Car accident, or murder? 45 years later victim's husband goes on trial

In 1973, 19-year-old newlywed Noreen Kumeta Rudd was killed near Dundee and Bateman roads in Barrington Township in what authorities initially believed was an automobile accident. Four decades later, they weren't so sure.

In December 2015, police arrested her husband, former Northwest suburban attorney Donnie Rudd, 76, on charges of first-degree murder.

Cook County prosecutors say he killed Kumeta, his second wife, on that stretch of road on Sept. 14, 1973, to collect on her life insurance policies. Defense attorneys say Kumeta died from the injuries she sustained when she was ejected from the car after an unknown driver forced the couple off the road.

The final determination rests with jurors at Rolling Meadows Third Municipal District courthouse, who will hear testimony when Rudd's trial begins there on Monday.

Defense attorney Timothy Grace says his client is eager for his day in court.

Rudd, a Texas transplant who was living in Sugar Land, Texas, at the time of his arrest, has pleaded not guilty.

“We look forward to finally getting this case to trial,” Grace said. “We believe the state has a very weak case and do not believe they'll come close to meeting their burden” of proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a felony conviction.

Kumeta's death

Police responding to the 1973 crash found Kumeta sprawled across the front seat of a car, not breathing, with her head in the lap of the then-31-year-old Rudd. Rudd, who married Kumeta 27 days earlier, told police another driver forced them off the road, the passenger door opened and his wife was thrown from the car. An emergency room doctor attributed her death to a cervical spine fracture, court records show. No autopsy was performed, and a coroner concluded Kumeta's death was an accident.

The cold case

Authorities had no reason to doubt Rudd's account until 40 years later when in 2013 Kumeta's body was exhumed as part of an Arlington Heights police investigation into the 1991 cold-case murder of interior designer Loretta Tabak-Bodtke.

Rudd, who was disbarred in 1994 for fraud and unlawful conduct, is a suspect in the still-unsolved case but was never charged.

Dr. Hilary McElligott, then of the Kane County coroner's office, conducted the 2013 autopsy of Kumeta's remains. McElligott determined Kumeta died from blunt force trauma to the head and labeled her death a homicide. Two other forensic pathologists concurred with McElligott's finding, prosecutors said.

“This is not a whodunit,” said Cook County assistant state's attorney Maria McCarthy during a hearing last week. “Cause of death is everything in this case.”

Prosecutors say life insurance policies totaling $120,000 motivated Rudd to kill his wife, whom he met when they worked together at Quaker Oats in Barrington.

“Our theory is Donnie Rudd married Noreen to kill her for the life insurance money,” McCarthy said during last week's hearing.

If convicted, Rudd faces a minimum of 14 years in prison and an indeterminate maximum sentence, according to 1973 sentencing guidelines.

Earlier relationship

Before he married Kumeta, Rudd was living with Dianne Marks and her four children. The couple met during the early 1970s when both served on the Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 school board. Both were married to other people at the time and left their respective spouses to be together. Their spouses eventually married and remain together to this day, said Marks' daughter Cindy Mulligan, of Barrington.

According to prosecutors, Rudd informed Marks he was marrying Kumeta the day before the wedding. A week after Kumeta's death, Rudd moved back in with Marks and the couple married eight months later, according to prosecutors. They remained married until Marks died of breast cancer in 1996, said Mulligan, adding that at the time of her mother's death, Rudd was involved with another woman.

‘Living with the devil'

“She was devastated,” Mulligan said of her mother. “He abandoned her during the vulnerable time at the end of her life.”

The one time Rudd visited Marks, he arrived with paperwork for her to sign and left within the hour, she said.

“I don't understand how anyone could be so heartless,” Mulligan said.

After her mother's funeral, Mulligan and her siblings did not see Rudd until his 2015 bond hearing, she said.

Mulligan recalled that when she was a teen Rudd told her and her siblings Kumeta's death was not an accident. According to Mulligan, Rudd told Mulligan's sister Lori Hart that a well-known politician took out a contract on his life and it was the hitman who forced the car off the road in September 1973.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would have asked more questions,” said Mulligan, who co-authored a 2016 book with Hart titled “Living With the Devil” chronicling their lives with Rudd.

Still a suspect

According to Arlington Heights Deputy Chief Nathan Hayes, Rudd remains a suspect in the April 4, 1991, slaying of Tabak-Bodtke, who was found shot in her Arlington Heights townhouse.

Rudd, who was Tabak-Bodtke's lawyer in a business dispute, told her he had settled her case for several hundred thousand dollars, according to prosecutors. After Rudd failed to deposit the money in her account, they say, Tabak-Bodtke threatened to report him to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which prosecutors say had received similar complaints from other Rudd clients.

Tabak-Bodtke's townhouse showed no signs of a break-in or struggle, prosecutors said. Two neighbors reported seeing Rudd's car, whose vanity license plates read “Mr. Condo,” at Tabak-Bodtke's home the day of her murder.

Mulligan, who has followed Rudd's case closely, has attended numerous hearings since his 2015 arrest. She sympathizes with Tabak-Bodtke's children and with her own mother Dianne, who stood by Rudd for more than two tumultuous decades.

“You don't think somebody living in your house is capable of that,” she said. “I can't imagine what Noreen's family thinks.”

More than anything, Mulligan wants the truth to come out.

“But I don't know if Donnie is capable of telling the truth,” she said.

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Donnie Rudd and his third wife, Dianne Marks, married eight months after the death of his second wife, Noreen Kumeta. Courtesy of The Hart Family
Sisters Cindy, left, and Lori Hart were teenagers living in Hoffman Estates in the early 1970s when murder suspect Donnie Rudd became their stepfather. In 2016, the sisters published a memoir, "Living with the Devil," to recount their experiences with Rudd, who goes on trial Monday for the 1973 murder of his second wife, Noreen Kumeta Rudd. Courtesy of The Hart family
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