JIADEP NOTE: The Case of Lori Bembenek is important for understanding the vengeance that police and prosecutors will carry out upon those (particularly women) who challenge the forces of law and order in the public arena of the courts. This story was repeated in both the Kabotoyama and Eniwa cases in Japan.


The Case of Lori Bembenek

In 1980, former model Lawrencia Bembenek, enrolled in a police academy, graduated in the top of her class, and began work in public safety for the city of Milwaukee. The women's movement which grew quickly in the USA in the 1970's permeated many places, but not the Milwaukee police department. Bembenek became the focus of bad jokes, disgusting verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

Apart from personal indignities, Bembenek was shocked by blatant police illegalities. She became a firsthand witness to officers taking graft, selling pornography, demanding oral sex from hookers, frequenting drug hangouts, and harassing minorities. She even came into possession of male police officers dancing nude in a public park, and turned these into internal affairs.

During the probe by internal affairs, Bembenek attended a concert at which her police officer friend Judy Zess smoked marijuana, (but Bembenek did not). Undercover agents arrested both Zess and Bembenek during the concert and charged them with "possession of a controlled substance." Zess accepted the discharge from the police force, Bembenek did not, and filed suit against the department seeking job reinstatement.

Bembenek's case seemed to receive divine support-- a thunderbolt from the heavens. At the time, U. S. Federal attorney, James Morrison, began investigating allegations that the Milwaukee force was misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars of affirmative action funds and firing minorities on flimsy grounds. Bembenek came forward to say that women and minorities were being hired and quickly fired to satisfy federal quotas and take advantage of employment equity grants. She was the heart of the investigation, so it was clear that if she became a serious suspect, the case against the department would fall apart.

Such a case materialized. On May 28, 1981, her husband's ex-wife, Christine Schultz (aged 30) was murdered. Bembenek had married Fred Schultz, a detective with the force, the previous January. Though Schultz and several others emerged as suspects, the onus of the investigation came down on Bembenek.

To many legal observers, the arrest looked like an act of sheer vengeance. To the press, Bembenek was a lamb that deserved to be slaughtered. Before entering the police academy, she worked as a model and posed for a beer calendar in a slinky dress. After being discharged from the police, assuaged with bills, and unable to find employment, she took employment for a short time as a "bunny" serving drinks in a Playboy club. Though she never posed nude, she was (and still is) lambasted as a bimbo centerfold.

In cases where there is little proof, and so much face at stake, the forces of authority may well resort to desperate supra-legal measures for self-protection. Against Bembenek, they contrived evidence and coerced a potential witnesses. Judy Zess, the close friend of Bembenek and officer who was discharged for smoking marijuana at the concert, became such a witness. She testified to hearing Bembenek say "I want to blow Christine's head off." In the end, Bembenek was found guilty on the most circumstantial of evidence-having access to the gun determined to be the murder weapon.

Despite the paucity of evidence, Bembenek was convicted of first degree murder and sentence to life imprisonment at Taycheedah Correctional Institute. She divorced Fred Schultz, remarried while behind bars, and became a bit of a sensation after jumping the wires and successfully escaping from prison. The escape was heralded by a "Run Bambi Run" bumper sticker campaign. Polls indicated that many people would offer support to keep the couple out of the hands of the authorities. An episode of "America's Most Wanted" lead to Bembenek being identified and caught in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She was returned to the States, and later released from jail in return for a plea bargain.

American Justice, Episode Guide 68 - Milwaukee: The Legend of Bambi 1998.

Bembenek, Laurie.
Woman on Trial. New York: Harpercollins, 1992.

Radish, Kris. Run, Bambi, Run: The Beautiful Ex-cop and Convicted Murderer who Escaped to Freedom and Won America’s Heart. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1992.

Roddick, Bill.
The Thirteenth Juror: At the Lawrencia Bembenek Murder Trial: Questions Left Unanswered, Milwaukee: Tech/Data Publications, 1982.

Roddick, Bill.
After the Verdict: A History of the Lawrencia Bembenek Case. Composition House, Milwaukee: 1990

Ramsland, Katherine. Crime Library, www.crimelibrary.com (undated).