Cold murder case solved after 23 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2012

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in the apartment that she shared with her husband. The police eliminated the husband and ex-lovers as suspects and the case remained unsolved for 20+ years until a pair of detectives pulled it from the cold case files and looked at the evidence with fresh eyes. Mark Bowden has the story in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Soon after the murder, [Sherri's father] Nels was shown sketches of two Latin male suspects, and the burglary theory was explained. There was no way for him to recognize the drawings, and the whole scenario did not make sense to him. He had to wonder about the competence of these detectives. The apartment showed signs of a protracted fight. Mayer estimated that the struggle may have lasted for an hour and a half. How could his daughter have fought off two men for that long?, Nels asked. There was the bite mark on her forearm, which led Mayer's partner, Steve Hooks, to conjecture that the suspect may have been a woman, on the theory that women are biters. But the notion was dismissed. Women don't typically engage in breaking and entering, and fighting men have been known to use their teeth. There was also the bullet wound in the center of Sherri's chest, and the hole and powder burns on the blanket. Mayer told Nels that his daughter had not simply been shot and killed; she had been assassinated. Why would a burglar do that?

Nels asked if they had checked to see if the lady cop had been working that day. Had they examined her, taken pictures of her? The answers were no. No one ever checked up on Lazarus. Mayer or Hooks or someone apparently did talk to her on the phone eventually, and the conversation was enough to close that line of inquiry. There is only one brief entry in the case file that mentions her, recorded on November 19, 1986, more than eight months after the murder. It reads, "John Ruetten called. Verified Stephanie Lazarus, PO [police officer], was former girlfriend."

No arrests were ever made. The evidence of Sherri Rasmussen's murder was packed away in commercial storage.

Update: I forgot to include this with the original post...it's a video of the hour-long interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus, the "lady cop" Nels is referring to.

Also, The Atlantic ran a story about the Rasmussen case last year. (thx, dewayne)