Stranger Than Fiction – Spotlight on an Author

Robert Ludlum

In mystery and suspense novels the loose ends are usually tied up by the end of the book, but in real life things aren’t always that neat.  Take the case of writer Robert Ludlum for example.  Some things happened to him shortly before his death that have never been explained.  Let me give you a little background on Ludlum before I talk about the questions that persist.

Robert Ludlum was born in New York City in 1927, but was raised in New Jersey.  According to his nephew, Dr. Kenneth Kearns (Ludlum’s first wife’s sister’s son, and Ludlum’s biographer) Ludlum was adopted, and spent much of his life wondering who he really was much like Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity whose memory has been wiped clean by evil spymasters.

Ludlum tried to enlist in the U. S. Navy during WW II, but was turned down because he was under age.  When he turned 18 he joined the Marines.  In 1950 Ludlum met an actress named Mary Ryducha, and they married the following year.  She was the love of his life.  They had three children.  He became a Broadway actor, and appeared on about 200 different TV shows before becoming a producer (he produced The Owl and the Pussycat on Broadway), and finally a writer at age 44.  His first novel, The Scarlatti Inheritance (1971), did well, and he continued to write.  Many of his books, which have sold a total of almost 300 million copies, became popular movies.  His most famous books were the three thrillers: The Bourne Identity (1980), The Bourne Supremacy (1986), and The Bourne Ultimatum (1990), and each became a popular movie starring Matt Damon.  With popular books and movie deals, Robert Ludlum became a very, very wealthy man.

Shortly after his first wife died from cancer in 1996, Ludlum fell in love with a woman named Karen Dunn.  Friends and family knew that he was still grieving, and suggested that he go slowly.  However, the next year he said that he intended to marry Karen.  When he suggested a prenuptial agreement, she balked, and said she would not marry him, so he dropped the request for the prenup.  They were married on March 7, 1997, and spent much of their time in a home in Naples, Florida.  He was 69 years old at the time of the marriage, but I can’t determine how old she was though she looks younger than Ludlum in the photo below.

Robert and Karen Ludlum

The marriage quickly deteriorated.  Karen soon moved into a separate bedroom, and replaced her engagement ring with a much larger more expensive one without telling Ludlum before she bought it.  She also pressed him to see less of his family and friends who consequently came to see her as greedy and grasping.  Karen complained to friends that she didn’t feel that she would be well taken care of when he died – obviously she felt that he would die before her.  So shortly before his death, Ludlum modified his will giving Karen a greater part of his estate than his previous will had granted her.

On the morning of February 10, 2001 the Naples fire department rushed to the Ludlum home in response to a call about a fire.  It took them six minutes to get there, and when they arrived they found Ludlum on fire and screaming but unable to get up from his recliner.  They could smell smoke and burning flesh everywhere in the house.  There were fire extinguishers throughout the home, but none had been touched.  Karen, the only other person present, was in the kitchen and remained there.  When approached about what had happened she belligerently responded, “F*** off.  I’m fixing myself a drink.”  She refused to accompany her husband to the hospital, and the cause of the fire was never investigated.

After several weeks in the hospital, Ludlum, who was still on morphine because of his intense pain, went home.  As far as I can determine he never accused his wife of setting him on fire or gave any explanation for what happened to him.  On March 12, 2001 Robert Ludlum, aged 73, died from an apparent heart attack.  I say “apparent” because his death, like the fire that almost killed him, was not investigated.  [I accidentally transposed the 0 and 1 in the original post, thus listing his death as 2010 instead of 2001.]

Ludlum had made it known that he wanted to be buried in New York City, but Karen quickly had him cremated instead.  It may or may not be relevant, but his cremation made an autopsy impossible should questions about the cause of his death be raised later.

Karen Dunn Ludlum received a generous settlement but apparently did not find happiness.  In 2008 she died – perhaps from suicide.  If she had the answers to the many questions raised by what I have written above, she took them with her to the grave.

Ludlum’s nephew has written a biography of his uncle, and has attempted to get the authorities to investigate what happened, but there is little hope that the mysteries concerning Robert Ludlum will ever be solved.  As author Julian Barnes said, “Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t.”

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