For those interested in my reporting process and how I came to know the facts recounted in THE LAZARUS FILES, my note to readers at the end of the book is reprinted in full below.
THE LAZARUS FILES: A COLD CASE INVESTIGATION by Matthew McGough
“Author’s Note on Sources”
This book is the product of nine years of investigative reporting.
My work on the book began on June 5, 2009, the day Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for murder. It was not merely the sensational nature of the allegations—a veteran LAPD detective accused of the cold case murder of a romantic rival—that drew me to the story on day one. In April 2008, about a year before she was arrested, I had actually met Lazarus at Parker Center, LAPD headquarters, and interviewed her at length for a book I was planning to write about art theft, Lazarus’s beat at that time.
My chance encounter with Lazarus made me intensely curious to learn the truth. Did a respected police detective really commit murder and carry that secret for her entire career?
A few days after Lazarus’s arrest, I attended her arraignment in a downtown L.A. courtroom. I returned to court for the next hearing, and the one after that. Over the next three years, I attended every court proceeding in the case, including every day of the monthlong trial in 2012, which ended in Lazarus’s conviction for first-degree murder. Afterward, I obtained the complete court file, trial transcript, and copies of all the trial exhibits. These voluminous records included Lazarus’s LAPD personnel file and many reports and documents from the original LAPD investigation of Sherri Rasmussen’s murder. Additional documents were later entrusted to me by sources.
As I watched Lazarus’s case unfold in real time, it became apparent that this story was not a whodunit. The evidence presented at trial proved Lazarus’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The unanswered question that loomed over the trial and persisted in its wake was how Lazarus got away with murder for so long. Was it fate that protected her when the original investigators focused exclusively on burglary suspects? Or was she protected through the years by her fellow LAPD officers? Did she try to sabotage the investigation herself, from inside the LAPD? And to what extent did she succeed? When, decades after the murder, DNA analysis revealed that the killer was a woman, was justice further delayed because the LAPD refused to open its mind to the truth?
I had no preconceptions, let alone answers to any of these questions, when I first began digging into the story in June 2009. On the day of Lazarus’s arraignment, the parents of the victim, Sherri Rasmussen, publicly alleged a long-running LAPD cover-up of their daughter’s murder. The LAPD promised an investigation of the Rasmussens’ allegation, but, as time passed, released no details about what its reinvestigation entailed or what it had uncovered. Three years later, shortly after Lazarus was convicted of first-degree murder, the LAPD proclaimed that its reinvestigation did not find evidence of an internal cover-up.
By then, I was more than three years into my own investigation and had begun to interview many people involved in the case. No one I spoke with had been interviewed or even contacted by the LAPD about the cover-up allegation. I wondered, How did the LAPD conclude that there was no evidence of a cover-up without apparently interviewing any witnesses? I was determined to try to get to the bottom of the story, even as its scope and depth continued to expand in ways that defied my expectations.
It was in 2011 that I learned about the unsolved murder of Catherine Braley, killed in Van Nuys in 1988, two years into the Rasmussen investigation. An old Los Angeles Times story described a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed a few months after the murder by Braley’s mother, Mary Postma. Postma’s lawsuit alleged that three L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies were responsible for her daughter’s death and accused the LAPD of a cover-up.
Once again guided primarily by my curiosity, I began investigating the Braley case in addition to Rasmussen. I learned that Postma’s lawsuit went to trial in federal court in 1995, but ended with a hung jury. I obtained the complete court file, which included many reports and documents from the original LAPD investigation of Catherine Braley’s murder. In late 2012, I provided the LAPD with a copy of the documents I had obtained.
This book is based wholly on information contained in these many thousands of documents from both cases, totaling tens of thousands of pages, as well as hundreds of hours of tape-recorded interviews that I conducted with witnesses, investigators, and other firsthand participants in these events. All interviews were tape-recorded with their permission and later transcribed. I have retained copies of all recordings, transcripts, and all other relevant records in my possession.
My ambition was to interview every person who knew Sherri Rasmussen or Catherine Braley while they were alive, as well as every person with knowledge relevant to their cases. Two of the people most central to the Rasmussen murder, whose perspectives I had hoped to include in this book, Stephanie Lazarus and John Ruetten, Sherri’s husband, both declined my interview requests.
In my reporting on the Braley case, I proceeded cautiously, always mindful that her murder is unsolved and remains an open investigation. If I judged that contacting a witness posed a risk of interfering with the LAPD’s investigation, I did not contact them and relied instead on other methods of reporting.
Wherever in the book I have attributed exact quotations or thoughts to a person, that information comes either directly from an interview I personally conducted with them; or from a tape-recorded interview, interview transcript, or statement they gave to the LAPD; or from their own sworn testimony on the witness stand.
Finally, it is worth noting that official chronologies, reports, notes, diaries, interviews, formal statements, and even sworn testimony are rarely coldly objective. Even well-documented information may in one way or another reflect the opinions, limited knowledge or perspective, and at times even the biases of their sources. While my aim was to present the facts as objectively as possible, the embedded opinions and perspectives of the sources I relied on could not always be avoided or eliminated. I wish to make clear that when it was necessary to present such subjective information in the book, whether to advance the narrative or describe what someone believed to be true at a particular in moment in time, the opinions and perspectives reported do not necessarily reflect my own.
My reporting on the story continues.
© 2019 Matthew McGough. All Rights Reserved.