Real Names: Susan Kay Bolender and Shane Hamwi
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Date: November 8, 1983
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.
Suspects: John Purvis
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the March 13, 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. Beckett believed that he was dying and agreed to tell police what happened. 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.
Beckett claimed that he and Serio traveled to Florida on October 31, 1983. The next day, they went to Susan's home. She let Beckett in because she had met him before. Once inside, he attacked Susan and killed her. He and Serio then staged the scene to make it look like a robbery/sex crime. Investigators recorded phone conversations between Beckett and Serio in which they discussed the crime in detail. They also recorded conversations between Beckett and Hamwi.
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.
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.
- Susan and Shane Hamwi on My Life of Crime
- Purvis Guilty In Deaths Of Mother, Child
- Man Serving Life For Double Murders Released After Two Suspects Arrested
- Wrong Man Held 9 Years Free At Last
- Dying Man's Confession Sheds Light on Murders
- Man charged in killing; star witness's arrest causes complications
- Ex-husband, Hit Man Get Life
- Paul Serio Inmate Information
- Paul Hamwi Inmate Information
- Susan Hamwi at Find a Grave