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‘The case that won’t die’: Rudin case twists and turns for nearly 3 decades

Updated May 23, 2022 - 8:54 am

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said last week it’s unlikely his office will prosecute Margaret Rudin a second time in the mysterious death of her millionaire husband nearly three decades ago.

Wolfson said the Nevada attorney general’s office first has to decide whether to appeal a federal judge’s ruling last week that tossed Rudin’s murder conviction in the 1994 death of Ron Rudin. Still, Wolfson said that even if the appeal isn’t pursued, he doesn’t see much sense in going after Rudin again in a 27-year-old killing given that Rudin already served nearly two decades in prison prior to being paroled.

“Even if we retried her, convicted her, she would still likely be immediately resentenced and paroled to the streets,” Wolfson said.

The office of Attorney General Aaron Ford hasn’t made a decision on whether it will appeal U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware’s order vacating Rudin’s conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel from her late defense attorney, Michael Amador, at her 2001 murder trial.

“We are still determining next steps and don’t have any further information to provide at this time,” Alcinia Whiters, deputy communications director for the attorney general, said Thursday in an email.

Margaret Rudin’s attorney, Greg Mullanax, said his client is innocent. The attorney general’s office shouldn’t proceed with an appeal, he said, and Margaret should be left alone.

“She’s going to be 79 next week,” Mullanax said. “I don’t know what they would have to gain by retrying her, unless they wanted to make sure she had a conviction on her record, but that’s a gamble, too, because they could lose the case.”

Circumstantial case

Retired Las Vegas police homicide Detective Phil Ramos was assigned to investigate the killing of Ron Rudin. Ramos investigated more than 350 homicides in his career, but of all those cases, Rudin’s is the only one that remains an allure to a curious public to this day. The show “20/20” recently aired a two-hour documentary on Margaret Rudin’s arrest, her trial and her release from prison.

“This is just the case that won’t die,” Ramos said.

The interest in the homicide, Ramos said, stems from all the twists and turns. Ron Rudin, 64, was an eccentric multimillionaire who made his money mostly on real estate deals in the Las Vegas Valley. The businessman was also an avid gun collector and licensed firearms dealer. Ron and Margaret each had four prior marriages when they tied the knot in 1987.

Shortly after they married, Ramos said, Ron Rudin reported a .22-caliber Ruger handgun with silencer missing from his home. In December 1994, Ron Rudin, known for his punctual arrival at his business office on Charleston Boulevard every day, didn’t show up for work. Witnesses portrayed Margaret Rudin as reluctant to report her husband missing.

“When we started interviewing all of his employees and his close friends, every single one of them said, ‘Margaret did this, you’ve got to look at Margaret,’ ” Ramos said.

Ron Rudin’s muddy car was later found parked behind the Crazy Horse Too strip club in central Las Vegas.

“The thing that struck me was her complete lack of emotion,” Ramos said. “No concern at all about her husband is missing. This is a homicide case. Like I said, she was just very cavalier about it.”

Police concluded there were infidelities on both sides of the marriage, with police attempting to link Margaret Rudin to a former Israeli military officer. Police then learned Rudin was using listening devices to monitor her husband’s phone conversations.

Ramos said police believe Ron was readying to divorce Margaret when he was killed as he slept in their bed. He’d financed an antique store his wife was opening but put a clause in his will saying that if he died under suspicious circumstances, authorities should turn over every stone to find out what happened.

“The marriage was in a bit of trouble,” Ramos said. “We believe that that night, he had told Margaret that he was going to stop paying for the Lincoln, turn off her cellphone, and if the antique store didn’t do what it was supposed to do — generate business — he was going to shut it down. And Margaret worked pretty hard to open up that antique store. He felt she was having an affair, she felt he was having an affair, and there was a lot of acrimony going on.”

Remains, weapon found

Ron Rudin’s charred remains were found Jan. 21, 1995, near Lake Mohave in the remnants of a burned-out trunk that police claimed was linked to Margaret Rudin through a purchase from another antique dealer. Then, in 1996, a diver at Lake Mead found the missing .22-caliber handgun in the lake, with forensics showing it was the weapon used to kill Ron Rudin.

Las Vegas police interviewed a handyman, Augustine Lovato, who said Margaret Rudin hired him to clean up a bloody mattress and carpet from the couple’s home. The handyman, now deceased, also recounted seeing red stains on a glamour photo of Margaret above the bed, and of seeing what appeared to be blood bubbling up from a bathtub drain while working at the Rudin home.

“It gave him the creeps,” Ramos said.

Police later located the bloody mattress with Ron’s blood on it with the help of Lovato. Margaret Rudin was indicted on a murder charge in April 1997 in what authorities portrayed as a crime committed for financial gain. Before she could be arrested, though, she fled Las Vegas and remained on the run until she was apprehended in Revere, Massachusetts, in fall 1999.

Rudin was convicted of murder in 2001 and served nearly 20 years in prison before being released on parole in 2020. She vowed at the time to pursue all appeals, predicting she would clear her name. Ramos believes the jury got it right.

“I know what the evidence shows,” Ramos said. “I know what happened during this investigation. This is one of the best investigations we had ever conducted.”

Attorney: Not what it seems

Rudin’s attorney, Mullanax, said he’s convinced that police got it wrong and that his client didn’t commit the crime.

“You’ve got to remember she turned down a plea offer after they convicted her at trial,” Mullanax said. “She would have been out in probably five years … but she didn’t take it because she knew she was innocent.”

He said the police could never link Rudin to the murder weapon. Tests found blood in the Rudin bedroom because a former wife of Ron Rudin’s fatally shot herself there, Mullanax said. He disputed that Margaret was reluctant to report her husband missing. Margaret’s cousin, he said, has told how Margaret was deeply upset by Ron’s disappearance, and that she initially called police about Ron but was told she had to wait before a police report could be filed.

The handyman? A felon driven by a pursuit for reward money, Mullanax said.

“She got him, through a temp agency, to help decorate a Christmas tree,” Mullanax said. “He’s the one that interjected himself back into the picture.”

The attorney also said trustees on Ron Rudin’s estate had it out for Margaret and that Ron was involved in a string of business deals, including deals on land in the Lee Canyon area, that needed more investigation.

“With all the business dealings that he had, everyone in town who knew him knew he was kind of a hard-nosed business guy who didn’t have a lot of friends,” Mullanax said, adding “it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a lot of business deals that might have led to someone getting mad at him and wanting to get back at him.”

Mullanax said Amador botched Rudin’s murder trial. He also said there were egregious errors made in Rudin’s appeals and that the vacating of her conviction should have happened a long time ago.

“She never had a fair trial, and she never had a fair appeal,” he said. “When you are throwing people in prison, they ought to have a fair trial and a fair appeal.”

He said Boulware made a just decision.

“Had she had competent counsel, doesn’t have to be F. Lee Bailey, doesn’t have to be Johnnie Cochran,” he said. “Competent counsel who can read a file and prepare with witnesses and things like that, I think they could have won the case.”

Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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