Laurie Bembenek

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Laurie Bembenek
Born Lawrencia Ann Bembenek
(1958-08-15)August 15, 1958
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Died November 20, 2010(2010-11-20) (aged 52)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Cause of death
Kidney and liver failure
Nationality American
Other names Bambi Bembenek
Occupation Police officer
Criminal charge
First-degree murder (1982 charge)
Second-degree murder (1992 charge)
Criminal status Released November 1992
Spouse(s) Elfred Schultz (m. 1981; div. 1984)
Marty Carson (m. 2005; div. 2007)
Conviction(s) Life (1982 verdict)
20 years (1992 verdict)
Capture status
Released on December 9, 1992
Time at large
95 days
Escaped July 15, 1990
Escape end October 17, 1990
Killings
Victims Christine Schultz
Date May 28, 1981
2:15am
Country United States
State(s) Wisconsin
Location(s) Milwaukee
Killed 1
Weapon(s) .38 caliber pistol
Date apprehended
July 24, 1982
Imprisoned at Taycheedah Correctional Institution

Lawrencia Ann "Bambi" Bembenek (August 15, 1958 – November 20, 2010), known as Laurie Bembenek, was a former American police officer convicted of murdering her husband's ex-wife. 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 in December 1992. For years after, she sought to have the sentence overturned.[1]

Prior to her arrest, Bembenek was fired by the Milwaukee Police Department 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.[2]

Early life[edit]

Bembenek was the youngest of three girls born to Joseph and Virginia Bembenek in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 15, 1958.[3][4] Joseph Bembenek had previously worked for the Milwaukee Police Department but quit after witnessing what he described as corruption within the department. He later worked as a carpenter.[4]

Bembenek was raised a Roman Catholic and attended St. Augustine Elementary School and St. Mary's Academy in Milwaukee.[5] She later transferred to Bay View High School where she graduated in 1976.[6] Upon graduation, Bembenek attended Bryant & Stratton College, where she earned an associate degree in fashion merchandising management.[7][3]

Career and marriage[edit]

After college, Bembenek worked in retail and had a brief stint as a model. In 1978, she appeared as "Miss March" in a calendar distributed by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company.[8]

In March 1980, Bembenek began training at the Milwaukee Police Academy. While still a trainee, an anonymous tipster reported that Bembenek was seen smoking marijuana at a party. Bembenek denied the charge which was investigated but never substantiated. Bembenek later said she believed the accusation was made by the wife of a Milwaukee police officer who confronted her at a party about her clothing and accused Bembenek of leading her husband on. Bembenek graduated from the Academy in the summer of 1980 and was assigned to the South Side Second District of Milwaukee. In her autobiography Woman on the Run, Bembenek claimed that the Milwaukee Police Department was then composed of "brutal, lazy, apathetic and corrupt" police officers. She further claimed that female and minority officers were routinely subjected to harassment and abuse during training.[9] Bembenek stated that when females and minorities trainees became members of the police force, they were often severely punished or fired for minor infractions during their probationary period while white male officers went unpunished for more serious offenses.[9][10]

While training at the Milwaukee Police Academy, Bembenek met and became close with another female trainee, 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.[3] After being fired, Bembenek discovered photos of Milwaukee police officers dancing nude and semi nude at a party sponsored by a local bar. She took the photos to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arguing that while she was fired for a minor infraction, the photos proved that other police officers committing more serious violations were not punished. The EEOC encouraged Bembenek to file a discrimination report with the Milwaukee Police Department internal affairs division.[9] In the months following her firing, Bembenek briefly worked as a waitress at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.[3]

Around that time, she met Elfred O, "Fred" Schultz, then a 13 year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department. Schultz had two sons and had obtained a divorce his first wife, Christine, in November 1980. Bembenek and Schultz were married in January 1981 in Waukegan, Illinois.[11] At the time of the marriage, Bembenek was working as a personal trainer at a health club and was living in an apartment with Schultz, her friend Judy Zess and Zess' boyfriend Thomas D. Gaertner.[9][12] Bembenek later got a job as a campus security guard at Marquette University.[13]

In November 1981, Bembenek and Schultz were remarried after a judge ruled that the couple's marriage was invalid because Schultz had violated Wisconsin law by not waiting six months after his divorce from Christine to remarry.[14]

Murder of Christine Schultz[edit]

On May 28, 1981, at approximately 2:15am, Fred Schultz's ex-wife Christine was murdered in her Milwaukee home. Christine Schultz had been killed 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.[15] 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.[16] Bembenek had dyed blonde hair, weighed 140 pounds and was 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m).[17]

At the time of her murder, Christine and Fred Schultz had been divorced six months. 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.[15] Bembenek was arrested for Christine Schultz's murder on July 24, 1982.[9]

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.[8]

Trial and conviction[edit]

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.[18]

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.[19]

On March 9, 1982, Bembenek was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. She was imprisoned at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.[20]

Post-trial publicity[edit]

On June 28, 1983, Bembenek filed for divorce from Fred Schultz.[21] In an interview she gave to The Milwaukee Sentinel, Bembenek said that Schultz had written her a letter informing her that he was living with a 19-year-old woman in Florida and had decided to end their marriage.[22] Their divorce was granted on June 19, 1984.[21] While Schultz had initially stood by Bembenek and believed she was innocent, he later changed his mind and publicly stated that he believed she was "Guilty as sin."[23] Bembenek also came to believe that Fred Schultz was guilty of hiring someone to murder Christine and allowed her to take the fall.[17] She contended that the attorney whom Schultz had hired to represent her had a conflict of interest and had purposely failed to inform the jury that there was evidence that Schultz was connected to the murder.[24]

After her imprisonment, 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.[15] 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.[25]

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.[1]

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."[26]

The apartment where Bembenek and Fred Schultz 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. Zess had also admitted to owning a brownish-red wig.[26]

While in prison, Bembenek earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin–Parkside and helped found a prisoners' newspaper.[9] She also met and became engaged to factory worker Dominic Gugliatto, who was the brother of Bembenek's cellmate.[27]

Escape and capture[edit]

On July 15, 1990, Bembenek escaped through a laundry room window and was picked up by Gugliatto.[28] The couple were spotted two days after Bembenek's escape in Gugliatto's truck in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The abandoned truck was later found in a parking lot of a Target.[29] Bembenek and Gugliatto fled to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, while sensational stories about their relationship swirled through American tabloids.[30] Her escape also 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".[31]

While on the run, Bembenek used the name "Jennifer Gazzana" and got a job working as a waitress at an area bar and grill.[32] She also worked as a fitness instructor.


On October 17, 1990, the couple were arrested after a tourist saw a segment about Bembenek's escape on America's Most Wanted. Gugliatto was deported back to the United States a month later and was eventually sentenced to one year in prison for his role in the escape.[30][21] 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.[33]

Bembenek voluntarily returned to the United States on April 22, 1991.[21] Rather than risk a second conviction, however, Bembenek pleaded no contest to second-degree murder during a hearing held on December 9, 1992. She was sentenced to 20 years which was commuted to time served. She was released from custody three hours after the hearing having served a little over ten years.[34]

Life after prison[edit]

Bembenek wrote a book about her experience, titled Woman on Trial.[35] 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 July 1994.[36]

In 1996, she moved to Washington state[2] to be near her retired parents in Vancouver.[37][9] There she met a local resident, U.S. Forest Service employee Marty Carson, whom she eventually married.[9]

Bembenek was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by a growing addiction to alcohol.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9]

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.[38] 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.[39]

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.[40]

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.[41]

Death[edit]

On November 20, 2010, she died at a hospice facility in Portland, Oregon from liver and kidney failure.[2][42]

Television movies about Bembenek[edit]

  • Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story (1992) starring Lindsay Frost.[43]
  • Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story (1993) starring Tatum O'Neal.[44]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Doege, David. "Target of DNA tests denied role in Bembenek case". The Milwaukee Journal. January 13, 1991.
  2. ^ a b c Rabideau Silvers, Amy (November 21, 2010). "Laurie Bembenek Dead at 52". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved November 22, 2010. Bembenek died about 7 p.m. Milwaukee time in Portland, Ore., where she was in hospice care, her sister, Colette Bembenek of South Milwaukee, said Sunday. Bembenek, 52, who later changed her first name to Laurie, had been admitted to a hospital in recent days and then was transferred to a hospice, her sister said. Her health problems included hepatitis C and liver and kidney failure, Colette Bembenek said. 
  3. ^ a b c d Tianen, Dave (August 15, 1990). "2 Lawrencia Bembeneks: from grade school to a cell". The Milwaukee Sentinel: 1, 15. 
  4. ^ a b Douglas, Olshaker 2001, p. 251.
  5. ^ Radish, Kris (1992). Run, Bambi, Run. Penguin Group USA. p. 32. ISBN 0-451-40351-7. 
  6. ^ Moe, Doug (1991). "Fatale: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story". Madison Magazine (Consumer Publications, Limited) 33: 29. 
  7. ^ Bembenek 1992, p. 13.
  8. ^ a b Fee, Walter (September 6, 1981). "Beautiful people, bizarre case". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 1. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gunn, Erik (June 21, 2011). "Laurie's Last Days". milwaukeemag.com. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  10. ^ Knoche, Eldon (June 11, 1991). "Bembenek was vital to probe, witness says". The Milwaukee Sentinel. pp. 1, 10. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Alimony Out, Schultz Says". The Milwaukee Sentinel. June 30, 1983. p. 5. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  12. ^ Kucer, Marilyn (September 26, 1981). "Testimony disputed about Bembenek cast". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 5. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Bembenek's parents visit her in jail". The Milwaukee Journal. December 27, 1991. p. B5. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  14. ^ Uebelherr, Jan (December 7, 1992). "Bembenek case offers many twists over years". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 8A. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c Rowen, James. "The Night Christine Schultz Was Killed: A fresh look at the Bembenek case". The Milwaukee Journal. January 13, 1991.
  16. ^ Radish 1992, p. 4.
  17. ^ a b Kunen, James S. (December 7, 1987). "Ex-Cop Lawrencia Bembenek Claims She Was Wrongly Convicted of Murder in the Case of the Unsmoking Gun". People 28 (23). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  18. ^ Suspects Trutv.com
  19. ^ The Trial Trutv.com.
  20. ^ "Bembenek Gets Life". The Milwaukee Sentinel. March 10, 1982. p. 1. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  21. ^ a b c d Sandin, Jo (December 7, 1992). "The Bembenek highlights". The Milwaukee Journal. p. A6. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Bembenek asks divorce". The Milwaukee Sentinel. February 24, 1983. pp. 1, 12. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  23. ^ Fauber, John (April 16, 1989). "Bembenek, supports renew bid for new trial in murder case". The Milwaukee Journal. pp. 8A. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  24. ^ Fauber 1989 p.1A
  25. ^ Radish 1992, p. 290.
  26. ^ a b Douglas, Olshaker 2001, p. 250.
  27. ^ Rommell, Rick (July 18, 1990). "The Milwaukee Sentinel". The Milwaukee Sentinel. pp. 1, 10. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Murderer's Fiance Is Guilty Of Aiding Her Prison Escape". The New York Times. September 6, 1991. p. 17. 
  29. ^ "Police studying truck owned by Bembenek fiance". The Milwaukee Sentinel. July 19, 1990. p. 5. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  30. ^ a b "Prison for 'Bambi's' Lover". The New York Times. October 6, 1991. p. 22. 
  31. ^ Times, Special To The New York (August 18, 1990). "Milwaukee Journal; Bambi Is on the Run, And Some Are Cheering". The New York Times. p. 8. 
  32. ^ Kunen, James S. (November 5, 1990). "The Hunt for Bambi Comes to An End as Convicted Killer Lawrencia Bembenek Is Captured with Her Lover in Canada". People 34 (18). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  33. ^ Run, Bambi Run at the Wayback Machine (archived November 25, 2010) Katherine Ramsland, Trutv.com
  34. ^ "Hearing brings ends to Bembenek saga". The Milwaukee Sentinel. December 10, 1992. pp. 1A, 21A. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  35. ^ Bembenek 1992.
  36. ^ "Lawrencia Bembenek". Lodi News-Sentinel. July 7, 1994. p. 7. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  37. ^ "Laurie Bembenek says goodbye to Milwaukee". Reading Eagle. July 11, 1996. p. C10. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  38. ^ "'Dr. Phil' Guest Loses Foot In Aftermath Of Hotel Fall". Lawrence Journal-World. Dec 1, 2002. p. 2A. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  39. ^ Adam Buckman (November 30, 2003). "Murderer Files Lawsuit Against Dr. Phil". New York Post. Retrieved November 30, 2003. 
  40. ^ Dee J. Hall (April 29, 2008). "Bembenek: Reverse my murder conviction". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved April 29, 2008. 
  41. ^ WTMJ Channel 4 News interview with Laurie Bembenek, broadcast October 29, 2010
  42. ^ Dan O'Donnell (November 16, 2010). "Bembenek Reportedly Near Death". WTMJ-TV. Retrieved November 16, 2010. 
  43. ^ IMDb. "Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2011. 
  44. ^ IMDb. "Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2011. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bembenek, Lawrencia (1992). Woman on Trial. New York: HarperPaperbacks. ISBN 978-0-06-100600-5. 
  • Douglas, John; Olshaker, Mark (2001). The Cases That Haunt Us: From Jack the Ripper to Jon Benet Ramsey, The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Sheds New Light on the Mysteries That Won't Go Away. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-1239-8. 
  • Horenberger, Francine (2002). Mistresses of Mayhem. Alpha Books. ISBN 0-7394-2867-5. 
  • Radish, Kris (1992). Run, Bambi, Run. Penguin Group USA. ISBN 0-451-40351-7. 

External links[edit]