“I was amazed that I had never heard of Laurie Bembenek, who was one of the biggest icons of the ‘80s,” host and Campside Media co-founder Vanessa Grigoriadis told Fox News Digital. “The fact is, so many people are forgotten over time … As people get older, those stories have to be retold. Otherwise, everyone will just forget them. I thought this was a good opportunity to delve into this fascinating woman and fascinating case.”
Grigoriadis noted that part of her research in bringing this podcast to life was taking a deep dive into mountains of legal documents, as well as speaking with prosecutors, detectives and those who attended the police academy with Bembenek.
“It’s always fascinating when somebody who is portrayed by the media ends up being so different,” she explained. “In this case, you have a woman who is portrayed as both the villain and also as a victim. She was portrayed as a murderer and also as somebody who had been victimized by a corrupt system. I really felt she was this smart, uncanny, funny woman who was radicalized in prison and became a feminist, a Marxist who stood up for other prisoners’ rights. She ran a class-action suit on behalf of all prisoners for overcrowding … She had a whole other life in jail. And, in this case, she escapes.”
Bembenek briefly worked as a Playboy Club waitress in Lake Geneva before becoming a Milwaukee police officer in 1980. The following year, she married Detective Fred Schultz. He was a 13-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department who was 10 years older than her.
Schultz was previously married to Christine Schultz, a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s two sons. The pair called it quits in 1980.
Bembenek’s whirlwind romance with Schultz didn’t last long.
On the morning of May 28, 1981, the Schultzes’ 11-year-old son Sean was awakened when a masked intruder attempted to tie something around his neck. He screamed, and the intruder headed to Christine’s room. The child heard what sounded like a firecracker, and the intruder fled down the stairs. Sean went to his mother’s bedroom and called Stuart Honeck, her boyfriend, who then called the police. The 30-year-old was dead, bound and gagged. The medical examiner testified that Christine died from a single gunshot that passed through her heart.
It was reported that Fred Schultz was on duty at the time of the murder. However, his off-duty revolver was examined by ballistics experts, who determined that the bullet that killed Christine was fired by the same weapon. Bembenek was arrested, and a hairbrush belonging to her had hair consistent with hairs found in the bandana used to gag Christine.
Bembenek was convicted in 1982 of fatally shooting Christine after complaining about the alimony Schultz had to pay. She was sentenced to life in prison but maintained her innocence.
In 1990, a divorced Bembenek escaped from Taycheedah Correctional Institution and fled to Canada with her fiancé, the brother of a fellow inmate. She escaped by crawling through a laundry room window.
“She did maintain her innocence until the day she died,” said Grigoriadis. “I also looked at the theory that she could have been in the house. She could indeed have been there. She had no alibi, and the state has always maintained that she did this crime, even after it became an international fiasco. It’s very hard to look at her trial and say nothing wrong happened because quite a bit that was presented at the original trial has since been debunked. But you have to account for the fact that the government was under international pressure.
“Some of the aspects of the trial were so outrageous that it’s hard to play them straight,” she added. “It’s hard to say, ‘Yes, this woman definitely stole a green jogging suit from a shop and committed this murder in it.’ There were so many pieces of evidence that felt like they didn’t line up.”
After Bembenek escaped, more than 200 supporters in Milwaukee, many wearing “Run, Bambi, Run” T-shirts, rallied in support of her flight from the law. Bembenek and her fiancé were living under fake names when they were captured in Thunder Bay, Ontario, about three months after the case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.”
“I think America loves to root for the underdog,” said Grigoriadis. “We think of somebody who escapes prison as an individual who’s just taken the law into their own hands and all is fair and square … [People] are titillated by inmates who escape and are excited to hear what happens next. And Laurie was very convincing.”
Grigoriadis noted that Bembenek’s good looks — the press described her as a supermodel — ultimately hurt her.
“I think they helped her in other parts of her life because it is true — physical appearance does benefit individuals,” Grigoriadis said. “But she was also being made as a femme fatale. The argument was she was so beautiful that she needed money to keep up with her lifestyle and looks … Now if you are beautiful, you are seen as good. Somehow your insides match your outsides … But back in 1982, these women were seen as evil, jealous and capable of committing something like this.”
In 1992, Bembenek was released on parole after her original conviction was set aside, and she agreed to plead no contest to second-degree murder as part of a deal. A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes.
She moved to Washington state to live with her parents, where she fought to clear her name until her death. Bemebek had a pardon request pending with then-Gov. Jim Doyle when she died. Doyle, a Democrat, didn’t act on the pardon request.
In 2019, Bembenek’s attorney, Mary Woehrer, sent Gov. Tony Evers a pardon request. She argued that new ballistics and DNA evidence prove Bembenek’s innocence. Evers, a Democrat, declined to comment at the time on specific pardon requests.
Bembenek’s case has been the subject of multiple books, a 1993 TV movie starring Tatum O’Neal and the focus of an Investigation Discovery (ID) episode of “Vanity Fair Confidential.”
Schultz moved to Florida where he started a new life running a carpentry business. In 1990, he told the Chicago Tribune he believed his second wife killed his first, adding, “I think she did it for the both of us.”
While there was suspicion that Schultz could have been involved, he was never connected to the murder. He has also denied any involvement in several interviews.
Grigoriadis said she hasn’t received any feedback from Christine’s family about the podcast. And she doesn’t think we’ll ever truly know who killed her.
“I think what we do know is that the police botched the investigation of a woman who, at the time, was an enemy of their department,” said Grigoriadis. “I hope one day this case will be solved for everyone.”
New episodes of ‘Run Bambi Run’ are released on Mondays. The Associated Press contributed to this report.