LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Infamous killer Margaret Rudin, the Black Widow of Las Vegas, is about to be released from prison. But some of those who know her are terrified at the prospect that she will reenter society.
"I don't think she should ever get out, for any reason," said John Reuther, a good friend of Ron Rudin.
Other people connected to the case and contacted by 13 Investigates declined to go camera, citing a fear of Margaret.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The story of Margaret and Ron Rudin goes back 25 years.
He was a successful millionaire. She was a Southern belle.
Ron and Margaret Rudin were both on their fifth marriages, and it would end in a brutal murder.
Their story takes place in Las Vegas during the 1990s. The city was transforming itself from the old-mob days to the corporate mega-resort landscape known today.
"We were witnessing the evolution of a community like no other," said Kim Schofield, a former KTNV-TV anchor.
Buildings were coming down and bigger, better ones were going up.
"Las Vegas was settling in mid-1990 into the Las Vegas we know today. Its sort of dangerous past was well in the rear-view mirror," said Author Michael Fleeman.
WATCH PART 1: Infamous killer Margaret Rudin set for release from prison
Away from the famous Las Vegas Strip, Ron Rudin was busy building his real estate business.
"He had respect with many levels of people," explained Schofield. "He hung out with mayors, and policeman, and lawyers, and respected business people," she added.
Ron Rudin came from the Chicagoland area in the 1960s to Las Vegas.
"We just had a lot in common and we just got really close... he was like a brother to me," said John Reuther.
Reuther, also from the Windy City, considered Ron one of his best friends. The paired shared a love of flying planes, but also a desire to cash in on Sin City.
"I trusted him with the real estate so we had an agreement -- you trust me, I trust you. So, he was my adviser but he had complete trust in me too," explained Reuther.
Ron had an appetite for the finer things in life as well as pretty women. Ron met Margaret at church and she immediately caught his eye.
"She was outgoing, she was vivacious, very sociable and dressed nicely," explained Fleeman.
WATCH FULL INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL FLEEMAN
Fleeman says soon after they pair were married there was trouble.
"There was a lot of obsession, a lot of distrust. There's a lot of suspicion. There's a lot of jealousy. But they are also very very close at the same time," said Fleeman.
Ron moved Margaret into his humble, 2-bedroom home near Charleston and Decatur boulevards.
The home resembled a fortress with high exterior walls, cameras and dogs. Ron was obsessed with security.
Margaret viewed the home the same way she viewed her marriage -- a prison that she was determined to escape.
A STORMY RELATIONSHIP
"The relationship between Ron and Margaret was very passionate and also very stormy, almost from the very beginning," said Fleeman.
"They loved each other passionately, but they had these very, very volatile fights. At one point there was gunfire, literally. A gun it went off. Nobody got shot, but that's how this relationship was," added Fleeman.
Ron kept Margaret at an arm's length and never revealed how much money he had. It was a secret Margaret was determined to learn.
"Margaret was even suspected of even wiretapping Ron's phone in his office so she could hear who he was speaking with. And ultimately she found out that he was having an affair with someone, and she heard it on the wiretap that she illegally created," said retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Detective Phil Ramos.
Despite learning about the affair, Margaret wanted more. In late 1994, she opened up an antique store with the help of Ron's money.
"Ron had told me he furnished over $100,000 to open that antique store. She didn't know any more about antiques than I do," said Reuther.
"Margaret wanted Ron's money and she knew from her previous four marriages that if she gets a divorce, she's not going to get very much of that money. So she stayed in with him for a while but it got worse and worse and worse, and he was literally sleeping with another woman and she found out about it," said Fleeman.
RON ADMITS TO BEING NERVOUS
Then, just weeks before Christmas in 1994, Ron called his friend John Reuther.
"He says he's found a piece of paper in the house, 'Margaret is diagramming out how she's going to split up all my money, the estate with her relatives and her friends,'" explained Reuther.
"He goes... 'I'm getting very nervous.' And I told him, 'You better watch your back,'" Reuther added.
That warning came as Ron changed his will, and it was a move many saw as a direct edict against his wife Margaret.
"It got to the point where he started worrying that his life could be in danger -- that maybe Margaret might elevate this to the next step -- so he changed his will and it said if 'I die by violent means, a car accident, a shooting, investigate the person who stands to inherit my money,'" explained Fleeman.
Ron Rudin saw the writing on the wall for his troubled marriage.
"Finally, he came and said, 'John I got to tell you something.' I said, 'What's that?' And he very rarely would say anything about his private life. He says, 'This one's got me worried,'" explained Reuther.
Ron was right to worry.
He confided in his good friend Reuther that the marriage was rocky at best, fueled by jealously, affairs and greed.
Margaret had married and divorced 4 previous men -- each more wealthy than the last -- and seemed to be working on a scheme to get Ron's vast wealth.
The real estate empire included land in Lee Canyon worth millions and a massive gun collection estimated to be worth $3 million
RON GOES MISSING
"All of a sudden he turns up missing and you just wonder, 'What happened?'" said Schofield.
Ron Rudin served during the Vietnam War -- he was regimented, reliable and constantly checked into work.
"Ron Rudin was a creature of habit, he always came to work at the same time, he even wore the same stuff every day," explained Fleeman.
It was rare when Ron did not handle a matter or issue himself, so when he failed to show up to work on Monday, Dec. 19, 1994, his friends and family were very concerned.
"I called up in the morning, his secretary says he didn't come in this morning. I said, 'Oh.' I called up my wife in Chicago and I said, 'I think Margaret did something to Ron,'" said Reuther.
Ron's friends had suspicions, but it was his employees that went straight to police.
"When he didn't show up to work that morning at exactly the right time, his coworkers were terrified. They knew something had to have happened," said Fleeman.
"Margaret on the other hand didn't seem very concerned," added Fleeman.
Margaret told police Ron was in a depressed mood and was drinking alcohol.
She says after he declined to go to the movies, she left and when she returned he was gone.
Days turned into weeks, but there was no sign of Ron or his black Cadillac.
"He was too much of a high-profile person, the circumstances under which he disappears we're just too suspicious," explained Ramos.
Ramos says the crucial break came weeks later in January 1995 in Nelson's Landing, a remote area 40 miles from Las Vegas near Lake Mojave.
WATCH FULL INTERVIEW WITH PHIL RAMOS
BODY FOUND IN DESERT
"It was a group of Nellis airmen that had gone out fishing in the middle of the night. They start making their way back out to the car and are using a flashlight to light up the ground because it was still dark," explained Ramos.
"The flashlight illuminated a human skull," he added.
Ramos and his partner, Jimmy Vicarro, were called out to the gruesome scene.
There was a burned antique chest with charred human bones inside -- and just feet away there was a human skull.
The scene also contained another clue, a custom bracelet that spelled RON. Dental records would confirm the discovery was the remains of Ron Rudin.
"It was just so bizarre. We have made hundreds of death notifications without exception, except for Margaret, there's always some kind of a reaction, some kind of emotional reaction," explained Ramos.
Margaret's demeanor puzzled Ramos and his partner.
The investigation revealed Ron was shot several times in the back of the head.
Ron was also decapitated and his remains burned inside an antique chest.
Ramos pressed Margaret for answers and returned to the home. He had a quick look around the home, but it provided nothing useful for the investigation.
However, the investigation and people who knew Ron Rudin kept pointing them back to Margaret.
WATCH PART 2: 1994 missing persons case turns into brutal murder
MYSTERIOUS PHONE CALL
The next break came on Jan. 25, 1995, when a mysterious phone call came to Ramos and his partner.
Handyman Augustine Lovato revealed he had been hired by Margaret to make changes to the home she shared with Ron just days after his disappearance.
Lovato said he removed the carpeting and a soiled mattress from the master bedroom. Lovato also noticed what looked like red specs on a glamour shot of Margaret which was hanging over the bed.
Lovato also offered up a box that Margaret instructed him to mail to her mother out of state.
Police were hoping it may contain the gun they desperately needed.
Instead, it had something else that steered the investigation in a different direction.
The box contained what appeared to be love notes and a photo of a man named Yehuda Sharon.
MARGARET'S MYSTERY MAN
Sharon became the mystery man that police wanted to speak to. The letters and messages pointed to a budding romance between Sharon and Margaret. Investigators believed he knew something about Ron's brutal murder.
"So we spoke to Yehuda at length and he said, 'Oh we're just friends.' I did some computer work for her and there's nothing more than that relationship,'" explained Ramos.
"We found that was not the case at all," added Ramos.
Police also found evidence that Sharon rented a van around the same time as Ron's disappearance. Sharon claimed to have driven to California, but investigators noted the mileage did not add up.
Police tailed the couple all the way to the Los Angeles airport just days after Ron's remains were discovered. The pair were seen hugging at one point before Margaret got on a plane to Chicago.
Police pressed Sharon for answers and eventually the Clark County District Attorney's office gave him full immunity in exchange for testifying against Margaret.
Ramos says that was a mistake, adding he knew Sharon would not provide anything useful for the investigation.
A grand jury investigation was launched and Sharon testified before the proceedings.
"We said he is not going to talk, he's not gonna tell us what we need to know, but that was not our decision to make and the DA ultimately gave him immunity from anything to do with that and he got in front of grand jury and he didn't say word one bit of information," said Ramos.
THE DECEPTION DEEPENS
The investigation continued but with Sharon now untouchable, police needed another stroke of luck.
While police continued to track down leads, Margaret was in civil court fighting with the trustees of Ron's estate.
Margaret would ended up being awarded $600,000 of Ron's wealth, despite testimony from authorities that spelled out their belief that Margaret was directly responsible for her husband's death.
The break police needed would come on July 21, 1996 -- a year and a half after Ron disappeared.
A diver at Lake Mead found a gun that was wrapped in plastic bags in about 15 feet of water.
The .22 caliber Ruger pistol with a silencer matched the one that was missing from Ron's gun collection.
Authorities learned the weapon disappeared shortly after Margaret married Ron and she moved into their home.
Forensic specialists test-fired the gun and the bullets and the barrel markings matched the ones found in Ron's skull.
Police finally had the murder weapon they desperately needed.
A second grand jury in July 1997 decided there was enough evidence to bring murder charges against Margaret.
However, Mrs. Rudin was not going to stick around for long.
"She goes on the lam for more than two years and she wears wigs and disguises," explained Fleeman.
"She bought books on how to disguise yourself, she was even recognized when she was in Arizona on 'America's Most Wanted.' The TV show did a segment on her and she was recognized and they called the police," added Fleeman.
DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Extended interview with Michael Fleeman, author of 'If I Die'
MARGARET RUDIN ON THE RUN
Margaret was now a fugitive from justice.
After the tip came in from "America's Most Wanted," police tracked down a woman matching Margaret Rudin's description, but Margaret was able to fool police in Arizona twice, and convinced them she was somebody else.
"She stayed on the run for two more years, and she ends up living with a guy in Massachusetts under an assumed name, wearing wigs, a new look, and just begins this whole new life completely out in the open," said Fleeman.
Margaret's luck would run out in October 1999 -- a full two years after she was indicted -- when authorities tracked down in Revere, Massachusetts.
Mrs. Rudin was placed under arrest and sent back to Las Vegas.
"Everybody talked about it, it was in the paper daily. It was on every news station and everybody wanted to know more," said Schofield.
"It was almost a bit of a feeding frenzy because you have so many unknowns," she added.
Margaret, the soft-spoken grandmother, was back in the city where it all began in a jail jumpsuit.
The stage was now set for a circus-like trial -- the likes of which Las Vegas had not seen before.
THE TRIAL BEGINS
In March 2001, opening statements for the Rudin trial got underway.
The case had received nationwide attention already, but the trial would be broadcast live, from gavel to gavel, on Court TV.
The state's case was presented by prosecutor Gary Guymon and Deputy District Attorney Chris Owens.
They detailed the meticulous planning and brutal killing of Ron Rudin, and described that Margaret was motivated by jealously, anger and especially greed.
"There was some martial discord and, of course, with the community property laws in the state, you're entitled to 50% of that. And with Ron Rudin dying, Margaret Rudin believed that she should be entitled to 100%" said Gary Guymon.
The opening statement made by defense attorney Michael Amador left the courtroom and Judge Joe Bonaventure stunned.
"Everybody got concerned at opening statements when Michael Amador stood in front of the jury and was completely unprepared," said Fleeman.
The speech appeared to be rambling, nonsensical and off-topic.
Things went from bad to worse for the defense when Margaret's attorneys attempted to re-enact the bedroom shooting scene.
"The defense stages this reenactment of the murder. They bring in a movie set of Ron Rudin's bedroom, and one of the attorneys is laying down on the bed and goes 'bang bang bang' with a fake gun," said Fleeman.
The display set the judge and prosecutors off.
"Mr. Momot and Mr. Pitaro did some sort of reenactment in front of the jury... very loudly. I think, putting their credibility at risk and making themselves a witness without any basis for doing that. It's more than just the numerous arguments they've been making -- and spontaneously in front of the jury. This is some sort of reenactment. It was unprofessional... I've never seen anything like that," said Deputy District Attorney Chris Owens.
"There's of course an objection from the prosecution," said Fleeman.
"Because defense attorneys are not allowed to testify, someone else has to say, they can't put on a show," he added.
"It's not a school play. And then Bonaventure just erupted," said Fleeman.
Judge Bonaventure scolded the defense team and ordered the jury to disregard what they had just watched.
The trial would see more twists and turns leading to a jaw-dropping moment coming from Margaret herself.
"There came a point in the trial [when] everyone was wondering what is wrong with Michael Amador, and Margaret speaks up with a southern accent and she goes, 'Your Honor, I would like a mistrial,'" said Fleeman.
Mrs. Rudin told the judge she felt her legal team was not prepared enough for trial.
"It's very hard to get a mistrial for ineffective council," explained Fleeman.
"You're not guaranteed perfect representation in America, but you are expected to have effective and competent counsel and the judge said maybe it's not the best but it falls well within the legal guidelines," added Fleeman.
The trial continued on and prosecutors called Dona Cantrell-Robinson, Margaret's baby sister, to the stand. She is 8 years her junior.
Cantrell-Robinson was the key witness who flipped on Margaret and testified that she knew her sister bugged Ron's office to hear his conversation and was totaling up his wealth.
"One of the things that she had said to me once we were in the office is that there was an appraisal for Lee Canyon of $3.5 million," Cantrell-Robinson testified.
Cantrell-Robinson provided one more parting shot when she described how she confronted her sister about the murder.
"Tell me, who got into your high-security house, surrounded by dogs, shot and killed Ron in the bedroom, removed him, cleaned up the room so you didn't notice a mess, drove him 40 miles to the desert, decapitated and burned him, and ran his car back to town?" questioned Cantrell-Robinson.
"I said, 'Margaret, does that sound like the mob to you?'" added Cantrell-Robinson.
Prosecutors argued Margaret had means, motive and opportunity.
The defense offered up its own theory, describing Ron as having shady business dealings with even more unsavory characters.
"Margaret comes up with this notion that it must've been a drug lord that killed him because that's what they do. That's how they get back at people they're dealing with," said Ramos.
Authorities did explore the possibility during the investigation and contacted multiple federal agencies to follow up.
"She did mention that Ron was involved in running guns to Colombian drug lords in South America because he had access to so many weapons. He was a licensed gun dealer and he had hundreds of weapons at his disposal at his house," said Ramos.
THE VERDICT IS IN
After almost 10 weeks of testimony, the jury began their deliberations and returned a unanimous decision.
Guilty on all counts.
Margaret Rudin stood in the courtroom -- unphased, stoic, cold -- as the verdict was read.
"When I read that verdict, I looked right in her eyes and I paused symbolically, and when I said the word 'guilty,' she didn't even blink," said Ron Vest, Juror 5 and jury foreman.
Rudin, 58 at the time, was now a convicted murderer.
"Margaret just showed this steely resolve," said Fleeman.
"There wasn't much of a reaction at all and that surprised people," added Fleeman.
"She's going away, 20 years to life, she's an older woman, well into her 50s, this could be a death sentence for her," explained Fleeman.
Rudin would not go quietly in the months after her trial.
She filed a court appeal for her conviction and granted another interview with KTNV Channel 13, which at the time identified as "News 13."
"I objected to the foreman, the man they ultimately made the foreman, number five, at the time I said to both [of my attorneys] I think we should reject him," Margaret Rudin told News 13.
"This is the first time I've heard that," said Vest in an interview with 13 Investigates.
"I find that kind of funny because if I thought for one second that she was innocent, I would've hung that jury myself," explained Vest.
Vest says there was a point during deliberations that the jury had trouble coming up with a unanimous decision.
"I often thought I could be a target when she got out because I was kind of instrumental in getting the verdict that we got," added Vest.
Margaret requested but never received her retrial, and she still maintains her innocence to this day.
RUDIN GETS PAROLE
Infamous convicted killer Margaret Rudin's story was the subject of TV shows, documentaries and a book titled "If I die" by Michael Fleeman.
"When I wrote the book almost 20 years ago, nobody could imagine we would be sitting here today talking about the parole of Margaret Rudin, it just seems like something that would never happen," said Fleeman.
The title, "If I die," was actually a phrase borrowed from the ominous warning in Ron Rudin's will when the businessman suspected his life could be ended by someone who stood the most to gain by his death.
"He didn't mention Margaret by name, but most people interpreted it to mean Margaret Rudin," explained Fleeman.
Fleeman spent months following in the footsteps of investigators, taking pictures and documenting the case that still terrifies people.
"There was a mountain of evidence against her and there was very little to refute that," said Vest.
"What do you think was the most disturbing part of this trial?" asked Reporter Joe Bartels.
"I think the fact that he was shot in his sleep," said Vest.
"When you are shot in your sleep, I mean, you don't even have a fighting chance," added Vest.
Vest says the case changed his life in some ways and as Margaret prepares to leave prison, he'll be watching his back.
"I have a concealed carry permit and so I'll probably be carrying for a while after her release just to feel a little more protected," explained Vest.
Margaret never admitted to anything and proclaims her innocence; another fact that bothers Ron's friends and relatives.
"Are you concerned that she is dangerous?" asked Reporter Joe Bartels to John Reuther, Ron's good friend.
"To anyone who associates with her that she can use to make money off of," responded Reuther.
"They do not hand out conscience passes to murderers in prison," said Patti Reuther, John's daughter.
"To all rich men, watch out now, you could be next," added Patti.
"Margaret is a contradiction," said Fleeman.
"On the one hand, she is this kind, soft-spoken grandmother Southern belle. But to others, she's a cold-blooded killer," added Fleeman.
Margaret Rudin, 76, plans to live with relatives in Las Vegas once she is released from prison and has plans to attend UNLV to get a bachelor's degree.
"By all accounts she was a model prisoner and activist for other inmates," said Fleeman.
"She stood up for women inmates and their rights," added Fleeman.
Rudin sued the Nevada Department of Corrections in 2018 claiming abuse, misconduct and sexism because female inmates don't have the same access to programs for aging prisoners like men do.
The agency settled the case.
In 2008, a district court judge ordered a new trial for Rudin on the grounds of incompetent council but that decision was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court.
Rudin's conviction stands for now.
Rudin appealed her conviction in federal court and a decision could come down by the end of 2019.
Margaret Rudin could be released from prison on parole on Dec. 15.
13 Investigates attempted to contact Yehouda Sharon, Michael Amador, Margaret Rudin, Margaret Rudin's current attorney Travis Barrick, Judge Joe Bonaventure, Dona Cantrell-Robinson, and Ron's ex-wife Caralynne Rudin but request for interviews were either not acknowledged or declined.
**NOTE Margaret Rudin was released from prison on Jan. 10, 2020. Click here for story.