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(Above) Third Municipal District Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Photo by Ken Maschke.

Did a former Chicago attorney know his wife of 28 days had insurance policies – naming him as the beneficiary – before she died on September 14, 1973? And if so, did $100,000 – the equivalent of $543,183 today – motivate him to kill her?

19-Sep-17 – Imagine you’re retired and asked to come back to Chicago to testify in court about details from your job – 44 years ago. That is exactly what happened to four people who worked at Quaker Oats Company in the early 1970s.

Donnie & Noreen Rudd Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Maria McCarthy needed them to explain the compensation and benefits of two former employees – one dead since 1973, the other accused of killing her.

Dr. Donnie Rudd, now 75 years old and, according to a friend, diagnosed with terminal cancer, is charged with the murder of Noreen Rudd, 19 years old at the time and married to Donnie for just 28 days.

(Left) Donnie and Noreen Rudd on August 18, 1973.

Rudd, who co-wrote the 1983 amendments to the Illinois Condominium Property Act, was released from custody in September 2016 after posting a $4 million bond.

Two insurance policies at core of state’s case

Noreen Rudd had two insurance policies – a $100,000 life insurance policy from Continental Casualty Company, a subsidiary of CNA Financial Corporation, and an accident insurance policy from Prudential Financial that paid, tax-free, 25 percent of her salary for five years. Donnie Rudd was the beneficiary of both policies.

During five hours of testimony in Rolling Meadows on September 13, McCarthy coaxed from the former Quaker Oats employees details about the policies that Noreen had and how they compared with policies of other employees.

Both Noreen and Donnie worked at the company’s Research & Development Center in Barrington, about 40 miles northwest of Chicago.

James Weichert, a benefits administrator at Quaker Oats from 1972 to 1976, said Noreen had opted for accident insurance benefits based on three times her salary, which he said was not common for someone without children.

Even with the option, the cost of both policies was modest, agreed Weichert. The $100,000 life insurance policy cost Noreen $3.90 per month, the equivalent of $21.18 today.

Rudd’s attorney, Timothy Grace, says there is no dispute that Rudd was the beneficiary but he did not know about the insurance policies until after Noreen died.

“No one is doubting he received insurance money,” said Grace (right).

Timothy Grace

According to John Anderson, a human resources supervisor at Quaker Oats from 1972 to 1985, there was nothing in Rudd’s personnel file that indicated he was a beneficiary. And Weichert said Noreen was not required to tell Donnie he was her beneficiary.

On September 14, 1973, Noreen was found unresponsive by police in the passenger seat of a 1972 Ford Pinto Wagon on what is now Dundee Road near its intersection with Bateman Road in Barrington Hills, Illinois. Rudd said he was run off the road by an oncoming car in their lane. Noreen, he said, was thrown from the vehicle and hit her head on a large rock. There was no autopsy and a coroner’s jury determined the death was accidental.

40 years later, in 2013, as police from nearby Arlington Heights took a fresh look at the cold case, Noreen’s body was exhumed and an autopsy conducted by the Kane County Coroner’s Office. This time, the death was ruled a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Two other medical examiners reviewed the autopsy report, other documents and photographs, and reached the same conclusion.

Rudd upwardly mobile at Quaker Oats

Rudd started working in the patent department at Quaker Oats in 1965, initially earning $8,400 per year. At the time of Noreen’s death, he was making $18,600, equal to $101,256 today. He left Quaker Oats in 1974.

Rudd has said he learned of the insurance policies from his mother-in-law after Noreen died. He suspects Noreen obtained the life insurance policy to cover expenses in the event she died of rheumatic fever, a disease she once had and was concerned would recur.

He was not asked if he knew about the policy any earlier when he was interrogated in 2013 by an Arlington Heights police sergeant investigating the case.

Richard Sperando Video clips played in court of interviews with Rudd in Texas on December 17 and 18 show Richard Sperando taunting him about his relationships with Noreen Rudd, known as Noreen Kumeta before she married, and Diane Marks, a woman with whom Donnie was involved before and after meeting Noreen.

Says Sperando (left), “You got paid $100,000 for this 19-year-old’s life that you were married to for 28 days.”

Circuit Court Judge Marc Martin says he will decide by October 6 if evidence related to the insurance policies is admissible in Rudd’s trial.

 Previous story: State wants to introduce insurance policy as evidence in Rudd murder trial