An American dentist is accused of having killed his wife during a safari in Zambia. He says she accidentally unloaded the gun


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 leopard to her collection of animal trophies. They carried two rifles for hunting: a Remington .375 rifle and a Browning 12-gauge shotgun.

After killing other animals during the two-week trip – but not a leopard – Bianca Rudolph never returned home. She suffered a fatal shotgun blast in their hunting cabin at dawn while packing to return to Phoenix, federal prosecutors say in court documents.

Now Lawrence Rudolph, 67, is charged with murder abroad and mail fraud in the death of his wife of 30 years. He pleaded not guilty and spoke in his own defense this week at his trial in Denver, CNN affiliate KMGH reported.

“I didn’t kill my wife. I couldn’t murder my wife. I wouldn’t kill my wife,” he told jurors.

Rudolph told investigators he heard the shot while in the bathroom and believed the shotgun had accidentally exploded as she holstered it, documents show. judicial. He found her bleeding on the floor of their cabin at Kafue National Park, he says.

But federal prosecutors allege Rudolph killed his wife for insurance money and to be with his girlfriend.

CNN contacted Rudolph’s attorney, David Markus, but did not hear back.

In a motion Markus filed in January listing his client’s assets, he said Rudolph had no financial motive to kill his wife. In the 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 Rudolph more than $4.8 million after his wife died, court documents show.

Rushing to cremate wife raised suspicion, investigators say

In court documents, investigators allege that Rudolph quickly sought to cremate his wife’s body in Zambia after the shooting.

Rudolph scheduled a cremation three days after her death, according to court documents. After reporting his death to the US Embassy in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, the consular chief ‘told the FBI he had a bad feeling about the situation, which he said was changing too quickly’ , FBI Special Agent Donald Peterson wrote in the criminal record. affidavit.

As a result, the chief consular officer and two other embassy officials went to the funeral home where the body was being held to take photos and preserve any potential evidence. When Rudolph discovered that embassy officials had taken photos of his wife’s body, he was “livid,” Peterson wrote.

Rudolph initially told the consular chief his wife may have died by suicide, but an investigation by Zambian law enforcement concluded it was an accidental discharge, Peterson wrote. Zambian investigators concluded that the firearm had been loaded during previous hunting activities and that normal safety precautions had not been taken, which led to it being accidentally fired during the fatal incident, according to court documents.

Insurer investigators came to a similar conclusion and paid out on the policies.

“Zambian authorities and five insurers have determined that Bianca Rudolph died accidentally. Witnesses told the FBI that Dr. Rudolph did nothing to interfere with the investigation. No physical evidence supports the murder theory. government,” Markus wrote in the January query.

Suspect wanted to be with his girlfriend, prosecutors say

But federal investigators say there’s more to the story.

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, according to the FBI.

Federal authorities became involved after a friend of the victim contacted the FBI and asked the agency to investigate the death because they suspected foul play. The friend said Rudolph had been involved in extramarital affairs in the past and had a girlfriend at the time of his wife’s death.

Rudolph’s girlfriend at the time, who was not named in court papers, worked as a manager at his dental office near Pittsburgh and told a former employee she had been dating him for 15 to 20 years, Peterson wrote. The former employee told the FBI the girlfriend told him she had given Rudolph a one-year ultimatum to sell his dental practices and leave his wife, according to court documents.

Three months after Bianca Rudolph died, the girlfriend moved in with him, Peterson wrote in court documents. An executive director of their subdivision’s community association told investigators that Rudolph and his girlfriend tried to buy another house in the same subdivision for $3.5 million.

His injuries do not reflect accidental discharge, FBI says

Court papers also allege evidence shows Bianca Rudolph’s injuries stemmed from a gunshot fired from at least two feet away.

“An FBI Special Agent conducted tests to determine, by comparison with photographs of the scene of death, the approximate position of the shotgun muzzle in the soft case at the time of discharge, as well as the reasons for resulting shots created by firing the shotgun with the holster above the barrel at varying ranges,” the criminal complaint states.

A medical examiner determined that the patterns matching the wound seen in photographs of the body were created by firing from a distance of between two and three and a half feet.

“At this distance, there is reason to believe that Bianca Rudolph was not killed by an accidental discharge as stated,” the complaint states.

Bianca and Lawrence Rudolph moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona about four years before her death. Rudolph’s dental practice remained in Pennsylvania, and he commuted from his Phoenix home.

Federal authorities allege his wife’s murder was premeditated so “he could falsely claim that the death was the result of an accident.”

But Markus accused federal officials of relying on “flimsy evidence.” Rudolph’s two children are convinced their father did not kill their mother, Markus said, and they have signed affidavits in his favour.

If convicted of murder, Rudolph faces a maximum of life in prison or the death penalty.


cnn

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