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Who Killed Christine Schultz?

            In the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, thirty-year-old Christine Schultz is living with her two sons from a previous marriage to Elfred Schultz. Fred, as he was known, was a Milwaukee police officer. Christine had since started dating another police officer. The divorce from Fred was less than amicable, with lots of tension between the two of them. Fred resented his sons’ bond with Christine’s new boyfriend, but he had married another woman shortly after the divorce, Lawrencia Bembenek, known as Laurie.

            On May 28th, 1981, police were called by Fred after his sons called him in a panic. The young boys, eleven and seven years old, described waking up to see a man with tan gloves standing above them. He described the man as a tall man with a red ponytail and green jogging suit. They described the assailant as wearing black shoes that were similar to cop shoes, as they matched their father’s and Christine’s boyfriend’s shoes. The boys said they awoke, only for the intruder to exit the room. Then they heard their mother scream.

            When the police arrived, Fred was present and comforting his boys. Inside the home, Christine was found lying in her bed. She had been killed by a gun shot. Who would kill this single mother of two boys? The first suspects were the obvious ones: the ex-husband and current boyfriend. Both were police officers, but neither owned a green jogging suit nor had long red hair. Neighbors, however, described seeing a man with a green jogging suit near Christine’s house in the days before the murder.

            The motive did not seem to be burglary, as nothing was stolen, and Christine had been tied up prior to being killed. Police investigated her boyfriend, but he gave an alibi that was substantiated. Fred had been working, and his partner confirmed they were investigating a robbery at the time that Christine was killed. Christine’s next-door neighbor was also investigated. He was a strange man who seemed fascinated with law enforcement. He told the police that someone had broken into his home recently and stole his green jogging suit and gun. His handgun was the same caliber as the murder weapon. However, he had an alibi that was confirmed.

            The police focused on Fred Schultz, trying to poke holes in his alibi. He had been married to twenty-one-year-old Laurie for just a few months at the time of the crime. Fred and Christine were not getting along. Fred felt as if he wasn’t getting enough visitation with his children and resented her new boyfriend. Additionally, he had been ordered to pay substantial amounts of alimony and child support to Christine. Was this enough motive for murder?

            With Fred having an alibi, the police kept searching for possible suspects. They looked hard at Fred’s new wife, Laurie Bembenek. Laurie was born Lawrencia Ann Bembenek on August 15th, 1958, in Milwaukee. She was the youngest of three girls in her family. Her father had been a police officer but left the force citing corruption in the Milwaukee Police Department. Laurie was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools before graduating Bay View High School, where she graduated in 1976. She then attended Bryant & Stratton College in Virginia Beach, earning an associate degree in fashion merchandising.

            Laurie was a gorgeous woman who worked as a model following college. She had appeared as “Miss March” in a calendar distributed by Joseph Schiltz Brewing Company. She was also a waitress at a Playboy Club for a few months, earning the nickname “Bambi”. In 1980, Laurie decided to switch gears and began training for the Milwaukee Police Department. While still in training, Laurie was accused of smoking weed at a party. The accusation was unfounded, and Laurie stated she believed it was made by another officer’s wife, who resented an attractive female being on the force with her husband.

            Once on the force, Laurie described a work environment riddled with corruption and sexual harassment of female officers. She claimed that minorities and women were often fired from the force for trivial infractions, simply to get them off the force. However, she claimed that white men on the force committed far worse infractions that were largely ignored. In May of 1980, Laurie attended a concert with her friend Judy Zest. Judy was accused of smoking weed at the party and was dismissed from the force for this infraction. Months later, Laurie was dismissed as well, the department stating she filed a false report in the case of her friend Judy.

            Laurie was a feminist, fighting for equal treatment for women. She was outspoken about her belief that the Milwaukee Police Department was corrupt and unfairly dismissed women and minorities for minor infractions. She had obtained photos of several officers dancing nude in a bar, one of those was Fred Schultz. She brought the photos forward to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Meanwhile, she had started dating the newly divorced Fred Schultz.

            Laurie and Fred married in January 1981, just two months after his divorce. However, a judge later ruled the marriage invalid because under Wisconsin law at the time, Fred had to be divorced for six months before he could remarry. They legally remarried in November of 1981, after Christine’s May of 1981 murder. Allegedly, Laurie resented Christine and her demands for alimony and child support. She allegedly felt this was impinging on her life with Fred, as they were struggling financially with his obligations.

            Detectives were still investigating Christine’s murder in the summer of 1981. They confiscated the weapons belonging to her ex-husband Fred. Fred’s off-duty revolver was determined by ballistics to be a match to the murder weapon. Fred had been investigating a robbery that night, or so he said. It was later determined that he was not working but was at a bar with his partner the night of the crime.

            According to the medical examiner, Christine had been killed by one shot point blank into her back through her heart with a single shot from a 0.38 caliber pistol after being gagged and blindfolded.  The evidence suggested that the gun belonged to Fred Schultz. Fred was with his partner that night, although he originally lied about his alibi, so the police focused on Laurie. Laurie had been home alone the night of the murder, with access to the weapon. Laurie claimed she was home all night, but no one could verify this. She also had access to a house key for Christine’s home, explaining perhaps why there was no forced entry.

            At the scene, two blond hairs were found that matched hair taken from Laurie’s hairbrush. Plumbers also found a red wig flushed down a toilet at Laurie’s apartment. Judy Zest also came forward, claiming Laurie resented Christine and said numerous times that she would like to see Christine “blown away”. Laurie denied this accusation and claimed to never have owned a red wig. The prosecutor was not convinced however, and Laurie Bembenek was arrested and charged with Christine’s murder.

            At trial, the prosecution presented the case against Laurie Bembenek. This evidence included the wig found in her apartment buildings plumbing, a green suit similar to the one described by the boys, clothesline and a blue bandana in her possession that were similar to those used to bind and gag Christine, and the weapon. A boutique owner testified that Laurie purchased a red wig at her shop shortly before the murder. It was all circumstantial evidence, except the hairs which matched.

            The media also helped to paint Laurie Bembenek as a murderer. Although she only briefly worked as a waitress at the Playboy Club, she was known in the media as the “Playboy Bunny Murderer”. The defense suggested that Fred’s alibi was shaky, and he too had motive. Laurie took the stand in her own defense, stating that the prosecutions theory that she wanted to live an extravagant lifestyle, but was handicapped by her husband’s financial obligations to his ex-wife and children, was absolutely ridiculous. In fact, Laurie stated she did not want children and would not have killed Christine as that would mean she would have to help her husband “raise the brats”.  Christine’s son testified that Laurie was not the person he saw the night his mother was murdered.

            Laurie’s was stoic during the trial, a point that the prosecution and media believed indicated a lack of emotion and remorse. She was painted as a sociopath, but she claimed she was being set up by the Milwaukee Police Department for speaking out against the corruption and bringing the nude photos of white male officers forward. Regardless, the jury convicted Laurie of first-degree murder and she was sentenced to life in prison in 1982. She was sent to Taycheedah Correctional Center to service her sentence.

            By 1983, Fred and Laurie had divorced. Fred moved to Florida with a nineteen-year-old girlfriend. Fred initially defended Laurie, but eventually decided she was guilty. Following her conviction, Laurie filed three unsuccessful appeals. Her defense team pointed out that evidence implicating her husband was not shared with the defense and that she believed there was another viable suspect. That suspect was Fred Horenberger. He was a long-time criminal who used to date Judy Zest and had worked with Fred Schultz on a remodeling project.

            Fred Horenberger has a long criminal history and broke into Judy Zest’s home thirty-five days after Christine’s murder, beating her severely. He served ten years for this crime. He committed suicide in 1991 during a standoff with police when he took hostages following an unrelated robbery. Laurie and her supporters believe that Fred Schutlz hired Fred Horenberger to kill his ex-wife and that the Milwaukee Police Department helped to frame her for the murder.

            Other evidence came to light following her conviction that further led the general public to believe Laurie was innocent. First, the original medical examiner did not find any blond hairs originally at the scene, despite two hairs matching Laurie being key pieces of evidence in the case. She later said, “I recovered no blond or red hairs of any length or texture… All of the hairs I recovered from the body were brown and were grossly identical to the hair of the victim”. Another witness claimed Judy Zest had used the bathroom at Laurie’s the day before the wig was found, suggesting she may have been involved in framing her. Judy herself recanted her testimony about Laurie wanting to “blow Christine away”.

            After multiple failed appeals, Laurie met a fellow inmate’s brother during visitation. She began a romantic relationship with Dominic Guglietti. On July 15th, 1990, Laurie escaped prison by going through a window in the laundry room. During the escape, she cut her leg on a fence. She made it to her boyfriend Dominic’s car and the two drove away. They ended up in Ontario, Canada, where they started to build a new life with new names.

            While on the run, Laurie went by the name Jennifer and worked in Canada as a waitress and fitness instructor. In the meantime, a man hunt for Laurie was underway. Many people, however, supported Laurie and believed she had been wrongfully convicted by a corrupt system. During her time on the run, people wore t-shirts and bought bumper stickers reading “Run Bambi Run”. She was once again a media sensation. She was captured after her case was covered on America’s Most Wanted. A neighbor recognized her and she and Dominic were arrested.

            Following their arrests, Laurie and Dominic split. Dominic said he believes that Laurie was using him and was genuinely hurt by Laurie. Laurie fought extradition to the Untied States, claiming she was escaping unlawful persecution. She was eventually returned to Wisconsin prison. She continued to fight her case and won a new trial, with the appellate court ruling that police made several mistakes during the investigation.

            Given the evidence suggesting Laurie may have been wrongfully convicted, the State of Wisconsin opted not to take her to trial again and instead offered her a plea. Laurie plead guilty to 2nd degree murder and was released on time served. Despite being free after serving just ten years of a life sentence, Laurie was not content. She wanted to prove her innocence and worked hard to do that. Another ballistics exam in 2005 suggested that Fred’s off-duty revolver may not have been the murder weapon. Further testing on DNA demonstrated semen present on the victim and no DNA evidence linking Laurie to the murder.

            Despite the new evidence, Laurie’s appeals continued to be denied. Despite being free, she wanted to clear her name. She died on November 20th, 2010, from liver and kidney failure at age fifty-two. She died a convicted felon in 2010.  A musical entitled “Run, Bambi Run” was inspired by this case. Many people still believe that Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek was wrongfully convicted, and that the real killer got away. What do you believe?



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