A Pennsylvania dentist and big-game hunting enthusiast allegedly murdered his wife while on an African hunting trip for a multi-million-dollar insurance payout, according to a recently-unsealed filing by federal prosecutors.
Dr. Lawrence P. Rudolph, a 67-year-old who founded the Three Rivers Dental Group, has been arrested and charged with murder and fraud, according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast. Rudolph was remanded without bond on Jan. 4 and was indicted the next day, filings show.
According to the feds, the aim was to “defraud life insurance companies” under the pretense that his wife Bianca Rudolph’s death was an accident.
Three attorneys who represent Rudolph—David Oscar Markus, Margot Moss, and Lauren Doyle—slammed the “outrageous prosecution” against the dentist in a statement to The Daily Beast, whom they said, “loved his wife of 34 years and did not kill her.”
In order to execute the elaborate scheme over 7,000 miles from his Greensburg home, the affidavit filed in the United States District Court District of Colorado alleges, Rudolph murdered his wife, Bianca, “with premeditation, while the two were on a hunting trip in Zambia on October 11, 2016.” He proceeded to cremate her body three days after the incident—and eventually collected approximately $5 million in life insurance, according to the feds.
The affidavit states that the scheme developed after Rudolph had several affairs—but had expressed that he was never going to divorce his wife because he didn’t want to lose money. Court documents also obtained by The Daily Beast suggest that the couple’s big-game hunting guide—who is not named in the affidavit—assisted Rudolph throughout the process before eventually receiving a combined total of $53,000 from the dentist in 2017.
“In addition to the evidence of motive—the insurance proceeds and the possible desire to live openly with [a] girlfriend—additional evidence gathered during the investigation supports [the] conclusion that there is probable cause to believe that Bianca Rudolph did not die by accident and was, rather, killed by Lawrence Rudolph,” the affidavit states.
The feds note that their investigation concluded that she could not have shot herself with such a long barrel gun, as was previously alleged by Rudolph and concluded by local investigators.
The charges are the latest legal drama for the ousted head of the Safari Club International, an Arizona-based non-profit that defends the rights of hunters. After belonging to the big-gaming club for over 25 years, in which he served as president for three and acted as its chief spokesman, Rudolph was ultimately ousted. Safari Club International did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
In retaliation, Rudolph sued for defamation in two states, but both cases were ultimately dismissed. Litigation in Pittsburgh, however, continues.
In a Jan. 4 motion for Rudolph’s temporary release, his attorneys claimed prosecutors’ decision to charge the dentist in Colorado provided an unfair advantage to try to isolate him from his friends and family—who do not live in the state. The motion further states that the doctor has known for at least five years that he has been under investigation and has made no effort to flee or hide assets—but prosecutors still insisted on his detention upon arresting him as he was coming back from a planned trip to Mexico.
“Back in 2016, his wife had a terrible accident during a hunting trip in Zambia,” the lawyers said in their statement. “The investigators on the scene concluded it was an accident. Several insurance companies also investigated and agreed. 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.”
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Investigators state the Rudolphs were married around 1982 after meeting when he was in dental school and she was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. Around the same time, Rudolph started a dental firm, which his wife Bianca initially joined before having the couple’s two children.
“After becoming disabled in approximately 2006, Lawrence separated from his partners and started a new group of dental offices known as Three Rivers Dental,” the affidavit states, noting that the dental practice was still running.
In their leisure time, investigators alleged, the Rudolphs traveled and hunted, and took increasingly frequent “hunting trips to Africa” and became active members of a prominent hunting organization. During his time at the Safari Club International, Rudolph received the “Weatherby Award” for his “hunting achievement, outstanding support of conservation, and dedication to ethical sport hunting.” His Facebook page includes multiple photos of him posing with animal carcasses.
By 2016, the couple had made multiple trips to Zambia, including their final excursion between September and October of that year, where the affidavit states “Bianca Rudolph’s goal… was to kill a leopard.”
“She was unsuccessful in killing a leopard but did kill numerous other animals during the trip,” the affidavit noted, stating that Lawrence did not actively hunt on the trip in which the couple brought a Remington .375 Rifle and a Browning 12-gauge shotgun.
Investigators allege that at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2016, the couple were packing to leave their hunting camp in Kafe National Park when Bianca “was shot in the chest with the Browning shotgun.” At the time, Rudolph told the Zambian Police that he was in the bathroom when he heard the gunshot.
Rudolph told local police he came out to find his wife “lying on the floor bleeding from the chest” and unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate her. “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 affidavit added.
Police also interviewed the couple’s “professional hunting guide,” who said that he was “completing paperwork related to the hunt in the camp’s dining area” when Bianca was shot. When he arrived at the couple’s cabin, he told police, he saw Rudolph shouting for help while his wife was on the floor. A Zambian game scout, who had been escorting the Rudolphs during their hunt, told police a similar story—noting he saw the shotgun lying near the door.
Ultimately, the Zambian Police Service concluded that the evidence in the incident suggested that the gun was loaded from a previous hunt and that “the Normal Safety Precautions at the time of packing the firearm were not taken into consideration, causing the firearm to accidentally fire,” the affidavit states.
Shortly after the incident, investigators state that Rudolph called the U.S Embassy to report that his wife had died “of an accidental gunshot round” before quickly turning the conversation “to the issue of cremating Bianca’s body and leaving the country.” The cremation request was granted just two days after the fatal incident—a decision that prompted the embassy consular chief to tell the FBI he “had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too quickly.”
“As a result, he traveled to Ideal Funeral Home with two others from the embassy to take photographs of the body and preserve any potential evidence,” the affidavit states, noting that when he took several pictures of Bianca’s body, he noted the bullet wound went “straight on the heart.”
The consular chief also noted that Bianca had a second injury to the chest caused by “wadding” from a shotgun cartridge, causing him to believe that the distance between the muzzle of the gun and her chest was between 6.5 and 8 feet. Prosecutors, however, state that this analysis seemingly contradicted the local police’s conclusion and Rudolph's story.
To make matters even more bizarre, the consular chief later told the FBI that in the days after the incident, Rudolph told him he believed his wife “may have committed suicide by shooting herself with the shotgun.”
As investigators began to review Rudolph’s life, they noticed that there were several life and accidental death policies for Bianca at the time of her death, including some originally purchased in 1987 and “updated and adjusted into 2016.” Investigators note there were nine policies in Bianca’s name, altogether totaling $4,877,744.93.
During interviews with insurance companies, the unnamed professional hunting guide had to retell his story of the events, including speculating how Bianca may have been able to shoot herself with the full-length sporting barrel gun. The affidavit states, “each of the insurance companies… ultimately concluded that the relevant policy should be paid.”
But while Rudolph received almost $5 million in his wife’s insurance policies, the FBI was quickly brought in to investigate the case after receiving a call from one of Bianca’s friends on Oct. 27, 2016. The affidavit states that the friend “suspected foul play because Lawrence Rudolph had been involved in prior extramarital affairs and had been having an affair at the time of Bianca’s death.”
Other witnesses corroborated Rudolph’s alleged affair, including a former Three Rivers Dental employee who said they were acquainted with a girlfriend, who was a manager at the dental practice. The former employee told investigators the girlfriend said she had been in a relationship with Rudolph for “approximately 15 to 20 years.”
The affidavit notes that the girlfriend had told the former employee that she had given Rudolph “an ultimatum of one year to sell his dental offices and leave Bianca,” though investigators did not say when that threat was made. By 2017, they said, the girlfriend had moved in with Rudolph.
Investigators also said they found financial records that showed Rudolph and his girlfriend frequently traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico—including one trip a month after Bianca’s death.
Bianca’s friend also accused the dentist of being “verbally abusive in the past and that the two had had fights about money.” The affidavit also notes that the unnamed friend believed Bianca would have not wanted to be cremated because she “was a strict Catholic who had once expressed disapproval that [the friends’] husband was cremated.”
“Larry is never going to divorce her because he doesn’t want to lose his money, and she’s never going to divorce him because of her Catholicism,” the friend told investigators, according to the affidavit.
In a subsequent interview, the same friend also noted that the couple’s children did not find out about their mother’s death until “one week after it occurred and that some of Bianca’s friends and family did not know about the death until the funeral” back in the United States.
Prosecutors also note in the affidavit that another person was present during Rudolph’s alleged scramble after his wife’s death: the ex-wife of the professional hunting guide. In an interview with the FBI, the guide’s ex-wife described the lengths that Rudolph allegedly went to in Zambia to hide his wife’s death—including purposefully not calling their children after the incident. She also said in an interview that “religion was important” to Bianca and she felt uncomfortable proceeding with cremation, which allegedly took place in Africa.
According to a cell phone search warrant obtained by The Daily Beast, the hunting guide ultimately received $30,000 from Rudolph in January 2017—and $23,000 more two months later.
The affidavit notes the guide’s ex-wife had another reason to be wary of the cremation. After reviewing the photographs of Bianca and the Zambian forensic pathologist's report, a Colorado medical examiner concluded that “it would be physically impossible to accidentally fire this shotgun in its carrying case and produce the entrance defect noted on the body of Ms. Rudolph,” the affidavit says.
“The tip of the carrying case was most likely at least two feet from Ms. Randolph when the weapon was discharged regardless if it was on cylinder or full choke settings,” the medical examiner concluded, according to the affidavit. “Further, 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 pressed against her chest.”
Rudolph’s alleged scheme to mop up his wife’s insurance money is not the dentist’s first legal problem. After he filed two lawsuits against the Safari Club International, the club filed their own 2013 litigation in California—alleging that Rudolph was negligent and damaged its reputation. Among the wild allegations the group made: Rudolph invited the late former club president to lunch in February 2013, where he secretly videotaped the conversation and posted it online.
Rudolph’s lawyers have asked for his temporary release, citing a combination of the factors including the pandemic and that the dentist was being held in Colorado. They called the state “a jurisdiction foreign to him—where he lacks the support of any friends or family who could visit him and assist him in organizing his affairs to mount his defense.” His lawyers also claimed that during Rudolph’s detention hearing, a federal agent testified that the prosecution was “deliberately” isolating the dentist “to gain an unfair advantage.”
“Permitting such naked gamesmanship in a case making such serious allegations risks making the ultimate trial a hollow proceeding and a mockery of justice and of the judicial system itself,” the motion for bail request stated.
Rudolph’s lawyers also insisted that the “well-known and well-respected dentist” with no criminal history suffered from serious medical issues that could be exacerbated by COVID-19, including a heart problem.
Prosecutors, however, slammed the bail request in filing on Monday, noting that the dentists’ lawyers were in Miami—and that his transfer to Phoenix, as requested, would not be obviously beneficial for his case.
“As to the health issues, the defendant has not offered his vaccination status,” the government’s response motion states. “If he is vaccinated, this court and others have concluded that this is a substantial factor in assessing COVID risks.”