Former Greensburg-based dentist accused of killing wife to collect millions in life insurance

Eufemia Didonato

A former Greensburg dentist and big-game hunter is facing federal charges after authorities said he killed his wife during a safari in Zambia five years ago and collected more than $4 million in life insurance. An arrest warrant was issued Dec. 22 for Lawrence Rudolph, 67, who was living in […]

A former Greensburg dentist and big-game hunter is facing federal charges after authorities said he killed his wife during a safari in Zambia five years ago and collected more than $4 million in life insurance.

An arrest warrant was issued Dec. 22 for Lawrence Rudolph, 67, who was living in Arizona. Online court records show he was in custody a day later after being arrested while on a trip to Mexico.

The case, initially filed under seal, was made public Jan. 5. It is filed in federal district court in Colorado, where one of the insurance companies has an office.

Rudolph is charged with foreign murder and mail fraud in the Oct. 11, 2016, shooting death of his wife, Bianca Finizio Rudolph, 57.

“This is an outrageous prosecution against Dr. Larry Rudolph, a man who loved his wife of 34 years and did not kill her,” Rudolph’s attorney, David Oscar Markus, said in an emailed statement.

“Back in 2016, his wife had a terrible accident during a hunting trip in Zambia. The investigators on the scene concluded it was an accident. Several insurance companies also investigated and agreed,” Markus said. “Now, more than five years later, the government is seeking to manufacture a case against this well-respected and law-abiding dentist. Dr. Rudolph looks forward to his trial, where he will demonstrate his innocence.”

A jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 28.

The Rudolphs, who married in 1982, met when he was in dental school at the University of Pittsburgh and she was an undergrad. He went on to operate the Greensburg-based Three Rivers Dental Group.

Throughout their marriage, they went on frequent hunting trips to Africa, and Bianca Rudolph became a well-respected international hunter. She was the former president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Safari Club International. The complaint said the couple moved to Arizona from Pennsylvania around 2012, although Lawrence Rudolph’s dental practice remained here and he traveled back and forth regularly.

In 2016, the complaint said, the couple traveled to Zambia multiple times, with the last trip scheduled from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11. The complaint said a goal of that trip was for Bianca Rudolph, who had a Remington .375 rifle and Browning 12-gauge shotgun with her, to kill a leopard, but she did not do so. Lawrence Rudolph was present for the hunt but not actively hunting.

According to the criminal complaint, about 5:30 a.m. Oct. 11, 2016, as the Rudolphs were packing to leave their hunting camp in Kafue National Park, Bianca Rudolph was shot in the chest with the shotgun.

The Zambian Police Service investigated and interviewed Lawrence Rudolph, who said the shooting was accidental, the complaint said.

He told investigators he was in the bathroom and Bianca Rudolph was in the bedroom when he heard a gunshot. He found her lying on the floor, bleeding from the chest.

“Lawrence told the Zambian police he suspected the shotgun had been left loaded from the hunt the previous day and that the discharge occurred while she was trying to pack the shotgun into its case,” the complaint said.

However, authorities said there quickly was suspicion surrounding the death — including from Bianca Rudolph’s friend, the insurance companies who held her life insurance policies and even the U.S. Embassy in Zambia.

On the afternoon Bianca Rudolph died, her husband contacted the U.S. Embassy in Zambia, the complaint said. He spoke with the consular section chief and reported his wife’s death from an accidental gunshot wound. Rudolph quickly turned the conversation to having his wife’s body cremated and leaving the country, the criminal complaint said.

“(The consular chief) told the FBI he had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too quickly. As a result, he traveled to (the Zambian funeral home) with two others from the embassy to take photographs of the body and preserve any potential evidence,” the complaint said.

The consular chief, who spent 20 years in the Marines, took several pictures of the gunshot wound and used a scale to measure it. He said it was not a contact wound based on a lack of burns around it, the FBI said. He estimated the distance between the muzzle of the shotgun when it fired and Bianca Rudolph’s chest at 6½ to 8 feet, the complaint said.

After the consular chief returned to his office, the complaint said, he got a call from Lawrence Rudolph, who was “livid” that pictures were taken of the wound.

Then, on Oct. 27, 2016, the complaint said a person identified only as Bianca Rudolph’s friend contacted the FBI attache in Pretoria, South Africa, asking that the woman’s death be investigated because the friend suspected foul play. The friend told the FBI that Lawrence Rudolph had affairs in the past and was having one at the time of the shooting, the complaint said.

The friend also reported that the Rudolphs’ adult children didn’t learn of Bianca’s death until a week after it happened. She also said she thought it would have been against Bianca Rudolph’s wishes to be cremated because she was a strict Catholic and had expressed her feelings about it in the past, the complaint said.

Then, authorities said, Lawrence Rudolph filed claims to collect on his wife’s life insurance. According to the complaint, the first such policy purchased by the couple was in 1987, with additional policies updated and adjusted into 2016.

The beneficiary on each of the policies was listed as an irrevocable trust, with Lawrence Rudolph as the ultimate beneficiary.

In all, he collected on nine policies, the FBI said, totaling $4.8 million.

Several of the insurance companies where claims were filed hired Diligence International, a private investigation firm, to review the circumstances of Bianca Rudolph’s death, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, a former employee of Rudolph’s dental practice said a woman who worked at Three Rivers Dental said she’d had a long-term relationship with Lawrence Rudolph for more than 15 years and had given him an ultimatum to sell his dental offices and leave his wife. That woman moved in with Lawrence Rudolph by January 2017, the complaint said.

Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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