A former Chicago lawyer and school board member, who has long been a suspect in two separate killings dating back decades, was convicted Monday of murdering his 19-year-old bride in 1973.
Jurors took just three hours to find Donnie Rudd, 76, guilty of beating his wife, Noreen Kumeta, to death and then staging the crime to look like a car accident. They convicted him of first-degree murder, the most severe charge available among several lesser options.
When his daughter Terisa Davis heard the news at work Monday she cried—but not for her father. “I don’t feel bad for him—at all,” she told Oxygen.com.
Davis said she’d been watching her father get away with hurting people for more than four decades. She expected he’d go on evading any kind of justice until the day he died. “I felt so sorry for everyone,” she said, speaking of the victim’s family members. “What a wide web of hurt he has caused.”
Prosecutors argued that Rudd got away with killing his new wife of just 27 days because he was such a respected member of the community at the time, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many who knew him say he drew on a remarkable intelligence to dazzle and then cheat those unlucky enough to find themselves in his orbit.
Davis said her father was obsessed with money—which is what prosecutors said drove him to murder Kumeta, who had taken out supplemental life insurance coverage just days after they were married. Rudd received roughly $120,000 after her death.
Rudd’s lawyer Tim Grace argued during the trial that Rudd knew nothing of the insurance money.
The prosecution’s case rested on testimony from a forensic pathologist, who examined Kumeta’s body after it was exhumed in 2013 and ruled her death a homicide. Dr. Hilary McElligot told jurors that Kumeta died from being struck in the head with a foreign object, likely multiple times.
Rudd had told police an oncoming car ran him off the road back on that night in September 1973. He said the passenger door flew open and Kumeta was launched from their Pinto Wagon. He was clutching Kumeta’s body inside the car when officers arrived.
An emergency room doctor said she died of a fractured spine at the time, but the coroner never performed an autopsy.
The forensic evidence was central to the jury’s decision, a juror told the Tribune.
Cops decided to reopen the investigation into Kumeta’s death as they were probing another murder in which Rudd remains a suspect. In 1991, Lauretta Tabak-Bodtke, a client of Rudd, had threatened to file an official complaint against him to the Illinois State Bar Association. The next day, her husband found her shot to death in their kitchen.
No charges have been filed in that case.
But when detectives interviewed Rudd, they took an opportunity to ask him about Kumeta’s death. He gave vague and troubling answers. When they asked him if he had struck Kumeta before the accident he said he couldn’t recall, according to the Tribune.
Rudd was disbarred in 1994, after several other clients brought complaints against him for lying about settlements he’d won on their behalf.
Davis, Rudd’s daughter, also said that she and several other family members suspect foul play in the death of Rudd’s father. He died in Rudd’s care just a few days after signing over the bulk of his money and assets to Rudd, Davis said, adding that he didn’t tell a single family member his father had died until after he was buried and in the ground.
Rudd had been out on bond until his hearing, which lasted just a week. Authorities put him behind bars Monday. His lawyer said they plan to appeal his conviction.
Rudd, who appeared at court in a wheelchair, is receiving treatment for cancer, his attorney said, according to the Tribune. Rudd’s daughter said he has told family members he has cancer literally dozens of times over the years. It’s a tale he relies on whenever people are onto him, she said.
[Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Hart]