STOW — The end of Scott David Purk’s life outside of prison came the morning Purk suddenly started talking about his first wife’s death 24 years earlier.
“It’s like, ‘Why are you bringing this up while your house is burning down?’” Police Lt. Ken Mifflin said, recalling his conversation with Purk back in March 2009.
Stow police and fire departments had responded to a fire that destroyed the Uniondale Road home Purk shared with his second wife and their two children, ages 16 and 12. All four escaped unharmed.
As the detective on duty that morning, Mifflin said he was in an unmarked car talking to Purk when Purk brought up his 24-year-old wife Margaret’s death at their home in Akron in 1985. She had been nine months pregnant.
The death had been ruled a suicide by hanging at the time, but Mifflin and then Akron police began wondering why Purk chose to suddenly talk about it nearly a quarter century later.
“That case had nothing to do with this so, yeah, that definitely drew suspicion,” said Mifflin.
Police eventually determined Purk had killed his wife, in addition to burning down his home and setting fire to a duplex in Stow a year later, nearly killing a woman sleeping inside.
The Purk case is the subject of the first episode of “Forensic Files II” on the cable channel HLN (CNN’s Headline News). The half-hour episode, titled “Buried Secrets,” originally aired Feb. 23, with rebroadcasts scheduled before new episodes air at 10 p.m. Sunday, including Thursday at 3:30 and 9:30 p.m.; Friday at 5:30 a.m. and 1 and 10 p.m.; Saturday at 4:30 a.m. and 3, 6:30 and 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 1:30 and 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 and 9 p.m.
Mifflin said he and Jim Leidel, a now-retired city arson investigator, were interviewed for the show last June at the City Center. Also taped in Stow was footage for a re-enactment of fire department vehicles leaving the fire station and firefighters in full turnout gear walking by as if responding to a fire. Other footage was also shot in Stow, but was cut from the episode, said Mifflin.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh and Margaret Purk’s brother were also interviewed. Mifflin said approval by Margaret Purk’s family was essential before the police department would cooperate.
“The victim’s family was very supportive,” said Mifflin.
Case unraveled for Scott Purk
Purk, 62, is currently serving a life sentence in Pickaway Correctional Institution after a jury convicted him in 2015 of murder and felony tampering with evidence in the death of Margaret Purk.
Purk was already serving a 28-year sentence after he pleaded guilty in 2013 to felony charges in the Stow arsons, including attempted aggravated murder, aggravated arson, insurance fraud, disrupting public services, and child endangerment.
Mifflin said police suspected Purk had set his home on fire, but could not arrest him until a year later, when he set a nearby Berger Avenue duplex on fire. Mifflin said that fire was very similar to the one that struck Purk’s home, including the time — a little after 3 a.m. The resident on one side of the home was away, but a woman living on the other side was sleeping inside.
“A neighbor saw the place on fire and woke her up and got her out safely,” said Mifflin.
Mifflin said that on the morning of the second fire, he went to talk to Purk at the Bridgewater Parkway apartment where Purk and his family were living and police spotted a clue that strengthened their suspicions.
“That’s when things really started to unravel for him because that morning it was like 23 degrees, it was freezing, and every car in the parking lot by his apartment all had ice on it and frosted windows except for one car and it ended up being one of the Purk’s cars and that was the car he used to drive to commit the fire,” said Mifflin.
Mifflin said Purk was eventually implicated in both fires, with the motivation in the first being insurance fraud and in the second to throw police off his trail.
“He wanted us to think there was a serial arsonist in the neighborhood,” said Mifflin.
Meanwhile, an investigation in Akron ultimately led to Margaret Purk being exhumed for an autopsy and the discovery of something that was missed the first time. Bruises on her body showed she did not hang herself with a rope, with Purk cutting her down as he had claimed, but that she was strangled with a belt.
Mifflin said Purk basically outsmarted himself, starting the night he talked to Mifflin about the death of his first wife, which Mifflin said he later “took as a challenge” by Purk.
“He really thought he was a smart criminal,” said Mifflin. “Had he not said anything, had he not told me anything, I would have had no reason to have looked into [Margaret’s death], let alone known that his first wife had died.”
Mifflin said “Forensic Files II” producers uncovered the Purk case simply by doing online searches for criminal cases that were solved using forensic techniques.
“The power of the Internet,” he said.
Mifflin said he found the experience fascinating, everything that it takes and goes into producing a television show.
“In addition, it was an honor to be a part of the show and to have our city’s police and fire departments spotlighted for all of their hard work in bringing justice for the victims,” he said. “The conviction of Scott Purk would not have been possible without the professionalism and expertise of the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office and the Summit County Prosecutor's Office.”
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.