MILWAUKEE—The prison escape of former Playboy Club bunny and Milwaukee police officer Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek popularized the phrase “Run Bambi Run” and seemed tailor-made for the TV movie it inspired.
But despite the fame garnered by her flight, Bembenek died having spent more than two decades insisting on her innocence but never fully clearing her name. Her lawyer said Sunday that effort will continue.
The 52-year-old died Saturday of liver failure at a hospice care centre in Portland, Ore., said her longtime attorney, Mary Woehrer.
Bembenek worked briefly as a Playboy Club waitress in Lake Geneva before becoming a police officer in Milwaukee, where she married detective Fred Schultz. Bembenek was convicted in 1982 of fatally shooting his ex-wife, Christine Schultz, after allegedly complaining about the alimony he had to pay.
Bembenek was sentenced to life in prison but maintained her innocence. In 1990, she escaped Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac and fled to Canada with then-fiance Dominic Gugliatto, the brother of another inmate.
In Milwaukee, more than 200 supporters — many wearing “Run Bambi Run” T-shirts — rallied to show support for her flight from the law. Bembenek and Gugliatto were captured in Thunder Bay, Ont., about three months later after the case was publicized on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Bembenek fought extradition for a time but willingly returned to Wisconsin in 1992. A judge said that “significant mistakes” had been made in the probe of Christine Schultz’s death, and Bembenek soon struck a deal with prosecutors in which her conviction was set aside. She pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and received 10 years of probation. Bembenek moved to Washington state in the late 1990s to live with her parents.
Her story was made into a book and a 1993 TV movie starring Tatum O’Neal, “Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story.”
In 2002, after completing her parole, Bembenek filed a motion seeking testing for genetic material in the case in the hope of clearing her name. Later that year, she seriously injured her foot while apparently trying to escape out a hotel window before an appearance on the television talk show “Dr. Phil,” which had agreed to pay for some of the DNA testing. Her attorney said restrictions placed on Bembenek were excessive and triggered memories of her imprisonment. The injuries forced Bembenek to have her right foot amputated a few weeks later.
A Wisconsin appeals court in 2006 refused to let Bembenek appeal her murder conviction. More recently, she had been petitioning the office of outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle to pardon her, although last week a Doyle spokesman said Bembenek’s most recent application was incomplete.
Woehrer said Sunday that Bembenek’s family would continue to seek a pardon from Doyle.