In late September 2016, the couple traveled from their home in Phoenix to the South African country of Zambia, where Bianca Rudolph was determined to add a leopard to her animal trophy collection. For hunting, they had two guns: a Remington .375 rifle and a 12-gauge Browning shotgun.
Having killed other animals during the two-week journey, but not the leopard, Bianca Rudolph never returned home. She was fatally shot at their hunting lodge at dawn as she was about to return to Phoenix, federal prosecutors allege in court documents.
Lawrence Rudolph, 67, has now been charged with foreign murder and mail fraud in connection with the death of his 30-year-old wife. He pleaded not guilty and defended himself at his trial in Denver this week, CNN affiliate KMGH reported.
“I didn’t kill my wife. I couldn’t kill my wife. I would not kill my wife,” he told the jury.
Rudolph told investigators he heard the shot while he was in the bathroom and believed the shotgun went off by accident when she was putting it in her suitcase, court documents say. He said he found her bleeding on the floor of their cabin in Kafue National Park.
But federal prosecutors allege Rudolph killed his wife for insurance and to be with his girlfriend.
CNN contacted Rudolph’s lawyer, David Markus, but received no response.
In a statement that Markus filed in January listing his client’s assets, he said that Rudolph had no financial motive to kill his wife. In a court document, he noted that Rudolph was worth millions, including a dental practice near Pittsburgh valued at $10 million.
Colorado-based life insurance companies paid out more than $4.8 million to Rudolph after his wife’s death, according to court documents.
The rush to cremate his wife raised suspicions, investigators say.
Investigators allege in court documents that Rudolf quickly attempted to have his wife’s body cremated in Zambia after the shooting.
According to court documents, Rudolph scheduled the cremation three days after her death. After he reported her death to the US embassy in the Zambian capital Lusaka, the head of the consulate “told the FBI that he had a bad feeling about a situation that he thought was moving too fast,” wrote FBI Special Agent Donald Peterson. in a criminal offence. affidavit.
As a result, the head of the consulate and two other embassy employees went to the funeral home where the body was being kept in order to photograph and preserve any possible evidence. When Rudolf learned that embassy officials had photographed his wife’s body, he was “furious,” Peterson wrote.
At first, Rudolph told the head of the consulate that his wife could have committed suicide, but an investigation by Zambian law enforcement found it to be an accidental dismissal, writes Peterson. According to court documents, Zambian investigators concluded that the firearm had been loaded during a previous hunt and normal security measures had not been taken, leading to the accidental firing in the fatal incident.
Insurance company investigators came to the same conclusion and paid for the policies.
“The Zambian authorities and five insurance companies have determined that Bianca Rudolph died by accident. Witnesses told the FBI that Dr. Rudolph did nothing to interfere with the investigation. No physical evidence supports the government’s version of the assassination,” Markus wrote in a January statement.
Suspect wanted to be with his girlfriend, prosecutors say
But federal investigators say it’s not just that.
The FBI alleges that Rudolph orchestrated his wife’s death as part of a scheme to swindle life insurance companies into allowing him to openly live with his girlfriend.
Federal authorities intervened after the victim’s girlfriend contacted the FBI and asked the agency to investigate the death because she suspected foul play. A friend said that Rudolf had been involved in extramarital affairs in the past and had a girlfriend at the time of his wife’s death.
Rudolph’s then-girlfriend, who was not named in court documents, was a manager at his dental clinic near Pittsburgh and told a former employee that she had been dating him for 15 to 20 years, Peterson writes. A former employee told the FBI that a friend told her she gave Rudolph a one-year ultimatum to sell his dental offices and leave his wife, court documents allege.
Three months after Bianca Rudolph’s death, the girl moved in with him, Peterson wrote in court documents. The executive director of their unit’s public association told investigators that Rudolph and his girlfriend were trying to buy another home in the same area for $3.5 million.
According to the FBI, her wounds did not reflect an accidental gunshot.
The court papers also allege that the evidence shows that Bianca Rudolph’s wounds were the result of a gunshot fired from at least two feet away.
“The FBI Special Agent conducted testing to determine, in comparison to photographs from the scene of death, the approximate position of the muzzle of the shotgun in the soft case at the time of the shot, as well as the resulting shot patterns created when the shotgun is fired. cartridge case over the barrel at various distances, ”the criminal statement says.
The medical examiner determined that the patterns consistent with the wound seen in the photographs of the body were created by being shot from two to three and a half feet away.
“At this distance, there is reason to believe that Bianca Rudolph did not die from an accidental gunshot, as was alleged,” the complaint says.
Bianca and Lawrence Rudolph moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona about four years before her death. Rudolph’s dental practice remained in Pennsylvania, and he traveled back and forth from his home in Phoenix.
Federal authorities claim that his wife’s murder was premeditated so that “he could falsely state that death was an accident.”
But Marcus accused federal officials of relying on “shaky evidence.” According to Marcus, two of Rudolf’s children are sure that their father did not kill their mother, and they signed affidavits in support of him.
If found guilty of murder, Rudolf faces life imprisonment or the death penalty.