In late September 2016, the couple traveled from their home in Phoenix to the South African nation of Zambia, where Bianca Rudolph was determined to add a tiger to her collection of animal prizes. They carried two handguns for hunting: a .375 Remington shotgun and a 12-gauge Browning shotgun.
After killing other animals during the two-week journey – but not a tiger – Bianca Rudolph was never able to get home. Federal prosecutors allege in court documents that she was fatally shot by a rifle in their hunting cabin at dawn while on her way back to Phoenix.
Now Lawrence Rudolph, 67, is charged with foreign murder and mail fraud in the death of his wife of 30 years. He pleaded not guilty, CNN affiliate KMGH reported, taking a stand in his own defense this week at his Denver trial.
He told the jurors, “I didn’t kill my wife. I couldn’t kill my wife. I won’t kill my wife.”
Court documents said Rudolph told investigators he heard shots while in the bathroom and believed the gun had exploded accidentally while in her case. He said he found her bleeding on the floor of her cabin in Kafue National Park.
But federal prosecutors allege that Rudolph killed his wife to get the insurance money and because she was with his girlfriend.
CNN reached out to Rudolph’s attorney, David Marcus, but received no response.
In a proposal Marcus made in January listing his client’s assets, he said Rudolph had no financial motive to kill his wife. In the court document, he indicated that Rudolph was worth millions, including a dental clinic near Pittsburgh worth $10 million.
Colorado life insurance companies paid Rudolph more than $4.8 million after his wife died, according to court documents.
Investigators said the rush to cremate his wife’s body raised suspicions
Investigators alleged in court documents that Rudolph quickly sought to cremate his wife’s body in Zambia after the shooting.
Rudolph scheduled her cremation three days after her death, according to court documents. After he reported her death to the US Embassy in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, the consulate chief told “the FBI has a bad feeling about the situation, which he believes is moving too quickly,” FBI Special Agent Donald Peterson wrote in the criminal. Affidavit.
As a result, the head of the consulate and two other embassy officials went to the funeral home where the body was being held to take pictures and preserve any possible evidence. Peterson wrote that when Rudolph found out that embassy officials had taken photographs of his wife’s body, he was “outraged.”
Peterson wrote that Rudolph initially told the head of the consulate that his wife may have died by suicide, but an investigation by Zambian law enforcement determined that it was an accidental layoff. Zambian investigators concluded that the firearm from previous hunting activities was loaded and normal safety precautions were not taken, causing the fatal accident to be accidentally fired, according to court documents.
Investigators for insurance companies came to a similar conclusion and paid on insurance policies.
“Zambian authorities and five insurance companies determined that Bianca Rudolph died in error,” Marcus wrote in the January proposal. “FBI witnesses told Dr. Rudolph that he did nothing to interfere with the investigation. There is no physical evidence to support the government’s murder theory.”
Prosecutors allege that the suspect wanted to be with his girlfriend
But federal investigators say there is more to the story.
The FBI alleged that Rudolph orchestrated his wife’s death as part of a scheme to defraud life insurance companies and allow him to live openly with his girlfriend.
Federal authorities intervened after a friend of the victim reached out to the FBI and asked the agency to investigate the death because they suspected a sinister game. The friend said that Rudolph had been involved in extramarital affairs in the past and had a girlfriend at the time of his wife’s death.
Peterson wrote that Rudolph’s then-girlfriend, who was not named in the court documents, worked as a manager at his dental practice near Pittsburgh, and told a former employee that she had been dating him for 15 to 20 years. The former FBI employee said her friend told her she had given Rudolph a one-year ultimatum to sell his dental offices and leave his wife, court documents alleged.
Three months after Bianca Rudolph’s death, his girlfriend moved in with him, Peterson wrote in court documents. A community association executive in the subdivision of investigators said that Rudolph and his girlfriend tried to buy another home in the same subdivision for $3.5 million.
The FBI says her injuries did not reflect an accidental exit
Court documents also claim that evidence shows that Bianca Rudolph’s wounds came from a bullet fired from at least two feet away.
“An FBI special agent conducted tests to determine, by comparison with photographs taken at the place of death, the approximate position of the barrel of the rifle within the soft case at the time of discharge, as well as firing patterns resulting from firing the rifle with the case above the barrel at various distances.”
A coroner determined that the matching patterns of the wound observed in the photographs of the body were created by a bullet from a distance of between two and three and a half feet.
“At that distance there is reason to believe that Bianca Rudolph was not killed by an accidental discharge as stated,” the complaint read.
Bianca and Lawrence Rudolph moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona about four years before her death. Rudolph’s Dental Clinic remained in Pennsylvania, and he commuted back and forth from his home in Phoenix.
Federal authorities claim that his wife’s murder was premeditated so that he could “falsely claim that the death was an accident”.
But Marcus accused federal officials of relying on “shaky evidence”. Marcus said Rudolph’s two children were confident that their father had not killed their mother, and that they signed affidavits to support him.
If convicted of murder, Rudolph faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty.