Lawrence Rudolph is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area dentist who is accused of murdering his wife during an African Safari and pretending it was an accident.
Authorities now say that a web of extramarital affairs and millions of dollars in life insurance policies led the dentist to murder.
The complaint filed by the federal government in the United States alleges that Rudolph “murdered his wife, United States National Bianca Rudolph (Finizio), outside the United States and in the jurisdiction of Zambia, on October 11, 2016 as part of a scheme to defraud life insurance companies and to obtain money and property from them through the false and fraudulent pretense, representation, and promise that the death was an accident.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bianca Rudolph Was Shot in the Chest in Zambia
The complaint accuses Rudolph of murdering his wife while “the two were on a hunting trip in Zambia on October 11, 2016.”
During 2016, the Rudolphs “traveled to Zambia multiple times. Their final trip to Zambia was scheduled to take place between September 27,2016, and October 11, 2016,” the complaint says. “Bianca Rudolph’s goal during the trip was to kill a leopard. She was unsuccessful in killing a leopard but did kill numerous other animals during the trip.”
Rudolph was not actively hunting, although he was there: they took two guns with them for the hunt, the complaint alleges: a Remington .375 Rifle and a Browning 12-gauge shotgun.
That’s when it took a dark turn. “On October 11, 2016, at approximately 5:30 a.m. local time, the Rudolphs were packing to leave their hunting camp in Kafue National Park, Zambia, when Bianca Rudolph was shot in the chest with the Browning shotgun,” the complaint says.
Zambian Police Service performed an investigation, which involved interviewing Lawrence. The complaint says he told police the following:
…he was in the bathroom of their cabin and Bianca Rudolph was in the bedroom area when Lawrence heard a gunshot. Lawrence came out of the bathroom to find Bianca lying on the floor bleeding from the chest. Lawrence tried to resuscitate Bianca but was unsuccessful. Lawrence told the Zambian Police he suspected the shotgun had been left
loaded from the hunt the previous day and that the discharge occurred while she was trying to pack the shotgun into its case.
A professional hunting guide was in the dining hall when he heard the gunshot. He rushed there with others and found Bianca “laying on the floor bleeding from the chest,” with Lawrence shouting for help. Lawrence tried to stop the bleeding but couldn’t. The guide “recalled seeing the shotgun and an expended shotshell on the ground. The shotgun was inside a partially zipped gun case.”
Zambian police determined, according to the complaint, that “findings further suggested that the firearm was loaded from the previous hunting activities and the Normal Safety Precautions at the time of packing the firearm were not taken into consideration causing the firearm to accidentally fire.”
The complaint says Lawrence called the U.S. Embassy in Zambia and discussed cremating Bianca and leaving the country.
The consular chief “had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too quickly so he traveled to the funeral home to photograph the body and preserve evidence.” He used a scale to measure the primary wound in her chest, described as being “straight on the heart.”
A former Marine, he believed that the distance between the muzzle of the shotgun and Bianca’s chest when the shotgun was fired was about 6.5 to 8 feet and wasn’t a contact wound. Lawrence was “livid” the consular chief had taken photographs, the complaint alleges.
Lawrence told the consular chief that he had been married previously and his children were from that marriage and were not Bianca’s biological children.
He told the chief he was in the shower when he heard the gun discharge. He said that Bianca may have committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest, the complaint says.
Bianca was 5 foot 4 inches tall. The FBI used volunteers to replicate the shooting, and none of the subjects pointed the muzzle at themselves.
The complaint says Colorado’s medical examiner determined the following:
In my opinion, it would be physically impossible to accidentally fire this shotgun in its carrying case and produce the entrance defect noted on the body of Ms. Rudolph. The tip of the carrying case was most likely at least two feet from Ms. (Rudolph) when the weapon was discharged regardless if it was on cylinder or full choke settings. Further, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Ms. Rudolph to reach the trigger of this weapon even if it was placed in the case with the muzzle pressed against her chest.
2. Rudolph’s Lawyers Accuse the Government of Creating a ‘Nefarious Narrative’
A court document Rudolph filed in federal court seeking release provides some details of what happened.
“Following the death of Dr. Rudolph’s late wife while the couple was visiting Africa, the Zambian government investigated and ruled the death accidental,” the document says. “The life insurance companies the government calls ‘victims’ paid on the policies. Refusing to accept this, Colorado-based FBI agents spent five years crisscrossing the country and traveling to Africa to come up with a nefarious narrative they hope to present to a Denver jury.”
They added: “Extensive travel was necessary because nothing about this case has any real connection to Colorado. Unsurprisingly, this profligate exertion has yielded a circumstantial case built entirely on the surmise of former law enforcement agents, who will testify about what they infer could have happened.”
The motion continues:
Recognizing the weakness of its case, the government sought and obtained Dr. Rudolph’s confinement in Denver, 865 miles away from the Rudolph home in Phoenix and thousands of miles away from their children’s homes in Miami and Pittsburgh. To achieve this, they deliberately made no effort to apprehend Dr. Rudolph until he traveled to Mexico. This artifice supposedly voids Dr. Rudolph’s constitutional venue rights. The present question is only whether Dr. Rudolph’s contrived isolation during a global pandemic is consistent with the presumption of innocence and the ability to prepare for a fair trial.
The motion further alleges: “The FBI harassed the other victims, her (Bianca’s) children, for years after their mother’s death and subpoenaed them to a Colorado grand jury after they repeatedly asked to be let alone to grieve in peace.”
3. The Rudolphs First Met Each Other When Rudolph Was in Dental School
According to the complaint, Rudolph “first met Bianca Finizio when he was in dental school and Bianca was in an undergraduate program at the University of Pittsburgh. They were married in approximately 1982.”
Around the same time, Rudolph started his dental practice, where Bianca initially worked. Once they had two children, she worked there less, the complaint says.
In about 2006, Rudolph became disabled, separated from his partners, and started “a new group of dental offices known as Three Rivers Dental,” the complaint says.
“These offices are still in business,” and an adult child of the Rudolphs works there, the complaint says.
About four years before Bianca died, the couple moved to Arizona but kept their dental practices in Pennsylvania, and Lawrence would travel back-and-forth on business.
On LinkedIn, Lawrence wrote that he was the owner of Three Rivers Dental Group, chief communications officer for Safari Club International, a former president of Safari Club International, and president of Weatherby Foundation International. He received his dental degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
4. The Rudolphs Enjoyed Hunting Together; Lawrence Claimed More Than $4.8 Million in Life Insurance Policies
Lawrence and Bianca “often spent time traveling and hunting,” the complaint says. “As time went by these trips became more frequent, with hunting trips to Africa and other countries being common for them.”
Bianca did not have hunting experience before meeting Lawrence, the complaint says. Eventually, though, she became a “well-respected international hunter. Friends and relatives interviewed by the FBI said Bianca appeared to enjoy hunting and was an accomplished hunter.”
Both Rudolphs were “active members of a prominent hunting organization,” the complaint says, adding that Bianca would occasionally travel and hunt without Lawrence.
The FBI reviewed life and accidental death policies covering Bianca at the time of her death. The earliest policy was purchased in 1987, but policies were updated and adjusted into 2016, the year of her death.
The multiple life insurance policies totaled more than $4.8 million.
The professional hunting guide made statements saying that the shotgun that killed Bianca was owned by Lawrence and he carried it during the hunt. He unloaded and cleaned it the night before Bianca’s death.
He said it was “probably” difficult for a person of Bianca’s size to reach the trigger of a shotgun from the end of a full-length sporting barrel. He said that Bianca “had long fingernails and the trigger on a shotgun was ‘light.’ The shotgun may have discharged if Bianca had hit the butt of the shotgun on the ground to try to push it further into the case.”
After investigations, each insurance company determined the claims should be paid.
5. The Complaint Accuses Lawrence of Having Affairs
On October 27, 2016, a friend who was not named called the FBI legal attache in Pretoria, South Africa, to say she wanted the FBI to investigate the death of Bianca.
She revealed that she suspected foul play because “Lawrence Rudolph had been involved in prior extramarital affairs and had been having an affair at the time of Bianca’s death,” the complaint says.
The friend said that Lawrence “had been verbally abusive in the past and that the two had had fights about money.”
The friend said the Rudolphs’ children did not find out about her death for about a week and some of her friends and family did not know she had died until the funeral. The friend believed that Bianca would have not wanted to be cremated and said, according to the complaint, that “Larry is never going to divorce her because he doesn’t want to lose his money, and she’s never going to divorce him because of her Catholicism.”
Additional witnesses interviewed by the FBI corroborated that Lawrence was having an affair, the complaint says.
Investigators interviewed the professional hunting guide’s ex-wife. She didn’t believe the shotgun was functioning properly and said the Rudolphs appeared be having a good time, and seemed to “be a very strong couple who were happy together.”
The FBI interviewed a former employee of Three Rivers Dental who “may not have left employment…under favorable circumstances.” This former employee came to know the girlfriend, of Lawrence, a manager for Three Rivers Dental who disclosed she was in a long-term relationship with Lawrence for 15-20 years.
The complaint alleges:
She had given Lawrence a one-year ultimatum to sell his dental offices and leave Bianca. Authorities learned the girlfriend was living with Lawrence and had been since 2017. They offered $3.5 million cash to purchase a different home.
She was referenced as Lawrence’s new wife, but there is no record confirming a marriage. Lawrence and the girlfriend traveled to Cabo San Lucas Mexico, multiple times before Bianca’s death and again a few months after Bianca’s death.
The day after Bianca’s funeral, Lawrence purchased a ticket for the girlfriend to travel from Pittsburgh to Phoenix, but it was cancelled the same day.
Lawrence also purchased a ticket at that time for another woman to travel to Las Vegas. He also traveled there and paid for a hotel room. He had a desire to “live openly with girlfriend,” the complaint says.
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