"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
It was the 24th of February 1986. A Monday. Sherri Rasmussen didn't feel like going to work that day. She thought about calling in sick. That wasn't typical of Sherri. At just 29 years old, she excelled in her chosen profession. Sherri was a director of nursing at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center in Los Angeles in the United States. She didn't just want to excel though, she wanted to completely revolutionise the field of nursing. That's why she also enjoyed taking classes but on that particular morning the class she was due to take just didn't appeal to her as she felt that it was a waste of time.
Still undecided about what she planned to do that day, Sherri stayed in bed while her husband John Ruetten went to work. They were newlyweds, they had married in November 1985 and lived in a condominium in Van Nuys in Los Angeles. John had been instantly captivated by Sherri's beauty and drive when they had met two years earlier. She was two years older than John but was confident in her own skin and knew exactly what she wanted in life. Sherri was tall and athletic with high cheekbones and beautiful eyes but she was also extremely smart and savvy and it was easy to see why John fell instantly in love with her.
Sherri and John
Although her parents disagreed, Sherri thought John was a perfect match for her. He was handsome and smart and had just started a new job at an engineering company. She wasn't his only admirer either which may have made her desire even greater. Sherri's parents, Nels and Loretta, were not that fond of John. They found him to be pleasant enough but not a good match for their daughter. Nels was a dentist and along with Loretta, they had their own dental practice. Despite their dislike of John, they still had a close relationship with Sherri and she confided in them often. That all changed on the 25th of February 1986. They received a call from John's father with news that was as unexpected as it was shocking. Their beautiful daughter Sherri was dead.
Nels and Loretta only found out about their daughter's death on the 25th of February but she had died the day before, the 24th. John didn't call them and they wanted to know why. Why would a husband not notify their in laws that their daughter had not just died but had been brutally murdered? It would be a further 23 years before their suspicions were confirmed as to what happened to her.
That day, the 24th of February, had started as a pretty normal day. Sherri and John woke early. They had been out the night before. They went to see a movie. John told Detectives that Sherri wasn't sure if she would go to work and take the class but he needed to go to work as as he had just started a new job. He left at 7.20 am. Sherri was still in bed. John was at his desk before 8 am. On his way to work, he dropped off some laundry and he called Sherri at home a while later to see how she was . There was no reply so presuming she went to work, he called her office. Her secretary had not seen her and he tried calling her another 3-4 times. John wasn't alarmed as the secretary would not always see Sherri as if she was taking a class she didn't always call into the office first.
John and Sherri's Condo
When John finished work, he collected his laundry and some post and went home. Their garage door was up which was unusual and he noticed that Sherri's car was not in the garage. She must have gone out after all. He did notice there was some glass on the ground though so went on upstairs in the condo. Upstairs, the door to the living room was open and it was then that he discovered the devastating scene. Sherri was on the living room floor and she was dead.
Sherri was on her back on the brown rug in their living room. She was in her pyjamas and bathrobe and her arms were up in the air and bent and one leg was bent at the knee. Her face was badly beaten, bloody and swollen. John called 911.
The crime scene led the Detective to believe that Sherri's death was the result of a burglary. They believed that perhaps whoever broke in to steal some items, were surprised that Sherri was home and when she disturbed them, they killed her. This was in line with some other burglaries nearby. Some houses had been broken into and a woman had been assaulted in one of the houses. Two Latin men were alleged to have been involved and the Detective believed this was probably what had happened at John and Sherri's home. The Detective questioned John but not to a great extent. It was clear that the Detective had made up his mind. This murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong.
Sherri and John
One of the speakers in the living room was on the floor beside Sherri.Their grey ceramic vase had been smashed and was also on the floor in pieces. A VCR and CD player had been stacked and left on the stairs and there was a bloody smudge on top of the CD player. There were smears of blood on the walls and the front door also.
Upstairs, the glass sliding door that led to the balcony was shattered. Sherri's body revealed what had happened to her. She had been shot three times in the chest. A blanket in the living room had a bullet hole in it so it was believed that it had been used to disguise the sound of the gunshot. She also had significant damage to her right eye and the Detective believed she had been struck over the head with the vase. There was a bite mark on her inner forearm. The Detective told John that day Sherri's death was the result of a burglary and John agreed. Sherri's BMW was found a week later parked on a nearby street with the keys in the ignition.
Sherri and John
While John believed the Detective's account of what had happened to Sherri, Sherri's parents were not so sure. For a start, the Detective believed two Latin men were involved and that the fight between them and Sherri would have taken an hour and a half. Nels couldn't understand how his daughter would have managed in a fight with two men for an hour and a half. Nels knew his daughter well and she had told him things in confidence so he knew everything below the surface was not perfect in her and John's marriage. Nels urged the Detective to look into the "lady cop."
The "lady cop"
Sherri had told Nels that weeks before their wedding, a woman showed up at their home. She wanted John to wax her water skis and was an old friend of his. Sherri believed this was just an excuse for her to call into the house to check up on and see John. Sherri asked John not to wax the skis but John did so anyway and the woman collected the skis from their home. When she collected the skis she was wearing her police uniform and told Sherri she was on a break. Nels gave this information to the Detective but it was not followed up. Nobody was charged and the case became a cold case.
Loretta and Nels
Every now and again, the case would be opened and looked at but often just put away again. That was until 2005 when it was noticed that a swab had been taken from the bite on Sherri's forearm but wasn't in the evidence file. A thorough search revealed that it was still in the coroner's freezer. It had been there for 18 years and it was confirmed that the bite mark was made by a woman. This meant that the Detective's theory that two Latin men were involved didn't make sense. However the file went back into storage as there was nothing about any woman on the file. All of the information that Nels had provided was not on the file.
A few years later, a new set of Detectives looked at the case again with a fresh and new approach. They didn't agree with the original Detective. They believed that on that day, the 24th of February, somebody entered the home through the front door. The alarm was off and the door was open so it would not have caused any alarm or noise. They then went upstairs and fired two shots, both missed and hit the door leading to the balcony which is what caused the glass to shatter.
They then believed that Sherri ran upstairs. They believed she was trying to reach the panic button but the intruder caught her before she could do so and a fight took place. Sherri managed to get the intruder into a headlock but the intruder bit her arm which caused her to release her . The intruder then smashed the vase over Sherri's head and shot her in the chest. The intruder then got the blanket and shot twice more.
The blood that was on the CD player was Sherri's blood and the Detectives believed that got there after the murder. If that was the case, it seemed that the scene was staged to look like a burglary. If it wasn't a burglary what was the motive? Who would want Sherri dead?
Detectives got a break in the case when they came across a small note in the file.
“John Ruetten called. Verified Stephanie Lazarus, PO, was former girlfriend.”
The new Detectives working on the case wanted to know who Stephanie Lazarus was. As it turned out, PO stood for police officer so they were able to search her name and find her details in the police system. Stephanie Lazarus was a Detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The Detectives now knew about the suspicions Nels had all those years ago and they also believed they were now looking for a woman so even though Stephanie was a Detective, they had to look into the matter. They discovered that on the day Sherri was murdered, Stephanie had a day off. A .38 caliber gun was used in the murder and they looked into whether Stephanie had one. She had one and had reported it stolen just weeks after the murder. In order to get her DNA, they followed Stephanie to a Costco and retrieved her straw. The LAB confirmed the DNA was a match to the swab taken from the bite mark on Sherri's arm. Stephanie had bitten Sherri.
In 2010, Stephanie stood trial for the murder of Sherri. She pleaded not guilty. In March 2012, Stephanie Lazarus was found guilty of the first degree murder of Sherri Rasmussen.
The motive was clear. Stephanie had been so infatuated with John that she made sure that if she couldn't have him, Sherri wouldn't either. Details emerged that had not been included in the initial murder file. When Stephanie first discovered John was engaged to Sherri, she wrote a letter to John's mother.
''I'm truly in love with John and the past year has really torn me up. I wish it didn't end the way it did, and I don't think I'll ever understand his decision. "
John also revealed that when Stephanie discovered he was engaged, she asked him to call over to her house. She confessed her love to John and he slept with her that night. He claimed it was a mistake and it didn't change things between him and Sherri. He still wanted to be with Sherri and marry her. A colleague of Sherri confirmed that Stephanie called into Sherri's office one day and argued with her about John. Stephanie had tried to make John leave Sherri by declaring her love for him but when she realised that it didn't work and when John married Sherri anyway, she believed the only way she could have him was to remove Sherri from the picture. It worked for her for a while, she met up with John afterwards on a holiday however the two later went on to marry different people.
John at Stephanie's Trial
Detectives looked into the possibility that John was involved in the murder. However it was established that while he had made many mistakes, namely sleeping with Stephanie when he was engaged to Sherri and not telling Stephanie to stay away from their home, he had no involvement in Sherri's murder.
In the years that Sherri's case lay cold and closed, Stephanie married, adopted a daughter and became a Detective. However, in 2012, she finally received some punishment and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
The comments below have not been moderated
"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
Join Our Community
Check out our new Book Club!