A 76-year-old former Chicago-area man who authorities say used his reputation as an upstanding citizen to convince police 45 years ago that a crash that killed his wife was an accident has been convicted of first-degree murder in her death.
On Monday afternoon, jurors in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, deliberated for just three hours before returning with the guilty verdict against Donnie Rudd, a one-time school board member and respected attorney.
The speed that the verdict was returned made it clear that jurors did not believe Rudd's attorney's explanation that the death of 19-year-old Noreen Kumeta Rudd was a "tragic accident." Prosecutors argued that Donnie Rudd, who was under intense financial pressure, plotted to kill his young wife to collect $120,000 in insurance money.
"The defendant didn't marry Noreen because he loved her," Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy told jurors at the outset of the trial. "He married her because he wanted to kill her."
Prosecutors said Rudd was living with another woman and her children until shortly before he announced that he was marrying the teenager. And, they said, as soon as she died -- a month after the couple married -- Rudd returned to the other woman.
Noreen Rudd's death bears a striking resemblance to one of the Chicago area's most famous murder cases, featuring a one-time suburban police sergeant. Drew Peterson was convicted in 2012 of first-degree murder of his ex-wife Kathleen Savio, eight years after her body was found in a bathtub.
In both cases, the men were respected members of their communities and the deaths of the women were ruled accidental until their bodies were exhumed years later and subsequent autopsies reclassified their deaths as homicides.
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And as Peterson got away with Savio's murder until his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished, Rudd was not charged for more than four decades until police investigated the 1991 death of another woman who had been one of his clients. It was during that investigation that detectives found notes about Noreen Rudd's death and re-opened that investigation.
Rudd, who most recently lived in Sugar Land, Texas, was arrested. He had been out of jail on a $400,000 cash bond until Monday, when he was taken back into custody. His sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.