News late last year that convicted murderer Margaret Rudin was granted a new Las Vegas trial came as a big surprise. After all, the courts and the media, who dubbed her “The Black Widow,” had convicted her eight years earlier.
Margaret wrote me from jail after a friend of hers e-mailed me about Margaret’s hopes for a new trial. Coincidentally, I’d met Margaret before. When my mother and sister, antiques dealers, visited from out of town. we’d always stop by Margaret’s antiques store on West Charleston Boulevard not far from the home she shared with her fifth husband, 64-year-old millionaire realtor Ron Rudin.
Margaret was soft spoken, polite, and unassuming. Other than that, seeing her in her store half a dozen times was unremarkable. It was that quiet demeanor, I believe, that led to half of her troubles.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Margaret, the quiet shop owner, was named a suspect in the murder of her husband. Prosecutors contended that Margaret and an unknown accomplice shot Ron several times in the head as he slept in the master bedroom of the couple’s home.
The prosecution claimed that Margaret and her accomplice cut off Ron’s head to fit his body into an antique trunk, and then they took the body and the trunk to Nelson's Landing at Lake Mohave and set it on fire. In January 1995, as a father and his boy hiked the area, they stumbled across Ron Rudin’s skull, which had rolled down a hill from the burned out trunk above.
Margaret’s story gained national notoriety when, as police and the district attorney’s office started closing in on her. Instead of staying to fight, Margaret, shy and reserved, fled town. She was featured several times on Fox TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” show. Two years after fleeing Las Vegas, a man in Massachusetts recognized Margaret as a neighbor and turned her in to police. A sting was set up when Margaret and her roommate ordered pizza. She was arrested by in a Boston suburb after a police officer posed as a pizza deliveryman. Police surrounded the house and they pulled Margaret, wearing a black wig, from a closet, where she’d hidden from them. She had been living, first in Arizona, then in Massachusetts, for two years under an assumed name. Because Margaret fled, many figured she was guilty; otherwise, why would she flee? If you believe Margaret, it was because she was losing her legal fight against the trustees of husband's estate, who had turned on her. She was afraid she couldn't win.
Margaret wasn't the only one who stood to gain from Ron Rudin’s death. The defense suggested there were others who had a motive to murder Ron, including the trustees and beneficiaries, who took control of Ron’s fortunes after Margaret was accused of murder. Many gained millions from his death. Margaret, because she was accused, then convicted, of killing Ron, was ousted from the will.
The mantra in the Rudin case this time around looks like it will be “follow the money.” With Margaret, who was given 60 percent of her husband’s estimated $10 million in assets, out of the picture; the trustees’ cut of the estate was much larger. According to testimony of Ron's associates, he wasn't the most popular man in Las Vegas and was known for his falling outs with people. Others, the defense contended at the time, had reasons to want Ron dead. It all will play out again in a Nevada courtroom, probably in early 2010.
District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure, now retired from the bench, presided over the first trial, which lasted nine weeks. At Margaret’s sentencing, Bonaventure told Margaret, “You're going to be locked away in the cold confines of your prison cell, never to be heard from again.”
It seems Margaret Rudin has the last word after all.
Scott is a true crime author who splits her time between Las Vegas and San Diego. Her latest book—The Rough Guide to True Crime (Penguin)—is scheduled for release Aug. 31.
Photo courtesy of CBS News