When Margaret "Meg" Purk was found dead in Ohio in 1985, her husband told detectives that his pregnant wife had died by suicide. Though investigators back then had an inkling that there was something amiss about the case, they didn’t know that it would take decades for the truth about the young woman's untimely death to emerge — or that it would come from the grave.
On the morning of March 18, 1985, Scott Purk called emergency services to his Akron, Ohio home, claiming his wife had tried to kill herself. When emergency responders arrived at the scene, they found 24-years-old Meg Purk, who was 9 months pregnant, laying at the base of her stairs with a rope around her neck. She had no heartbeat and no pulse, but they were able to revive her and send her to the hospital.
"I get a call from Scott and he told me Meg tried to kill herself and they didn't know if she was gonna make it. At the time I got to the hospital, the doctors were optimistic,” Dawn Kracker, Meg's best friend, told "Exhumed," airing Sundays at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen.
Tragically, however, she and her unborn baby died within a few hours.
Purk told detectives his wife had been doing great throughout her pregnancy, but in the last month or so she had become depressed. He claimed the morning of her death he saw her walk past while he was taking a bath, and that when he got out and went to check on her, he found her hanging from the second-floor railing. The knot, he said, was so tight he needed a steak knife to cut her down.
Investigators were suspicious. While there was no sign of forced entry at the scene or any evidence someone had entered the residence, the story still seemed strange.
“Most individuals who commit suicide don't want to be found right away. They’re not going to do it while you’re there. Investigators still thought there’s something about this case that doesn’t seem right," Ken Mifflin, a detective sergeant with the Stow Police Department, told producers.
While searching the house, investigators found a letter the deceased had written her grandmother that week, gushing about her pregnancy and generally radiating happiness. Her family was insistent she wouldn't have killed herself, and they also told detectives that they really had not liked Scott Purk, who she had been married to for over three years.
"My impression of Scott was he was a constant liar, that he was just bad news, that he was going to be nothing but trouble as long as Meg was with him," her brother, Mike Metcalf, told producers.
Scott Purk maintained his innocence. He even showed detectives a poem his wife wrote that he claimed was a suicide note, in which the character dies by suicide. Her family refuted that claim, revealing it was an old poem they had previously seen.
An autopsy determined she had died by hanging, though, and the coroner ruled the cause of death a suicide. Kracker also admitted to police Meg had had suicidal impulses before. Despite some oddities, police closed the case.
It didn’t take Scott Purk long to land himself behind bars, though. Five months later, in August 1985, a string of burglaries occurred in the area. After reading a description of the suspect in the newspaper, Kracker thought it may be him committing the robberies. She brought her suspicions to the police, who questioned him. He confessed to the crimes, claiming his wife's suicide had knocked him off kilter. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
That may have been the end of it — until a massive fire decades later reignited the case.
In March 2009, a house in Stow, Ohio burned down. Some of the home’s residents — a man, his wife, and two children — had escaped the burning home and were all safe. But after investigating the scene, detectives found clear signs of arson.
To determine who had set the fire, they questioned another man who lived in the home: Scott Purk.
He claimed he had been sleeping when he heard an explosion and saw a fire, got everyone out, and called 911. He made a strange comment, though, bringing up his dead wife. It confused police, who weren't sure why it was relevant to the arson case.
"It was just such a random statement. It didn't even make sense that he said that," Sherri Bevan Walsh, Summit County prosecutor, told producers.
He also said he had spotted suspicious cars in the neighborhood the night of the fire and had taken down their license plates. Police were able to clear every car owner of suspicion. It made them wonder, though: Was Scott Purk an arsonist?
After digging into his background, they found a clear motive. He was in severe debt, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fact he admitted he videotaped all his belongings for insurance reasons in case of a fire also raised red flags.
While police continued their investigation, they also looked into the strange way his first wife died. After viewing the autopsy photos, they were shocked: They thought the marks on Meg's neck didn't look at all like rope marks, but belt marks.
Police also learned Scott Purk had moved in with another woman shortly after his wife’s death, which gave him a possible motive to kill her and his unborn child. They were able to contact this ex-girlfriend, and what she told them was chilling.
“Crazy, crazy, horrible Scott Purk. You don't forget when somebody is that crazy. Just the craziest person I’ve ever met in my life," she insists in audio obtained by "Exhumed." She then dropped a bombshell: He had told her he killed his wife.
Another break in the case came in March 2010 when a second Stow residence burned down, leaving behind clear signs of arson. Police theorized Scott Purk had burned his home for insurance money and torched the second house to throw authorities off his scent. It didn't work. Instead, they went to question him at the apartment where he was then staying. There, they found a gas can and work boots covered in mud. He was eventually arrested and charged with two counts of arson.
Investigators still weren't satisfied, though. They wanted to pin him for the murder of Meg Purk, too. They lacked evidence to make that kind of arrest, though, and her cause of death has still been labeled a suicide, so they needed to prove she was even murdered, to begin with. Eventually, they made a hard decision.
"The best way to get answers is to exhume Meg's body and do a re-autopsy," Mifflin said.
On Sept. 21, 2011, Meg Purk was exhumed. Luckily, her body was still well-preserved, and detectives were able to find what they were looking for. They determined the marks on her neck were indeed from a belt, and that another line on her chest — initially thought to be from her bra — was actually from a rope. They theorized her husband had tied her in a rope to drag the body.
At that point, her cause of death was changed from hanging to strangulation, and the case was marked a homicide.
"If we had not exhumed Meg Purk's body, we never could have proved it was a strangulation and not a hanging," Walsh said.
In November 2015, Scott went on trial for one count of murder. The evidence was circumstantial, as most of the original evidence police had from the time of the crime had been destroyed in the following years, the Beacon Journal reported at the time.
However, the defense was able to put together crime scene reenactments to clearly show that a belt, not a rope, would make the marks on her neck and that the way Scott Purk claimed she died was not consistent with her actual injuries.
Scott Purk didn't seem fazed during his trial, and in fact, he seemed "smug," Walsh told producers. But after six days, he was found guilty. He was sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder and received 28 years for the two arson charges.
"It takes a special type of coward to murder your pregnant wife and make everybody believe it was suicide," Mifflin concluded.
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