Father Knows Best
Dr. Nels Rasmussan’s brilliant and beloved 29-year-old daughter, Sherri, was bludgeoned, shot three times, and left for dead inside her Los Angeles condo on February 24, 1986. She was a newlywed, having gotten married just three months prior.
Unlike other parents whose children are savagely murdered, Dr. Rasmussen didn’t cry out in bewilderment: “Who could have possibly wanted my darling daughter dead?” He didn’t insist: “She had no enemies and was loved by all!”
No, quite the opposite—Dr. Rasmussen had a definite suspect in mind and shared his suspicions with the two detectives assigned to Sherri’s case. He and his daughter had been unusually close, speaking on the phone for hours each evening, and Sherri had informed him that someone was stalking and harassing her.
Yet, in what seemed to be an appalling case of tunnel vision, the detectives determined the crime scene looked like a badly botched burglary, didn’t consider other scenarios, and failed to follow up on the person Dr. Rasmussen thought was guilty.
Things Don't Add Up
The detectives conveniently brushed aside any evidence that countered their robbery theory.
They never followed up on Dr. Rasmussen’s suspect, someone who had been tormenting his daughter and even had the nerve to show up at her office in the hospital where she worked as a nursing director.
Armchair detectives, whose only schooling was watching episodes of Dateline, knew there were many critical elements of this crime that pointed away from it being a robbery. They included the following:
- Sherri’s attacker bit her on the left arm. Why would a thief chomp down on their victim?
- Her condo was located in a gated community. Why would a burglar choose a difficult target to access instead of an easy one?
- The supposed robbery took place during the light of day. Why would a thief commit their crime when they could easily be spotted?
- The detectives theorized that there had been a long, ferocious struggle between the burglar and Sherri, lasting approximately 90 minutes. Why would a robber with a gun battle an unarmed homeowner for such a lengthy duration?
- The alleged plunderer got away with nothing. Drawers were pulled out, items were strewn around the rooms, and electronic items were stacked in a pile by the door as if they were about to be removed from the home.
Once again, one only needed a diploma from Dateline University to understand that Sherri’s condo was left in such a mess to make it look like a robbery had taken place.
It would take nearly a quarter century, detectives with a fresh set of eyes, and enhanced DNA testing to finally apprehend the person who slaughtered Sherri.
For Dr. Rasmussen, though, it was bittersweet when justice finally got served. Yes, he was relieved that the new detectives finally arrested the assailant.
Yet, he was also angry and resentful because it was the person he had suspected 23 years earlier—the one whom the old detectives had never bothered to pursue.
Sherri had been her father’s pride and joy and he had every right to boast about her. As a teenager, she was so bright that she skipped several grades and started college at just 16.
Dr. Rasmussen, a dentist, encouraged his daughter to become a doctor. Sherri, though, chose to pursue nursing instead, knowing she wanted to get married, become a mother, and didn’t want a career that required her to be on-call.
When Sherri began dating John Ruetten, an engineer, her father had misgivings about the young man who was two years younger than she was. His daughter was a competent, direct, and decisive person with a take-charge personality and high moral character. She had risen in her profession with lighting speed.
In his interactions with John, Dr. Rasmussen came away thinking he was wishy-washy and struggled to make decisions.
He knew, however, that Sherri was smitten with John, so he kept his assessment to himself and the two got married.
Tragically, though, the astute father had been absolutely accurate in his judgment. It was her husband’s inability to stand firm in his choices and establish firm boundaries that proved to be a deadly combination for his new wife.
Dr. Rasmussen surely regretted his decision to hold his tongue and let Sherri marry John without first speaking his peace. During their brief three months of marriage, Sherri was turning to her father, not her new husband, to deal with a threatening presence in her life: John’s ex-girlfriend.
Her name was Stephanie Lazarus and she and John had met while students at UCLA. After they graduated, the two maintained a long-term relationship but there was never a meeting of the minds between them about what it meant.
In Stephanie’s estimation, the two of them were a romantic couple who were deeply in love and planning a future together.
In John’s estimation, they were merely “friends with benefits” who had sex with one another when they weren’t involved in a serious relationship with someone else. John never regarded Stephanie as someone he wanted to marry but merely as a buddy.
When Stephanie, a police officer with the LAPD, heard that John was engaged to Sherri, she panicked and feared she’d lose him forever. She pleaded with John to choose her, but John declined. Stephanie then asked him to have sex with her one last time. He was more than happy to oblige even though he was about to marry Sherri.
In addition to being wishy-washy, John was immature, self-absorbed, and careless with people’s emotions.
After John and Sherri’s nuptials, Stephanie began showing up on their condo’s doorstep. Sherri begged John to send her away for good, but he was always too weak to do so.
Soon Sherri simply gave up on him. Instead of turning to her new husband for comfort and advice, she went to her father as she had always done in the past.
Stephanie Lazarus Killed Sherri
After Sherri was murdered, an investigator from the coroner’s office swabbed the bite mark her assailant had left on her arm. It remained in DNA storage. Then, in 2005, the LAPD finally got the technology it needed to detect DNA on such a minute sample.
The detectives on the newly-opened cold case covertly obtained DNA from Stephanie Lazarus when she threw away a Styrofoam cup. She had risen the ranks of the LAPD and was now a highly regarded detective.
It proved to be a match. Stephanie was arrested, tried, and convicted of Sherri’s murder 23 years after it happened. She was sentenced to 27 years to life.
A Dad’s Heart Is Broken
John Ruetten had played with the hearts of two women; one ended up dead and the other locked up in a cell. His selfish actions left Dr. Rasmussen to mourn the life of his exceptional daughter whom he had loved and admired so deeply.
While John had seen Stephanie as just a buddy, it didn't stop him from having sex with her and toying with her emotions, even during his engagement to Sherri. While this certainly doesn’t excuse Stephanie’s heinous behavior, it goes a long way to explaining it.
The mixed messages John sent Stephanie throughout the years left her insecure, jealous, unstable, and enraged.
His inability to close the door on that relationship and begin a life with his new wife caused a lot of pain for everyone. For nearly a quarter century, Dr. Rasmussen knew his daughter’s killer was walking around free. It caused him endless heartache and frustration, but Stephanie’s conviction finally gave him a little bit of peace.
© 2023 McKenna Meyers