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LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) For 23 years, Los Angeles homicide investigators have been trying to find the killer of a beautiful young hospital worker. They never expected the trail would lead to the office across the hall.
Last Friday, police arrested Stephanie Lazarus, 49, a veteran detective with the force, for investigation of murdering an ex-boyfriend's wife after a sample of her DNA taken surreptitiously matched DNA extracted from crime scene evidence, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said.
Lazarus' office was literally across the hall from the homicide department at police headquarters, top department officials said.
Police investigators expect to submit the case Monday to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges, Beck said.
Lazarus' DNA was legally collected from "discards," Beck said, declining to be more specific. However, police have been known to use such techniques as tricking a suspect into leaving DNA on objects such as a coffee cup.
The arrest was painful to investigators because Lazarus worked in the art theft unit across the hall from the robbery-homicide detectives and is well-known in downtown's Parker Center police administration building.
"Robbery-Homicide is on the third floor, commercial crimes is right next door," Beck said. "So this is one side of the hallway investigating a member of another. This is very difficult."
Beck said he believes Lazarus did not know she was about to be arrested.
The department has a policy and philosophy that "we're going to go where the truth and the facts take us," Chief William Bratton said.
He asserted that the arrest was "a very positive reflection on us in the sense that we take our oath very seriously."
Lazarus, who joined the force in 1983, was arrested in the killing of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, who was director of critical care nursing at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. Her husband, John Ruetten, came home and found her dead on Feb. 24, 1986, in the living room of their Van Nuys condominium. She had been shot multiple times.
Lazarus had a long-term relationship with the husband prior to the marriage, Beck said.
Lazarus was being held without bail at the Los Angeles County jail and could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
She was mentioned in the original case file because of the relationship with the husband, but wasn't a suspect at the time because investigators believed Rasmussen was another victim of armed robbers who had confronted two men shortly after the killing, Beck told the Los Angeles Times.
No suspects were found and the case went cold for a decade.
"We look at every old case and examine all the evidence to see if it fits the requirements for entry into ... the national DNA database," Beck told the press conference. "This case had some evidence which in 1986 was of some value but not a key component, which when analyzed now with today's technology in the scientific investigation division, was able to add to the investigation."
Lazarus worked patrol duty in the San Fernando Valley when she joined the force. She was later promoted to detective and since 2006 has worked in a unit that tracks stolen art.
Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said her arrest is disturbing to the department and the public.
"If convicted, the actions of one police officer should not tarnish the trust and respect the public has for the more than 9,800 dedicated police officers," the union president said.