Exclusive: Part 2: Mike Jacobs' Interview with Lawrencia Bembenek
She spent years in prison... months on the run... and was the subject of movies chronicling her life story. Now, former Milwaukee Police officer and convicted murderer Lawrencia Bembenek lives a quiet life. But she has plenty left to say. And she shared her story exclusively with Mike Jacobs of TODAY'S TMJ4.
Life has not been easy for Bembenek. She was sentenced to life in prison at Taycheedah for the 1981 murder of her husband's ex-wife.
While in prison, she met Nick Gugliatto, the brother of another prisoner. Together, they hatched an escape plan.
Bembenek remembers it like it was yesterday.
"I was down in the laundry room doing my laundry and I noticed it was like my window of opportunity. There was a window that maintenance must have been working on because you can only open your windows this much in prison, and they forgot to put the stays in and the window was just open," she recalled. "I climbed out the window and I ran through the woods and got over the fence."
Once she reached safety, she met up with Gugliatto. "He picked me up and we just kept driving until he couldn't drive anymore and we ended up in Thunder Bay Ontario."
• Click here to read part one of our report
• Click Here to see raw video of longer portions of our interview
Out of the U.S., Bembenek got a job at a Greek restaurant and lived in a house with Gugliatto in Thunder Bay.
I asked if it was exhilarating to finally be free.
"Not so much," she said. "Because that sense of freedom is juxtaposed against this hyper vigilance of always looking over your shoulder. "
She was always afraid of getting caught.
That fear was justified. Someone saw her on "America's Most Wanted." After three months on the run, Bambi was back in custody. Her relationship with Gugliatto came to an end quickly. Bembenek denies she used him, though.
"I did love him. I did," she said firmly. "I thought I did."
Bembenek applied for refugee status in Canada, but then returned to Milwaukee, where she pleaded no contest to second degree murder. She was sentenced to time served and was released in 1992.
A new Lawrencia Bembenek held a news conference the very next day.
"It has a very unreal quality to it. I can't really believe it's true yet," she said that day.
I wanted to know, if she's innocent, why did she plead "no contest?"
Her answer: "I had to get out. I wanted to get out while my parents were still alive. And that was my only option."
Being reunited with her father may have been the happiest day of her life. But Bembenek's life quickly took a turn for the worse. She lost her leg in a freak accident, after being flown to Los Angeles to appear on the "Dr. Phil" show.
The show's producers tried to keep her isolated in an apartment. But Bembenek climbed out a second floor window.
"I had a panic attack," she remembered. "I gotta get out. Gotta get out. And that's what I did. And I fell, and I broke my foot off."
She ended up suing the talk show, and said she received a settlement.
That money, and the money from her book and film deals, is what she lives on now. It's a meager existence.
If Bembenek has any joy in her life, it's animals. She often visits a friend's ranch, where she's surrounded by miniature donkeys and horses. But then reality sets back in.
She has yet to clear her name, and continues to fight.
"My dad's dying wish was to have the family name cleared," she told me. "I miss him so much. I really do."
Based on new DNA evidence, Bembenek has appealed her conviction, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. But no court will hear the case. When she pled "no contest" she gave up her right to appeal.
The only other option is a pardon from the governor, and so far, that hasn't happened.
Bembenek, now 52, will maintain her innocence to her dying day.
"It's just not... It's not right what they did. It's not right," she said.
Bembenek may be the only person who knows if she's guilty or innocent. One thing is certain; she has led a miserable life.
I asked her to rate her life on a scale of one to ten. Her answer: "2."
"It's been that bad," I ask?
"Yeah," is her quiet response.