Lawyer’s wife did not die from car accident 45 years ago: pathologist

A second pathologist testified Thursday in the murder trial of an Illinois attorney accused of killing his newlywed bride 45 years ago in a staged traffic accident, saying she agreed with the original pathologist’s decision to reclassify the woman’s death as a homicide.

Dr. Mary Case testified Thursday as the final prosecution witness in the case against Donnie Rudd, a 76-year-old attorney and former suburban school board member accused of killing his wife, 19-year-old Noreen Rudd — to whom he was married for just 27 days — and making it appear to be the result of a tragic car accident in a Barrington Hills field in 1973, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Case, after reviewing an autopsy completed by Dr. Hilary McElligott, said she agreed with its conclusions that no evidence was found that Noreen Rudd had a broken spine, but that she instead died from a fractured skull consistent with being struck in the head by a blunt object.

The woman’s head wounds were caused by “great force to the skull that fractured it in a very complex way,” Case testified.

“The injuries are easily recognizable,” she said.

Noreen Rudd’s death initially was ruled accidental after Donnie Rudd told police at the scene of the crash that someone ran them off the road as the couple returned from visiting the woman’s mother. Donnie Rudd told investigators his new bride was ejected from the car and struck her head on a rock. She was later pronounced dead of a broken spine, but no X-rays were taken at the time, according to authorities and trial testimony.

Noreen Rudd was buried in her wedding dress and Donnie Rudd got remarried within months to a woman he had been living with prior to his marriage, the Tribune reported. As Noreen Rudd’s widower, he collected about $120,000 in life insurance, authorities said.

Noreen Rudd’s death was later reclassified as a homicide following an autopsy in 2013. McElligott, who performed the autopsy, testified earlier this week that the injuries Noreen Rudd sustained were not consistent with a car crash. McElligott also acknowledged during cross-examination that Noreen Rudd’s body showed no signs of defensive wounds or brain damage.

Donnie Rudd’s attorneys, meanwhile, have claimed that no evidence exists that he knew about his wife’s insurance policy. He was charged with first-degree murder in 2015 while living in Texas and has been free on $400,000 cash bond while awaiting trial, according to the Tribune.

Dr. Robert Hurwitz also testified Thursday regarding Noreen Rudd’s injuries, countering the pathologists’ findings by claiming that she died of “internal decapitation,” an injury to the spine in which neck ligaments that connect the head to the spine are torn or severed.

Hurwitz testified that reports in medical journals have linked the rare yet lethal injury to being ejected from a car during a crash.

“She died instantly at the time of the automobile accident,” Hurwitz said, adding that the fracture on the left side of Noreen Rudd’s skull was not a fatal blow.

Prosecutors, however, noted that Hurwitz is a diagnostic radiologist rather than a pathologist and has conducted no traditional autopsies as a medical professional.

But Hurwitz insisted he had performed “virtual autopsies” using MRI machines and CT scans on corpses, including cadavers in Nevada, the Daily Record reported.

In 2012, police took a second look at Noreen Rudd’s death as part of an investigation into the unsolved murder of interior designer Loretta Tabak-Bodtke, a disgruntled client of Rudd’s who threatened to report him to the state’s attorney disciplinary board. Rudd remains a suspect in her death but has not been charged, according to the Daily Record.

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