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The Deaths of Meg Purk and Natalie Jones

Depressed people also get murdered.

Source: NatBasil/iStock
Source: NatBasil/iStock

On July 4, 2020, 27-year-old Natalie Jones went missing after leaving a party she had attended in Jackson’s Gap, Alabama. Around 1 a.m. on July 5, she texted a friend; “I made it.” Naturally, her friend assumed Natalie was safe and sound, having safely navigated the one-drive from her host’s house back to her own in Heard County, Georgia. Except she wasn’t. For three months, Natalie and her how-can-you-miss-it bright pink 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier seemed to have vanished. Her disappearance was big news; on Aug. 5, 2020, there was an article about the still-unsuccessful attempt to find her.

On October 7, Natalie Jones’ remains were found in a well-traveled but heavily forested area. Weeds and brush surrounded and were entangled in Jones’ undamaged car, suggesting to law enforcement that it had sat there for months. In their press conference, the sheriff’s office also mentioned that Jones had been “diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic and is not on her medications," seeming to suggest a likely connection between Natalie’s mental illness and miserable end. With no autopsy results made public, the elephant in the room became a possible suicide.

The Tragic Loss of Another Young Woman

While the verdict in Jones’ death is still open, Meg Purk’s seemed open and shut. It was a sad day when, around 11:05 a.m. on March 19, 1985, 22-year-old Scott called 911 to report that his pregnant, 22-year-old wife, Meg, had hanged herself from their second-story balcony. Scott said that Meg had seemed tired and increasingly despondent lately. They’d been arguing more often.

Of course, he’d never dreamed she’d kill herself, with a baby due any day now. But that morning, while in the bath, he had briefly seen Meg walk past him. When he got out, he’d discovered her dangling from a second-story balcony, cut her down, called 911, and started CPR. He’d seen a suicide note when he first found her although no one could find it once police arrived.

But, Scott said, perhaps it was all too much for her, especially with her history of depression and suicide attempts. She’d once locked herself in a friend’s bathroom and said she was going to slit her wrists. She’d left her best friend and roommate a note saying she had tried to hang herself with the cords from their apartment blinds but it wasn’t strong enough to hold her. He showed police a poem Meg had written, a sad tale of pain and misery that ended with “and then she killed herself.” Meg’s death was ruled a suicide, an unchallenged verdict for 24 years. Until the truth finally rose from the grave.

Things Are Not Always the Way They Seem (and Sometimes They Don’t Even Seem That Way)

Meg Purk had been depressed—as a teenager. She had written that poem—as an adolescent. But everyone who knew Meg in 1985 (except for Scott) swore that Meg’s greatest wish was to become a mom, she was excited about the upcoming birth of her son, and she had been busy making plans to visit her grandmother in New York (to show her the new baby) around the time she died. But it took more than two decades, two arsons, and stupid comments and inconsistent stories about his former wife’s death to bring Scott Purk to justice.

In March of 2009, Stow, Ohio police were called to the burning home of Scott Purk. Purk told investigators that he and his family of four had narrowly escaped with their lives, thanks to his own heroic actions. He also volunteered quite a bit of suspicious information, such as the fact that he had lost his job a few days earlier, was deeply in debt, and had recently video-recorded all of the items in his house just in case he ever needed it.

But that wasn’t the half of it. Purk also casually mentioned that, in 1985, his first wife had died by suicide just days before giving birth to their child, saying the trauma of her passing had driven him to become a criminal. He had spent six years behind bars for a string of burglaries. The investigating officer, already suspicious he was talking to an arsonist, now wondered if he was also talking to a murderer. Investigators decided to find out.

Meg’s body was eventually exhumed. A forensic pathologist quickly determined that the still-visible marks around Meg’s neck were made by a belt and not a rope and were more consistent with strangling than hanging. The balcony would not have held her weight. Other oddities were also overlooked; it’s extremely rare for a happily pregnant woman to commit suicide days before delivery. Most people who commit suicide wait until no one else is at home. All of this evidence was available in 1985 but likely overshadowed by the appearance of suicide. In 2015, Purk was convicted of Meg’s murder.

When Believing Is Seeing

I don’t know what role, if any, Natalie Jones’ alleged mental illness played in her death. My concern is that it is all too easy to jump to conclusions and assign one. Here’s a comment that I read on a Reddit forum from a well-intentioned mental health professional that illustrates what I mean. In response to someone commenting on some of the strange circumstances surrounding her disappearance (having seemingly enjoyed the party, texting a friend that she was safe and sound, family’s denial of recent mental health symptoms), here was one comment: “So, as someone who treats severe depression this is not even slightly strange. So often people who are very depressed force themselves to 'act normal.'" True enough, I guess.

But here’s what’s also true: Her family says Jones had been receiving threats before she vanished. She was reportedly a devoted mother to her two boys, in a custody battle with her ex-husband over her 4-year-old son, and had a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 2. An ex-boyfriend of six months, Jonathan Lawrence, out on bail pending a drug trafficking charge at the time of Jones’ disappearance, had his bond revoked on July 20 for trying to hire a hitman to kill a Troup County sheriff while he was incarcerated in county jail.

The Bottom Line

I’ve seen one too many murderers successfully stage a suicide, leaving clues like bread crumbs; the perpetrator is the last person to see the victim, is having an affair, has a history of domestic violence, exhibits odd behavior during and after the funeral. Suicides happen but so do murders. And it takes a lot more than a history of depression to tell the difference between the two.

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