Exhumed: The Margaret Purk Story
Margaret Purk was happily married and expecting her first child in the spring of 1985. Margaret’s family said she was beyond excited to give birth to her child and become a mother. Margaret was married to Scott Purk, and the two resided in Akron, Ohio. On March 19th, 1985, Scott found Margaret dead, just days before the twenty-four-year-old was due to give birth to their child. The death was initially ruled a suicide, but eventually the truth about Margaret’s death would come out.
(Photo Credit: Dateline)
Margaret Anne Metcalf was born November 15th, 1960, in New York. She worked as an insurance claims adjuster and married Scott Purk in 1981. Margaret’s friends described her as quiet and reserved but loving. She was a good student and published poet. Some of her published poems were dark themed and discussed death. Margaret was excited to be pregnant and expecting her son. In fact, she wrote a letter to her grandmother filled with excitement in anticipation of the birth.
On March 19th, 1985, Scott Purk called the police to report he had found his wife dead in their Akron, Ohio, home. Scott said that Margaret woke up sick that morning and was scheduled to see her doctor that day. He said he was taking a bath when he saw his wife walk past the door. Once leaving the tub, he found his wife hanging by a rope from the staircase in their apartment. Scott said he cut the rope down and then called 911. Scott and Margaret’s baby, a boy, was deceased already when his mother arrived at the hospital. She was also died. Margaret Purk and her son, named Christopher David Purk, were buried in Northlawn Memorial Gardens in Ohio.
The autopsy report listed Margaret’s cause of death as suicide by hanging. Margaret had a history of suicidal ideation, although that was many years ago. She once threatened to cut her wrists, but never acted on that threat. In another instance, she had written a note to her friend stating she attempted to kill herself by hanging. One of her poems even discussed suicide, leading authorities to believe it was possible that she intentionally killed herself.
(Photo Credit: Dateline)
Margaret’s family did not believe that she killed herself. They were never fond of her husband. In fact, they didn’t even attend her wedding because of their disapproval. Scott Purk was not a law-abiding citizen and following the death of his wife he committed several burglaries. He was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison in 1986. He claimed the pain of losing his wife and son drove him to commit his crimes. While in prison, Scott earned a degree in criminal justice.
After his release from prison, Scott remarried and had two children. He continued to commit petty crimes. The Purk family struggled financially with large amounts of debt. In March of 2009, twenty-four years after Margaret’s death, a teenager called 911 in Stow, Ohio. The dispatcher was informed that a terrible house fire was occurring, but everyone had made it out alive. The family was Scott Purk, his wife, and two children.
Police found Scott Purk’s behavior strange from the moment they arrived at the fire scene. He made a point to tell police that his first wife had died of suicide in 1985, a seemingly irrelevant comment. He also volunteered to police that he was in severe debt and had a history of criminal activity, once being dubbed “The Ninja Burglar”. Was he bragging, or just trying to be open and honest to assist in the investigation?
The fire marshal determined that the fire was quite clearly an arson. Scott Purk was their primary suspect, as he stood to collect a large insurance payout. When reviewing the 911 call, they heard Scott Purk whisper, “Oh God, we forgot the ferret”. His daughter’s pet ferret died in the fire. They also noted that the family’s van was packed with various items including cookbooks and family heirlooms. Scott explained that he and his son were planning to leave the next day to visit family. Scott continued to make weird statements, volunteering that his wife had been on a date with their son’s marital arts instructor the night of the fire and that she brought her leftovers from dinner home for Scott to eat.
While police investigated the arson, a separate detective reopened the case of Margaret Purk’s death on a hunch. Something just didn’t seem right about Scott Purk’s story. After reviewing the original autopsy photos, detectives noted that the markings on Margaret’s neck looked more like belt marks than rope marks. At the time of the autopsy, the county did not have a board-certified medical examiner. Now they did. Detectives wanted to exhume the body and have the medical examiner take a look.
In 2010, another fire occurred in Stow, Ohio. A duplex was deliberately set on fire in much the same fashion as the Purk’s home had been. Detectives believed that Scott Purk had set this fire to throw them off in their investigation. A search warrant revealed a gas can and muddy boots that matched prints found at the scene of the arson. In 2011, Scott Purk was arrested and tried for the two arsons. He plead guilty and was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison.
In 2011, Margaret Purk’s remains were exhumed with the blessing of her family. Detectives described seeing Margaret still holding her infant son in her arms inside the casket when her body was exhumed twenty-six years after her death. This time, the medical examiner found a bruise to the woman’s back consistent with someone’s knee. The ligature marks were confirmed to be from a belt, not a rope. The ligature marks were also in a downward direction, whereas they would be in an upward direction if she had hung herself in the stairwell.
Detectives reenacted the suicide theory in the exact apartment and location where Margaret had died. They noted that the rope left distinctive indents on the wood after the reenactment, indents that were not present after the original incident. They were also unable to recreate the ligature marks with a rope, confirming that Margaret did not hang herself with a rope. She was murdered, likely by her husband kneeling on her back as she strangled her with a belt. Scott Purk was the only other person present in the house at the time of Margaret’s death. An ex-girlfriend of Scott Purk said that he admitted to killing his wife at some point, although she did not inform police of this until decades later when the investigation was re-opened.
In 2015, Scott Purk was charged with murder for the death of his former wife. He was already serving a lengthy sentence for the arsons. Scott plead not guilty, and the trial began in November 2015, over thirty years after the death of Margaret and her son. Scott was described as smug and overly confident while the state presented a largely circumstantial case. The evidence from the medical examiner’s report and reenactment of the suicide theory were powerful. After a six-day trial, the jury found Scott Purk guilty of murdering his Margaret Purk in 1985. He was sentenced to eighteen years to life in prison, to run consecutively to his arson sentence. As of 2020, Scott Purk was serving his sentence at Pickaway Correctional Center in Ohio.
Margaret Purk’s death may have remained a secret if not for his own careless and strange blabbering the night he set his family’s home ablaze in 2009. Margaret’s family had long suspected Scott Purk had caused Margaret’s death. It took three decades, but Margaret and her son David finally received the justice they deserved.
Violent strangling detailed in 1985 cold-case murder of pregnant Akron woman as trial begins - cleveland.com Dateline: ‘Ninja Burglar’ Scott Purk Serving Life at COVID Hotspot Prison (2paragraphs.com)
Dateline (2020) Secrets from the grave. Season 28 Episode 47. Available on Peacock Streaming