Saturday, Feb. 24, 2001 | 10:48 a.m.
Ronald Rudin went to great lengths to avoid publicity -- especially the kind generated by his brutal death.
Once, while attending a theatrical performance by porn star Marilyn Chambers at a local club, he stood by the front door. When a friend asked why he hadn't taken a seat, Rudin replied: "If the police raid the place, I want to be the first one out."
On another occasion, at his office at 5112 W. Charleston Blvd. -- just steps from the Alpine Place residence where the multimillionaire was shot and decapitated in December 1994 -- he saw a TV news crew pull up.
"They were doing a story about an air conditioner on top of a nearby building and Ron said to me, 'You can talk to them,' and he left (via the back door)," said longtime friend Jerry Stump, operator of West Hill Barber Shop at 5110 W. Charleston. Rudin was also his landlord.
"Ron wanted no part of that (media coverage). He treasured his privacy, yet he also had an eye for the ladies. I would say that Ron Rudin was a loner who didn't want to be alone."
Married five times, Ronald J. Rudin's third wife committed suicide. His fifth wife, Margaret, is his accused killer. Her trial is scheduled to begin Monday in District Court.
"She (Margaret) would come to his office often," said Stump, who first met Ron Rudin after taking over his stepfather's barbershop in 1966, two years after Rudin bought the property. "Margaret had two personalities. She seemed like a pleasant lady. But at times she also could be, well ..."
Stump said Rudin, 64 at the time of his death, was a caring landlord, often allowing tenants to get behind in rent without evicting them.
"One chiropractor in this building owed Ron about a year and a half's rent, and Ron didn't evict him because he would do everything he could to keep the people in (their businesses)," Stump said.
Ironically, according to testimony before a Clark County grand jury, Margaret was unhappy that her husband insisted she pay rent for an antiques shop that she opened in the same complex as his realty office.
Longtime Realtor Jessie Emmett, now retired, who conducted many business deals with Rudin including the sale of Federal Housing Administration rehabilitated properties, remembered Rudin as being professional in his dealings.
"He was a reputable salesman as far as I knew -- I have nothing negative to say about Ron," Emmett said. "He worked very hard at what he did. He just made a living like the rest of us."
Emmett said the FHA at one time appointed Rudin as the local broker for homes that were repossessed, renovated and resold.
At the time of his death, Rudin was working on a deal involving 100 acres of undeveloped property at Lee Canyon.
Friends described Rudin as a workaholic.
On one of his trips to Emmett's office, Rudin met Peggy, who worked there as a secretary.
"She was gentle and sweet -- not wild and vibrant," Emmett said, hinting that Peggy was not the type of woman that Rudin generally went for. Still, they got married.
Peggy shot herself in the head with a high-caliber handgun on Dec. 20, 1978, in the same master bedroom of the residence where investigators believe Ron was shot and killed 16 years later.
Friends say Peggy's death took a major toll on Rudin.
"Peggy, I believe, was the woman he loved the most of all of his wives," Stump said. "For a year after she died, he had fresh flowers placed on her grave every week."
While some friends remember Rudin for his introverted ways, others recall a man who loved to have fun, whether it was picnics or big-game hunting in Africa on at least two occasions.
"Around his friends like me and my husband, Ron was very outgoing," said Amy Ruggles, widow of longtime local investigator Jack Ruggles, who died of cancer earlier this month.
"Ron and Jack were officers together on the Cold Creek (Homeowners) Board, and Ron would go to the Cold Creek picnics with us and have a lot of fun. He was low-profile, but he was not a recluse."
For years, Rudin and Jack Ruggles went deer hunting in Northern and central Nevada. Later Rudin traveled to Central and South America to hunt.
While Rudin would visit Jack regularly, he did not often come with Margaret. When he did, Amy said, "she stayed in the car. Maybe she felt she was too good to be associated with us. Maybe she was just distant."
Jack and Amy Ruggles were vacationing in the Dominican Republic when Jack got a telephone call from one of Rudin's associates saying Rudin did not show up for work.
"My husband hung up the phone and said he was sure Ron was dead -- not necessarily murdered, but maybe from a heart attack or an auto accident," Amy Ruggles said. "You see, Ron was so regular with everything he did, he would never have just not shown up for work unless something was wrong.
"When Ron's body was found a month later, Jack contacted the district attorney's office and offered to help investigate the killing for no charge. They never got back to him, but Jack kept his own file (on the Rudin killing) and followed the case closely."
Stump said he was shocked that Rudin died in such a violent manner, given the ring of security he put around himself and his tenants.
"He had the most sophisticated security system for this building -- cameras and everything," Stump said. "At one time I had the most secure barbershop in the city."
Also, Rudin was an avid admirer of guns and, according to what Margaret told police after his death, he regularly carried a gun in his boot. He also had a gun collection and a federal firearms dealer's license that allowed him to sell assault weapons.
As for speculation that Rudin had business dealings with shady characters and that such a situation may have led to his slaying -- as has been offered in Margaret Rudin's defense -- Stump says he doesn't believe it.
"The kind of people who stopped by Ron's office were mayors, police officials and FBI agents -- all of whom were his friends," Stump said. "He was a member of the Junior Chamber, for gosh sakes. I don't buy that mob bull for one minute."
Former Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie would run into Rudin at numerous social functions such as Jaycee meetings and also came to know him as a private man.
"He wasn't community-minded in that he had any buildings named after him, but Ron cared for this community," Lurie said, focusing on the people Rudin helped house and the businesses he helped start through property sales and space leases during his lengthy career.
"What he did was not unusual for Las Vegas. There are many people who did the same thing -- made their fortune and stayed away from publicity. Ron was secluded in that way."
Rudin was born Nov. 13, 1930, in Chicago and grew up in Illinois. His father died in his early 40s and his mother lived for many years near him on Evergreen Street. She died in her mid-80s, friends said.
Rudin, an Army veteran, came to Las Vegas when he was 34. Seeing great potential for the then-barren desert area in western Las Vegas, he made his fortune brokering real estate -- much of it in that area.
Rudin, who had an interest in Scientology, often gave friends books by the late founder of that religion, L. Ron Hubbard.
Rudin married his second wife, Caralynne Johnson, in 1971. That marriage ended in 1975. After Peggy's death, Rudin married Karen Carmany, whose name appears on the trial's witness list. Rudin married Margaret in September 1987. She was 12 years his junior. It also was her fifth trip down the aisle.
Prosecutors believe Margaret and an unknown accomplice shot Ron Rudin several times in the head on Dec. 18, 1994, decapitated him and burned his remains in a trunk at Lake Mead.
Prosecutors say Margaret Rudin was enraged that her husband was having an affair, and she also wanted to get her hands on his fortune, estimated at $11 million.
In 1995 a civil trial was held to contest the bulk of Rudin's estate -- 60 percent -- going to his widow. Margaret settled for $600,000 during the trial.
Margaret Rudin, who has been dubbed the "Black Widow" by some in the media, was indicted for murder in April 1997 and disappeared. She was captured in Revere, Mass., on Nov. 8, 1999, after spending some time in Mexico. She has been in custody since.
Rudin is buried in south-central Illinois near his parents.