Ed Meyer

Scott Purk told Akron police detectives 30 years ago that he was in the bathtub about 11 a.m., when he noticed his wife walking past the second-floor doorway of their Timber Trail apartment.

She was 24 years old and 8½ months pregnant.

Some four or five minutes later, Purk said, he found her hanging by a rope from a railing between the first and second floors.

He said he cut her down and began resuscitation until fire department paramedics arrived.

Police had questions then about the puzzling circumstances of Margaret Anne Purk’s reported suicide, and there are even more questions now that authorities have charged Scott David Purk, 52, with murder and tampering with evidence.

Purk, already serving a 28-year prison term stemming from a 2011 indictment for attempted murder and aggravated arson at his own home in Stow, was set to go to trial in the reopened murder case last week. That trial was postponed until Nov. 9.

Summit County prosecutors and Purk’s lawyers have declined to answer questions about how an officially declared suicide evolved, decades later, into a murder indictment.

Stow Police Sgt. Ken Mifflin, the lead investigator in the alleged murder of Margaret Purk, said that how the investigation developed surprised even him.

Scott Purk started it himself, Mifflin said, as they stood together outside his burning Uniondale Road home in March 2009.

Mifflin needed to talk to Purk that day.

“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,” Mifflin said, “he started going off a tangent into all sorts of things.”

Mifflin said that out of the blue, Purk started talking about his wife’s 1985 suicide and how he happened to be home that day as well. “He just brought it up, threw it out there. I was very surprised and it just took off from there.”

Mifflin said he felt it was very unusual for a woman nearly 9 months pregnant with her first child to take her own life. “That tends to be a happy time in most peoples’ lives. I just thought it was odd. I thought it was suspicious.”

Reviewing suicide

As he continued his arson investigation, which took 2½ years to obtain Purk’s indictment, Mifflin said he began talking to Akron detectives and examining their original reports about the 1985 suicide.

“Bottom line, the investigation took off on our end, basically, where Akron left off,” Mifflin said. “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.”

Mifflin declined further comment, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss any forensic evidence.

The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office, however, agreed to provide full access to Margaret Purk’s autopsy reports.

There were two.

The first autopsy was performed March 19, 1985, by a county official who no longer would have the authority to rule here in such cases.

What records show

Court records show that Dr. Roberto Ruiz — a physician never trained in forensic pathology as medical examiners are today — concluded that Margaret Purk died of heart/lung failure from asphyxiation, and that her unborn fetus had died before hospital procedures were performed on the night of March 18, 1985.

Ruiz’s report, which former Summit County Coroner William A. Cox signed, relied on statements by Scott Purk along with input from a coroner’s investigator and Akron detectives.

In his ruling, listed as a suicide on the death certificate, Ruiz reported that Margaret Purk had “emotional problems” and had “attempted suicide in [the] past.”

The “Injuries” section of his autopsy found only “mild abrasions” on the front of her neck under the chin.

Below Scott Purk’s typewritten statement, however, there also were handwritten notes by an Akron detective indicating “conflicts.” He wanted Purk’s statement checked out, noting that he had said “she was sick all through her pregnancy” when, in fact, a police report had stated she was “never sick” during the “first 7-8 months” of her pregnancy.

Purk’s police statement also said that his wife had left a suicide note.

Body exhumed

On Sept. 21, 2011 — five days after Purk was indicted for the Stow arson — Margaret Purk’s death took another turn.

Her body was exhumed from “a white metal casket” — dressed in her wedding shawl and gown with her fetus at her side — and a second autopsy was performed, this time by Dr. Dorothy E. Dean, a forensic pathologist who is the county’s deputy medical examiner.

Dean’s six-page report concluded that Margaret Purk “died from ligature strangulation rather than a self-inflicted hanging,” and that the manner of death was a homicide.

Dr. Lisa J. Kohler, Summit County’s chief medical examiner, told the Beacon Journal this week that she is limited in what she can say because the case “has not yet cleared the courts.”

Kohler declined to answer questions about the specific findings that led to Dean’s conclusion that Margaret Purk was murdered, but she did say the “constellation of findings” (overall) in Dean’s autopsy “is that of a ligature strangulation.”

A ligature, according to the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary, is something used in the action of tying or binding.

The suspected ligature in Margaret Purk’s death, according to case files, was a belt.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.