LAPD detective held in 1986 slaying

A Simi Valley woman, a veteran detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, was arrested Friday morning in connection with the 1986 killing of her ex-boyfriend’s wife in Van Nuys.

Stephanie Lazarus, 49, was taken into custody without incident around 8 a.m. as she arrived for work at police headquarters, said Jason Lee, a spokesman for the department.

Lazarus, a 1978 graduate of Simi Valley High School, was arrested as detectives served search warrants on numerous locations, including at her home on the north end of Simi Valley.

She was booked for investigation in the murder of an ex-boyfriend’s wife after a sample of her DNA taken surreptitiously matched DNA taken from crime scene evidence, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said.

Police investigators expect to submit the case Monday to the Los Angeles County District Attorney‘s office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges, Beck said.

Lazarus was being held without bail Friday night at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Twin Towers facility, Lee said.

Lazarus’ DNA was legally collected from “discards,” said Beck, who declined to elaborate. Police have been known to trick suspects into leaving DNA on objects such as a coffee cup.

The arrest was painful to investigators because Lazarus, who has worked with the LAPD since 1983, works in the art theft unit across the hall from the robbery-homicide detectives and is well-known in downtown’s Parker Center police administration building.

“Robbery-homicide is on the third floor, commercial crimes is right next door,” Beck said. “So this is one side of the hallway investigating a member of another. This is very difficult.”

Beck said he doesn’t think Lazarus knew she was about to be arrested.

Chief William J. Bratton said in a press conference on Friday that the department has a policy and philosophy that “we’re going to go where the truth and the facts take us.”

Lee called Lazarus’ arrest “painful” but necessary, given the evidence obtained by investigators.

Bratton said the arrest was “a very positive reflection on us in the sense that we take our oath very seriously.”

Lazarus was arrested in the killing of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, who was director of critical care nursing at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. Her husband, John Ruetten, came home and found her dead on Feb. 24, 1986, in the living room of their Van Nuys condominium. She had been shot multiple times.

Lazarus had a long-term relationship with the husband prior to the marriage, Beck said.

She was mentioned in the original case file because of the relationship with the husband, but wasn’t a suspect at the time because investigators believed Rasmussen was the victim of armed robbers who had confronted two men shortly after the killing, Beck told the Los Angeles Times.

No suspects were found and the case went cold for a decade.

“We look at every old case and examine all the evidence to see if it fits the requirements for entry into … the national DNA database,” Beck said at the press conference. “This case had some evidence which in 1986 was of some value but not a key component, which when analyzed now with today’s technology in the scientific investigation division, was able to add to the investigation.”

Lazarus is married to Scott Young, also an LAPD officer, and they have a young daughter, neighbors said.

“They are very sweet people,” said neighbor Melissa Williams, who said she learned of Lazarus’ arrest when she returned home on Friday.

“There were a bunch of detectives at their house across the street,” she said. “It’s very hard to believe that she could be involved in something like this.”

Lazarus worked patrol duty in the San Fernando Valley when she joined the force. She was later promoted to detective and since 2006 has worked in a unit that tracks stolen art.

Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said her arrest is disturbing to the department and the public.

“If convicted, the actions of one police officer should not tarnish the trust and respect the public has for the more than 9,800 dedicated police officers,” the union president said.

Lazarus told the Ventura County Star in March 2000 that she ran her own business – Unique Investigations – to provide identification kits for kids to help parents protect their children.

Lazarus also spoke of her own desire as a child to become a lawyer when she grew up. But she said she was dissuaded from doing so in part because of all the paperwork involved.

She said she became a police officer after a professor suggested she try law enforcement. She said she was very happy for doing so, adding that her life had forever changed as a result of her decision.


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