Two murder cases with women as the accused killers have taken similar -- and unusual -- turns. Each was instantly labeled the “Black Widow.” And both women stood to gain millions should their husbands die.
In the first case, San Juan and Manhattan socialite Barbara Kogan was indicted late last year for the 1990 murder of her millionaire husband George. She stood accused of convincing her attorney to hire a hitman to kill George. Kogan’s estranged husband, with whom she was in the middle of a nasty divorce, was shot to death in broad daylight while George was walking from a neighborhood market to his live-in girlfriend’s high-rise apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Joel Seidemann, the Manhattan assistant district attorney who has been on the case for nearly two decades, is expected to refile a fresh charge against Kogan by the end of this year. During Kogan's arraignment in November 2008, Seidemann described the suspect as "a very angry woman."
"But when that anger became so overwhelming," he told the judge, "she decided to litigate the divorce through the bullets of a gun."
The second defendant is Margaret Rudin, charged and convicted of killing her husband, wealthy real estate investor Ronald Rudin, then driving the body to a remote area on the shore of Lake Mojave 45 miles outside of Las Vegas, stuffing him inside an antique truck and setting it on fire.
The commonalities with the two women, both of whom are now 65 years old, are many. Rudin, who was convicted of murder, has been granted a new trial. Rudin’s conviction was overturned in December 2008 by Clark County District Court Judge Sally Loehrer, who ruled that Rudin, who has spent the last nine years in a Nevada state prison, had “ineffective counsel” during her first trial.
And Barbara Kogan, accused of second-degree murder in the contract killing of her estranged husband, has had the charge dismissed on a technicality. In July, State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus ruled that because another grand jury had failed to indict Kogan in the 1990s, prosecutors needed judicial permission to empanel a new grand jury that handed down the indictment against Kogan last year. The prosecution, he said, failed to get that permission.
Both women are expected to be in their respective courtrooms on opposite ends of the country sometime next year. Rudin’s first trial, which was much publicized and lasted 10 weeks, was one of Las Vegas's highest profile murder cases. For Kogan, “48 Hours” and “Dateline” have already made arrangements to be in the courtroom for the trial, which is expected to last eight weeks.
While prosecutors in both crimes claim greed as the motive, in the Kogan case, the only evidence against her is circumstantial at best -- unless, by trial time, the prosecution comes up with more.
As for Rudin, it's mostly circumstantial as well, with hard evidence against her shaky. Her husband was missing in 1994, his car found at a strip club. Later, a boy and his father, out fishing together, discovered the burnt trunk and body near the shore of Lake Mojave on the Nevada side of the water. A gun, said to be the murder weapon, found months later in the lake, was not registered to Rudin or her husband, so that connection was never made, just conjectured.
After Rudin was granted a new trial, her new attorney, Christopher Oram, told reporters, "Obviously, we're very happy with the judge's ruling and look forward to going to trial.”
Kogan’s new counsel, high-profile criminal defense lawyer Barry Levin, said he’s looking forward to going to trial as well. “I intend to represent her zealously. I think she will be acquitted,” Levin said.
It all will unfold in their respective courtrooms. For the prosecution, both cases at this juncture appear to be uphill battles. But you never know what might happen as both sides sides duke it out in court.
Photo of Barbara Kogan in court (top) courtesy of the New York Daily News and photo of Margaret Rudin courtesy of TruTV.