Time to kill
Rudi’s retirement to a beautiful oceanfront condo became a searing hell…
With its palms and white sandy beaches, the Florida town of Lauderdale-by-theSea was a dream destination to retire to.
Calm and crime-free, it was like stepping back in time for the people who sank their pensions into homes in the sunshine.
But there’s always trouble in paradise…
In 2000, a prime ocean-front condo had been plagued by petty acts of vandalism – oil poured into the swimming pool and plants poisoned.
The residents’ association’s Leonard ‘Rudi’ Houda, 63, had reported it to the police, but the culprit remained a mystery.
As a retired US Air Force captain, Rudi was respected in the neighbourhood and was a staunch defender of the rules.
On a hot Sunday afternoon in July, he went to the supermarket to go shopping for his wife, Edith.
While he loaded groceries into the boot, a man called out to him.
Rudi turned round and was met with a curtain of red-hot, searing agony.
The stranger had tipped a bucket of sulphuric acid over him, before running off into a white van that screeched away.
Rudi staggered back to the shopping centre, his skin dripping off him.
Shocked onlookers backed away in horror. One woman said his body looked like a melting candle.
But the brave owner of the grocery store doused him with water and told people to keep it coming.
‘You’ll make it,’ he told Rudi, as they waited for the paramedics. But it was too late.
Rudi didn’t stand a chance
– the acid ate into his skin and internal organs. He died in hospital 11 days later.
A woman had seen the attack and gave police a good description of the acid thrower – white, 6ft 3in and in white trousers.
Police also discovered that there had been a dispute between Rudi and his neighbour, Walter Dendy, 70.
It’d started when Rudi put up bushes that Walter said blocked his view of the beach.
Condo manager Walter was a ‘big cheese’ in the neighbourhood and denied there was anything going on between him and Rudi.
In fact, he claimed he’d mediated in a row between Rudi and two feisty pensioners in the flats.
Plus, he had an alibi for the time of the attack.
Police put out an appeal that brought forward an informant called ‘John’, who admitted he’d lent his white van to a man called ‘Luke Leaky’ – aka Emilio Charafardin.
Emilio answered the description of the driver, and John said he’d found clothes in the van that appeared to be eaten by acid.
When Emilio was arrested, he told police that he was just the getaway driver and Rudi’s attacker was his friend, Neal Bross.
But the mastermind behind the whole thing?
Neal said he’d been offered £165,000 to chuck the acid in Rudi’s eyes to blind him.
Emilio would get £16,000 as the getaway driver.
He also said he was the one who put oil in the pool and poisoned the bushes – all at Walter’s request, to undermine his rival, hoping the residents would turn on him.
Lead detective Eli Thomasevich was stunned by Walter’s actions.
‘The man has never been in trouble,’ he said. ‘Worked his whole life. Retired. It’s hard to believe that a man like him would be involved in an incident like this.’
Criminal psychologist Keira Stockdale explained, ‘There are people who are predisposed to angry rumination.
‘The more you think about it, the more you visualise the revenge you’re going to enact. That’s what happened in Walter’s case.’
In February 2003, Walter and Emilio were convicted of seconddegree murder and Neal Bross of murder in the third degree.
Neal got 15 years in jail, Emilio 25, and Walter, life.
A retrial went ahead in 2005 as one of Dendy’s statements to police was given without his lawyer present, but the same verdicts were reached.
Paula Mcmahon who covered the story for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, said, ‘The thing that really sticks out about this case is just how petty disputes can blow out of proportion and how tragic it all is, as Rudi suffered terribly. ‘His wife suffered terribly. ‘She didn’t get to say goodbye to him. His children were not able to say goodbye. You hope they get to go on with their lives, but I don’t know that anybody ever gets to close these things out.’