Laurie "Bambi" Bembenek lived a life of drama before dying Sat. in an Oregon hospice at age 52. Bembenek was a Playboy bunny, served time for a murder she denied committing, escaped prison, became a cause célèbre in her local community, and sued Dr. Phil after a pre-show confinement gone wrong resulted in an injury that led to the amputation of her foot. If this sounds like the makings of a television drama, it was. Based on an autobiography penned by Bembenek, Woman on the Run premiered in 1993 and starred Tatum O'Neal.
Bembenek's Playboy days were brief and clothed, but the bunny label followed her into the courtroom and beyond. Bemenek's notoriety began shortly after she married Milwaukee police detective Elfred "Fred" Schultz. His ex-wife was murdered, and Bembenek was convicted of first degree murder.
According to the Journal-Sentinel, Bembenek grew up an indulged child on the south side of Milwaukee. She took on modeling work in high school and later got a job as a Playboy bunny. Then she joined the Milwaukee police force, a shortlived job that changed her life.
She was fired but not before meeting Schultz, a police detective she married in 1981. Four months later his ex-wife was murdered with his service revolver and soon Bambi was on trial for first degree murder.
Although she was convicted, 4 of 5 Milwaukeeans disagreed with the conviction, the Washington Post reported. When she escaped prison in 1990 by squirming through the laundry window, Milwaukeeans cheered her on. They wore "Run, Bambi, Run" tee shirts and even donned Bambi look-alike face masks to confuse law enforcement. Bembenek was recaptured and challenged her conviction; ultimately an agreement was reached that reduced her sentence to time served. But Bembenek continued to profess her innocence.
It was her continued profession of innocence and desire for DNA testing that led to her encounter with Dr. Phil in 2002. The show's producers sequestered her in a tiny apartment staffed by an armed guard while waiting for DNA results. The closed-in space triggered a panic attack. Bembenek attempted to escape through a window and injured her right leg so badly it required amputation. A year after the incident, the DNA tests had not been completed.
Unable to escape the notoriety of being Bambi Bembenek, Laurie moved west in 1996. She died of liver failure Nov. 20.