The new ID documentary, Who Is Donnie Rudd? Keith Morrison Investigates, asks a question with many provocative answers, but perhaps not one definitive conclusion — yet.
The charismatic, multiply married lawyer and military veteran has reinvented himself repeatedly. He’s hosted a TV show as “Mr. Condo,” taught college courses, promoted alternative science treatments, and seemed to bound through life from one success to another.
Donnie’s stepdaughters Cindy and Lori Hart (above, main photo, with Donnie), however, knew Donnie as a conman, womanizer, and liar. They also suspected far worse, and with their stepsister Glory, they never let up on compiling evidence against him.
In 2016, the siblings’ dedication and hard work helped get the body of Noreen Rudd exhumed and reexamined. Noreen had been Donnie’s 19-year-old second wife who reportedly died in a car accident that paid him $100,000 in insurance money.
Authorities discovered that Noreen had actually died from a blunt-force head injury unrelated to the accident and ruled her case a homicide. Tireless detectives built a case against Donnie, and he presently stands charged with Noreen’s murder.In addition to Noreen’s death, however, Donnie is also under suspicion with other possible crimes, including the 1991 murder of his former client, Loretta Tabak-Bodtke. That case went cold, though, and Donnie has not been charged.
Cindy and Lori Hart (and others) also believe Donnie may have hastened the demise of their own mother Dianne, his third wife, by tampering with her cancer medication. Amplifying the tragedy for the Harts is that their mom remained obsessively dedicated to her “soulmate” Donnie until the very end.
In 2016, they published a book about their experience, tellingly titled, Living With the Devil: A Family’s Search for Truth in the Face of Deception, Infidelity, and Murder.Now, in conjunction with the airing of Who Is Donnie Rudd? Keith Morrison Investigates, Cindy Hart took some time to talk to CrimeFeed.
CRIMEFEED: Your story is like no one else’s. Thank you for sharing it with the world by way of your book and the ID show.
CINDY HART: It all started with the book. There were times I didn’t want to do it, but then I saw Oprah say that talking about her childhood made her stronger, and I told that to my sister, and that was real motivation.
What was your initial impression of Donnie?
Well, my dad was a blue-collar guy. He owned a gas station. Donnie was different. He was educated. He was a lawyer. He was funny. Our families were such close friends. I’d go over there to babysit, and he seemed very smart and funny. You have to remember, I was just 13 when all this started.
What initially happened to make you suspect something was off about Donnie?
Donnie was my mom’s soulmate. She left behind diaries and wrote all about that. He was her obsession.
It just was so strange, so out of character. My mom was very religious. We had such a stable family. Then my mom left my dad, she got kicked out of church, she just gave up everything. She gave up everything to be with Donnie.
When the stuff happened with Noreen, I was only 13, so I didn’t think it was murder. It was just this terrible car crash. I didn’t even know Donnie and Noreen had gotten married. To me, he was with my mom! So when that came out — everything was so strange.
What was it like watching your mom, Dianne, continually fall under Donnie’s spell?
It was extremely difficult. We had such a strong family, such a good home. And my mom was a great person — compassionate, caring. And smart! She was a member of Mensa and she went back to law school. So all I could do was wonder why she wouldn’t leave him. It was so out of character for her.
When I read my mom’s journals, I can still just start to cry. I cry over all she gave up and how there was nothing we could do to change her mind. I still wonder — “What if they had never done an autopsy on Noreen? Would my mom still be alive? What kind of life would she have?” That’s where the title of the book comes from, Living With the Devil. My mom couldn’t resist Donnie. She was willing to go to Hell just to be with him.
A lot of the case against Donnie arose from the material that you and Lori kept throughout the years. Was that a conscious decision?
At first, we held on to things about Donnie hoping to get my mother to change her mind about him and to leave him. We’d think, “If she sees that he’s cheating on her again, she’ll leave.” It never worked. No matter what. Still, we kept all that paperwork.
I’m a CPA and I’ve worked on fraud investigations. So later we kept that paperwork to validate our memories. We had all this validation. This is our history. Then we started to wonder, “What if something happens to us?” So it was important to preserve this validation. When we went to the police with the material, they were just in awe.
He’s just a magnetic force. He is very good at manipulating people. He’s very convincing. So he could just always move on. He always found women — smart women. He lies and speaks with total confidence.
Your book, Living With the Devil, is ultimately a story of triumph because — despite Donnie — you and Lori have turned out to have wonderful lives. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s not all good. We have overcome so much, but it changed us. There are questions — “What would life be like if this never happened? Would my mom be alive? Would Lori be an attorney? Would I be a CPA?”
Through the years, though, Lori and I developed this incredible sibling bond. When it came time to write the book, it wasn’t easy for me. Lori had already written a book about my mom that didn’t focus on Donnie. It was painful, but once we got going, the book became my obsession.
I’ve learned from the experience. But I still struggle. I’m always trying to fix things — my friends, my family, everyone. Because I grew up trying to fix my mom.
Obviously, we all hope justice is going to be served. But do you think, at long last, these charges could be the undoing of Donnie Rudd?
I don’t know the evidence they have, and I don’t know all the details of the case against him, but Lisa Madigan is a phenomenal state’s attorney.
Donnie is incapable of telling the truth. And I just want the truth to come out. You talk about justice — I just want the truth.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s Who Is Donnie Rudd? Keith Morrison Investigates on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Donnie Rudd with Cindy Hart and Lori Hart [Investigation Discovery]