Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek, who would grow up to to go from cover girl to cop to convicted killer after she was accused of murdering her then-husband’s ex-wife, was born on August 15, 1958.
Bembenek was convicted of killing Elfred Shultz’s ex-wife Christine Schultz in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison. The motive, according to police, was money: Police said Shultz’s alimony payments to the ex-wife apparently left little for him and Bembenek. But this was not the end of the story for the beautiful and charismatic Bembenek.
In 1990, she escaped from Taycheedah Correctional Institution with help from the brother of another inmate — and became an instant celebrity. Supporters held rallies where they wore Bembenek masks, and printed T-shirts with the slogan “Run, Bambi, Run!” The case made international headlines, and spawned books and TV movies.
So who was this femme fatale?
Bembenek, the daughter of Joe and Virginia Bembenek, grew up in a comfortable, middle-class household and, according to her family, was a much loved child. “When Laurie was born, we all danced around and accommodated the baby that lived and survived. She was raised with indulgence. It became an emotional problem,” her sister Colette Bembenek said in 2003.
Bembenek played flute at Bay View High School, where she was a fairly good student. Her peers remember her as a strikingly beautiful young woman who was reportedly working as a calendar model during her senior year in high school.
After taking a few jobs — including a stint at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin — she joined the Milwaukee police force in 1980. But she was fired during her probationary period just a few months later — and later filed a sex-discrimination complaint against the department with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
That’s when she became involved with police officer Elfred Schultz. She married Schultz in January 1981, less than three months after Schultz divorced his wife Christine.
Christine was found dead on May 28, 1981.She had been tied and gagged in her home, and fatally shot with Elfred Schultz’s service revolver.
Bembenek said she was framed for the death because she had filed the discrimination complaint. Regarding the murder weapon, Bembenek stated, “I was on the Police Department. I sure wouldn’t be stupid enough to use my husband’s gun. I can’t believe they would think that.” But, citing testimony that included a fiber found near the body that was considered a match with a reddish-brown wig found in the plumbing of the apartment building where Bembenek and Schultz resided, the jury convicted her.
After her escape from prison, during which she was free for three months, a judge found that “significant mistakes” had been made in the murder case — and she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a complicated deal that resulted in her being released released on parole for time served in 1992.
Once Bembenek was out she continued to capture the public eye — appearing on talk shows, making speeches, and writing a book called Woman on Trial.
In 1993, the book was turned into a movie, starring Tatum O’Neal.
In 2003, the case took another bizarre turn when producers from the Dr. Phil show agreed to pay $20,000 for DNA testing in Bembenek’s case if she would appear on the show when the test results were announced. Bembenek agreed, and the show provided her with a Los Angeles apartment before the show’s taping.
Bembenek reportedly had a panic attack of some kind and fell from the second story to the street, while attempting to climb out the window using bedsheets. She severed an artery in her foot, which had to be amputated, according to her attorney. Her attorney claimed that while in the apartment, Bembenek felt that she was under surveillance and panicked, while the show staff maintained that she was free to come and go at any time.
The DNA tests were inconclusive.
Bembenek continued to maintain her innocence and attempted to clear her name until her death. She passed away in Portland, Oregon, in 2010. Her health problems included hepatitis C and liver and kidney failure, according to her family. She was 52.
To learn more about this case, watch the “Run Bambi Run” episode of On The Case With Paula Zahn On ID GO Now!
Main photo: Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek [Investigation Discovery (screenshot)]