The Lazarus Files: Female cop who murdered ex-lover's wife was helped by LAPD in avoiding jail for 20 years
Matthew McGough, author of 'The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation', has refuted claims that his book is a "whodunit".
He said it was already proven in court in 2012 that Los Angeles Police Department detective Stephanie Lazarus had murdered 29-year-old Sherri Rasmussen, the newlywed wife of a man she dated in college.
McGough said his book simply asks how the killer managed to get away with the crime for more than 20 years while climbing ranks at the same department responsible for investigating her.
According to the victim's family, the LAPD covered up Lazarus' involvement for years as she was part of their team.
In order to lend validity to that argument, McGough, who has also written for 'Law & Order', scoured the department's chronological log of the investigation, Lazarus’ diary and several other documents pertinent to the case.
According to People, the book is "as engrossing as it is disturbing, using an understated style to take the reader through the complex and sensational case with great clarity."
That said, the initial mistakes during the probe reportedly seemed innocent.
The author states in his book that Lazarus was “off the radar” of law enforcement early on because Rasmussen’s killing first appeared to be a botched burglary.
Responding officers found that her living room was ransacked, her car stolen, and she had been beaten and shot at least three times in a violent struggle.
Police eventually fingered two unidentified Latino men as suspects after a nearby home was burglarized shortly after Rasmussen's murder. However, no arrests were made at the time and the case went cold.
Rasmussen's father was not satisfied with the investigation from the start.
He later revealed he had relayed to authorities what his daughter once told him. She said she was confronted by an LAPD cop, who claimed to be her husband's ex-girlfriend, at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. The officer allegedly told her if she couldn't have him, nobody could.
But the police never followed the lead, the father said.
The embattled parent then wrote a letter to the police chief recounting the hospital story — after the case went cold.
He claimed he even asked the case’s lead investigator to look into the ex-girlfriend, LAPD cop he was talking about, but was told the theory was a dead end.
Now, the detective in question has denied the family ever mentioned the jealous ex to him.
The use of DNA fingerprinting to solve cold cases became widespread in the next couple of years.
Rasmussen's parents offered to pay for a private DNA analysis but were rebuffed.
Then, in 1993, the trace evidence in the Rasmussen case was signed out by a different LAPD detective — never to be seen again.
Furthermore, the detective later told authorities he did not remember ever touching that evidence.
Lazarus' career thrived as the case sat cold. She received a series of promotions and commendations and even became a detective in Van Nuys, the same jurisdiction where the murder took place.
According to McGough, Lazarus would have had ample opportunities to tamper with the case file on Rasmussen's murder.
Later, it shockingly came to light that the victim's husband had slept with Lazarus after the killing.
In 2008, McGough was researching a potential book about art theft. At one point, he was able to interview a detective in the Commercial Crimes Division for more details about the crime. That detective's name? Stephanie Lazarus.
The probe into Rasmussen's death had reportedly been revived just weeks before the author's chance encounter with the killer.
It was sparked when a box containing the Lazarus case files was inexplicably left at the desk of LAPD detective Jim Nuttal. The contents, fortunately, included DNA evidence from the bite mark on the victim’s arm, as most of the other trace evidence had been discarded.
DNA tests later indicated the suspect was female, thereby placing Lazarus under the magnifying glass of fresh investigators.
She was trailed and, eventually, police were able to recover DNA from a soda cup she'd used.
Stephanie Lazarus was arrested when tests proved a perfect match.
While the murderer is now in prison, the "feeling of justice having been served is notably absent from 'The Lazarus Files'," per People.
According to McGough, the LAPD did not interview any of the people he spoke with while investigating the case.
The sergeant tasked with handling the complaint of the victim's family allegedly spent just 6.8 hours over a two-year period investigating the same, according to department logs.
Having said that, McGough writes the LAPD has not yet held anyone accountable for their mistakes during the probe.