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Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek, a Playboy bunny turned Milwaukee police officer charged with the murder of his husband’s ex-wife, has seemingly been forgotten over time – until now.
The woman behind what Diane Sawyer called “the most glamorous murder case of the 1980s” is now the subject of an Apple Original true-crime podcast, “Run, Bambi, Run,” which explores her conviction and his ultimate escape from a Wisconsin penitentiary that leads to an international hunt.
It features an in-depth interview with Bembenek’s biographer and close friend Kris Radish, who once wrote a book of the same name, as well as crime experts, former journalists who covered the case, and Sheldon Zenner, l one of Bembenek’s lawyers.
Bembenek, who maintained her innocence, died in 2010 aged 52 from liver failure.
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“I was amazed that I had never heard of Laurie Bembenek, who was one of the biggest icons of the 80s,” Vanessa Grigoriadis, host and co-founder of Campside Media, told Fox News Digital. “The thing is, so many people get forgotten over time…As people get older, those stories need to be told. Otherwise, everyone will forget them. I thought it was a good opportunity to dive in in this fascinating woman and this fascinating case.”
Grigoriadis noted that part of his research to bring this podcast to life included diving deep into mountains of legal documents, as well as speaking with prosecutors, detectives and those who attended the police academy with Bembenek. .
“It’s always fascinating when someone who’s portrayed by the media ends up being so different,” she explained. “In this case, you have a woman who is portrayed as both the villain and also a victim. She was portrayed as a murderer and also as someone who was a victim of a corrupt system. I have really felt that she was such a smart, weird, funny woman who radicalized herself in prison and became a feminist, Marxist who fought for the rights of other prisoners. She led a class action lawsuit on behalf of all prisoners for overcrowding… She had a whole other life in prison. And, in this case, she is escaping.”
Bembenek briefly worked as a waitress at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club before becoming a Milwaukee police officer in 1980. The following year she married Detective Fred Schultz. He was a 13-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department who was 10 years older than her.
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Schultz was previously married to Christine Schultz, a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s two sons. The couple decided to call it quits in 1980.
Bembenek’s whirlwind romance with Schultz didn’t last long.
On the morning of May 28, 1981, the Schultzes’ 11-year-old son, Sean, was awakened when a masked intruder attempted to tie something around his neck. He shouted and the intruder headed for Christine’s room. The child heard what sounded like a firecracker and the intruder fled up the stairs. Sean went to his mother’s bedroom and called Stuart Honeck, her boyfriend, who then called the police. The 30-something was dead, bound and gagged. The medical examiner said Christine died from a single gunshot that stabbed through her heart.
It was reported that Fred Schultz was on duty at the time of the murder. However, his disabled revolver was examined by ballistics experts, who determined that the bullet that killed Christine was fired from the same weapon. Bembenek was arrested and a hairbrush belonging to her had hairs matching the hairs found in the bandana used to gag Christine.
Bembenek was convicted in 1982 of shooting Christine after he complained about child support Schultz had to pay. She was sentenced to life in prison but maintained her innocence.
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In 1990, a divorced Bembenek escaped from Taycheedah Correctional Facility and fled to Canada with her fiancé, the brother of a fellow inmate. She escaped by crawling out of a laundry room window.
“She maintained her innocence until the day she died,” Grigoriadis said. “I also looked at the theory that she could have been in the house. She could indeed have been there. She had no alibi, and the state has always maintained that she committed this crime, even after he became an international fiasco. It’s very hard to look at his trial and say nothing bad happened because a lot of the stuff that was presented in the original trial has since been debunked. But you have to take into account that the government was under international pressure.
“Aspects of the trial were so outrageous that it’s hard to play them right,” she added. “It’s hard to say, ‘Yeah, that woman definitely stole a green tracksuit from a store and committed that murder.’ There was so much evidence that felt like they didn’t line up.”
After Bembenek fled, more than 200 Milwaukee supporters, many wearing “Run, Bambi, Run” t-shirts, rallied in support of his flight from the law. Bembenek and her fiancé were living under false names when they were captured in Thunder Bay, Ont., about three months after the case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.”
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“I think America likes to root for underdogs,” Grigoriadis said. “We consider someone who escapes from prison as an individual who has just taken the law into their own hands and everything is fair and square… [People] are titillated by the escaping inmates and are excited to hear what happens next. And Laurie was very convincing.”
Grigoriadis noted that Bembenek’s beauty – the press described her as a model – ultimately hurt her.
“I think they helped her in other parts of her life because it’s true – physical appearance benefits individuals,” Grigoriadis said. “But she was also made into a femme fatale. The argument was that she was so beautiful that she needed money to keep up with her lifestyle and looks…Now if you’re beautiful, you’re considered good In a way, your inside matches your outside… But in 1982, these women were seen as mean, jealous and capable of doing something like that.”
In 1992, Bembenek was paroled after her original conviction was overturned, and she agreed not to contest second-degree murder as part of a settlement. A plea of no contest is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes.
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She moved to Washington State to live with her parents, where she fought to clear her name until her death. Bemebek had a pending pardon petition with the then governor. Jim Doyle when she died. Doyle, a Democrat, did not respond to the pardon request.
In 2019, Bembenek’s lawyer, Mary Woehrer, sent Governor Tony Evers a request for a pardon. She argued that new ballistic and DNA evidence proves Bembenek’s innocence. Evers, a Democrat, declined to comment at the time on specific pardon requests.
Bembenek’s case has been the subject of several books, a 1993 TV movie starring Tatum O’Neal, and an Investigation Discovery (ID) episode of “Vanity Fair Confidential.”
Schultz moved to Florida where he started a new life running a carpentry business. In 1990, he told the Chicago Tribune he thought his second wife killed the first, adding, “I think she did it for both of us.”
Although it is suspected that Schultz may have been involved, he was never linked to the murder. He also denied any involvement in several interviews.
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Grigoriadis said she received no comments from Christine’s family about the podcast. And she thinks we’ll never really know who killed her.
“I think what we know is that the police botched the investigation of a woman who, at the time, was an enemy of their department,” Grigoriadis said. “I hope one day this case will be solved for everyone.”
New episodes of ‘Run Bambi Run’ are released on Mondays. The Associated Press contributed to this report.