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Man gets life sentence after pleading guilty to beating 94-year-old WWII veteran to death

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

A judge sentenced a Parma man to life in prison Tuesday after the man pleaded guilty to beating a 94-year-old World War II veteran to death last April during a home invasion in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Michael Dudas, 42, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and misuse of credit cards in the killing of Charles Vonderau, a former owner of hardware store in Lakewood and U.S. Navy veteran who served as a Yeoman Second Class on the U.S.S. Bangust warship in the Pacific Theater, according to his obituary.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo sentenced Vonderau to life with his first chance at parole after 29 1/2 years behind bars, the sentence recommended by both prosecutors and Vonderau’s attorneys as part of the plea bargain.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley called Vonderau a “treasure to his family and the Old Brooklyn community” in a statement issued through a spokesman.

“This barbaric crime should keep Mr. Michael Dudas in prison for the remainder of his life,” O’Malley said.

Cleveland police and emergency workers found Vonderau’s body in his home on Plymouth Avenue off of West 11th Street. The man’s family could not reach him and asked police to check on him.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Vonderau died of blunt force trauma to his head. Investigators believe Dudas used a hammer during the attack on Vonderau, prosecutors said.

Dudas had just been released from a drug treatment rehabilitation at St. Vincent Charity Hospital that day, and detectives found his hospital admission wrist band on the kitchen floor inside Vonderau’s home, prosecutors said.

Dudas used Vonderau’s stolen credit card several times at gas stations and ATMs in the days after the killing, including to buy a $400 gift card to Home Depot, prosecutors said.

Cleveland police and the U.S. Marshals arrested Dudas on April 18.

Dudas served six months in prison in 2005 after pleading guilty to theft and passing bad checks. He also pleaded guilty to drug possession in 2000.

After Vonderau’s Naval career, he owned a paint store in Lakewood until he took a job at Koehler Rubber and Supply Co. in 1967, according to his obituary. He retired 20 years later. Vonderau was an Indians and Browns fan, and loved jigsaw puzzles, Scrabble and old movies, his obituary said.

He was married to Nellie Vonderau for 51 years, until she died in 1999. They had two children.

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