Love is a beautiful word and a wonderful sentiment, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or straightforward. Just look at the couple whose parents never let them get married because of their differing religious beliefs, or the man who pined over his married female friend. Relationships are complicated, and we have love to blame for it.
One young man thought that he had life and love all figured out. That was his first mistake. When his love life got a little bit messy, he thought he could control it all. He had no idea of the dark spiral that awaited him.
While an undergraduate at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1978 to 1982, John Ruetten, a mechanical engineering major, became friends with Stephanie Lazarus, a political science major who lived in the same dorm.
Having an undeniable physical chemistry, the two dated on and off for a while; however, while Stephanie, right, was madly in love with John, left, he was not looking to commit to her and wanted to keep things casual. Stephanie did not like this, in fact, she felt betrayed.
Acting out, she took naked pictures of John while he slept, and later stole all his clothes while he was in the shower. He eventually forgave her and saw her a few more times throughout college, but he kept his distnace and when he took a job at a computer manufacturer and she joined the police academy, the pair drifted apart.
A few years later, John met Sherri Rasmussen at a party. It was love at first sight. She had recently graduated from nursing school at Loma Linda University and was working as the director of intensive care nursing at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. She was only 20.
Sherri’s sweet and caring nature attracted John to her from the get-go, and they quickly became serious. Although he had never been the relationship type before, John felt that Sherri might be the one — but he still kept a secret or two.
See, he was secretly still in touch with his ex-flame Stephanie, who was unaware that John was in a committed relationship. With his birthday coming up, she wanted to do something special for him..
Imagine the surprise on John’s — and especially Sherri’s — face when it turned out Stephanie had thrown him a surprise party! It was then Stephanie inevitably found out John was dating Sherri. She was none too pleased.
Stephanie was fairly close with the Ruetten family and bid them goodbye in a letter. “I’m truly in love with John, and the past year has really torn me up,” she wrote. “I wish it didn’t end the way it did, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand his decision.”
When John and Sherri announced they were engaged to be married, Stephanie fell into a state of depression. “I really don’t feel like working,” she wrote in her diary. “I found out John is getting married and I can’t bear it.” So she concocted a plan.
She went to visit John at his condo where he still lived alone. The two of them ended up sleeping together in the hopes that it would finally give Stephanie closure. This, of course, had consequences.
Stephanie continued showing up to see John, even after he moved in with his fiancé, much to Sherri’s dismay. Once she even arrived with a pair of skis and asked John to wax them for her, despite the objections of his wife-to-be.
John and Sherri were wed November 1985, but the newlywed bride was still uncomfortable with the “friendship” between her husband and his old lover. Stephanie even paid Sherri’s office a visit, telling her “if I can’t have John, no one else will.”
In February 1986, only 3 months after the wedding, Sherri was asked by her boss to give a presentation to the other nurses. Afraid of public speaking, she called in sick and stayed home to avoid having to stand in front of the crowd.
At 9:45 a.m. that same morning, a neighbor noticed that the garage door of the residence was open, but there was no car inside. Just fifteen minutes later John would make the first of several calls to his wife to see how she was holding up. Nobody answered.
When John came home from work in the evening, the garage door was still open and there was broken glass on the driveway. Additionally, the bike he recently bought for Sherri was missing. Panicked, he ran into the house.
There were signs of a struggle everywhere. Furniture was knocked over and broken, and there was a bloody hand print next to the panic alarm button they’d installed. Then, he checked the next room.
There, John found his wife lying dead on the floor with three bullets in her body. His mind racing for answers, trying hard to interpret the scene, he called the authorities.
Thinking it was a robbery gone awry, the investigators swabbed a bite mark found on Sherri’s arm, but the collected DNA didn’t match anyone in the criminal database. Authorities listed some suspects — guess who turned up on the list?
Authorities questioned Stephanie — how could they not? — but her status as a police officer relieved her of serious scrutiny. Still, there was someone out there who was convinced it was her.
While John knew how Stephanie felt about him, he considered her a friend and didn’t believe she was capable of violence — but Sherri’s father did. Mr. Rasmussen’s daughter had told him about her husband’s ex-lover and her obsessive ways.
The investigation remained unsolved at the time, but the cold case was reopened in 2009. By this time Stephanie had been promoted to detective, but the investigating officers were less biased this time around.
With Sherri’s father continuing to push for an investigation into Stephanie, the detectives gathered some of her DNA, which she had unknowingly discarded. They tested it against the swab of the bite mark.
Sure enough, the math was positive. In 2012, Stephanie was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison. It was a relief for John and Sherri’s parents to see Stephanie put behind bars.
While John had certainly not been the perfect partner, he had truly loved Sherri and regretted her passing terribly. She was a beacon of light to everyone she knew, and that’s how she would always be remembered.