How The Ice-Cold Case Of Sherri Rasmussen's Murder Was Finally Solved

For 23 years, the 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen was thought to be the result of a burglary gone wrong, but the perpetrator was never caught. The case would remain cold until 2009 when DNA evidence pointed to police officer Stephanie Lazarus as the culprit. Authorities believed that Lazarus murdered Rasmussen out of jealousy over her recent marriage to Lazarus's ex, John Ruetten. Lazarus and Ruetten had been in an on-and-off sexual relationship for years, and Lazarus had reportedly tried to intimidate Rasmussen on several occasions leading up to the murder.

Stephanie Lazarus was convicted of Sherri Rasmussen's murder in 2012, although she maintains her innocence. Lazarus was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison and will be eligible for parole in December 2034. The list below shows how a decades-old cold case was finally solved.


  • John Ruetten and Sherri Rasmussen Had Only Been Married Three Months When He Came Home From Work And Found She'd Been Killed
    Photo: Courtesy of The Rasmussen Family / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    John Ruetten and Sherri Rasmussen Had Only Been Married Three Months When He Came Home From Work And Found She'd Been Killed

    Sherri Rasmussen was 27 and the director of nursing at Glendale Adventist Medical Center when she met UCLA grad John Ruetten in 1984. The two reportedly had a whirlwind romance that resulted in their marriage in November 1985. Following a honeymoon and the holiday season, the two were settling into married life when Rasmussen was murdered on February 24, 1986.

    Rasmussen had decided to call in sick to work that day, but when Ruetten called to check in on his wife around noon, she didn't answer the phone. The answering machine wasn't even turned on. Ruetten assumed his wife had gone to work after all, but a call to her office confirmed she hadn't come in. However, that wasn't cause for alarm since Rasmussen was supposed to be at an off-site training session.

    When Ruetten finally arrived home that evening, he found both the garage door and the service door between the garage and the house open, and knew something was off.

  • The LAPD Called The Case A Burglary Gone Wrong, But Only Rasmussen's Car And The Couple's Marriage License Had Been Stolen
    Photo: 48 Hours Mystery / CBS

    The LAPD Called The Case A Burglary Gone Wrong, But Only Rasmussen's Car And The Couple's Marriage License Had Been Stolen

    John Ruetten walked into his home and found his wife dead on the living room floor. Rasmussen was still in her bathrobe and appeared to have been beaten and then shot. There were reportedly streaks of blood on the wall and front door of the home.

    As police investigated the scene, they found that the sliding glass door on the second floor of the home had been smashed. With Rasmussen's BMW missing, police suspected that a burglar had broken into the home thinking it would be empty. This theory also accounted for the general disarray at the crime scene; a stereo speaker had been knocked over, a vase smashed, and electronics left near the front door.

    However, Ruetten and Rasmussen's family found it odd that although all valuables had been left behind, the couple's marriage certificate was missing. The BMW would eventually be found parked blocks away with the keys in the ignition.

  • Rasmussen Had Been Shot Twice At Point-Blank Range And Had A Bite Mark On Her Arm

    The evidence suggested that Rasmussen had been in a physical fight with her attacker before she was shot in the chest three times. Searching the living room, one officer discovered a bullet hole in a blanket. It was determined that after Rasmussen was shot the first time, the perpetrator used the blanket to muffle the sound of the gun as they fired two shots directly into Rasmussen's chest.

    Another wound found on Rasmussen was a bite mark on the inner side of her left forearm. Investigators collected DNA from the bite and took impressions in the hopes of getting a dental match.

    Some have argued that this crime scene evidence clearly pointed away from a burglary. A gun fired at point-blank range suggests that Sherri's killer was someone who wanted to ensure that she was deceased, rather than a burglar caught in the act who made a spontaneous decision. Additionally, burglars are usually male, while bite marks are more often left by women.

  • Rasmussen's Family Pointed To Lazarus As A Suspect Since She Had Repeatedly Harassed Rasmussen Before Her Death
    Photo: 48 Hours Mystery / CBS

    Rasmussen's Family Pointed To Lazarus As A Suspect Since She Had Repeatedly Harassed Rasmussen Before Her Death

    Sherri Rasmussen's father, Nels Rasmussen, quickly suspected Stephanie Lazarus of being involved in his daughter's murder. Nels told authorities that Sherri had several run-ins with Lazarus, an ex of Ruetten's, who was reportedly jealous of Rasmussen's marriage to Ruetten.

    Lazarus had made several unannounced visits to the couple's home, at one point dropping off a pair of water skis she wanted Ruetten to wax for her. The couple got into an argument, but Ruetten assured his wife that Lazarus was just a former fling and the two had never been serious.

    Even more alarming, Nels told authorities that at one point Lazarus had shown up to Rasmussen's work and told her, "If I can’t have John, no one else will." However, Nels was allegedly told he watched too much television, though detectives have maintained that they didn't know about Lazarus's connection to Ruetten.

  • During His Engagement To Rasmussen, Ruetten Slept With His Ex, Stephanie Lazarus

    During Lazarus's trial, John Ruetten testified that Lazarus had asked to meet with him after learning of his engagement to Sherri Rasmussen. According to Ruetten, Lazarus confessed that she was in love with him, and deeply upset about the engagement. Ruetten noted that the reason he didn't tell Lazarus was because they hadn't spoken for months.

    Ruetten then testified that he had sex with Lazarus as a way to provide "closure" for her. He admitted that it was a mistake, and Lazarus continued to pursue him.

  • Rasmussen Was Shot With The Same Type Of Gun Lazarus Owned

    As cold case detectives began investigating Rasmussen's murder and considering Lazarus as a suspect, they took a closer look at the murder weapon. Sherri Rasmussen had been shot with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson.

    Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Lazarus had purchased the same type of gun after graduating from the police academy. A serial number search confirmed that Lazarus had reported the gun missing just weeks after Rasmussen's murder. Detectives speculated that Lazarus disposed of the gun after the murder.