home of Christine Schultz, age 30, where she lived with her two sons, Sean, 10, and Shannon, 7. The intruder entered Christine’s bedroom with a gun and tied her hands together. Then, inexplicably, he went across the hall and put a gloved hand over Sean’s mouth and nose, and slipped some wire around his neck. Sean awoke in terror to see a tall man standing over him. His brother also woke up and jumped out of bed to kick the man. They remembered him as having reddish-brown hair tied into a ponytail. The intruder rushed back over to Christine’s room, where she cried out. He shot her in the back, and then fled past the two startled boys down the steps and out the door.

It was Sean who phoned for help, calling Christine’s current boyfriend, Stewart Honeck, a police officer. He put in a call to the department for backup. Four police officers arrived at the scene and were let in by the frightened boys. Honeck went up the steps and was the first to see Christine. He moved her and saw that she was not breathing.

She was lying on her right side, facing west. She wore a yellow Adidas T-shirt and white panties. A clothesline-type cord was tied around her hands, binding them in front of her, and a blue bandanna-type scarf was wrapped around her head, gagging her mouth. The T-shirt was torn near the wound, a large bullet hole in her right shoulder. There was no sign of a struggle.

Police cut the cord around victim’s hands and wrapped her body in plastic. They removed a brown hair from the calf of her leg.

Two hours after the initial report, the medical examiner arrived. An hour later, an ambulance came to transport the victim to the police morgue.

There was no evidence of a break-in, and the doors had heavy-duty locks, including a dead bolt. The crime was puzzling in many respects.

Normally the prime suspect would have been Christine’s ex-husband, Elfred ("Fred") O. Schultz, Jr., but he had an alibi: He, too, was a cop, and had been on duty that night. At the time of the shooting, he claimed, he and his partner were investigating a break-in.

Christine Schultz had divorced him the previous year, in November of 1980, after eleven years of marriage, keeping custody with visitation rights of their sons, and living in the family home. She worked part-time. The marriage had been rocky and she had complained to her attorney after the divorce that she was afraid of Schultz, who had threatened her life. When he continued hanging around the house after she asked him to leave, she had the locks changed. She also felt she was being followed, and wondered if it had something to do with Honeck, known to have a drinking problem and to bear some animosity toward Fred, with whom he had once shared an apartment.

The intertwined nature of all the relationships in this unfolding drama was as complex as any soap opera. It turned out to be a much more complicated case than anyone had anticipated.

On the evening in question, Christine had made dinner for Stewart Honeck. Thereafter, the boys went to bed while Christine and Honeck watched television for a while, whereupon she drove him home. When she returned, he called her and they talked on the phone until about 11:30. Then she went upstairs to her room on the second floor to watch television. Not long afterward, she was murdered.


Witness Reports

Sean Schultz claimed that he heard a noise and woke up to the feeling of something like a covered wire tightening around his throat. As he recalled, a large gloved hand moved over his face, covering his mouth, eyes, and nose. He struggled and screamed, hearing his attacker utter a deep growling sound. The intruder ran out and across the hall. He followed Shannon, his 8-year-old brother, into the hallway and saw a man in his mother’s room. When the man ran out past them, Sean saw him taking the steps three and four at a time, his green army jacket flapping. At the bottom, Sean noticed that he wore low-cut black shoes, like police shoes. He thought the man also wore a ski mask. Sean then went to his mother, who was still alive, and ripped open her shirt to fix the hole in her back. It was his impression that the man had exploded a firecracker in it. He wrapped gauze around his hand and used it to put pressure on the wound. At 2:30 a.m., he called Stewart Honeck to ask for help.

Shannon says he jumped out of bed when Sean screamed, saw a man, and kicked at the intruder. He described a large white male with reddish hair tied into a long ponytail, wearing a green jogging suit with yellow stripes running down the sleeve. The man then ran from the room and crossed the hall, entering their mother’s bedroom. He heard a woman’s voice say, “God, please don’t do that.” Then came a loud noise. He raced to his mother’s room and saw a man standing over her bed. The man then ran past him and down the steps.

Twelve area residents (including two police officers) had seen a man matching the boys’ description jogging in the neighborhood a few weeks before the murder. He had reddish-brown hair in a ponytail and was wearing a green jogging suit. He was seen carrying a blue bandanna, similar to the one used to gag the victim.

Two nurses at a nursing home one mile from the scene had observed something strange in the early morning hours of May 28. They had seen someone lying in the parking lot, had called the police, and had come back outside around 2:50 a.m. and observed a man with reddish-brown hair and a green jogging suit standing in the bushes.


Initial Investigation

Fred Schultz, on duty that night, went to the scene of the crime. He called his new wife, Lawrencia ("Laurie") Bembenek, at 2:40 a.m., but the line was busy. She had been packing to move to a smaller apartment that evening and had planned to go out with her friend, Judy Zess, but the date had been canceled. Schultz then called her again. She picked up the phone and it sounded to him as if she had just awoken. He took his partner, Detective Michael Durfee, to his apartment, sixteen blocks away, and felt the hood of her car in the presence of the other officer, and then examined his off-duty .38 pistol. Durfee smelled it and looked it over, determining that it had not been fired that night, nor recently cleaned. There was dust on the weapon. That eliminated it as a murder weapon.

Schultz asked Bembenek to accompany him to identify Christina and took the off-duty pistol with him in a briefcase. Durfee left him as Schultz went into a private meeting with his superiors and left to write his report, but not before mentioning that the gun was in the briefcase. No one there recorded the serial number, nor recorded the fact or content of the meeting, so in retrospect, it could never be proven that such a meeting took place.

At 4:00 a.m. two detectives came to Bembenek’s apartment to ask if she owned a gun or a green jogging suit. They also asked about Honeck and Schultz. She told them she had no such jogging suit and never had owned one of that color.

Kris Radish in Run Bambi Run described the situation with Lawrencia Bembenek: " She was one of those radical women's libbers. The kind of women who thought females deserved an equal chance. She was also one of the most beautiful cops the department had ever seen. She was tall, with a great set of legs, sky-blue eyes, long, slender finger, and a head of thick blond hair. She was gone but not forgotten. She had been booted out of the department because of some minor problem, and Chief Breier smiled when he learned of her connection with the Schultz murder. The police department was no place for women. Let them stay home. These women needed to be taught a lesson."

Christine’s autopsy report indicated radial expansion, in which the muzzle of the gun left a circular imprint on the victim’s skin. That is, the gun had been held against her back, touching the skin, when fired. The bullet entered the back through the shoulder and made a direct path to the heart. Hairs were found in the bandanna wrapped around her mouth and were consistent with hers.

It turned out later that there were other discoveries, but they were not initially noted.


Suspects

1) Lawrencia Bembenek, 21, second wife of Fred Schultz, Jr., who married him within three months of his divorce. A former roommate, Judy Zess, who had shared an apartment with her and Fred, told police that Bembenek once had made a statement about hiring someone to kill Christine because she resented how much money her husband was giving to her in alimony and child support payments. Zess also claimed that Bembenek had approached her boyfriend, Tom Gaertner, about taking out a contract on Christine Schultz. Several people came forward to say she owned a green jogging suit, although none was ever found, and one witness, Kathryn Morgan, said she saw Bembenek’s mother, Virginia, rummaging through a dumpster on June 18 near Bembenek’s apartment. Bembenek was tall and strong, and thus could have seemed to the boys like a man. She would also know what to do at a crime scene to cover her tracks, having once been a police officer. A babysitter at the victim’s home said Bembenek had been shown the layout of the house, and Durfee claimed that Bembenek and Schultz had a private talk before he and Schultz checked the off duty revolver on the night of the murder.

Bembenek, who became known in the press as “Bambi,” had entered the police academy in March, 1980, graduating sixth in her class, and was stunned by the amount of graft going on in the department: officers selling pornography from their cars, accepting oral sex from hookers, frequenting drug hangouts, harassing minorities. When she was fired for supposedly knowing the Judy Zess had marijuana at a rock concert, she filed a lawsuit, charging discrimination. In October, she came into possession of nude photos of male police officers dancing in a public park. She gave them to internal affairs.

Then a U. S. Federal attorney, James Morrison, began investigating allegations that the Milwaukee force was misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars of affirmative action funds and firing minorities on flimsy grounds. Bembenek came forward to say that women were being hired and quickly fired to satisfy federal quotas and take advantage of employment equity grants. She was the heart of the investigation, so it was clear that if she became a serious suspect, the case against the department would fall apart.

Bembenek had once posed in a slinky dress for a beer calendar and had worked for a few weeks as a waitress at a Playboy Club. Because of this, the crime became a media sensation.

2) Elfred Schultz, Jr,, 33, the former husband of the victim, and father of her two children. He divorced Christine in November, 1980 and met Bembenek in December. Although he was ten years older than her, he pursued her aggressively. When he quickly proposed, Bembenek accepted. They married on January 30, 1981. Fred was quite upset about a recent court decision regarding the amount of alimony he would have to pay, including the mortgage to the house that he himself had built.

Eugene Kershek, the victim’s divorce attorney, said that Schultz had threatened the victim just weeks before the murder, telling her that he was going to “blow her fucking head off.” They had had an acrimonious divorce over Fred’s alleged brutality and infidelity.

He was on duty the night of the shooting, but he had two keys to the house, which he had made from one that his son carried. He had one on him and one back at his apartment. Schultz passed two lie detector tests, but was proven nevertheless to have lied about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, because he had been drinking at several bars, which he had initially denied. There was also a report from a convict that surfaced later to the effect that Schultz had hired someone to kill his ex-wife, and it was proven that he knew the man who allegedly had confessed in private that he’d been hired to do the job. He failed to have his off-duty revolver--later determined to be the murder weapon--properly registered with the crime lab. It was in his possession for two weeks before being turned in for examination. He also had married Bembenek illegally, instead of waiting one more month as Wisconsin law dictated, but never told her. His partner, Michael Durfee, could not locate his log book from that night, and although they said they had investigated a burglary, in fact, two uniformed police officers had done that investigation. There was some suggestion that he had set Bembenek up for turning in to his superiors nude photos of him dancing at a public function: He could use the woman who was out to get him (before she knew him) as the fall guy for getting rid of his ex-wife—two birds with one stone.

3) Stewart Honek, who was with the victim that evening and who seemed to have had some interest in her plants, which might have been a hiding place for drugs. He had mentioned to Bembenek’s parents that $300,000 worth of drugs had disappeared from the victims apartment the night she was murdered. He thought Schultz had taken them. Honeck admitted having a key to the victim’s home. He also admitted to a drinking problem and to the fact that he had abused his two former wives. He claimed that he and Christine had discussed getting married that night, but those who knew her well believed she was hesitant about marrying another cop.

4) Judy Zess, a former roommate whom Bembenek suspected of having a crush on her, and who used the bathroom in the apartment across from the one in which Bembenek and Schultz lived—which shortly thereafter proved to be clogged with a wig of reddish-brown hair, a damning piece of evidence. She also recanted her testimony that Bembenek owned clothesline, a green jogging suit, and had made a remark about hiring someone to kill the victim. She admitted that she owned a brownish, shoulder-length wig. She had been asked to leave the apartment she shared with Bembenek and Schultz, and a week later, her boyfriend, Tom Gaertner (who hated Schultz for shooting his best friend) was arrested for possession of cocaine. Zess had not turned in her key to the apartment until June 24, which meant she had access to the alleged murder weapon. She admitted having entered the apartment at least two times when Bembenek and Schultz were not home.

5) Frederick Horenburger, whose MO was to wear a wig, as he had done when he had robbed Judy Zess. Horenburger also gagged his victim, and held a .38 caliber gun against her body. He allegedly confessed to six (or eight) different people, who came forward after his death, that he had been hired to kill Christine Schultz. He had been arrested with Danny L. Gilbert for robbing Judy Zess, and a Danny L. Gilbert was stopped on the highway just above the murder scene on the night of the murder. Also, George Marks, owner of George’s Pub and Grill where Schultz was drinking the night of the murder, had introduced Schultz to Horenberger. They were together, drinking, the night of the murder.

Eight people offered sworn statements that Horenberger told them he was the killer. He told inmates during various times in jail that he had “killed the bitch.” One said he had admitted to taking $10,000 for it, paid by Elfred Schultz.


The Arrest

The Regional Crime Laboratory ballistics analysis indicated that while Fred Schultz’s service revolver, a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel, showed traces of blood, type A, which was consistent with the victim (and him), the 200 grain bullet, fired from his off-duty .38 Smith & Wesson snub-nose revolver with a two-inch barrel, proved that the killer had access to that gun. The markings on the slug matched markings in the gun barrel.

Fred Schultz, Judy Zess, Thomas Gaertner, the landlord, and Lawrencia Bembenek all had keys to the apartment and thus had access to the murder weapon, although Bembenek was there alone allegedly sleeping when the murder occurred.

Not long after the murder, a reddish-brown wig was found clogging the plumbing of the apartment across from that in which Bembenek and Schultz resided. The wig hair was consistent with a hair found on the victim’s body. The apartment shared a y-shaped drainage line leading away from two apartments, the one occupied by Schultz and Bembenek and the one across from them.

A hairbrush owned by Bembenek was sent to the crime lab and they noted that at least one hair from the brush was consistent with a strand of hair found in the gag over the victim’s mouth.

In the end, Bembenek was charged with the crime, since she had access to the weapon determined to be the gun that killed the victim. She was arrested on June 24, 1981. At first she was stunned, claiming she was innocent, and then she insisted she was being framed by the police department to stop her from releasing evidence she had of their fraudulent use of government funds. She was sure her arrest would come to nothing and she would soon be proven innocent.


The Trial

Lawrencia was held for trial, which lasted three weeks. Her lawyer, Donald S. Eisenberger, called thirteen witnesses to the prosecution’s thirty-six.

Prosecutor Robert Kramer pieced together a story that Bembenek had intended to frighten Christine into moving out of the house so she could move in. She hadn’t planned to kill anyone, but when Christine had recognized her, she had pulled the trigger.

Against Bembenek were the following witnesses:

Frances Zess, mother of Judy Zess, claims she heard statements at a dinner party a few months before the murder, made by Lawrencia Bembenek, to the effect of having the victim “blown away.”

Judy Zess, a former roommate of Bembenek and Schultz, confirmed what her mother said and added that she had seen a green jogging suit in the apartment she shared with Schultz and Bembenek, and that she knew that Bembenek had owned clothesline similar to that found bound around the victim’s hands. Also that Bembenek owned a blue bandanna.

Kathryn Morgan saw a woman resembling Virginia Bembenek, Laurie's mother, rummaging through a dumpster on June 18 near Bembenek’s apartment.

Gary Shaw said he had seen Bembenek in a green jogging suit.

Marilyn Gehrt, who owned The Olde Wig World Shoppe, remembered Bembenek purchasing a wig.

John Schultz, Fred’s brother, testified that Sean had told him he hadn’t seen anything the night of his mother’s murder and that the killer had covered his face completely.

Bembenek’s defense relied on a switched gun theory: Before the crime, someone replaced Schultz’s off-duty gun with one that looked like it. Then that person killed the victim, and when the gun at the apartment was examined, it had not been used. Then during the next 22 days, the same person switched the guns again, and the tests showed that Schultz’s off-duty gun killed the victim. (What saves this person is the incredible luck that no one thought to record the serial numbers—unless the police department was in on it.)

Trying to cast some doubt, the defense used the following people:

Sharon Niswonger, who lived in the apartment across from Schultz and Bembenek, says that Judy Zess visited her, asked to use the restroom, and left. The next person to use it found it clogged, and a plumber pulled out a reddish-brown wig.

Bembenek’s mother, who seemed not to have been the person seen at the dumpster.

Bembenek herself, who made the mistake of wearing a Victorian blouse when she testified, making the jury members feel manipulated.

Bembenek was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in Taycheedah Correctional Institute in Fond du Lac County.

What jurors did not hear at the trial: Schultz’s ties to Horenberger or that Horenberger was later convicted of robbing Judy Zess, and that one of the perpetrators in that robbery wore a wig. They did not hear the testimony of the two nurses, what Christine had told her divorce attorney, or the idea that Fred could have left another revolver at home and given his off-duty weapon to the killer, then replaced it.

They also did not hear that Judy Zess’s boyfriend blamed Fred Schultz for the death of his best friend and claimed he would get even, according to Bembenek.

After Bembenek’s conviction, Fred moved to Florida and they divorced. He later said he believed she had killed Christine.

There were three separate appeals, all of which Bembenek lost.


Run, Bambi, Run

Fed up with the system and fearing she might spend most of the rest of her life behind bars, Bembenek escaped from prison on July 15, 1990. She had served almost ten years already, and then had met and become engaged to Nick Gugliatto, the brother of another prisoner. With his help, she ran north to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Many people in Milwaukee sided with her and supported her escape. Most said that, should they see her, they would not turn her in. They thought she’d gotten a bad rap. People protested openly in the streets on her behalf and even came up with a song, “Run. Bambi, Run.” They made masks of her face and put bumper stickers on their cars. They wanted her to get away.

Bembenek and Gugliatto took new names from tombstones to obtain birth certificates and social security numbers. They remained free for three months, working at menial jobs, before a tourist who had seen Bembenek’s picture on “American’s Most Wanted” turned her in. The Canadian police picked her up just minutes before she was set to flee again.

She pleaded for refugee status, claiming that she was being persecuted by a conspiracy between the police department and the judicial system in Wisconsin. The Canadian government looked into her case and pointed out the many legal errors in her trial.

Finally, Bembenek was sent back to the states.

A judicial inquiry was undertaken that excluded the district attorney (due to charges of cover-up and conspiracy). These officials decided that no crimes had been committed leading up to the murder charge, but they detailed seven major police blunders during the investigation.

Bembenek’s lawyer (a new one, since her first lawyer had turned on her) cut a deal that she would agree to “no contest” to a second degree murder charge in return for a reduced sentence, limited to time already served plus parole.

Although her innocence had not been established, she was finally free.


Complications

During the years that Bembenek was in prison, numerous people had instigated investigations on her behalf, and a number of factors came out that put into doubt much of what had been said at her trial:

The off duty revolver owned by Schultz was examined the night of the murder and determined that it had not been shot recently. A team of officers also examined it the morning after the murder and they came to the same conclusion (although they did not admit to this meeting for many years). Yet the ballistics report indicated that this gun, not fired, was the murder weapon. Schultz had it in his possession for several weeks following the murder and before it was tested in the crime lab, and a neighbor of the victim’s claimed someone had stolen his .38 the night of the murder. Could Schultz have switched guns? No serial number was recorded for his off duty weapon on the night of the murder. It could have been switched and no one would know.

Attorney Mary Woehrer contacted Chesley Erwin, medical examiner at the time of the murder, and he agreed that the bullet taken from the victim might have been switched. Woehrer discovered that when Elaine Samuels, associate medical examiner, removed the bullet, she had written three initials, CJS, on it. The bullet presented at the trial had six initials, three of which were in different handwriting from the original three.

Two sets of unidentified fingerprints were found at the murder site, but no match was made.

Bembenek dreaded the idea of taking care of Fred’s children, so why would she get rid of Christine and make certain that happened by having them go straight into Fred’s custody?

Judy Zess was not questioned about her whereabouts on the night of the murder, although she had canceled a date to go out with Bembenek.

On October 27, 1981, a convicted felon named Frederick Horenberger sent Bembenek’s lawyer a six-page note detailing how Judy Zess had committed perjury in her testimony against Bembenek. He had overheard a conversation from her to her boyfriend in jail about the murder and said that she then told him that she was working out a deal with the police, with them exchanging favors for her testimony. She was having sex with one of the officers assigned to the case, and he was setting up the deals. She later told Bembenek that her statements had been twisted and taken out of context, but when her boyfriend was paroled, it was clear the deal had worked for her.

The investigator hired by Bembenek’s lawyer reported that he had spoken to a man who claimed that Schultz had hired a hit man out of Chicago to kill the victim, and that there were two men in the home that night. They had awakened the boys with the specific intent of making them bear witness to the fact that it was not their father who was killing their mother.

The blood found on the walls in the victim’s house was never examined to determine its origin.

The blood found under victim’s fingernails was never examined, and no one checked to see if Bembenek had been scratched.

Bembenek’s black police shoes were not confiscated or examined.

Marilyn Gehrt, the wig shop owner who came forward at the last minute, did not have a sales slip for the wig that Bembenek supposedly had purchased, and could not remember the date, but was sure that Bembenek produced ID to write a check. However, Bembenek did not actually have a checking account.

Assistant medical examiner Elaine Samuels, who had testified about hair samples that she had removed from the victim’s body, said she never found a blond hair or red hair consistent either with the suspect or with a wig, and felt that evidence may have been tampered with. In fact, the gag on which the hair was allegedly found had been removed from the crime lab inventory to show to Judy Zess.

The state did not call Tom Gaertner to the stand to support the statements made by Judy Zess, a serious oversight not caught by the defense.

Hair analyst Diane Hansen was shown to have little experience or training in this field. She’d had less than six weeks of training in various law seminars, so her expertise on crucial evidence interpretation was questionable..


Aftermath

James Benning made a film in 1989 of the Bembenek case, “Used Innocence,” distributed by First Run features.

Ira Robbins, a private detective, worked tirelessly on the case for over seven years. He assisted the Canadian officials to evaluate whether Bembenek had gotten a fair trial when she filed for refugee status.

Bembenek was paroled Dec. 9, 1992 and credited with time already served. Then she graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the first female “lifer” admitted to an extension program. She took a degree in the Humanities.

A movie about her life, “Woman on the Run,” was developed into a two-part miniseries starring Tatum O’Neal, from Bembenek’s book, Woman on Trial. She rode around in a limo, bought a Jaguar, went on a book tour, gave speeches, showed her paintings, and appeared on Oprah.

Eventually she tired of all the attention and legally changed her name to Laurie. Then she got involved with a drug-dealer who gave her some marijuana and cocaine, which violated the terms of her parole. She spent two weeks in jail and then had to live with an electronic monitor.

When she contracted Hepatitis C, she moved to Washington State, nearly penniless and wishing that the public, who had called her “Bambi” would forget about her.


Bibliography

  • Run, Bambi, Run: The Beautiful Ex-cop and Convicted Murderer who Escaped to Freedom and Won America’s Heart, by Kris Radish. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1992.

  • The Thirteenth Juror: At the Lawrencia Bembenek Murder Trial: Questions Left Unanswered, by Bill Roddick. Milwaukee, WI: Tech/Data Publications, 1982.

  • “Robins Goes to Court Over Bembenek Profits,” by Jim Stingl. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Sept. 11, 1996.

  • “Bembenek Say Goodbye,” by Alan J. Borsuk. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 9, 1996.

  • “The Bambi Chronicles,” by Mark Jannot. Playboy, July, 1993, v40, p116.

  • “Woman on the Run,” American Justice, A&E, April 7, 1999.

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