An in-depth examination of a well-known murder.
The book is not a whodunit. Rather, Los Angeles–based journalist McGough (Bat Boy: Coming of Age with the New York Yankees, 2005) offers a police procedural about why a 1986 murder took more than two decades to solve and whether police knowingly protected the murderer: one of their own detectives. The victim was Sherri Rasmussen, a 29-year-old nurse and newlywed who was killed while alone in her home in LA. Her parents and a few of her friends knew that she had been harassed before the murder by a longtime girlfriend of her husband, John. The harasser, Stephanie Lazarus, worked as a young LAPD officer at the time of the murder. John and Rasmussen’s father both told the author that they had informed homicide detectives about the harassment. However, because McGough did not start reporting about the murder until Lazarus’ 2009 arrest, he could not find definitive information in the messy, incomplete police files about the case. What the author’s painstaking digging clearly demonstrates, beyond a doubt, is that the detectives assigned to the case decided nearly right away that Rasmussen was murdered during a burglary gone wrong. Adoption of that theory led to tunnel vision, which meant that the idea of a fellow officer as the perpetrator never received serious attention until two decades later, when a detective looking at cold cases stumbled on the Rasmussen file. McGough does not discuss how the cold-case detectives nailed Lazarus until more than 500 pages in. Before that, he examines the quotidian lives of Sheri, John, and Stephanie while sometimes taking detours to examine dozens of other characters. Relying on extended citations from bureaucratic memos and other opaque documents, McGough delivers a fairly unremarkable narrative until the end of the book, when the investigation of Lazarus as the potential murderer begins.
Despite the impressive research and mostly compelling final chapter, much of the book feels like an information dump filled with irrelevant and repetitious details. Its 600 pages could have been 250.