A man charged in the 2010 killing of an American University professor in Bethesda is finally back in Montgomery County, Maryland, after more than a decade on the run, authorities said.
In his first court appearance Wednesday in Rockville District Court, Jorge Rueda Landeros, 53, was ordered held without bond on charges of first-degree murder in the killing of Sue Ann Marcum. The accounting professor, with whom police said Rueda Landeros had a personal relationship, was found dead in the basement of her Bethesda home in October 2010. She had been beaten and asphyxiated, according to an autopsy.
Rueda Landeros, was arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico, late last year, working as a yoga instructor under a different name and was extradited to Maryland earlier this week.
Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said prosecutors have DNA evidence linking Rueda Landeros to the crime scene and, even though the investigation is now more than a decade old, “We have a case that will allow us to go forward.”
Rueda Landeros has maintained his innocence.
“Mr. Rueda Landeros is innocent, has asserted his innocence before, and continues to today. We look forward to a trial in a courtroom in this case,” said Michael Beach, the Montgomery County district public defender in an email to WTOP.
Evidence: DNA, life insurance policy
Montgomery County police and FBI officials, held a news conference later Wednesday afternoon to discuss details of the investigation that led them to Rueda Landeros and why it took 12 years to make an arrest.
“This arrest shows the determination and dedication of our Major Crimes detectives in investigating this murder and tracking down the suspect,” Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told reporters.
According to charging documents in the case, the scene of Marcum’s killing initially bore signs of a robbery. A rear window appeared to have been pried open, and the house was partially ransacked. However, several expensive items were left behind and investigators said evidence of a struggle indicated Marcum possibly knew her attacker.
Suspicion eventually landed on Rueda Landeros, a yoga instructor and Spanish teacher, who developed a personal and financial relationship with Marcum sometime in the mid-2000s. Police have not detailed exactly how the two knew each other.
According to police, Rueda Landeros was the sole beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy on Marcum, and the two also shared a joint investment fund.
In addition, a 1099 form in Marcum’s name from 2008 listed proceeds of over $100 million from the fund, which investigators believed to be “very unusual,” given her occupation as a university professor, according to the charging documents.
Police declined to say during the news conference whether the fund actually had $100 million in it or if the tax form was bogus.
Investigators also uncovered emails showing Marcum had become “increasingly concerned and uneasy” about the way Rueda Landeros was handling the money from the account, and spoke of “not being able sleep” over it.
Montgomery County homicide detective Paula Hamill, who investigated the case, said Rueda Landeros was known to travel back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico through El Paso, Texas, and on one of those trips, detectives in Texas were able to obtain a buccal DNA swab from him.
According to police, Rueda Landeros’ DNA matched DNA recovered from items in Marcum’s house, including the weapon police believe was used to bludgeon her and scrapings from under her fingernails.
Armed with that DNA link, authorities began what turned out to be the 12-year “odyssey of returning him here to the United States to stand trial for this particular matter,” McCarthy, the county’s top prosecutor, said following the court appearance Wednesday afternoon.
An arrest warrant for Rueda Landeros was first issued in April 2011 and an Interpol Red Notice followed, but Landeros, who was by then reported to be in Juarez, Mexico, declined to turn himself in.
He later contacted a Washington Post reporter, stating he was innocent of all the charges and would not surrender.
At one point during his time on the lam, Hamill, the homicide detective, said she even emailed with Rueda Landeros and he invited her to Juarez to talk.
“I declined and outside of that, there wasn’t … specific conversation about him coming here to turn himself in,” she said.
It’s unclear why it took so long to arrest Rueda Landeros but at some point he took on a new name — Leon Ferrara — and left the Juarez area.
In December 2022, the FBI received a tip that Rueda Landeros was likely living in Guadalajara, Mexico, and working as a yoga instructor. He was arrested on Dec. 13 in joint operation conducted with Mexican authorities.
Hamill said Marcum’s brother and one of her good friends, who have stayed in contact with authorities as the case seemed to stall over the past decade, “were feeling overwhelmed and happy and relieved and ready to start the judicial process.”