Scott Purk was 22 years old when he called 911, telling police and paramedics that he found his wife Margaret “Meg” Purk hanging in their home. He said he cut her down and started CPR, but the nine-months-pregnant woman died. Ahead of the Dateline NBC episode about how Purk was finally caught, here’s what you need to know about the crime, his apprehension, and his sentencing.
Meg’s Death Was Initially Ruled a Suicide
Meg Purk, 24, was due to give birth within days when her husband Scott told police he found her hanging by a rope from their second-floor stairway in their apartment. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, he told police he was in the bathtub around 11 a.m. when he saw his wife walk past the bathroom doorway. Then about five minutes later, he found her hanging from the railing. He said he cut her down and started trying resuscitation while he wanted for the paramedics to arrive.
In court records from the time, Dr. Roberto Ruiz, whom the Beacon Journal reported was never trained in forensic pathology, concluded that Meg died of heart/lung failure from asphyxiation and the fetus died before hospital procedures could be performed. Ruiz listed suicide on the death certificate and said that Meg had “emotional problems” and had “attempted suicide in [the] past.”
However, the Akron police detectives indicated they were “conflicts” in Scott Purk’s story, including that Meg had left a suicide note that police could never locate.
25 Years Later, Meg’s Body Was Exhumed After Scott’s Second Wife and Two Children Were Involved in a House Fire
In 2011, Scott’s Stow, Ohio, home caught fire at 3 a.m. His second wife Tammy, daughter, 16, and son, 12, were at home, but they all managed to escape safely. At the scene, then-Sergeant Ken Mifflin, who happened to also be the lead investigator on Meg’s death, stood talking to Scott about the fire — and what Scott started saying to him aroused his suspicions.
“We were just talking about what he had done throughout the day of the fire because it had happened in the early morning hours. Once he got done with that, he started going off a tangent into all sorts of things,” said Mifflin, adding that Scott started talking about Meg’s suicide. “He just brought it up, threw it out there. I was very surprised and it just took off from there.”
Mifflin had always felt that Meg’s death was suspicious, so as he investigated the house fire as possible arson, he also started looking into the original reports.
“Bottom line, the investigation took off on our end, basically, where Akron left off,” Mifflin told the Beacon Journal. “Even though the case was ruled a suicide, there were doubts within the Akron Police Department that it truly was a suicide. Indications were, there probably was a homicide but they just didn’t have enough to charge him at that time.”
So Meg’s body was exhumed and this time, the medical examiner, Dr. Dorothy E. Dean, a forensic pathologist, concluded that Meg “died from ligature strangulation rather than self-inflicted hanging.” The suspected ligature was a belt.
Scott Purk Was Sentenced to 28 Years for Attempted Murder of His Second Family and Life in Prison for Meg’s Death
In 2013, Scott was sentenced to 28 years in prison for one count of attempted aggravated murder, three counts of aggravated arson, one count of insurance fraud, two counts of disrupting public services and two misdemeanor counts of endangering children, according to the Kent Record-Courier. Scott had set fire to his own home and also a duplex nearby.
Detective Mifflin said at the time, “It is believed that the second fire was set to make it appear that a serial arsonist was in that neighborhood to throw suspicion off of Mr. Purk. It is our belief that the first fire was set to get out of debt.”
Tammy Purk was also initially charged in the crimes, but in 2012, she pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and all the other charges were dropped. She was sentenced to six months in jail, which were suspended.
While Scott began serving this 28-year sentence, authorities reopened his first wife’s death investigation. After the second autopsy, Scott was charged in Meg’s death, and in 2015, a jury found him guilty of murder and tampering with evidence.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Todd McKenney sentenced Scott to life in prison with parole eligibility in 18 years, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. McKenney ordered the sentence to run consecutively with his 28-year sentence, which means Scott won’t be eligible for parole until 2057.
Dateline NBC airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.