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How a sudden cremation sparked an international murder investigation

A Pittsburgh dentist is in federal custody awaiting trial for the murder of his wife while on safari in Africa in 2016. Larry and Bianca Rudolph, skilled big game hunters, traveled to a favorite spot – Kafue National Park in Zambia. No one would have imagined that Bianca would never return home, or that this journey would end years later with allegations of concealment, infidelity, fraud and murder.

CBS News correspondent Debora Patta, on assignment for “48 Hours,” explores this complex investigation on 48 Hours: “Death on Safari” airs on CBS Saturday, April 16 at 10 p.m. ET and streams live on Paramount+.

Rudolph ran a multi-million dollar dental business with five locations. Larry and Bianca were avid hunters who traveled all over the world.

Bianca and Larry Rudolph
Bianca and Larry Rudolph

Larry Rudolph/Facebook


According to Zambian police, on the last day of their safari, October 11, Rudolph claimed Bianca was packing a gun in their cabin bedroom when he heard a shotgun blast coming from the bathroom. He said he found his wife bleeding, lying face down with a gunshot wound to her heart. Spencer Kakoma, a hunting scout on that safari, also heard the shot and said he ran to the cabin within 15 seconds.

Kakoma said he saw Bianca clean the gun of live ammunition the night before. He says Rudolph first claimed that Bianca died by suicide, intentionally shooting herself while in the bathroom. Rudolph later had a different version of events, no longer claiming it was a suicide, but instead saying that Bianca accidentally killed herself while putting the gun away.

Things weren’t adding up for Kakoma. He says Rudolph was fully dressed when he rushed to the cabin after hearing the gunshot. But local police say Rudolph told them he was wrapped in a towel.

Local authorities attended the scene and photographed the body, which was then moved to a funeral home awaiting cremation. A US Embassy official decided to go to the funeral home to investigate. Unbeknownst to Rudolph, the official, a former Marine with decades of weapons experience, inspected Bianca’s body, measuring the bullet wound and taking pictures.

Zambian authorities have concluded that the shooting was accidental. This is where the story might have ended had it not been for Bianca’s friend. According to an FBI criminal complaint, when the friend learned that Bianca had been cremated, it raised suspicion as she believed “the cremation had been against Bianca’s wishes because Bianca was a strict Catholic.”

The FBI complaint says Bianca’s friend told an FBI agent that Rudolph had an extramarital affair and “had been verbally abusive in the past and the two had argued about money.”

But in a document filed by Rudolph’s attorneys, they claim Bianca’s will “expressly ordered the cremation.” They also say Bianca knew about her husband’s affair, indicating that it would not have been grounds for murder.

The friend also told the FBI agent, “Larry will never divorce because he doesn’t want to lose his money and she will never divorce because of her Catholicism.”

“She opened a Pandora’s box as to why Lawrence Rudolph would want to kill his wife,” said former federal prosecutor and CBS News consultant Mary Fulginiti.

Less than a month after returning to the United States, the FBI says Rudolph began filing charges against his wife’s life. Insurance conditionsworth nearly $5 million.

Retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano said the friend’s call was a catalyst, sparking an FBI investigation in the United States and Zambia.

However, there are challenges when it comes to a federal investigation into a murder in a foreign country, Gagliano says.

“Foreign investigations don’t always work at the same pace – or as quickly as we Americans would like. We want an answer yesterday. … It can be frustrating at times. … Memories get rusty and cloudy. The documents get lost or Every day that goes by, it gets harder and harder to come full circle here, get the evidence you need, and come up with a conviction,” Gagliano said.

Rudolph was arrested in December 2021, more than five years after Bianca’s death, charged with overseas murder and mail fraud.

The defense faces a complicated international murder case, but Fulginiti stresses it is largely circumstantial.

“There is no direct evidence linking Lawrence Rudolph to the crime. We have no physical evidence other than the shotgun – and we have no fingerprints, there are no eyewitnesses who ‘saw it,” said Fulginiti. . “So it’s a tough case, especially because the only main piece of evidence is the body, and it’s missing.”

Lawyers for Larry Rudolph, who declined to speak to “48 Hours” at this time, issued the following statement:

“Dr Rudolph is innocent. Zambian authorities who were there and investigated said so. Insurance companies who paid the claim after investigating said so. Strangely, five years later, federal authorities have brought charges without any real evidence – no eyewitnesses, no forensics, nothing – except some speculation sprinkled in an abyss of conjecture.”

The case is due to go to trial in July.

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