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March 2, 2001

'Black Widow' murder trial begins

Socialite accused of shooting, burning and decapitating her wealthy husband

National Post news services


Aaron Mayes, Las Vegas Sun
Margaret Rudin was on the run for two years until authorities caught up to her in Massachusetts, where she was living with a retired firefighter in conditions a far cry from her rich digs in Nevada.

LAS VEGAS - Dubbed "The Black Widow" during more than two years on the run, a wealthy Las Vegas socialite goes on trial today for the murder of her millionaire husband.

It has been more than six years since the bullet-ridden, charred and decapitated remains of Ron Rudin were discovered on a remote shore of the Colorado River in Nevada.

Prosecutors believe his wife Margaret, jealous of his infidelities and eager to take over his US$10-million estate, shot him in their bedroom while he slept, packed the body in a trunk and dumped it near the river. Police believe she likely had an accomplice in the grisly crime, but no other charges have ever been laid.

Ms. Rudin faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

Her husband, a 64-year-old real estate developer, disappeared in December, 1994, after going out to see a movie, his 56-year-old wife told police.

Investigators, however, were immediately suspicious -- Ms. Rudin had waited two days before reporting her husband missing and displayed little emotion during the initial search.

Suspicions deepened when Mr. Rudin's body was found, but it would be April, 1997 -- more than two years later -- before authorities built a strong enough case against Ms. Rudin to seek an indictment.

Police had a strong circumstantial case. Ms. Rudin stood to gain 60% of her husband's US$10-million estate -- except for one unusual clause that seemed to point to his own suspicions of his wife.

"In the event my death is caused by violent means [for example gunshot, knife or a violent automobile accident] extraordinary steps be taken in investigating the true cause of the death," Mr. Rudin's will reads. "Should said death be caused directly or indirectly by a beneficiary of my estate, said beneficiary shall be totally excluded from my estate and/or any trusts I may have in existence."

Mr. Rudin's other heirs, in what amounted to a murder trial in probate court, tried to prove his wife had killed him. The case was settled in January, 1996, with Ms. Rudin reportedly pocketing US$500,000 from the inheritance.

Ron Rudin met Margaret at church, and they married in 1987, the fifth marriage for both. Within months, authorities say, the marriage became strained.

Ms. Rudin began bugging her husband's office in 1991, her sister testified before the 1997 grand jury, convinced her husband was cheating on her. Police found listening devices in his office.

Su Lyles, a close friend and a former employee of Mr. Rudin's, confirmed her suspicions, testifying that in the fall of 1993, their relationship became more intimate. At least twice, she said, they had discussed their feelings for each other over the telephone during calls made from his office.

The day before he disappeared, Mr. Rudin said he had visited the Mayo Clinic to determine if he was being poisoned, Ms. Lyles said.

Shortly after his body was found, police interviewed a young man named Augustine Lobato, who said Ms. Rudin hired him a few weeks earlier to remove a mattress and the bedroom carpet. The carpet had a gooey brownish-red stain and smelled mildewy, Mr. Lobato told the grand jury, and he noticed blood on a framed photograph of Ms. Rudin above the bed.

"It didn't seem right," he testified, "him still being missing and me turning their master bedroom into an office and then those splatters on that picture. Like I got the heebie-jeebies."

Investigators later found blood on the walls and ceiling.

Remnants of a trunk found near his scorched remains were similar to a trunk Ms. Rudin once had in her Las Vegas antique store, other witnesses testified.

In July, 1996, a diver found a .22-calibre Ruger with a silencer, wrapped in plastic bags under about 15 feet of water. Experts declared it the murder weapon. Federal officials said it belonged to Mr. Rudin, a licensed gun dealer, who had reported the weapon missing a few months after he and Ms. Rudin had married.

After about six weeks of testimony, the grand jury handed down an indictment.

By then, Ms. Rudin had disappeared. She spent two-and-a-half years on the run, changing her appearance and name as she hop-scotched across the continent between stints in Chicago, Arizona, Mexico and Massachusetts. Dubbed "The Black Widow" during three features on America's Most Wanted, Ms. Rudin even sweet-talked her way out of custody in September, 1998, when police in Phoenix, Ariz., picked her up for questioning.

Authorities caught up with her in November, 1999, in Revere, Mass., where she was living in near-squalor with a retired firefighter.

Her defence claims Mr. Rudin was involved in gun running, drug trafficking and tax evasion, and was killed by a business associate he double-crossed. His penchant for nosebleeds and a suicide by his third wife explain the blood found in the master bedroom.

"If you have any understanding of psychology, history or criminology, women don't do that, men do," said Michael Amador, her defence attorney, of the grisly crime. "That kind of mutilation is done by men over money or, in rare cases, serial killers. Women don't even order stuff like that -- they want it clean."

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