Bianca Rudolph, an American big game hunter, traveled with her husband to Zambia in southern Africa in 2016, determined to add a leopard to her trophy collection.
But she never got home. Bianca Rudolph died of a fatal shotgun explosion “right at heart” in a remote hunting lodge where the couple had been staying, according to court documents.
Lawrence Rudolph, her husband of 34 years, told investigators that a Browning 12-gauge shotgun accidentally went off when she unpacked it. Authorities said their suspicion was aroused as he sought to have her body cremated quickly.
The consular section chief at the U.S. embassy in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, “told the FBI he had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too fast,” wrote Donald Peterson, an FBI special agent, in a crime. recently released statement.
Lawrence Rudolph, a dentist with a practice in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, raised nearly $ 4.9 million in life insurance benefits in the months following his wife’s death, which the FBI now says he orchestrated.
Authorities arrested Lawrence Rudolph, 67, in late December, prosecuting him for the murder of a U.S. citizen in a foreign country and a case of mail fraud, according to recently leaked court documents.
He pleaded not guilty in federal court in Colorado on Jan. 6 and remains in federal detention, which he denies. Lawrence Rudolph maintains that his wife’s death was an accident.
“This is a scandalous lawsuit against Dr. Larry Rudolph, a man who loved his wife for 34 years and did not kill her,” David Oscar Markus, a lawyer for Lawrence Rudolph, said in a statement Tuesday.
If Lawrence Rudolph is convicted of the murder, he risks a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. The charge of mail fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. A 15-day jury trial is expected to begin on February 28.
Investigators said Lawrence Rudolph had an extramarital affair at the time of his wife’s death and had made life insurance adjustments for her the same year.
About three months after Bianca Rudolph’s death, Lawrence Rudolph’s girlfriend moved into the home in Arizona where Rudolphs had moved a few years earlier, investigators said. The executive director of the community association told the FBI that Lawrence Rudolph and his girlfriend had offered $ 3.5 million for another home in the same subdivision.
At the time of the shooting, the couple Rudolph had traveled to Kafue National Park in Zambia, an area about the size of New Jersey that is popular with safari operators. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including leopards, cheetahs, hippos, lions and rare antelopes.
A hunting guide and a game scout told investigators they rushed to Rudolph’s cabin on the morning of October 11, 2016, after hearing a shot and found Bianca Rudolph bleeding from the left side of her chest.
Lawrence Rudolph explained that his wife must have fired the shotgun when she tried to put it in the case, authorities said at the time. Zambia’s police service stated that “the firearm was loaded from previous hunting activities and the normal security measures at the time of packing the firearm were not taken into account, causing the firearm to be accidentally fired,” according to a summary quoted in a federal court Documents .
Based on the shooting year, the FBI and U.S. consular officials concluded that Bianca Rudolph had been shot from a distance of 6 1/2 feet to 8 feet. When they tried to reconstruct the shooting, they determined that it was highly unlikely that she had accidentally pressed the trigger on the shotgun.
The top consular official told an FBI investigator that Lawrence Rudolph had inquired about Zambia’s privacy law and was pushing for his wife’s body to be cremated immediately, saying it would be “challenging” to have it flown to the United States. However, Peterson wrote in the statement that Lawrence Rudolph “often made sure that the transportation of animals hunted on his journey was transported back to the United States,” a process he added is often “cumbersome, expensive and time consuming.”
A little more than two weeks after Bianca Rudolph’s death, one of her friends contacted an FBI official at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, and asked the agency to investigate the shooting, according to court documents. The friend, who was not identified, said it would be highly unlikely that Bianca Rudolph, who was a Catholic, would have wanted to be cremated.
Shortly after his wife’s funeral, Lawrence Rudolph bought his girlfriend a plane ticket to fly from Pittsburgh to Arizona, the FBI said. The ticket was later canceled, but he bought another ticket for an unidentified woman to fly to Las Vegas, where financial records showed he had paid for a hotel room, according to the statement.
Markus, Lawrence Rudolph’s attorney, declined to answer questions about the state of his client’s marriage to Bianca Rudolph, or whether he had remarried. In his statement, he said the Zambian authorities had determined that Bianca Rudolph’s death was an accident, a finding which he said had been confirmed by insurance companies.
“Now, more than five years later, the government is seeking to file a lawsuit against this well-respected and law-abiding dentist,” Markus said. “Dr. Rudolph is looking forward to his trial where he will demonstrate his innocence.”
Justice Department officials declined to comment further on the case Tuesday.
As part of a proposal for Lawrence Rudolph’s release, two of his adult children signed statements stating that they believed he was innocent and that he did not pose a flight risk. They said keeping him in custody posed a health risk to Lawrence Rudolph, who has a pacemaker.
This article originally appeared in New York Times.