Sunday, November 21, 2010

Laurie "Bambi" Bembenek, 1958-2010. R.I.P.

Laurie "Bambi" Bembenek, a former Milwaukee police officer convicted of murder, died yesterday of liver and kidney failure. She was 52.

In 1982, Bembenek was convicted of the murder of Christine Schultz, the ex-wife of Milwaukee police detective Fred Schultz to whom Bembenek was married. Her conviction, however, had always been a source of controversy. She was nicknamed "Bambi" because of her brief stint as a Playboy bunny. A song, "Run, Bambi, Run" was written in her honor.

In the summer of 1990, Bembenek escaped from prison with the help of her boyfriend Nick Gugliatto and ended up in Thunder Bay, Ontario. In fact, they lived half a block from my family's house. Of course, I did not know this until they had been arrested.

Before you knew it, there was a van from A Current Affair on our block. In fact, they stopped my brother Micah and his friend Dave Azzolini (they would later play together in the Canadian indie rock band The Golden Dogs) and shot video of them walking down past Bembenek's house.

As for me, I had met Bembenek during her stay in Thunder Bay although I obviously did not appreciate the significance of who she was at the time. It was while I was canvassing for the NDP during the 1990 Ontario election. The only reason I remember having spoken to her was that she told me she was American and was thus not eligible to vote.

Like in Milwaukee, Bembenek had developed a sympathetic following in Thunder Bay. She had worked as a waitress in a restaurant near City Hall and I remember the owner publicly coming to her defense. Bembenek later applied for refugee status in Canada. While this did not come to pass, the Canadian government told authorities in Wisconsin they wanted Bembenek's case reviewed before they agreed to extradite her. Bembenek's case was reviewed and she was granted a new trial in 1992. However, instead of going through with the trial, Bembenek pled no contest, sentenced to ten years probation and was released from prison.

In 1993, a made for TV movie about Bembenek was released starring Tatum O'Neal. Let's just say the Thunder Bay depicted in that movie bore no resemblance to the Thunder Bay where I grew up.

Bembenek would live out the remainder of her life in Oregon. She unsuccessfully tried to have her conviction overturned. In recent years, Bembenek had fallen on hard times. In a bizarre incident in 2002, she jumped out of a hotel window after staff on the Dr. Phil show had restricted her movements. She injured her foot so badly it had to be amputated.

Here's Bembenek on Oprah in the early 1990's.

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