The Lazarus Files by Matthew McGough

The Lazarus Files by Matthew McGough


Author:Matthew McGough
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Stephanie’s diary entry, February 25, 1986


The First 48 Hours Ends

(February 26 and 27, 1986)

By Wednesday morning, February 26, thirty-six hours had passed since John discovered Sherri’s body.

The typed version of the LAPD’s chrono for the Rasmussen case noted only one entry on Wednesday morning. It referred to Sherri’s autopsy, and it read in full, “0900—Post at coroners—Dr. Sherry did post—3 shots. Beat with statue.”

The LAPD’s follow-up report, authored by Mayer in May, three months later, recounted, “On 2-26-86 at 0900 Hrs, Detectives Mayer and Hooks attended the autopsy of Sherri Rasmussen. The autopsy was conducted by Dr. Sherry. The deceased died as a result of gunshot wounds to the chest. Any of the three wounds could have been fatal.” Later in the follow-up report, Mayer wrote, “On 2-26-86, Dr. Sherry, M.D., Deputy Medical Examiner, conducted an autopsy on the deceased at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Caused [sic] of death was listed as gunshot wounds to the chest. The bullets entered the chest cavity and literally exploded the heart. Any of the three shots would have been fatal.”

Although the LAPD’s typed chrono and follow-up report both refer to a “Dr. Sherry,” the deputy medical examiner assigned to perform Sherri Rasmussen’s autopsy was in fact a doctor named Susan Selser. Like the consistent misspelling in the typed chrono of John’s last name as “Ruetter,” how and why Selser was misidentified in the chrono and follow-up report is a mystery.

It was standard practice when a murder victim was brought to the coroner’s office for the body to be photographed. The morning of Sherri’s autopsy, the photographer on duty was deputy coroner Carlos Celaya. Autopsy photographs were taken in the forensic photography room, which had a plastic table that could be washed down. Other workers placed the body on the table before Celaya came in.

After Celaya completed the first set of photographs, and Selser observed the body clothed, Celaya removed the clothing, which in Sherri’s case consisted of her bathrobe, tank top, and panties. Later, the clothing was hung in a metal evidence cage, which resembled a three-sided closet on wheels. At night, the evidence cage was rolled into the coroner’s drying room, across the hall from the forensic photography room, where it was locked and left overnight for the clothing to dry.

While removing Sherri’s bathrobe, Celaya recovered a bullet that was wedged between her back and the fabric. Celaya gave the bullet to Selser for safekeeping as evidence. Once the clothing was removed, the body was washed of blood, and a second set of photographs was taken.

The autopsy consisted of an external followed by an internal examination. As the autopsy progressed, Selser documented her findings by hand on a series of preprinted forms and diagrams of a generic body. Later, Selser produced a typed report with detailed descriptions of Sherri’s injuries.

Selser diagrammed the location of the three gunshot entry wounds in Sherri’s chest. Selser numbered them one to three. The numbers were not intended to suggest the gunshots were sustained in that order.


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