RUN, BAMBI, RUN! The story of Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek gained national attention and inspired books, and movies.
Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek was born August 15, 1958, to Joe and Virginia Bembenek. She grew up on the south side of Milwaukee and attended Bay View High School. Lawrencia worked as a model in her late teens and went on to work at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva as a waitress for three weeks. She joined the Milwaukee Police Department in 1980 and was later fired after falsifying a police report to cover up a fellow MPD trainee’s arrest for smoking pot at a rock concert. Bembenek sued the MPD for discrimination and made accusations that the police department was hiring and then quickly firing women to meet the guidelines necessary to take advantage of employment equity grants. She married MPD Detective Elfred Schultz Jr, on January 29th, 1981. Fred at the time was paying a hefty amount of alimony and child support to his ex-wife. Lawrencia worked as a fitness trainer after she was fired from the Milwaukee Police Department. The couple shared a home with Lawrencia’s friend, Judy Zess, to help pay bills.
The killing of Christine Schultz
In the early morning hours of May 28, 1981, Christine Schultz was shot in the back at point blank range with a .38 caliber handgun in her home. Her two young sons found her on her bed, face down, bound, gagged, and bleeding heavily. Her oldest son witnessed the assailant and described him as a masked male with a red ponytail in a olive drab, jacket wearing black shoes.
Christine Schultz was the ex-wife of Bembenek’s husband Elfred “Fred” Schultz, a Milwaukee Police Department detective. The Schultz’s divorced in November, 1980. By all accounts, the Schultz divorce was a ugly affair of accusations, threats, and anger.
When the ballistics testing found that the weapon used belonged to Fred Schultz, attention turned to Bembenek. She was alone in their home with access to his firearm. Fred Schultz also had a keys to Christine’s home that were copied from his son’s key and one was available to Bembenek on the night of the killing. Fred Schultz initially claimed he was investigating a burglary that night. He changed his story later on saying he was drinking at a local bar with a man named Frederick Horenberger. Horenberger was the ex-boyfriend of Judy Zess.
In a case made up of mostly circumstantial evidence, Bambi Bembenek was arrested and charged with 1st degree murder in the death of Christine Schultz on June 24th, 1981. The ballistics of Fred’s revolver was the prosecution’s only solid evidence.
Trial and conviction
The prosecution alleged that Bembenek was a less than respectable woman, had money problems, and wanted Christine dead so Fred could stop paying alimony. Along with Schultz’s gun, evidence included hair samples found at Christine’s home that matched hairs found on Bembenek’s hair brush.
Witnesses testified that Bembenek made repeated claims of wanting to kill Christine Schultz. A wig found in the plumbing of Bembenek’s apartment building matched fibers found at the murder scene. Witnesses also testified that Bembenek also owned a green jogging suit similar to what the killer wore the night of the murder. Judy Zess claimed that Bembenek talked to Judy’s boyfriend about taking a contract out on Christine.
Bembenek’s defense claimed the gun was switched with another. Schultz had two .38 caliber revolvers, an on duty revolver and an off duty revolver. The defense had the theory that someone replaced Schultz’s off-duty gun with one that looked like it. Upon examination, the gun found at the apartment had not been used. Over the course of the next 22 days, the guns somehow switched around, and the tests showed that Schultz’s off-duty gun killed the victim. It is also worthy to note that investigators did not record the serial number of the weapon. Christine’s son who saw the assailant stated that it was not Bambi Bembenek who killed his mother.
In March of 1982, the jury found Laurie Bembenek guilty of 1st degree murder in the death of Christine Schultz. She was sentenced to life at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond Du Lac.
After the trial
After her conviction things started getting a little shaky. One of the prosecutions witnesses, who also happened to be the fellow MPD trainee who Bembenek filed a false report on that got her fired, Judy Zess, recanted and claimed her testimony was made under duress. Bembenek had her supporters who claimed she was singled out because of her lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination and corruption within the Milwaukee Police Department.Suspicion also started to fall on the ex-boyfriend of Judy Zess, Frederick Horenberger. Horenberger had beaten and robbed Judy Zess just weeks before the murder of Christine Schultz. He also did some remodeling work for Fred Schultz. Many in the public started to consider that Fred Schultz perhaps hired Horenberger to kill his ex-wife and pin it on his current wife Lawrencia. Horenberger would go on to a ten year sentence for the robbery and beating of Judy Zess.
Questions were also raised on evidence used to convict Bembenek. The Medical Examiner who conducted also conducted the autopsy concluded the hairs were consistent with the victim, A hair analyst brought in from Madison by the prosecution concluded the hairs were consistent with the hairs found on Bembenek’s hairbrush. The original Medical Examiner was quoted as saying “I recovered no blonde or red hairs of any length or texture … [A]ll of the hairs I recovered from the body were brown and were grossly identical to the hair of the victim … [I] do not like to suggest that evidence was altered in any way, but I can find no logical explanation for what amounted to the mysterious appearance of blonde hair in an envelope that contained no such hair at the time it was sealed by me.”
The wig recovered from the plumbing from the apartment was also questioned. Bembenek’s neighbors claimed that Zess used their bathroom and the plumbing immediately started to act up. Judy Zess also admitted to owning a red wig.
While incarcerated Bembenek earned a Bachelor’s Degree and worked to establish a prison newspaper. Acting like a celebrity inmate and making sure everyone knew she wanted to be treated that way, Bambi did her time.
And then she escaped…
With the help of Dominic Gugliatto, a visitor of his sister who was also a inmate and became Bembenek’s fiance, Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek escaped on July 15th,1990. Her escape turned her into a popular figure. T-shirts featuring “RUN BAMBI RUN!” were not uncommon to be seen.
The couple fled to Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada where they lived as fugitives for three months. Stories about the former Playboy Bunny and ex-MPD on the run from the law were everywhere. They were both apprehended in Canada on October 17th, 1990. A Tourist recognized them after watching a episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Dominic Gugliatto served a one year sentence for assisting in the escape.
Bembenek asked for Canadian refugee status alleging a conspiracy against her involving the MPD and the Judicial System but eventually returned to plead guilty of 2nd degree murder. Her sentence was commuted to time served. In November of 1992, Lawrencia Bembenek walked out on parole.
After prison she went on to writing the book “Woman On Trial” that was the basis for a television mini-series. In 1996 she asked for her parole to be transferred to Washington state. She began painting and offered her pictures for sale. In 2001 while having her pictures on exhibit at a gallery, a freak fire started destroying the gallery and her paintings along with it.
Her legal battles never stopped. She won the right to have murder scene evidence tested for her DNA. The Dr. Phil show agreed to pay for the expensive testing provided the results were revealed on air.
Bembenek was flown to Los Angeles and confined to a guarded apartment rented for her by the show. Gripped by a panic attack, brought on by her experience of solitary confinement in prison, Bembenek jumped from the apartment’s second-story window and broke her foot. Her right foot was amputated due to her injuries.
November 20, 2010, Laurie Bembenek died in Hospice care of liver failure in Portland Oregon.