Real Name: John Purvis
Date: November 8, 1983
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Details: On November 8, 1983, thirty-eight-year-old divorcee Susan Hamwi was found murdered in her Fort Lauderdale home after a friend called the police, claiming to have not heard from her in several days. She had been sexually molested, strangled with a telephone cord, and stabbed to death with a carving knife. Tragically, with Susan deceased, her eighteen-month-old daughter Shane died of neglect.
Two crucial pieces of evidence were found at the scene: a bloody carving knife and red, human hair. The next day, they questioned Susan's sixty-six-year-old neighbor Emma Jo Bartlett and her forty-two-year-old schizophrenic son John Purvis. John had red hair, so police considered him a possible person of interest. Emma came to the police station with him, but was not allowed in the interrogation room.
The detectives did not know that he was schizophrenic. After questioning him, Emma came in and told them to stop the interrogation. However, the police were determined to question him alone. Four weeks later, psychiatrist Joel Klass was brought to the station to administer a personality test using TAT cards. The cards include ambiguous drawings that require interpretation. One of the cards elicited an unusual response: John asked Joel if he would have to go to jail, or could he go to a hospital instead. He also kept asking "Do you think I did it?" He also confessed to killing her for refusing his sexual advances.
He also confessed to the police officers. However, John claimed that the detectives told him that he would not be allowed to leave unless he confessed. John was then arrested and charged with the murders. At the trial, only the confession to Klass was allowed into evidence. Despite the fact that the confession did not match the evidence at the crime scene, and despite the fact that the hairs at the scene did not belong to John, he was still convicted of the murders. He was sentenced to life in prison. John, however, swears to his innocence and begs that the case not be closed without finding Susan's real killer.
In 1987, a new defense attorney was assigned to John's case. In the spring of 1992, he contacted Unsolved Mysteries in hopes that the show would profile the case.
Extra Notes: This case first aired as an update on the March 10, 1993 episode.
Results: Solved. After Unsolved Mysteries filmed this story, police decided to re-open their investigation into the murders. They focused on Susan's ex-husband, Paul Hamwi, who was a wealthy real estate developer in Aspen, Colorado. At the time of the murder, he was in Aspen, recovering from a broken leg. In the summer of 1992, police followed up on a tip that they had received back in 1985. The information led police to a man Robert Beckett. In exchange for immunity, Beckett claimed that he and an accomplice, Paul Serio, had been paid $14,000 to murder Susan. The man who hired them was Paul Hamwi and his motive was to avoid paying $180,000 in alimony.
In January of 1993, Paul Hamwi and Paul Serio were arrested and charged with the murders. After serving ten years for the murders, John Purvis was finally released. He was officially exonerated at a formal hearing on February 24, 1993. He has since been reunited with his mother and the rest of his family. John's mother, Emma, passed away in 2006.
Serio and Hamwi were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Serio died in 2004. Beckett, who was given immunity for his testimony, was later convicted of an unrelated murder.
- John Purvis on Wikipedia
- John Purvis on the National Registry of Exonerations
- Purvis Guilty In Deaths Of Mother, Child
- Jurors Oppose Death Sentence In Murder Case
- Man Serving Life For Double Murders Released After Two Suspects Arrested
- Wrong Man Held 9 Years Free At Last
- Man Imprisoned 9 Years in Killing Is Freed as 2 Suspects Are Found
- Man freed after wrongly imprisoned for nine years
- Ex-husband, Hit Man Get Life
- Emma Jo Bartlett Obituary
- Paul Serio Inmate Information
- Paul Hamwi Inmate Information