Dentist Guilty of Murdering Wife on Safari: Behind the Scenes at Trial - Rolling Stone
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‘Worse Than the O.J. Glove’: The Dentist, the Love Triangle, and the Trial of the Safari Murder Mystery

An exclusive look behind the scenes and inside the courtroom with the case of Dr. Larry Rudolph, who was found guilty of killing his wife and taking millions in insurance money to live large with his former dental hygienist

Bianca and Larry Rudolph (above) met at Pitt, when she was an undergrad and he was in dental school.Bianca and Larry Rudolph (above) met at Pitt, when she was an undergrad and he was in dental school.

Bianca and Larry Rudolph (above) were married for 34 years before she died of a shotgun blast at a Zambian hunting camp in 2016.

Larry Rudolph/Facebook

DENVER, COLORADO — Dr. Larry Rudolph was always going to testify for himself. His lawyer wanted him to, but didn’t want Larry to appear rehearsed, like in the hokey TV ads for his dental practice back in Pittsburgh. His girlfriend, Lori Milliron, tells Rolling Stone she agreed that Larry should take control of what she calls a nearly six-year “witch hunt” by the FBI and federal prosecutors. “When I was still able to talk to him on the phone, before I was arrested,” she says, “I told him, ‘You need to get on the stand and tell your story.’ He was like, ‘I dunno.’”

But the feds were recording last winter’s prison calls between the defendant and his hygienist, turned mistress, turned business partner, turned partner in crime. If Larry, a figure cut from Trumpian cloth, was going to beat the charges — that he killed his wife on safari in Africa, so that he could spend millions in life-insurance payouts to live large with Lori — then his legal strategy would require overcoming the odds stacked against him. When his attorney revealed at the opening of the couple’s three-week joint trial here last month that the dentist planned to close the show himself, all bets were off.

On the stand last Wednesday, Larry attempted to transform his image from that of an accused murderer and alleged fraudster — a liar and philanderer, a lobbyist for big-game hunting who begged the Trump administration to let him join the cabinet — into a weeping widower. He claimed he was a shamed cuckold who couldn’t please a sex-charged spouse and so entered a “don’t ask, don’t tell” open marriage. He made himself out to be an ailing doctor whose wife had died tragically of an accidental shotgun discharge, while he took a shit in the bathroom next door. “Sometimes,” he said on the witness stand, “it takes me a while.”

And the metamorphosis could have worked. But on Monday evening, Larry was found guilty of foreign murder and mail fraud, facing a maximum sentence of life in prison or possibly the death penalty. Lori was convicted on charges of being an accessory after the fact to the murder and obstruction of justice, as well as two counts of lying to a grand jury; she was found not guilty on three other perjury counts and remains under house arrest, staring down up to 35 years after Larry waved her a parting goodbye in court. (They’re both already planning appeals.) But an exclusive window into the culmination of the case — its motley crew of defense attorneys, the flabbergasted star witnesses, and a frantic prosecution — provides a glimpse at how suspects relentlessly rebel agains trial by tabloid. Even at the palpitating finish, nobody beyond the jury room was sure if the dentist and his long-time mistress would get off — if the prosecution had blown it, if the scales of criminal justice had bent against the rich and innocent, or if the jurors might declare a mistrial.

Indeed, less than an hour after Larry’s teary testimony, the mood at Lori’s Airbnb down the block from the federal courthouse was straight-up cocky. The 64-year-old kicked up tan heels with a glass of wine, her two daughters, her lawyer, and her trial-prep coach, who were attempting to lighten the mood with dick jokes about how Larry, even at 67, couldn’t be that bad in bed. “It’s been a while,” she demurred. They all decided that Larry had come across as genuine. “There was one part that felt rehear—,” someone began to say, before glancing back over at the reporter in the living room. 

But Lori was already worried about the next Larry Rudolphs — the villains of true-crime virality who can’t afford O.J.-caliber attorneys pleading the I’m-not-Trump defense. “It’s scary,” she told Rolling Stone before the verdict. “Usually they discriminate against the poor. They discriminated against Larry because he’s wealthy and he’s traveled — it’s like reverse discrimination.”

 

Rolling Stone’s four-month investigation into the death of Bianca Rudolph unearthed allegations of health-care fraud involving Larry’s business, and accusations by a dozen of his former close friends and senior colleagues that an apparent crocodile attack — in which he’d lost the tip of his thumb, at the same remote Zambian hunting camp where his wife died 10 years later — was a plot to collect millions in disability insurance. Larry and Lori strongly deny all such alleged wrongdoing. And any real hint of these whispers about their past was kept far from their trial, because their legal team had successfully ensured the jury wasn’t allowed to hear about them.

The case of the dentist, the love triangle, and the safari murder mystery may seem like several Netflix shows in one, but there were no fingerprints collected at the scene of Bianca’s death. No eyewitnesses. There was an alleged murder weapon, but even the judge wondered why nobody in court had been talking much about what ever happened to it. During Thursday’s cross-examination from the government’s lead prosecutor, Bryan Fields, Larry said that he’d found the shotgun in his garage while moving from one mansion to another in Arizona, two years after his wife died. Larry, who is the former president of the 50,000-member hunting organization Safari Club International, testified that “I’m not a gun guy.” So he claimed on the stand that he’d broken apart the weapon and paid cash to a private trash-removal service for an “Hispanic gentleman” to “put it in a dumpster somewhere.”

“No actual science supports the prosecution’s theory,” David Markus, the puckish 49-year-old who has represented Larry since the FBI began tracking him across the globe in earnest two years ago, told Rolling Stone in anticipation of the verdict. “So they have been trying to sensationalize Larry — the hunting, the affairs, the angry employees. Our goal has been to try to get the jury to put aside all of that noise. It’s not easy.”

By the second week of USA v. Rudolph et al, an ammunition expert for the feds was insisting that Larry had loaded the shotgun himself — that there was no way Bianca, trying to fit the firearm inside its travel bag, could have dropped it and accidentally loaded the gun. A prosecutor asked the expert to tap a shotgun on the courtroom floor anyway, and — ca-chack! — onlookers remember gasping under their masks as a bullet rolled right into the chamber. “It was maybe even worse than the O.J. glove,” a member of the defense team tells Rolling Stone.

The government did have one certain forensic advantage on its side: Fields argued that Bianca’s wound indicated a gunshot from slightly above, then he cornered the defense’s own firearms examiner to rule out an accidental drop. Besides, Bianca wasn’t tall enough, prosecutors insisted, to have reached out and shot herself in the heart at close range; the bullet must have come from as far as 3.5 feet away.

Larry and Lori’s defenders reserved shade for other government witnesses who seemed to them “all over the place” about so-called “ultimatums” for Larry to leave his wife or the other way around. But prosecutors repeatedly cited the testimony of an assistant at Larry’s dental practice who claims to have delivered to him — in the run-up to his fateful Zambian trip — an injectable sedative, the same kind that killed Michael Jackson. They had called it an “additional murder weapon.” Markus feigned jabbing his co-counsel in the middle of court, as Larry testified that using the drug and a syringe to kill his wife was “an impossibility.”

Brian Lovelace didn’t know it until he walked into the courthouse last Tuesday, but the former bartender had become the government’s closing witness — all because Lovelace had heard seven words, from a regular at the back bar of Steak 44 outside Phoenix who drank his Ketel One martinis up and with a smile. Which is why the bartender testified that he found it so odd, one night in early 2020 during a lull in the music, to hear Larry seem to explain to Lori:

“I killed my fucking wife for you.”

Lori stormed off, Larry followed, and Lovelace tried to make sense of “a phrase that you can’t not hear” with a couple sitting at the next stools over, he told Rolling Stone last week, echoing his testimony. The bartenders’ text thread bubbled up — well, that was the end of Lori, someone joked — but the couple returned after a few months, as if nothing had happened.

Nearly two years later, this January, Lovelace had moved forward — he founded the lifestyle streaming platform LiveLIVE — when a former colleague texted a link reviving the old group-chat: Rudolph had been arrested. He says a colleague obsessed with true crime, whom Lovelace nicknamed Nancy Drew, tipped off the FBI: His friend had heard something, and she had the receipts. Lovelace hadn’t wanted to get involved — “I’ve got kids, I don’t give a shit” — and respected the bartender’s code of privacy. But he wasn’t going to lie to FBI agents. Besides, Lovelace insists to Rolling Stone, the feds initially didn’t appear too interested. “They dismissed it as nothing. Like, nothing.”

On May 20, he received a subpoena. Hours after opening arguments began on July 13, however, the links blooped into the chat again: An article from the Associated Press was making the rounds, with headlines referring to the prosecutor’s claim that his overheard snippet was a confession. “My little piece of nothing is the only thing people are talking about,” Lovelace says. “That line’s sexy, and it fucking sells.”

What the bartender also didn’t know until he spoke with Larry’s lawyer, David Markus — and what apparently surprised prosecutors at trial once again — is that Larry and Lori claim the snippet was only part of Larry’s admittedly “angry” outcry. Around the time of the explosive eavesdropping, Larry had just been informed that the FBI was snooping around Africa. On the stand, Markus asked the bartender if it was possible that Larry actually called out:

They’re saying I killed my fucking wife for you.”

Lovelace responded: “Would it surprise me? Everything is surprising me!”

Nearly the entire courtroom, though not prosecutors or Bianca’s family, laughed. 

When Lovelace was dismissed from the witness stand, he remained unclear about what Larry really said that night. The ex-bartender needed a drink. “There’s injustice on all sides, and African-Americans and minorities, they get railroaded,” Lovelace, who is Black, tells Rolling Stone. “At the same time, there are clearly times where there’s a martyr they wanna take down that white, powerful person because of their money and their stature. And it’s definitely curious to me, of all the cold cases: What’s the agenda here when you go real hard at someone? It makes you question everything.”

 

During trial preparation, Markus would email his mentor Alan Dershowitz, who taught him at Harvard Law. Marcus had been used to stealing the show since criminal-law class in the mid-1990s with “a room full of conservative prosecutor wannabes and then me and Dersh.” The professor told him to develop a thick skin, because people would always like him or not based on his clients. “What you have to do to be a great criminal lawyer,” Dershowitz tells Rolling Stone, “is understand the tribalism and turn it to your advantage.” Markus had been part of the defense teams representing both Barack Obama in voting-rights integrity and, more recently, Ghislaine Maxwell in sex trafficking. He was used to the theatrics of tabloid defense — “There’s something a little off with most of us who do this,” Markus admits — and haters come with the territory. But representing this dentist required very hard work indeed.

Larry’s defense attorneys were initially limited to 30-minute video conferences with him, but they didn’t want their client to sound overly scripted anyway. So they decided to let the deceased do the talking: Larry’s testimony revolved around an August 2000 handwritten letter from his wife, in which Bianca apologized for her affairs. (The judge would not allow the jury to see what Larry called her “very salacious” emails with a lover at the time.) Flashing back-and-forth to carefully selected moments from their 34-year marriage, Larry portrayed himself as an imperfect man: He admitted to lying under oath in a previous civil case about his own infidelity, including the on-again-off-again partnership with Lori spanning the last two decades, so that Bianca “wouldn’t be embarrassed.” Over the course of more than two hours, the defendant blamed himself, a little. He blamed his late wife, whom he’d apparently discovered packing pink handcuffs to travel with a lover. He blamed his shotgun, for firing into Bianca’s heart as she packed it on the way home to a family wedding. He even blamed “the damn internet.”

African Safari Death Dentist Trial Verdict Larry Rudolph

A defense investigator, left, for Pittsburgh dentist Lawrence “Larry” Rudolph heads into federal court with the dentist’s children, front center and back right, for the afternoon session of the trial, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Denver.

David Zalubowski/AP Photo

Markus asked the courtroom to read the eulogy he’d read at her funeral, then asked his client — sobbing into the microphone — to read it aloud. Markus fist-bumped the dentist and thumbs-upped Larry’s children. His 36-year-old daughter and 30-year-old son stood by him, even though it had taken a week for Larry to inform them of their mother’s demise in 2016. Larry had wanted, he said, to hug his kids as he told them. Before the defense rested on Thursday afternoon, Markus asked his client to read the eulogy again. “As much as I will miss our adventures, travel, and special occasions, in the end I will miss the routine and—,” Larry said, pausing as some of Bianca’s family members walked out of the courtroom, before resuming his more than two-and-a-half-minute soliloquy: “—the rhythm and magic of our everyday life.”

For many of Rudolph’s long-time enemies, the performance seemed familiar. “His demented narcissism allows him to consider himself righteous, even though he is beyond evil,” another witness for the prosecution, who knew Rudolph personally and professionally for many years, tells Rolling Stone. 

Larry repeatedly insisted in his testimony that he wanted to fly back to the States and tell his son and daughter about their mom, but then he worried about going viral before he could give them that hug. After notifying an American embassy official about a “terrible accident” within hours of the tragedy, Larry claimed on the stand that the diplomat responded, “This is worse than Cecil the Lion” — a reference to the notorious trophy hunt from the previous year, in which a Minneapolis-area dentist became an international enemy known as the “driller killer” after he allegedly paid a hunting guide $50,000 to execute the beloved lion. (That dentist was never charged, and a Zimbabwean court threw out the guide’s case.)

The day after Bianca’s death, a short article on a Zambian news site had regurgitated the contours of a local police report that “she accidentally shot herself in the chest,” then misspelled her last name. “I felt that once it was in one place, that article was going to be published all over the media,” Rudolph said on the stand. “That damn article — sorry — robbed me of the opportunity to see my son first.” Larry admitted to being “very paranoid about the anti-hunting forces in the world” and said he wondered if pictures of Bianca’s body, taken by the suspicious diplomat before it could be cremated, could be made publicly available. Fields, the government’s quick-tongued lead prosecutor — baby-faced with a ruddy under-chin scruff, hunch-backed in a too-big suit — responded: “The American embassy isn’t TMZ, is it?”

From behind this reporter’s seat in the courtroom gallery, Bianca’s brother and cousin — high-powered litigators themselves — could be heard muttering about Larry’s duplicity throughout the trial, while her other brother glared beneath a Covid shield. Fields continued to press Larry on cross-examination about why he hadn’t planned to fly home to where either of his kids actually lived, and why he texted Lori about an accident before them; the cousin turned to the brothers and whispered, “This is stupid…. This is going nowhere.” (Fields, through a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, declined to comment.)

Fields had previously spent several minutes listing off the dentist’s 117 pieces of taxidermy — including six sets of elephant tusks, five leopards, two zebra rugs, and a polar bear — and watched as his co-counsel got into an extended hypothetical discussion with a blood-spatter expert about elephant poop. The lead government attorney proceeded to call for the courtroom to view photographs of the Rudolphs’ luggage but, in an apparent mistake, had a colleague pull up gruesome corpse photos instead. He asked for a moment so he could “play Where’s Waldo?” with his notes. And when a phone went off — loud — in the middle of Fields’ final confrontation with the dentist, the court deputy looked ready to banish the culprit for the remainder of the proceedings. But the ring belonged to the man asking the questions himself.

Since long before the trial, prosecutors have claimed that Bianca’s signature on a postnuptial agreement — finalized in the aftermath of her two affairs, and establishing a pot of $2 million for Bianca to Larry’s $7 million and counting — was forged. When Larry took the stand, Markus had him lay a kind of trap: The one other key person who saw Bianca sign the post-nup, Larry testified, was a trusted former business partner named Frank Langell, who served as a witness to the signing. Markus knew that FBI agents might storm Langell’s house that very night, and try to get him to testify at the last minute. They did, Markus said, and Langell apparently still wouldn’t talk. Questioning Larry on the stand the next morning, Markus said that the last-ditch effort “fell flat” and that Langell’s lawyer had confirmed to prosecutors that Langell had indeed witnessed Bianca agree to take less money after her indiscretions. Langell did not respond to a request for comment and previously declined to speak with Rolling Stone, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to confirm the episode for this story. But for some eye-rolling onlookers in the room, the prosecution’s argument that Larry wanted to kill his wife to evade divorce — to avoid losing half of his now-disputed $13.5- to $15-million fortune and be with Lori — seemed to have all but evaporated.

If the defense had to risk that a jury of six men and six women would not believe the dentist’s incessant tears, or would overlook his lies in the civil case about cheating on Bianca, or wouldn’t notice his forgetting under cross-examination the name — “Tammy? Tiffany” — of a fling he slept with in Vegas as soon as he returned from Zambia, so be it: “I have no idea what they are going to do,” Markus said of the jury, “but I know that we’ve fought as hard as we can.”

larry rudolph dentist safari verdict

Larry Ruldoph and Lori Milliron together before their arrest.

Courtesy of Lori Milliron

Lori had found it difficult to sleep these last few months at her condo in Arizona, what with the ankle bracelet and all. And she’d been vomiting a lot over the course of the trial. The true-crime industrial complex had already labeled her boyfriend “The Wife Hunter”; now it was all “millionaire dentist” this and “wealthy dentist” that. But here in the purgatory of a wine-stained apartment in Downtown Denver last week, Lori was feeling good about the jury’s body language, after staring across the courtroom all day, guessing which way they might be leaning. “I’d been trying to read ’em: ‘Is this guy lying?’” She’d been especially keeping an eye on a juror she called the Captain, an airline pilot with a military-style buzzcut. A hung jury seemed by no means to be out of the equation. Lori loved that the Captain engaged in the science, like when he nodded intently while an expert witness for the defense spoke to “folks on the jury who are shooters” about a “basically non-existent” crime scene that had been disturbed by Zambian authorities and, the expert claimed, insufficiently recreated by prosecutors and the FBI.

“The FBI, in my opinion, sucks,” Lori offered. “They look ridiculous.”

“This case is all about cherry-picking,” said John Dill, the Orlando personal-injury lawyer and Trump-hating vegan representing her. “That’s the clickbait of it.”

“You can’t put everybody into one box,” Lori concluded, scanning the living room and instructing her attorney not to break out “Night Moves” on the guitar again in front of her millennial kids. “We’re all different. We get along really great.”

One of Lori’s two daughters was especially looking forward to having her mom back at the Pennsylvania dental practice; as the new-patient intake coordinator, she’d been fending off animal-rights activists calling to yell about the evils of big-game hunting. Lori was excited that her custom-built mansion was nearly complete in Paradise Valley, Arizona, almost five years after the government alleges that Larry began to funnel most of his dead wife’s $4.8 million in life-insurance proceeds toward its purchase and construction, along with an Aston Martin and a Bentley. Larry insists that the principal insurance money “is there for my children” — in a family trust — “and will always be there for my children.” The kids were waiting — and waiting, with a weekend break in jury deliberations looming — for a verdict they ultimately didn’t even see announced. Lori was sick of waiting: Ever since their recorded jailhouse calls, Larry and Lori’s relationship had been reserved to his smiling through a mask, and her nodding in solidarity, from one defendant’s table to another, until the jury came back from recess.

If Larry had to go behind bars and Lori didn’t, “It’ll be terrible, awful, and difficult,” she said. But if he beat the rap, Lori agreed that her boyfriend was ready for retirement. “I’m gonna talk to Larry, I need to take him somewhere to recover from all this,” Lori said on Wednesday night. “Our house isn’t done yet.” Maybe they could spend a while up at his other place near Jackson Hole, so long as the Captain stood by her man, too, and the house didn’t get seized first. “Until something goes bad,” she concluded, “I’m fine.” Someone cut the tension by asking the lawyer if he could file a motion to allow Lori’s daughter to smoke in the courtroom. He joked about how, after having no company for so much of the year, she’d probably had enough of all the noise by now and would rather go back to house arrest. “Solitary confinement,” Lori interjected. The living room fell quiet again. “Oh, God,” Lori said. “It helps you feel better. You gotta laugh.”

In This Article: long reads, Murder, true crime

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