Julian Rudolph, AnaBianca Rudolph say they're being treated 'more like perpetrators than surviving victims of a violent crime'
CHICAGO -- Speaking out for the first time, the son of a wealthy Pennsylvania dentist who murdered his own wife on an African vacation -- and then tried to cover it up -- says he didn't believe his father, Larry Rudolph, could do such a thing until he saw "horrifying" photos from the scene and heard soul-crushing testimony at trial last year.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Julian Rudolph said his father now calls him from federal prison, where he's serving a life sentence, but Julian "very rarely" picks up, unable to forgive the man convicted of fatally shooting Bianca Rudolph in 2016 so he could collect nearly $5 million in life insurance and live freely with his longtime mistress.
"It's incomprehensible to me," said Julian, now 33.
But what Julian described as equally incomprehensible is the battle he's been waging with the U.S. government for much of the past year.
"They're treating my sister and I more like perpetrators than surviving victims of a violent crime," he said.
Julian and his sister, AnaBianca, have been trying to recover millions of dollars they believe their father took from them after their mother's death. However, as the Justice Department sees it, several insurance companies were the ones defrauded out of millions of dollars, leading federal authorities to seize the bulk of Larry Rudolph's known assets and then move to reimburse the insurance companies.
Complicating matters even more, Larry Rudolph's fortune had been slashed, allegedly by lavish spending before his arrest and by mounting legal woes afterward, so Julian and his sister insist that most of whatever's left should be theirs, not the federal government's. They accuse the Justice Department of hampering their recovery efforts, rather than helping them.
The Justice Department has maintained -- and two federal courts have so far agreed -- that it's just following the law and seeking justice for everyone affected.
"(Our) goal is to ensure that Lawrence Rudolph does not profit from a heinous crime," the U.S. attorney's office in Colorado, which is handling Rudolph's case, said in a statement to ABC News. "The Department of Justice is working in good faith with attorneys for the children of the victim to resolve disputes over how that goal can best be accomplished."
Larry Rudolph has said he wants the money seized to go to his children.
The ongoing dispute involves complicated issues of fairness, a clash of narrow legal arguments, and -- as one federal judge put it -- two sides who at times are "speaking past each other."
That federal judge, who previously ruled against Julian and his sister, is now reevaluating the case and weighing whether to appoint a mediator.
In his interview with ABC News, Julian said there's more to it all than just the language of the law, noting that prosecutors have the authority to exercise "discretion" in enforcing the law.
"It's a matter of right and wrong," he said. "I think we've been through enough."
From what Julian said he remembers about growing up outside Pittsburgh, it was "a pretty normal" suburban life, with a seemingly "peaceful" home.
He said Larry Rudolph, now 68, was "a good father," often "generous" and "charismatic." And as a successful dentist, his father "worked a lot," which allowed Bianca Rudolph to stay at home with Julian and his sister, according to Julian.
"She was an amazing mother," Julian said, choking up when first talking about her. "I loved her. She was my best friend."
Julian said he always had questions about exactly what happened in Africa, but his father insisted it was an accident and refused to talk about it whenever they would see each other.
As Julian understood it at the time, both of his parents, who moved to Arizona a few years earlier, had become avid hunters, and in October 2016 they jetted off to a remote nature preserve in the southern African country of Zambia to shoot wild game there.
On the final day of the trip, Bianca Rudolph suffered a fatal blast to the chest. Larry Rudolph claimed she accidentally shot herself while packing her shotgun to come home.
"And who wouldn't want to believe that?" Julian said.
In the wake of the tragedy, he and his father would only see each other about once a year. Julian was living in Miami, building a personal injury law practice there. His sister was in Pittsburgh, pursuing her own dental career at her father's practice. And Larry Rudolph was still in Arizona, living what Julian saw as a "nice lifestyle" with someone he thought was a new girlfriend, Lori Milliron.
However, Julian's "unanswered questions" lingered, he said.
Then in late 2021, more than five years after Bianca Rudolph's death, the FBI arrested Larry Rudolph on murder and fraud charges.
He maintained to his children that the FBI had it all wrong and that "the evidence is going to prove (it)," Julian recalled.
"Of course you want to believe that what you're hearing is the truth," he added.
So when Larry Rudolph then asked a federal judge to release him from jail pending trial, both Julian and his sister, AnaBianca, submitted sworn affidavits to the court, expressing their full support for their father.
"(We) know him better than anyone else, and we know that he is innocent," they wrote.
Julian told ABC News that he feels quite differently now.
"I can't stand by that original statement, because that was before we saw the evidence in the trial," he said.
It's unclear if Julian's sister agrees. She previously declined ABC News requests for an interview and, through Julian, recently declined again.
Larry Rudolph's trial, held in a Denver federal courtroom last year, lasted more than two weeks. Julian and AnaBianca attended all of it.
"Every day going into that courtroom, I saw something new that broke my heart," Julian said.
Prosecutors detailed a diabolical plot and a life of lies: Milliron had secretly been Larry Rudolph's mistress for more than a decade. And on the hunting trip to Zambia in 2016, prosecutors said, Larry Rudolph shot his wife so he could collect her life insurance and fund a lavish new life with Milliron, who helped him try to cover it all up. She was convicted alongside Larry Rudolph, sentenced to 17 years in prison for acting as his accessory and for lying to investigators.
Prosecutors during the trial presented witness testimony, ballistics tests, and photos from the scene, including photos of Bianca Rudolph's bloody body.
"Nothing could have prepared us for those visuals, for that testimony," Julian said. "It was horrific."
At the same time, according to Julian, "the trial was eye-opening," and the evidence presented "brought a lot of clarity and answered a lot of questions for us."
For that, he said, he's eternally "grateful" to the federal prosecutors, FBI agents and other U.S. officials who worked on the case and uncovered the truth.
But some of those same prosecutors are now the ones Julian said are "hell-bent on fighting us in court."
After Larry Rudolph murdered his wife, he kept the entire $14 million fortune they had built together over 34 years, even though half of that fortune should have become the property of her estate and passed on to Julian and his sister. Larry Rudolph also collected $4.8 million in life insurance claims from seven different companies, falsely telling them that Bianca had died in an accident.
When the Justice Department uncovered Larry Rudolph's murderous scheme, it seized the bulk of his known remaining assets: two multimillion-dollar homes, two luxury cars, and $4.8 million still in bank accounts.
But lawyers for Larry Rudolph objected in January when the Justice Department proposed using a portion of those seized assets to reimburse the seven insurance companies he defrauded. His lawyers argued in court filings that, had Larry Rudolph not lied about his wife's death, the companies would have still paid out millions, but to his children as the beneficiaries behind their since-disqualified father.
So, Rudolph's lawyer's claimed, to now repay the insurance companies, instead of Julian and AnaBianca, "would only serve to harm" the children.
Eight days later, lawyers for Julian and his sister filed their own documents in court, similarly arguing that Julian and his sister should receive the insurance proceeds because under U.S. law they were the ultimate "victims" of their father's fraud. That argument failed in court, including on appeal.
In June, lawyers for Julian and AnaBianca filed revamped legal claims -- this time substantially based on Arizona state law -- seeking not only the insurance proceeds but also a share of Rudolph's confiscated homes and cars, and any money made from selling them, which the lawyers say have appreciated in value.
Under Arizona law, the key question is who those assets "justly belong to," and allowing anyone but Bianca Rudolph's children to obtain them "would be unconscionable," the lawyers argued in a filing two weeks ago.
They noted that an Arizona judge recently ordered Larry Rudolph to repay his children the nearly $7 million he took from their mother's estate, plus more than $3 million in estimated interest. And while they've found additional money to cover less than half of that total judgment, the assets seized by the Justice Department are "the only remaining source" for Julian and his sister to recover the rest, wrote John Sandweg and Chris Hotaling of the firm Nixon Peabody.
As part of his sentence, Larry Rudolph was also ordered to pay a $2 million fine, in addition to serving life behind bars and paying the insurance companies $4.8 million in restitution.
In court two weeks ago, Julian and AnaBianca's lawyers submitted statements from five of those companies -- accounting for three-quarters of the insurance proceeds at issue -- saying that the money they paid out rightfully belongs to Julian and his sister.
The federal government shouldn't "profit from our mother's death," Julian told ABC News. "It's the principle," he said. "This is not about money."
The Justice Department disputes that it's trying to profit in any way from Bianca Rudolph's death, and in court documents it has accused Julian and his sister of "attempting to shortcut" the "appropriate procedure," saying that if they are the rightful beneficiaries of the insurance policies, they can obtain the money they seek by filing their own claims directly with the insurance companies.
In an order last month, Senior U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez said he is highly skeptical of Julian and his sister's latest legal arguments, but he also said there are "issues plaguing both sides," and that "it is only fair to permit both parties a second bite at the apple."
"(I)t would be vastly preferable, and almost certainly far easier for all involved, if the parties could come to an agreement ... without the Court's involvement," Martinez added, saying that, even as he weighs the new legal arguments, he is considering whether to appoint an outside mediator to resolve the whole matter.
In his interview with ABC News, Julian said he's thought "many times" about just abandoning his legal battle with the Justice Department.
"I've said to myself, 'Just move on with your life,'" he recalled. "This has been a waking nightmare."
But he said he then remembers his mother, his sister, and the children he hopes to have with his fiancée -- children who will never meet their grandmother, Bianca Rudolph.
"I owe it to (all of them) to be here to fight," he said. "I want to move on with my life ... but we have to get through this last step."
As for what moving on with his life looks like, Julian said he and his fiancée are planning to elope -- in part, at least, because of what would be missing if they had a more traditional wedding.
"Nothing will ever bring my mother back. Nothing will bring my father back," he said.
ABC News' Eva Pilgrim, Mike Repplier and Lindsey Schwartz also contributed to this report.