Two alleged perps in trophy hunter murders go to trial; four still at large
DENVER, Colorado; BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe; MOKOPANE, South Africa––Former Safari Club International president Larry Rudolph, 67, and his longtime trophy-hunting girlfriend Lori Milliron, 60, go to trial in Denver, Colorado, on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Rudolph and Milliron face multiple charges originating from the alleged murder of Rudolph’s wife Bianca, then 56, and also a trophy hunter, on October 11, 2016.
The Rudolph/Milliron murder case shares the spotlight in the murky world of trophy hunting with the June 28, 2022 murder of Zimbabwean guide Patrick “Paddy” Curtis, 65, and the June 8, 2022 murder of Riaan Naude, 55, president of Pro Hunt Africa.
Truth stranger than fiction
Aspects of all three cases are reminiscent of the 1936 Ernest Hemingway story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, in which a woman cuckolds her trophy hunting husband with their guide and then fatally shoots the husband while ostensibly trying to save him from a charging buffalo.
None of the cases, however, quite follow the script.
Rudolph as of October 11, 2016 “was a dentist worth at least $5 million,” according to Matt Sullivan of Rolling Stone, who conducted a four-month investigation of the charges against Rudolph and Milliron, including “more than 75 interviews, plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents, internal finances, and police files,” Sullivan recounted on July 2, 2022, in “Did this Trump-loving leopard-hunting dentist kill his wife?”
$4.8 million in life insurance
Rudolph appears to have amassed his wealth, Sullivan found, through a combination of owning the high-profile multi-dentist Three Rivers Dental clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, known for heavily anesthetizing patients; collecting as much as $30,000 a month for an alleged disability, and raking in $4.8 million in life insurance after the death of his wife of 34 years.
Rudolph married the former Bianca Finizio in 1982. He hired Lori Milliron as a part-time dental hygienist in 2002.
“They soon traveled the world,” Sullivan wrote. “From 2003 to 2008, Larry flew together with Lori some 60 days each year, from Africa to Paris to New Zealand.
Safari Club International
“In July 2009, Larry was elected president of Safari Club International, an organization he and his wife had helped to lead locally for more than two decades.”
But after many indiscretions, Sullivan recounted, “Larry was blindsided by a public inquiry into his women, his travel, and his expenses” at a May 2011 Safari Club executive meeting. “His awards were to be taken away, his name erased from the record books. Larry resigned that August,” but “took Safari Club to court for defamation and breach of contract.
“Larry managed to retain his beloved Weatherby Award,” the highest Safari Club honor for killing huge numbers of animals in multiple places, “and, before scoring a win and a settlement, Bianca defended him.”
“You have one year to get rid of her”
Push eventually came to shove between Bianca Rudolph and Lori Milliron. In 2015, former Three Rivers Dental clinic manager Anna Grimley told Sullivan, Milliron gave Larry Rudolph an ultimatum: “You have one year to get rid of her.”
Time may have been running out when Rudolph took his wife to Zambia to shoot a leopard. The Rudolphs did manage to kill quite a lot, including animals used as leopard bait, but the leopard eluded Bianca. They were packing to leave the hunting camp when, claimed Larry Rudolph, Bianca accidentally shot herself while stowing a rifle into a leather case.
Larry Rudolph purportedly was on the toilet at the time. He said at first that he was in the shower, a game scout recalled to Sullivan, but his body was dry and his shoes were on.
A second game scout told Sullivan that Larry Rudolph initially shouted that his wife had committed suicide.
Whatever happened, local police soon cleared Larry Rudolph to leave.
Embassy official photographed corpse
“Eleven hours after Bianca’s death, “ Sullivan narrated, “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,” Otto Westhassel, a former U.S. Marine, who is to testify at the Rudolph/Milliron trial, “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.”
The Westhassel photographs are now a key piece of evidence, reportedly indicating that the fatal shot was fired from much farther away than would have been the case if Bianca Rudolph had caused the gun to accidentally discharge.
By the spring of 2017, Larry Rudolph had collected on nine life insurance policies and accidental-death claims , summarized Sullivan.
“I killed my wife for you!”
In 2019, however, a bartender overheard an argument in which he claims to have heard Larry Rudolph scream at Lori Milliron, “I killed my fucking wife for you.”
The bartender immediately told co-workers.
“Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office would soon charge Larry with foreign murder and mail fraud of seven life insurers,” Sullivan summarized.
Milliron is charged with five counts of lying under oath, one count of obstructing justice, and one count of being an accessory to murder.
“Bloodnut” Curtis shot in home
Paddy Curtis, a longtime member of Safari Club International, the Tanzanian Professional Hunters Association, and the African Professional Hunters Association, had helped many Safari Club honorees to collect their bought-and-paid-for “awards” for killing trophy animals.
Nicknamed “Bloodnut,” for his flaming red hair and beard, Curtis “was shot and killed by two intruders who broke into his home in Fortune’s Gate,” a suburb of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, reported Bulawayo 24 television news.
Curtis “was allegedly found near his still locked gun safe with a gunshot wound on the neck and additional injuries on his head and ear,” police told Bulawayo 24.
“They said Curtis was attacked in the wee hours of the morning after the two intruders broke down a door to gain access to the house,” Bulawayo24 continued.
How did Zimbabwe cops know $5,200 was taken?
“He reportedly cried out for help, but it came rather too late. Curtis is reported to have lost U.S. $5,200 in the attack,” Bulawayo24 added.
“Born in Rhodesia in 1957,” according to a May 29, 2014 profile by South African author Hannes Wessels, “Patrick Curtis was blessed with a private school education, but preferred the bush to the books and left academia having learned little. He then went to war where he served with distinction in the Selous Scouts,” the special forces unit of the Rhodesian army.
When the war ended in 1980, with the former Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe, Curtis became a full-time trophy hunting guide, or “professional hunter” in the preferred terminology of trophy hunting.
Misadventures in the bush
Curtis, according to Wessels, lost his guiding license after an incident in which an American couple were charged by an elephant. The wife barely survived broken ribs, a broken femur and pelvis, and a punctured lung.
Curtis next “wandered north to join his friend and fellow professional hunter Alistair Gellatly, who was also famously irresponsible and a man of hard drinking habits,” Wessels wrote.
Gellatly and Curtis guided buffalo hunts in the Zambezi Valley until a Texas hunter fell to his death during an ill-advised search for kudu.
Asked to leave Zambia, Curtis relocated to Tanzania. He survived a severe goring by an enraged buffalo, but fellow hunter Bob Fontana was killed several years later in a similar incident that sent Curtis back to Zimbabwe.
Riaan Naude, a prominent trophy hunter and hunting guide whose business was based in Phalaborwa, Mopani Region, “was found dead next to his vehicle in Marken Road, Limpopo,” South Africa, wrote Sam Raskin for the New York Post, summarizing all immediately available information.
“Two hunting rifles were found in Naude’s truck near the Kruger National Park wildlife reserve, local outlet Maroela Media reported,” Raskin continued.
“The nonprofit Heritage Protection Group said Naude was shot dead by a man who pulled up alongside him when the hunter stopped his truck,” a double cab Toyota pickup, “near Mokopane after it overheated, according to Metro UK.
Nissan truck & trailer seen speeding away
“A cattle herder heard a gunshot and witnessed a Nissan truck speeding away, according to reports,” Raskin said.
Other accounts mentioned that the Nissan was a white NP300 pickup truck, was pulling a trailer, and that one man was the driver while another was the shooter.
A white NP300 pulling a trailer should have been easily recognizable in a sparsely populated area.
As of July 8, 2022, a month after Naude was shot, few other clues had emerged.
Shot with his own pistol?
“Riaan had an empty firearm holster around his waist,” reported Corné van Zyl for MSN.
As Naude is believed to have been shot with a handgun, it is possible that he was shot with his own handgun, which the killers then removed from the scene.
Believed to have been on his way to go hunting, “Riaan was carrying,” besides his two rifles, “clothes, water, whiskey and many live rounds,” van Zyl wrote.
Theories that Naude was killed in a premeditated “hit” overlook that few people, if any, would have known where to find him, and that a pickup truck pulling a trailer would be an unlikely vehicle either for pursuing a potential victim in a faster vehicle, or for use in making an unobserved getaway.