PITTSBURGH, PA — In October 2016, Lawrence and Bianca Rudolph traveled to Zambia for a hunting trip. Only one of them would return alive.
More than five years later, Lawrence Rudolph, who owns a well-known dental chain in the Pittsburgh area, was charged with foreign murder and mail fraud in connection with his wife’s shooting death on the excursion. He has contended that his wife’s death was an accident or perhaps a suicide, according to court documents.
The 21-page criminal complaint against Rudolph provides extensive details on Bianca Rudolph’s death and the thorough investigation that led to his arrest. The document notes that Rudolph collected nearly $5 million on various insurance policies after his wife died, and appeared to have a long-term mistress who worked as a manager in one of his dental offices.
A jury will attempt to determine what happened next month, when the case is scheduled to go to trial.
THE FATAL HUNTING TRIP
Lawrence and Bianca Rudolph married in 1982 after meeting each other while both were students at the University of Pittsburgh. Lawrence Rudolph started a dental practice at the time, and in 2006 opened the Three Rivers Dental Group, which has five offices in the Pittsburgh area.
Both enjoyed traveling and hunting. Although inexperienced at first, Bianca became a well-respected international hunter, according to the criminal complaint.
In 2016, they traveled to Zambia multiple times. During their last trip in October, Bianca had hoped to kill a leopard but was unsuccessful.
While getting ready to leave their hunting camp on Oct. 11, Bianca was shot in the chest with a Browning shotgun, purportedly while packing it in a case. Lawrence told the Zambian Police Service that he was in the shower and Bianca in the bedroom when the gun went off, killing her.
Less than a month after Bianca’s death, Rudolph submitted claims totaling $4.8 million to five insurance companies. The earliest policy was purchased in 1987, with that and subsequent policies updated into 2016. Each of the policies made Rudolph the ultimate beneficiary.
Several of the companies hired a private investigation firm, Diligence International, to perform a routine inquiry into the claims. Diligence interviewed the Rudolphs’ hunting guide, who noted that Lawrence Rudolph had carried the shotgun that killed Bianca during their hunt, and Lawrence had unloaded and cleaned the weapon the night before the shooting.
Despite that finding, the companies paid the policies.
Meanwhile, a friend of Bianca’s contacted the FBI asking that the bureau investigate her death. She told the FBI that the couple had argued over money, that Rudolph had had prior extramarital affairs and had been verbally abusive to Bianca. The friend said that divorce wasn’t an option because Rudolph “doesn’t want to lose his money, and she’s never going to divorce him because of her Catholicism.”
That led to the FBI interviewing a former Three Rivers Dental employee who said an office manager had confided in her that she had been involved in a long-term relationship with Rudolph for approximately 15 to 20 years.
The former employee said that the woman — identified in the complaint as “the girlfriend” — had given Rudolph an ultimatum of one year to sell his practice and leave Bianca.
The FBI probe revealed that Rudolph and the girlfriend had traveled alone together to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 2010; twice in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015; in July 2016 before Bianca’s death; and in 2017 a few months afterward. The FBI also found that Rudolph and the girlfriend began living together in January 2017, three months after Bianca’s death.
Before charges were filed, a Colorado medical examiner reviewed photographs of Bianca at the death scene and a detailed FBI analysis and testing of the type of shotgun that killed her. According to the criminal complaint, the medical examiner determined it would be physically impossible to accidentally fire the shotgun in its carrying case and produce the wound Bianca suffered.
The medical examiner concluded: “It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Ms. Rudolph, to reach the trigger of this weapon even if it was placed in the case with the muzzle against her chest.”
Since Rudolph’s arrest, his attorney unsuccessfully asked that the dentist be temporarily released from the Colorado detention facility where he is being housed and be permitted to travel to Arizona, where he owns a home. Health issues were cited as the reason.