As the principal of his own law firm and known as "Mr. Condo" to his Chicago condominium clients, Donnie Rudd was at the top of his game. Charming, offbeat, and eccentric, he appeared on his own television show and taught at a local college. But behind the public persona of a successful lawyer, Donnie Rudd's life was unraveling as police investigated the death of his second wife, the murder of a local woman, and claims of fraud by several clients.
The fascinating memoir by Donnie's step daughters describes the chaos of life with a sociopath as the allegations of infidelity, madness, and murder against Donnie interrupt their lives again and again. The sisters recount the riveting true story of events over a span of 40 years that will leave readers breathless and wondering how Rudd was able to evade accountability for so long. In the midst of the madness also lies a story of redemption and triumph as the family overcomes the dysfunction of their early tumultuous life.
"Maybe we have the day wrong."
I'm tired of sitting in the car. The cold is making my nose run as I cradle my fingers around the coffee cup to keep them warm. My sister, Cindy , is scrunched down in the front seat texting furiously on her phone. She looks up occasionally and wipes away some of the fog from the window as she peers back towards the entrance of the cemetry.
I'm sure it's going to happen today," she snaps. "Be patient!"
I lean back in my seat and roll my window down a few inches to get a clearer view. The unwelcomed cold air rushes in and within seconds I can feel it stiffening the leather seat. Even under more pleasant circumstances this would be miserable way to spend an afternoon. But these were far from pleasant circumstances.
From my vantage point, the grave is barely visible. The headstone is engraved only with her name: Noreen Rudd. The grave next to Noreen's is adorned with the name of her mother Irene Kumeta, who died only recently.
The wind picks up, blowing the last of autumn's leaves across the two graves. It makes me shiver and I roll the window back up and lean back in the car seat, sipping intermittently from the coffee that seems to grow cooler by the minute. From the corner of my eye I can see Cindy's profile. She is frowning at her phone, probably texting back and forth with her youngest son Matt. Matt is 16 years old and was not yet born when this story began. Occasionally, she anxiously glances in her rearview mirror determined not to miss anything or to be caught off guard. Cindy is my rock. She keeps me focused. I can't think of anyone else I would rather be here with than my sister. I close my eyes, lean back, and lose myself in a myriad of thoughts and questions - and the unlikely journey that has brought us to this place.
"Someone's coming!" Cindy whispers, excitedly jarring me back to reality. Her phone tumbles to the floor as we both scramble to look toward the cemetery entrance. A line of cars drives slowly down the winding entrance road.
"You were right," I whisper breathlessly as the cars slowly come to a stop near Noreen's grave.
I can see the emblem on the side of one of the police cars. Arlington Heights. Closely following the police car is a black hearse. I am transfixed as the convoy stops and the doors start opening. A variety of people step out into the chilly Chicago air. One sets up a tripod with a camera pointed towards Noreen's grave. A small truck with the name of the cemetery pulls up and several men jump out and lift numerous orange construction horses and set them close to the headstone. The men retrieve shovels from the truck and begin to position themselves around the grave. Someone gives a signal and the men slip black masks over their faces as the cameraman appears to begin filming the event.
"Why are they wearing masks?" Cindy whispers.
I don't think they want their faces on the film," I answer. I don't realize at the time that the wearing of the masks is actually for sanitary and protective reasons, as an health officer - who was undoubtedly one of who the many men who were present around the gravesite - usually supervises the workers as well as the entire process.
For what seems like eternity, the men remove the last vestiges of earth around the casket and jostle it from its vault enclosure. As the rusting box is lifted from the ground, it swings backwards, striking the headstone and splitting it in two. One of the men tried valiantly to prevent the casket from hitting the stone, but it was too late. The tombstone cracked evenly between her first and last name, an eerie sign.
The casket carrying the body of young Noreen Kumeta Rudd is carried slowly towards the back of the hearse. It is slid into the back of the hearse and the large back doors slam shut blocking our view.
Forty years ago, 19-year-old Noreen was laid to rest in this small cemetery plot wearing the white wedding dress she was married in only 27 days before her death. The recent court order allowing her body to be exhumed has disturbed her eternal sleep as the authorities, awash with fresh and potentially incendiary information, grope to find answers to her untimely death which left more questions than answers.
The small procession of cars drearily winds its way out of the cemetery leaving only the cemetery workers, who have now removed their masks, to place orange construction horses around the now-empty grave. Eventually, the workers also retreat from the empty grave leaving only Cindy and I still staring transfixed at the hole left in the ground.
"What do we do now?" I ask
"I guess we wait to see if Noreen can shed light on what happened," Cindy carefully answers.
I start the car up and head toward the exit. It is almost anticlimactic to think we will now just head for home. I know it is another stop in the journey that started so many years ago. It is another piece of the puzzle that will help us know what happened in our childhood, suburban house.
I remember clearly the day Noreen died, although I was only a junior in high school. It seems like her shadow has always been in our lives. The uncertainty of her death, and the way it has interwoven its way into our lives, has hovered over us for more than four decades. Perhaps the exhumation of her body will finally uncover the truth, bringing along with it peace and rest... not only to her, but also to us.
I glance over at Cindy, who's deep in thought. Her phone keeps beeping, but she appears not to hear it. I want desperately for her to say something. But she isn't saying a word. The silence is deafening as we sit in the middle of this garden of death.
The open grave can be seen in the rearview as we slowly head towards the cemetery entrance. I can't help but think about the man who brought Cindy and me to this small cemetery on a cold, blustery Chicago day. It has been more than forty years since we first met our stepfather, Donnie Rudd.
What you're about to read is a journey into the mind and life of a man who built his life on a foundation of lies and deceit. With a path of destruction always in his rearview mirror, he'd drive on to his next destination intact. But he left survivors who would always remember the impact he had on their lives. Surivivors like Cindy and me.
There's an old saying that time will either promote you or expose you. After more than four decades, we believe Father Time has shown up - replete with hourglass in hand - to do what he does best. And the top bulb of the hourglass is nearly empty.
Cindy turns and asks me the familiar question:
Do you think he did it?
I sometimes have trouble with books just because I’m so busy and by night time I’m super tired and often fall asleep when reading books. But I seriously couldn’t put this book down.- Ashley R.
True page turner. Riveting!- Terry O.
I'm halfway through reading this book. Good Lord!!!!- Kathy P.
When I got to the chapter about wife #four and wife #five, I was simply saying "Oh shit... the story should be done – he should be done!"- Tena B.
I just finished the book. I could not put it down... It is everything in one... honest, thrilling, despair, loving and strength. As I write this I have tears in my eyes thinking of your mother...- Maureen H.
Just wanted to let you know that I can't put it down.- Beth B.
Just began reading this book en route from DEN to PHX this morning. Got through chapter 8 and, HOLY SHIT!!!- Brian M.
The authors of the book, Lori and Cindy Hart, are happy to call in and participate in book club discussions. Contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.