Inexperience, indifference, deference. How Donnie Rudd almost got away with murder.

  • Donnie Rudd arrives at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows last week for the opening of his trial on charges he killed his new wife in 1973. A jury convicted him Monday.

      Donnie Rudd arrives at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows last week for the opening of his trial on charges he killed his new wife in 1973. A jury convicted him Monday. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A dying Noreen Kumeta Rudd was found in her husband's arms Sept. 14, 1973 after, he told police, their car was forced off Dundee Road near Bateman Road in Barrington Hills, throwing her from the vehicle and leaving her fatally wounded. A jury this week ruled that Donnie Rudd killed his wife and staged the scene to cover up her murder.

      A dying Noreen Kumeta Rudd was found in her husband's arms Sept. 14, 1973 after, he told police, their car was forced off Dundee Road near Bateman Road in Barrington Hills, throwing her from the vehicle and leaving her fatally wounded. A jury this week ruled that Donnie Rudd killed his wife and staged the scene to cover up her murder. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 7/6/2018 8:28 AM

The red flags were everywhere.

A teenager found dead along a rustic Barrington Hills road, just 27 days after marrying her 31-year-old groom following a whirlwind courtship. Physical evidence and injuries that didn't match the purported circumstances of her death. The $120,000 in life-insurance benefits she left behind for her husband, who promptly moved in with another woman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So why did it take decades for anyone in authority to suggest Donnie Rudd murdered 19-year-old Noreen Kumeta Rudd?

In the few days since Rudd, now 76, was found guilty of the 1973 slaying, we've dug into old police reports, coroner's documents, newspaper archives and trial testimony trying to get to the bottom of that question.

Our best answer: A lot of inexperience, a dash of indifference, and too much deference to a respected lawyer and school board member believed to be mourning the death of his wife.

Noreen A. Kumeta Rudd is buried at the Dundee Township Cemetery East.
  Noreen A. Kumeta Rudd is buried at the Dundee Township Cemetery East. - Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer, June 2015

"Noreen died in a sleepy town. No one suspected anything," Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Maria McCarthy told a jury Monday, just hours before they convicted Rudd of first-degree murder. "(Donnie Rudd) knew police wouldn't suspect him, and he was right."

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Moonlighting doc, rookie cop

Noreen was formally pronounced dead as a result of a spinal fracture Sept. 14, 1973, in the emergency room of Sherman Hospital in Elgin. She'd been rushed there after Donnie Rudd told police they'd been run off the pavement while driving along Dundee Road in Barrington Hills. She was thrown from the car and struck her head on a rock, he claimed.

The doctor who pronounced her dead, now-retired OB-GYN Dr. Jae Han, was moonlighting in the ER that night. He'd received his license to practice medicine in Illinois only that year. He didn't get an X-ray before determining how Noreen died, and his report on the death consists of a few handwritten lines. When called to testify in the case last week, Han said he couldn't recall Noreen.

But there should have been plenty of questions right off the bat. Why, if Noreen were thrown from a car, weren't her clothes stained with dirt and grass? Where were the bruises, abrasions and other injuries one would expect from such a traumatic event? Why, as a police officer said, did the back of her head feel "mushy"?

The death of Noreen Kumeta Rudd near the intersection of Dundee and Bateman roads in Barrington Hills was written off as a tragic accident for four decades. A jury this week declared it murder, convicting her husband, Donnie Rudd, of killing the 19-year-old newlywed.
  The death of Noreen Kumeta Rudd near the intersection of Dundee and Bateman roads in Barrington Hills was written off as a tragic accident for four decades. A jury this week declared it murder, convicting her husband, Donnie Rudd, of killing the 19-year-old newlywed. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Among the earliest first responders at the scene was rookie Barrington Hills police Officer Christopher Bish. It was the first time the 21-year-old had investigated a fatal crash.

He testified last week that while there was blood inside Rudd's car, he never saw any on the ground or near the rock Noreen supposedly struck. He didn't suspect anything nefarious at the time, according to his testimony, and dropped the investigation after a Kane County coroner's jury ruled Noreen's death an accident.

45 years of despair

For reasons that are unclear, then-Kane County Coroner Jack Weidner never ordered an autopsy of Noreen, something the office's current holder says should be standard practice. We can't ask Weidner; he died in 1995.

If there had been one, maybe a pathologist would have noted the fractures to Noreen's skull and the bleeding in her brain. Or that her spinal cord and vertebrae were intact.

A coroner's jury ruled the death accidental. A transcript of that hearing indicates Weidner opened it by stating Rudd's car "had left the highway, and she was thrown out when the car door opened."

Donnie Rudd and Bish were the only witnesses. Weidner asked Rudd only three questions about the crash. The jury didn't ask any.

And so Noreen was buried in Dundee Township East Cemetery, believed to be the victim of a tragic accident. Even her family thought it to be true for decades, her sisters said after Rudd's conviction Monday.

"The lack of a proper death investigation led to 45 years of despair for all who knew and loved Noreen," current Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said this week.

Second chance

It was Russell who, in February 2013, worked with Arlington Heights police to have Noreen's body exhumed for a second chance to give her death a proper investigation.

Arlington Heights detectives had approached Russell to get records of the 1973 inquiry while investigating Rudd's role in another unsolved killing.

"Given the presence of injuries to both sides of the decedent's head, the reported scenarios of single impacts on to automobile glass or a rock are unlikely," forensic pathologist Dr. Hillary McElligott wrote in her 2013 autopsy report.

Donnie Rudd, 76, arrives at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows last week before going on trial in the 1973 killing of his wife. He was found guilty Monday and now faces a minimum of 14 years in prison.
  Donnie Rudd, 76, arrives at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows last week before going on trial in the 1973 killing of his wife. He was found guilty Monday and now faces a minimum of 14 years in prison. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

The findings helped lead to Rudd's arrest in December 2015 and, ultimately, to this week's conviction. Now he's locked up awaiting a sentencing hearing, when he'll face a minimum 14-year prison term.

"The most important witness in the trial never testified, but spoke from the grave. Her injuries spoke for her," Assistant Cook County State's Attorney David Coleman said. "(Donnie Rudd) thought he got away with it, but time, science and Noreen caught up to him."

Dine out, help out

If you're heading out to eat Saturday afternoon and are anywhere near Huntley, think about stopping by the Culver's, 12950 Route 47, where you can grab a meal or treat and help a great cause.

From 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., members of the Huntley Police Department and Special Olympic athletes will serve as waiters to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Illinois.

Law Enforcement Torch Run merchandise, such as hats, shirts and pins, also will be available.

Someone has been stealing flowers from the Friendship Park Conservatory in Des Plaines. According to a recent police report, 50-60 large flowers have been uprooted and taken away in the past few weeks.
  Someone has been stealing flowers from the Friendship Park Conservatory in Des Plaines. According to a recent police report, 50-60 large flowers have been uprooted and taken away in the past few weeks. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2016
Flower theft blooms

Someone in the Des Plaines area may be getting undeserved praise for a flower garden they "grew" the easy -- and illegal -- way.

According to a recent police report from the city, the Friendship Park Conservatory has had 50 to 60 large flowers stolen from its gardens during the past few weeks.

Police say they're stepping up patrols around the conservatory in response.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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