True-Crime Safari: Was Bianca Rudolph Murdered? Or Was It an Accident?30 min read
To catch a leopard, the trophy hunter must track its prey. Lure the big cat with wild dogs. With hedgehogs. With a vanishing species of antelope as bait. Slaughter a southern impala, hang it high in the Mutondo trees, then wait. If you are careful and you are quiet, the camouflaged victim will leap up and succumb to the rifle. Experienced game scouts, though, recommend keeping a shotgun in the truck; once that cat is down, you’d best finish her off, before she runs away.
Over the course of a fortnight in the early autumn of 2016, Bianca Rudolph pulled the trigger on all that bait and still managed to execute a zebra. Alas, no leopard. The Zambian government had lifted its ban on leopard and lion stalking for a full season, so that rich tourists like Bianca and her husband, Larry, could freely bring their arsenals from the McMansions of America to Africa. Back in western Pennsylvania, he was a dentist worth at least $5 million from hocking pain-free tooth work on TV; she was a decent shot and a dedicated wife — marriage was hard work, Bianca expressed to friends around the time of the trip, but she wouldn’t give up on it. Out here among the tsetse flies, some 80 miles from the nearest town, their love could reload. Just the other night, they’d danced to Tina Turner singing “You’re simply the best” on a Bluetooth speaker, loud enough to stir a lion. Larry and one of the couple’s two safari guides asked Bianca if she’d like to stay out here in the national park a few extra days, to claim her prize.
“Don’t even think about it, boys,” Bianca responded, according to later testimony. She and Larry were due back in the States for her nephew’s wedding on Saturday. She looked forward to spending time with Italian relatives and their two grown kids. The hunting party initiated protocol to unload their guns, then rumbled back to camp. The Rudolphs would pack for Lusaka at dawn.
By around 5 a.m., the coffee had arrived and the baggage attendant had visited the master suite, a haute log-cabin lean-to with a view. Larry and Bianca weren’t ready, not yet. The guides charged their satellite phones in the dining hall, as first light brushed upon the banks of the Kafue River. They were nearly finished logging the vacation’s tally of carcasses when they heard, from inside the cabin, a shotgun blast.
Bianca’s body lay at the foot of the dresser next to the bathroom. A hole, between six and eight centimeters wide, had macerated her black T-shirt, her bra, the left side of her heart. Larry slumped over Bianca, blood staining the floor beneath her wedding ring and watch. “My wife has committed suicide,” he cried out, recalls the second guide, a local game scout named Spencer Kakoma, who tried to comfort him. But he was inconsolable. Someone fetched the medical kit. It was too late. “What am I going to tell my children?”
The scout now claims, according to court testimony and an interview with Rolling Stone, that Larry indicated he wanted to throw himself in the river. He says that Larry claimed he’d heard the shot from the shower. But the scout remembers seeing that the dentist’s shoes were on. That his body was dry. Larry went on to tell the other guide, his longtime hunting mate Mark Swanepoel, that he’d been stuck in the bathroom with what was described as “the shits.” On their drive to notify the authorities, Larry and Swanepoel allegedly discussed theories about how maybe Bianca’s death wasn’t a suicide at all: how her fingernails could have picked at the trigger while packing up the gun. Or how its leather case fit too tightly to zip, perhaps forcing Bianca to slam the butt end of a rare and mistakenly loaded Browning Auto-5 smack-dab onto the floor, the muzzle facing square and tight against her lung.
It was, Larry soon declared, a tragic accident. The local cops agreed and, after accompanying Larry and the corpse to Lusaka, returned his weapon. “They aren’t exactly CSI: Miami,” says Dan Foote, former U.S. ambassador to Zambia.
An intelligence officer from the wildlife authorities arrived on the scene and later shared his observations with fellow investigators: The barrel seemed too long to him for self-infliction. The police had not collected fingerprints. And this American in the golf shirt, his tears dried fast. Under the officer’s questioning, he says, Dr. Rudolph, a renowned hunter, would not explain the operation of his own shotgun. What kind of a husband, the agent asked himself, forgets his whereabouts when his wife of 34 years takes a bullet? What kind of a man was the American millionaire?
“In his eyes, I couldn’t see that softness in him,” says the officer, Musuwa Musese. On the phone from Lusaka, he recalls an instant suspicion: “I could see something in him, and I doubted that look. This was no accident.”
A decade earlier, Larry Rudolph had made another trip to the same remote camp in Zambia. A dangerous trip, perhaps. Hard to tell, really, between myth and truth, in what some people from his orbit call Larryworld. But the legend Larry would recount, to anyone who’d listen, begins with a restless safari sunrise. One morning in late October 2006, Larry grabbed his rifle and went fishing alone, downstream on the banks where the crocodiles roam. “I was bringing the fish in,” Larry would say in a deposition. “When I reached for it, a crocodile came out and grabbed me and pulled me in, rolled me over.” The river, the story goes, exploded.
And that, Larry claims, is how a mighty snarling reptile bit off his thumb.
Or at least the chunk by the nail, before he allegedly said that the croc — Larry’s attorneys later referred to it as an alligator — chomped on his jeans and pulled him back in the water. Larry said he escaped onto a rock and fired his gun for help. A medevac pilot showed up, but couldn’t take off until Larry let his guide take photographs of the severed finger. He had cuts on his leg and a damaged palm, but the rest of him made it out of Africa unscathed. According to allegations in a later legal filing, Larry seemed “quite relaxed” for having survived a crocodile attack; his jeans appeared damp, not soaked.
A dozen of Larry’s former close friends and senior colleagues tell Rolling Stone they believe, now as then, that he’d been laying track for a payday — that he’d blown his own finger away. Upon Larry’s return to the U.S., a fellow hunter and arbitration lawyer named Ron Arendt remembers Larry asking him whether he should claim disability. The lawyer says he wondered why a healthy 51-year-old would have taken out multiple private-insurance policies, or why he’d particularly need the tip of a thumb on his non-dominant left hand to hold a mouth mirror.
“He said, ‘I’m a frickin’ dentist, OK? I can’t fuckin’ use it anymore, OK?’ ” recalls Arendt. “ ‘And I’m making this claim.’ ”
Larry later said the problem was nerve damage and lasting numbness. Top insurers would investigate, but it was cost-prohibitive to visit big-cat country: Larry would collect at least $3.5 million in the years to come, a legal filing indicates. His attorneys, who declined to answer detailed lists of questions for this story, have argued that Larry’s 2006 hunting guide recently changed his previously sworn-to version of events and that they “have so much evidence to show that that was a legitimate, real alligator attack on his thumb.”
But shadows of doubt hover over Dr. Rudolph like a canopy above the savanna. “I thought, all along, the thumb was a fraud,” Arendt says. “And he was always misrepresenting his hunting experience to turn these delusions of grandeur into political power and money. He is an amoral snake-oil salesman.”
A four-month Rolling Stone investigation — more than 75 interviews, plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents, internal finances, and police files — reveals a portrait of the dentist as a conniving and duplicitous man of our time. Over decades, he has indulged brushes with fame, fortune — and, prosecutors now say, fraudulent behavior, culminating in the death of his wife and the rebirth of a luxurious double life with an alleged partner in crime. One of many employees he had fired over the years likens Larry to Breaking Bad’s Walter White, and one of several women who claim Larry propositioned them on the job says his smooth talk reminded her of Ted Bundy, without the serial killing. One political operative from a battalion of enemies calls Larry “a wannabe Wayne LaPierre for the clout, with the narcissism of Donald Trump.”
Lawrence Patrick Rudolph learned to hunt from his father as a boy in small-town Irwin, Pennsylvania. He shot a deer with a bow and arrow on a road trip with his friend at 18. Larry was handsome — eagle’s nose, sculpted cheeks, a cartoon brow — and he came on strong at the University of Pittsburgh’s dental school: After getting rejected by one undergrad, he moved on to a well-to-do 22-year-old named Bianca Finizio. They married in 1982. He opened a solo practice in the early 1980s but decided to embrace “the economies of scale” with a one-stop shop. Patients who were afraid of dentists could knock out multiple procedures at once, all while knocked out by anesthesia, and still make it home for dinner. “That,” he later said, “was my model.”
By 2007, Larry was clearing nearly $30,000 a month in disability, a court paper alleges. Despite being prevented from practicing dentistry on account of the thumb, he made himself what he called “a miniature COO” of a fledgling chain, the Total Dentistry, in multiple locations across greater Pittsburgh. He paid well, and conducted job interviews at semi-expensive restaurants with his very expensive wife; patients and colleagues marveled at Bianca’s furs and auburn hair, at her seemingly blind devotion to Larry. She pitched in at the office with insurance claims or paychecks and, once the startup took off, worked as a full-time mom to the couple’s two young children.
One political operative from a battalion of enemies calls Larry “a wannabe Wayne Lapierre, with the narcissism of Donald Trump.”
Meanwhile, Larry’s spasms of rage were in the air. Literally: Two former colleagues recall his having chucked a small, tooth-shaped mirror so hard across the length of a hallway that it stuck in a wall, and stayed there for days. A senior staffer says Larry threw a syringe-like instrument at her, and other employees allege that would become a pattern; his attorneys have said no official complaint of such behavior was ever filed. At a meeting in late 2007, Larry chewed out employees for what his legal team at the time called “dismay at the declining professional standards” of Total Dentistry’s branch in suburban Green Tree. He asked for patient records to provide his own diagnoses and treatment plans, Larry’s lawyers wrote, and he wanted nonprofessional conduct reported directly to him for “remedial action.”
Larry’s partners, finding little use for a belligerent ex-dentist, attempted to force him out. He sued for damages and defamation, but they confronted him at his lawyers’ office, two people familiar with the situation recall. A lot of cash had been moved around, they claimed — or gone missing. One of the partners, Dr. Tim Runco, says they gave Larry an ultimatum: “Walk away, or we’re gonna press charges.” Larry denied the embezzlement accusation, kicked them out of the room, and they soon settled.
But Larry did not just walk away. He prepared to launch an empire of his own: Three Rivers Dental Group, with the first location 500 feet from his rivals. “He’s vindictive and vengeful,” Runco says. “But he’s a charmer, and he’s a good businessman.” Larry and Bianca pumped their wealth into travel, with and without each other, and bought up real estate in Arizona, where their daughter, Anabianca, was taking college classes. In 2011, according to property records, the Rudolphs secured what Larry called a deal for $1.7 million on a 7,000-square-foot mansion outside Scottsdale, big even for an enclave with spreads for Alicia Keys, Stevie Nicks, and the retired chairman of Walmart. The town was called Paradise Valley.
Eleven hours after Bianca’s death on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, Larry called the U.S. embassy in Lusaka, according to a summary from the authorities, and asked how to cremate his wife. The diplomat on the other end of the line began to feel uncomfortable that police work and postmortems were moving so quickly, he would tell investigators, so two days later he traveled to a funeral home and photographed the cadaver himself. Larry rang him up, “livid” over an invasion of privacy, the diplomat would recount. But the diplomat had been a longtime Marine, and he came to inform the investigators that the entrance wound on Bianca’s body made him believe she hadn’t been shot at such close range.
On Friday morning, waiting with Larry for paperwork at the crematorium, the diplomat offered to tell Larry’s kids the bad news. Larry preferred to let them know in person. But the diplomat told investigators that he pushed and — though Larry’s attorneys have denied this recounting — that the widower shooed him away, claiming they were his children from a previous marriage he never had.
Hours later in Pittsburgh, a close colleague found 30-year-old Anabianca pacing around a dental conference in a panic: “My mom’s not answering her phone,” the colleague remembers her saying. Ana’s younger brother, Julian, hadn’t been able to find their parents either.
By all accounts, Ana worshipped her father. After receiving her dental license in 2015, she joined the family business, and employees watched as Larry helped her complete procedures when he’d fly back from Arizona. It had taken a week for Ana to find out about her mother’s demise, according to the close colleague, who says Larry was slippery on details. The colleague also says Ana told her that she asked around why anyone would put a Catholic in an urn without a proper mass, or at least a goodbye. It was in the will, Larry’s lawyers have since suggested.
His daughter was inclined to believe him, friends acknowledge, because they say she was inclined to believe nearly anything he told her — especially when it came to a former dental hygienist named Lori Milliron, who’d become her father’s sidekick and maybe more than that. Maybe a lot more. Soon after Ana began working at her father’s practice, co-workers remember her asking why Lori was always shadowing her dad into the back office. Earlier in 2016, the close colleague recalls letting slip that Larry and Lori had vacationed together in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Ana refusing to believe her. The colleague says that Ana told her she finally asked her father, straight up, if he’d been having a relationship with Lori — and that Larry said no.
Larry bought Lori Milliron a flight from Pittsburgh to Phoenix on or about the day of the funeral, an affidavit alleges, but the reservation was immediately canceled. The next day, the former dental hygienist got her ticket to Paradise Valley after all. Larry and Lori weren’t looking over their shoulders, not yet. So the longtime lovers sat there in a relative silence, watching their man, Donald Trump, win the election.
Larry fooled around, longtime former friends and co-workers say, like he hunted big game: for sport at first, and, as he became a minor celebrity in the incestuous world of the gun, as a power trip. One senior colleague from the 1990s remembers asking why he was unfaithful to his wife and Larry responding that it was as fun as the roller coaster over at the Kennywood theme park. When they asked how Larry would feel if Bianca was fooling around on him, too, the colleague recalls him laughing it off.
Larry fooled around, former friends say, like he hunted big game: for sport at first, then, as he became a minor celebrity, as a power trip.
By the early 2000s, according to two family friends and an allegation in a court transcript, Larry told them that Bianca had confronted him — she was thinking about divorce. One of the family friends remembers a teary-eyed Larry blaming his own indiscretions: “He said, ‘I fucked up. Bianca is seeing somebody else, and it’s all my fault.’ ” Larry lost weight and began to take Bianca out on the town. “I have to woo her, because nobody is taking half my money,” the other family friend recalls Larry saying. There was allegedly a post-nup, but Bianca chose to stay.
Former co-workers say Larry told them he considered his to be an open marriage because of Bianca’s alleged dalliance. Larry was also determined to win the Weatherby Award, a so-called Nobel Prize of trophy hunting that required carcasses from almost every continent — ethics and integrity counted for 15 percent — and so he sought out a new traveling companion. “Me and Bianca do our own thing” is how Lori remembers him explaining it away.
“She started it,” Lori says, chuckling, in an interview with Rolling Stone.
When Lori took a second hygienist job at Total Dentistry in May 2002, she was a 44-year-old single mom with three kids who drove some 60 miles each way to Green Tree. Larry kept the affair quiet at Total Dentistry and, after Lori vouched for him in the legal battle against his former business partners, at his own practice. She claims to have never met Bianca — no confrontation nor office run-in. Yet from 2003 to 2008, Larry flew together with Lori some 60 days each year, from Africa to Paris to New Zealand. There is another legend from around 2006, the year of the thumb: Larry and Lori had been in their Ethiopian chalet after a long day on the hunt, when Larry is said to have asked if she would run away with him. Later, Lori would ask if he was going to leave Bianca; the story goes that Larry would joke about how she’d had her chance: “You didn’t love me enough to leave.”
In July 2009, having won his animal-killing award after a six-year globe-trot with his hygienist turned girlfriend, Larry was elected president of Safari Club International, an organization he and his wife had helped to lead locally for more than two decades. Safari Club is to conservation and trophy hunting what the NRA is to the persistence of the second amendment and school shootings, which is to say an after-school activity for rich white men in tuxedos to extract dues from membership and servitude from Washington. Heretofore known in public mostly to Pennsylvania geriatrics watching ads on late-night cable television or between innings of a Pirates game, the strip-mall dentist set out to fly for an audience with the queen of American conservatism herself, Sarah Palin.
Lori, a Palin fan, was impressed by Larry’s pull; during their selfie moment at the governor’s office, Lori says Palin admired her jeans. For a fishing fundraiser over the rest of their Alaskan weekend, the Safari Club president had signed up his girlfriend as an administrative assistant and medical aide, due to Larry’s congenital heart condition. They shared a cabin, and Lori hooked a 40-pound salmon. But former Safari Club officials admit they gossiped about a photo from the trip of Lori, blond and beaming with fish in hand.
For her part, Bianca helped to organize a private gala behind the scenes at Safari Club’s annual convention in 2011. Palin was the star of the show. Onstage at the main event, Larry introduced her as “one of us”; members of the crowd of 2,500 watched as he reached out for a hug, though some recall Palin ducking him with a death-panel glare. The image of Larry that two attendees cannot shake from that weekend, however, is their president strutting the floor with a member of the Romanian chapter. Larry has admitted to sitting with the woman at dinner, but denied anything more happened. “I wouldn’t do it,” Larry says in a video he surreptitiously recorded over a meal with another club executive, seeking to clear his name. “This is the shit they pinned on me.”
In April 2011, Larry was introduced to a woman by a Safari Club official and confidant named Paul Babaz and began to text her: “u need some attention and lots of sex” . . . “How can you resist this!!!” When the woman asked Larry about the status of his marriage, he texted back that his having two houses kept his affairs discreet. Larry would later acknowledge having dinner and drinks with the woman, followed by “a goodbye kiss” in a parking lot. The organization’s establishment worried about a Clinton-esque stain on the brand, and once the 2012 convention rolled into Vegas, Bianca got word that her husband was having a long-term affair — and that Bianca had been called “a long-suffering wife.” Bianca was insulted. She was angry. Larry blamed Babaz for the gossip, but a friend drinking with them at the Mandalay Bay remembered her insisting to Larry that if the rumors weren’t true, then he should calm down. After multiple cocktails, Larry found Babaz in a hallway, asking why he’d messed with his marriage.
Babaz’s guest, Clint Bishop, says he approached to de-escalate the fight when he overheard Larry tell Babaz he’d take a .45 pistol, “shove it up your ass, and empty the clip.” Larry and Bianca claimed in court testimony that it was Babaz who made this “mortal threat,” but Babaz recalls making fun of Larry for it — .45s have magazines, not clips. And that, he and his friend claim, is what set Larry off: “I will kill your children,” Larry told Babaz, according to Babaz, Bishop, and allegations in a Safari Club inquiry. “I will kill your whole family.” Larry denied saying this and disputed the inquiry’s findings. In any case, Bianca called Babaz “a fucking asshole” and walked away with her husband.
Babaz maintains that Larry and Lori lied under oath about the incident. “Everyone knew he was running around on her, and she still stood by him,” he says. “It’s really sad.” At a Safari Club executive meeting that May, Larry was blindsided by a public inquiry into his women, his travel, and his expenses. His awards were to be taken away, his name erased from the record books. Larry resigned that August. “He has had none of the privileges of membership or of a past president since that time,” Safari Club CEO W. Laird Hamberlin tells Rolling Stone.
With Larry’s political career in tatters, he thought about becoming a Fox News contributor on animal conservation. He also took Safari Club to court for defamation and breach of contract. Larry managed to retain his beloved Weatherby Award and, before scoring a win and a settlement, Bianca defended him.
According to a deposition transcript, she spoke of the “devastating” effects of having to justify her marriage to fading friends, all because Safari Club’s old guard found an excuse to remove her husband from power over a kiss with some woman in a parking lot. An attorney for the organization asked if she thought Larry had ever had a sexual relationship with that woman — or with Lori Milliron, or anyone else, for that matter — and Bianca, under oath, said no. It depends, she pushed back, on what your meaning of “affair” is.
“I was not a long-suffering wife,” she said. “I’ve never been a long-suffering wife. My husband and I have been married for … 30-some years. Happily married.”
Lori was lonely and less than lavish in the summer of 2015, living out of a three-story condo on a cul-de-sac in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, at the end of Wild Turkey Drive. Larry subsidized her rent and helped with college tuition for her daughter, but Larry and Bianca were spending most of their time at the new place in Paradise Valley. “I didn’t even know he moved,” Lori recalls. “Him and Bianca kind of moved on.”
Larry did pull up in his old red truck every now and then, mostly to drop off Lori from work. Larry and Lori were business associates and friends without benefits, as she describes it, save the occasional vacation or their annual trip to Cabo. “We were like an old married couple,” she says, cracking herself up. “We may have thought about it, but we were too exhausted to do it.”
When Larry pulled up to the office in the morning, he regularly carried a Styrofoam coffee cup spiked with Jameson, six former employees recall, and staffers got sick of his agitated emails at lunchtime. One afternoon that summer, a contractor named Amos Damian was sterilizing instruments when he remembers Larry approaching him: “Hey, do you have any cousins or amigos in Mexico that can come up here and make somebody disappear?” Damian says he replied that he was from Las Vegas, but, no, he was not familiar with any assassins. Damian claims, in an interview with Rolling Stone and to investigators, that Larry asked if he was sure, and proceeded to float a $25,000 commission.
Another former co-worker alleges that, when he’d refused to approve a root canal three years earlier, Larry had drunk-dialed him, slurring, “One of these days, you’re gonna walk out of your house, and a Nigerian’s gonna shoot you in your fucking face!”
Without denying the hitman-threat allegations, about which a federal agent has testified, Larry’s attorneys have argued that “having a temper at work or words with an employee over six years ago does not make one dangerous” and that such incidents are “hearsay complaints of disgruntled employees.”
Another afternoon during that long summer of 2015, Lori threw some tools in the car and picked up a bottle of wine. She figured she’d help a new office manager who’d moved to town, Anna Grimley, put together a dresser at her rental nearby. Lori was good with the instructions — on that much they can agree.
According to Grimley’s account, Lori proceeded to explain that she and Larry’s original plan had been simple: “He said at one point that they were supposed to take all the money and leave,” Grimley tells Rolling Stone. “The purpose of the cash was to just disappear. But that didn’t happen. So that’s when the ultimatum came: ‘You have one year to get rid of her.’ ”
Lori has strongly disputed this, through her lawyer, an affidavit, in court testimony, and her interview with Rolling Stone, in which she claims to have built the dresser but turned down an offer to stay and chat, going grocery shopping for her son and grandson instead. She loved them too much, she says, to ever move away. “I know what Anna Grimley was saying, but I wasn’t leaving,” Lori tells RS. “These people are living on rumor and gossip, and it’s not true.”
Less than a year after Lori’s alleged ultimatum, in May 2016, Bianca confided in Larry’s personal assistant, according to government allegations in a recent court filing, that she’d found another woman’s hair clips in her bed — and was contemplating divorce again. According to the government, Bianca told the assistant that she’d confronted Larry with an ultimatum of her own, and that he’d denied the affair; when she presented emails documenting it, he allegedly told his wife that he’d leave Lori once and for all. Larry’s lawyers dismiss the assistant’s recollections as hearsay, and Lori says that if there had been any ultimatum from Bianca, it would have come earlier. “Our personal relationship was kind of tapering off” by then, she tells Rolling Stone.
One way or another, Bianca believed in reconciliation. Forgiveness and understanding, she said in July 2016, “are required of a long-term marriage.” So that September, husband and wife were bound for Lusaka. The Rudolphs were always happiest together, according to former friends, fellow hunters, and the personal assistant’s account to the government, when they were on the hunt.
If patients ever asked about Bianca’s death, the staff at Larry’s practice had been instructed to change the subject, some former staff members say. No flowers. No condolence calls. No sympathy cards. Just the usual hundreds or thousands of dollars upfront, with a five percent discount as incentive for cold hard cash. This was Three Rivers Dental Group, and they had a motto to uphold: “No sights, no sounds, and no fears!”
But fear reverberated louder than ever in 2017, when employees remember returning from a weekend to discover security cameras installed all over — in the operatories above the patients, in the private break room, in the lab. That’s where Holly Dey recalls leaning over to a fellow assistant, only for the boss to ring up the front desk from Arizona and ask why they were whispering. Holly and her co-worker say she’d been asking for a tampon.
Receptionist Jessica Moore remembers musing that Trump was unfit for the presidency, then watching Larry rant about “left-wing idiots” when he was in town. After she joked with a colleague about a pug with a penchant for sportswear, Moore says she was told there was to be no more pet talk — making her believe the boss had listened to that conversation, too.
Moore recalls Larry arriving at the Greensburg location within days, carrying a stack of waivers: “In light of this open surveillance environment, you do not have any expectation of privacy while in the offices of Three Rivers Dental Group,” they read. Moore, noting that the consent form did not exclude the women’s room, refused to sign. She remembers Larry responding, “You just fuckin’ terminated yourself,” before she walked off the job.
After Bianca’s death, Larry regularly traveled from Paradise Valley to Pittsburgh. Following in his footsteps, branch to branch to branch, was Lori, who had already all but moved in with him at the Rudolph family mansion in Arizona. As executive administrator, Lori was a self-described enforcer and empire builder who could help with insurance claims or paychecks: When dentists had a money question, Larry often sent them to his not-so-secret girlfriend.
A dozen former doctors and employees at Three Rivers Dental outlined to Rolling Stone a routine, echoed in court documents, of overzealous drilling: If a dentist performed basic tooth fillings, which cost about $150 each and awarded $120 in claims, Larry “would lose his ever-loving mind,” recalls a person tasked with approving such procedures. Larry’s checklist, obtained by Rolling Stone, would set in motion the daily protocol to grind down problem teeth to the point where a root canal was the go-to option, doctors and employees allege. That way, says a former employee familiar with company finances, X-rays could force insurers to approve procedures for upward of $1,000. “All of it,” the employee says, “was a root-canal factory.”
In her interview with Rolling Stone, Lori defended the “whole protocol” at Three Rivers as above board, and blamed any discrepancies on its employees. “That’s bullshit,” she says. “We never defrauded an insurance company.”
But there was also, as six former employees describe, the cash. Several staffers recall accepting regular cash payments from customers of over $10,000, for which the IRS requires formal documentation. “Lori and Dr. Rudolph would have us not ever put down that we collected cash,” one former office manager claims. Toward the end of each day, three former staffers say, they would drop bill stacks into the safe at each Three Rivers location. Staffers also claim that only Larry and Lori were supposed to empty the safes when they were in town. The employee close to the books believed then that the cash funded Larry and Lori’s “fun money,” and the government has recently taken to alleging “that the two had siphoned cash from dental practices to finance their life together.”
Internal documents and emails show Larry going to some lengths to ensure that paperwork was in order. But the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, per a note at the bottom of an internal police memo, had been investigating Larry for insurance fraud since at least 2011. (No charges have been filed.) “We were in good shape, we were making money,” Lori says. Of the practice, she adds: “Some people like to say that all we took was cash. We can prove that we didn’t. We took plenty of different types of payments.”
Lori’s personal bank accounts, meanwhile, showed large cash deposits: $20,000 in 2014, $60,000 in 2015, $75,000 in 2016, the year Bianca died, and totaling roughly $239,800 by 2017. Lori has claimed under oath that she doesn’t recall the money dumps or understand why her salary was doubled in cash, other than that Larry “was very generous.”
In the spring of 2017, nine life-insurance policies and accidental-death claims in the Bianca tragedy had come through to Larry. As with the thumb, however, private investigators for the insurers concluded that there wasn’t enough information to not approve his claims. The Rudolphs had set up a survivor’s trust for the life insurance, policy documents reveal — less than six months before Bianca’s death. Larry first inquired about processing the insurance, a court filing alleges, two days after his daughter finally learned her mother was gone. The payday was $4,877,744.93.
That summer, according to property records, Larry purchased a $3.5 million lot in Paradise Valley, so Lori could build a custom mansion — a desert castle all her own, a mile and a half from the last place Bianca called home.
The U.S. government has been investigating Larry Rudolph ever since a friend of Bianca contacted the FBI’s South African attaché, suspecting foul play, two weeks after her death.
But this was the age of a Teflon Don, when you could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and become president. Once the funeral cleared out, Larry and Lori binge-watched election coverage for days. Then Larry tweeted, incessantly, at the new president’s sons, flaunting his Safari Club experience in a plea for their father to nominate him as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The FBI first called him about his wife, according to the feds, in 2017.
The ambassador worried about a case built on life insurance and a love triangle, about a mystery in the middle of nowhere. “Well, f—, it’s kinda late. Are you guys gonna be able to put the pieces together?”
The American ambassador in Lusaka, Dan Foote, says he got a 2018 briefing of mostly circumstantial evidence about Bianca’s death from his consular chief. He expressed concern about a case built on life insurance and a love triangle, about a mystery in the middle of nowhere. “Well, fuck, it’s kinda late,” the ambassador recalls telling the consular chief. “Are you guys gonna be able to put the pieces together at this point?”
In 2019, Larry and Lori moved out of Bianca’s beloved home — “He didn’t feel comfortable there anymore,” Lori says — and into a condo while Lori’s castle broke ground. The neighbors-to-be would invite him and Lori over for a glass of wine, and Larry bragged about the trophy room he was having built; he’d killed so many animals, it needed two floors.
Mark Swanepoel, the same hunting guide who’d driven with Larry to get the Zambian cops on the day of Bianca’s death, allegedly told him the feds were in Africa. But here was Lori, at the leathery back bar of Ocean 44 in Scottsdale, going on about buying a house in Pennsylvania, too. She was sick of that condo off Wild Turkey Drive. A petty argument gave way to a break in the music.
That’s when their regular bartender claimed he witnessed Larry going off. Lori has formally disputed the bartender’s story, but he would immediately tell co-workers that he heard Larry scream at least part of something so loudly that he believed a family sitting nearby heard it, too:
“I killed my fucking wife for you.”
In any case, murder would be difficult to prove. The lead agent assigned to the cold case found Anna Grimley and asked her about that afternoon with the dresser, but the bartender had been afraid to speak up so far. His partner cross-checked with Zambian authorities about pathology and ballistics reports — when a local cop had tested dropping Larry’s shotgun, it hadn’t fired, but the instructions for his firearm said that it could still always accidentally discharge. The feds even re-created 100 new versions of the leather gun bag; the Rudolphs’ old leather case, though, had evidence of a bullet hole blown straight through the top. Lori worried the feds were closing in — as close as the chatty woman sitting next to her and Larry on an airplane. “We’d be in restaurants,” Lori remembers, “and I’d go, ‘I think that’s an FBI agent.’ ”
Swanepoel would come to speak with the FBI as well. His ex-wife relayed to them that she’d been present when Larry allegedly asked him to be put in contact with a Nigerian gangster who might fly to the States and intimidate an enemy. According to an FBI agent’s testimony, Swanepoel, who declined to comment to Rolling Stone through his attorney, allegedly acknowledged “those types of conversations had been had over the years, possibly while drinking.” Larry and Swanepoel set off to Ethiopia in May 2021, the testimony shows, on a two-week safari. They were hunting African leopard again. Back in Pittsburgh, the FBI was knocking on Lori’s door. She hid inside and bought a same-day ticket to Phoenix, prosecutors say. Larry killed the big cat, then allegedly cut his trip short.
Last November, the FBI partners had already found the game scout at the Kafue River and were beginning to crack the front desk at Three Rivers Dental. A few days after Thanksgiving, Larry and Lori found their seats at an intimate, $5,800-per-plate steak dinner for the Arizona Republican Party. He was in slacks and a polo shirt; she wore diamonds on diamonds on diamonds. “It was one of those dinners where they keep pouring wine,” Lori recalls. She’d questioned the results of the 2020 election — “total fraud,” Lori had tweeted — but the talk that night was of redistricting for 2022, how it might leave two seats in Washington up for grabs. Then the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives walked in. Kevin McCarthy stood at the head of the table to give his boilerplate toast. Moments later, at the other end of the table, Larry offered a toast of his own: He was thinking about running for Congress himself.
Larry and Lori closed Three Rivers Dental for the holidays and boarded a flight from Phoenix to Cabo on Dec. 21. Lori says she spotted passengers boarding at the last minute and forcing a family to switch seats; upon landing, she remembers a sudden passport procedure. And she’ll never forget looking back, from halfway up the jet bridge, as immigration officials shouted “We got him!” and proceeded to take Larry into custody. “We were betrayed by our own government,” Lori says. “It was a witch hunt.”
Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office would soon charge Larry with foreign murder and mail fraud of seven life-insurers. Larry, who did not respond to multiple letters received at his detention facility in Denver, maintains his innocence and pleaded not guilty. His children, who did not respond to requests for comment, formally support him.
Lori had not been ready when prosecutors came at her in January, lawyerless in front of Larry’s grand jury, asking about the cash deposits and the argument at the bar and the alleged ultimatum to leave Bianca. Lori calls this a “perjury trap.” Her attorney, John Dill, says evidence at trial will reveal “what actually took place” with the bartender and Anna Grimley after what he argued was a failed attempt by prosecutors to make Lori flip on Larry. They still charged her with five counts of lying under oath, one for obstructing justice, and another for accessory to murder. She has pleaded not guilty. The motive of the ex-dentist, the government would come to argue, was not just the money. It was her.
Larry’s attorneys argued in federal court that USA v. Rudolph was “as weak of a murder case as you can get.” They point to Larry’s cooperation with the Zambian police and their conclusion that his wife’s death was an accident, despite the police report taking just two days to complete. They point to their client’s lack of interference with a Zambian coroner’s autopsy, even though consular officials alleged that Larry asked them, repeatedly, how African privacy laws might apply to autopsy and police records related to the case. They stand by the conclusions of an insurance investigation, which, according to an FBI agent’s testimony summarizing its findings, had a primary goal only to ID the body as that of Bianca Rudolph and, the agent testified, found “outstanding questions” and “unresolved issues” about the police work in Zambia. Fundamentally, Larry’s lawyer David Markus has insisted that Larry and his wife knew about each other’s extramarital affairs for a long, long time.
In a statement, Larry’s attorneys said: “Strangely, five years later, the feds brought charges without any real evidence — no eye witnesses, no forensics, no anything — except for some speculation sprinkled into a chasm of conjecture.”
Larry and Lori’s joint trial is scheduled to begin July 11. The judge has already ruled that the jury won’t hear testimony about the alleged crocodile incident. Most of the sources who spoke to Rolling Stone for this story requested anonymity because they might be called as witnesses, or because they fear Larry might sue them from jail. They believe Larry and Lori are guilty of at least some of the charges, and a lot of them think the couple might get off easy, as the American millionaire so often does. “Unfortunately, the world is full of people like that,” says a hunter and business executive who supported Larry before the murder charge. “Some people that have money think they can do whatever they want. Some people think they can get away with anything.”
This story appears in the July-August 2022 issue of Rolling Stone under the headline “Before the Dentist Knows Your Dead” and was updated for publication online to reflect court proceedings as of July 1.
On August 1, 2022, Larry Rudolph was found guilty of murdering Bianca, and of mail fraud for the life-insurance payouts. Lori Milliron was found guilty of obstruction, perjury, and of being an accessory to Larry’s crimes. She was found not guilty of three additional counts of perjury.