The murder of Christine Schultz and Laurie Bembenek’s involvement in the same is a case that has remained in the limelight from the very start. In season 2, episode 3 of Investigation Discovery’s ‘The Playboy Murders,’ the viewers get to know how the two women were related and how the court of public opinion changed drastically when it came to Laurie. Her connection with the brand of Playboy and her actions before and after her conviction have left the world curious about what happened to her.
Laurie Bembenek Sued the Milwaukee Police Department
Born on August 15, 1958, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Laurie Bembenek was the youngest daughter of Joseph and Virginia Bembenek, who were parents to two more girls. Jospeph himself had been a part of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) but left the post because he apparently could not stomach the rampant corruption. Laurie herself followed in her father’s footsteps when she became a trainee at Milwaukee Police Academy in May 1980.
While she was in training, Laurie became friends with Judy Zess, a fellow trainee. However, Laurie’s time in the police department was not an easy one. While she was still at the Academy, an anonymous complaint was filed against her for smoking marijuana. She denied the charge, and the case did not go any further. In May 1980, things took a further downward turn when Judy was arrested for smoking marijuana. This led to Laurie’s dismissal from the police force as well, according to the claim that she should have arrested Judy when she saw her smoking.
Having pinned her hopes on being a police officer, Laurie felt adrift after her dismissal. In search of employment, she decided to apply to be a waitress at a Playboy Club in the area. After getting the job, Laurie became an official Playboy Bunny but still resented how she had to let go of her dream job. Things changed when she received photos of several male police officers dancing nude in a public park. As such, Laurie approached the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), pointing out how she had been fired for a minor infraction while her male counterparts were allowed to stay despite committing comparatively more significant violations.
Around the same time, Laurie got to know Elfred “Fred” Schultz, who, interestingly enough, was in the photographs that Laurie had filed with EEOC. Fred had been in the MPD for 13 years at that point and got a divorce from his wife, Christine Schultz, in November 1980, apparently due to his cheating behavior. Not much later, in January 1981, Fred and Laurie got married in Waukegan, Illinois. However, life for the newlyweds was far from easy.
The house that Fred had owned was now with Christine, who also had custody of their two sons, Sean and Shannon. Laurie and Fred had to actually live in the same house as Judy and her partner, Thomas Gaertner. The couple’s financial situation was far from easy, especially given the substantial amount of money that Fred had to pay as alimony. However, things changed drastically on May 28, 1981, when Christine was found murdered in her own home.
Christine’s sons had not only found their mother but had also seen the person responsible and then described them as a tall man with a long red-colored ponytail, a description that could not be further different from how Laurie looked. On the fateful night, Fred had actually been on duty and had initially claimed that he had been investigating a robbery at the time. Investigators found that the weapon used to shoot Christine was Fred’s off-duty gun. Combined with the fact that there were no signs of a break-in, Laurie became a prime suspect in the case, especially after a wig was discovered in the home she shared with her husband and two others.
Laurie was arrested on June 24, 1981, for Christine’s murder. During the trial, many witnesses claimed to have heard Laurie speaking that she wanted to kill Christine. Allegedly, two hair samples that matched Laurie’s were discovered on the crime scene. Due to the image presented of her during this trial and the fact that she had been a Playboy Bunny, Laurie was given the nickname “Bambi” Bembenek, which she hated. On March 9, 1982, she was found guilty of first-degree murder and was then sentenced to life in prison. Prior to that, in November 1981, Laurie and Fred remarried as their first marriage was declared invalid because it had taken place within six months of Fred’s divorce from Christine.
However, the marriage came to an end on June 28, 1983, when Laurie filed for divorce from Fred. She filed three appeals against her conviction, claiming that not only had the police mishandled the evidence but that Judy’s testimony against her was given under duress. While Laurie was in prison, she not only gained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin–Parkside but also got engaged to Dominic Gugliatto. This allowed her to escape prison on July 15, 1990, with Gugliatto picking her up and the two fleeing to Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Following Laurie’s escape from prison, the public opinion regarding her changed drastically. She was seen as someone who had escaped unlawful imprisonment and had run away with her lover, not unlike a sigh-worthy love story. All of this came to an end on October 17, 1990, when Laurie and Gugliatto were arrested after being spotted by a tourist. While Gugliatto was deported to the US only about a month later and had to spend a year in prison, things with Laurie were widely different.
The Canadian government agreed to facilitate Laurie’s transfer, but only if a judicial review of her case was conducted. Given the proof of various mishandlings and errors committed by the investigators regarding the case, it was decided that Laurie was to be given a completely new trial. She came back to the USA on her accord on April 22, 1991, and then agreed to the charge of second-degree murder on December 9, 1992. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which was to be commuted against the time she had already served in prison.
Laurie Bembenek is Now No More
Following her release after only three hours of being in custody after her hearing, Laurie Bembenek started a new chapter in her life. She wrote a book titled ‘Woman on Trial’ and struggled with various health problems over the years. She then moved to Washington in 1996, the state where she met Marty Carson, whom she would go on to marry in 2005. Throughout the years, Laurie continued to fight against the conviction that she was given during her second trial.
While she had indeed not contested the charge of second-degree, she was adamant that she had the right to have her innocence confirmed, especially with more and more evidence that came to light and seemed to point towards a male to be responsible for Christine’s assault and death. The petition that she had filed for the same in April 2008 was denied in June 2008. Ultimately, on November 20, 2010, Laurie passed away while she was in a hospice facility in Portland, Oregon. The reason behind the same was stated to be liver and kidney failure.
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