It was 1998.
Wesley Ira Purkey was an ex-con recently out on parole and living in Lansing, Kansas. He had a lengthy criminal record for numerous violent crimes and had spent years in prison getting an education, and trying to improve his attitude for release.
Over the years, prison psychologists who evaluated Purkey labeled him “amoral … bright … manipulative” … a “classic psychopath” but their opinion was that his prison education and intelligence tempered his psychopathic nature.
A psychopath paroled
In March 1997, a state parole board felt that after more than a decade in prison, he was rehabilitated and ready to be a responsible citizen. He was released. He was 45 years old.
Like all parolees with a criminal record, Purkey had difficulty getting a job. After ten months, he got a job interview that seemed promising – to be a plumber across state lines.
On January 22, 1998, Purkey said goodbye to his wife and stepchildren, got into his white Ford pickup truck and drove from Lansing, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri, for his job interview.
After the interview, Purkey parked his truck and smoked half a rock of crack cocaine. He wasn’t allowed to use drugs and alcohol but, as would later emerge, he had started using drugs almost immediately after he got out of prison.
Kidnapping Jennifer Long
Purkey began driving around Kansas City. Eventually, he came upon a teenager on a sidewalk walking home from school. It was Jennifer Long (“Jennifer“). She had just turned 16 and was going for a test for her first drivers license with her stepfather later that afternoon.
Purkey slowed down his pickup truck, rolled down the window and talked to Jennifer. He had a boning knife and showed it to her. A boning knife is for removing bones from poultry, meat and fish. It isn’t meant to be used on teenage girls.
~ He had a boning knife
and showed it to her ~
Purkey kidnapped Jennifer and drove for 30 minutes back to his house in Lansing, across the state line.
No one has seen Jennifer since, except Purkey.
When they arrived at his house, Purkey forced Jennifer into the basement. His wife was at work and his stepchildren were at school. Purkey sexually assaulted Jennifer. Afterwards, she tried to escape. He grabbed her legs and forced her to the ground.
They struggled. Purkey grabbed the boning knife and repeatedly stabbed her in the face, neck and chest until she quit struggling.
Murder of Jennifer Long
She was dead.
He stabbed her so many times, the blade broke inside her body.
“It’s not like in the movies.
They don’t die right away”
He later described killing Jennifer and said: “it’s not like in the movies. They don’t die right away.”
Purkey stuffed Jennifer’s dead body into an industrial 60″ by 24″ steel toolbox – the type you see in the back of pickup trucks in a hundred towns across America. He hurriedly cleaned up the basement. He then went to drink at a local bar for several hours.
He left the bar and made a stop on his way home – to buy a chainsaw.
Thirty minutes away in Kansas City, Jennifer’s mother was frantically trying to locate her daughter. She went to the police; she put up posters around town; she sent flyers around; she listed her daughter on the national missing and exploited children’s website.
Not a tip, not a sighting was reported. Jennifer had vanished.
Meanwhile in Lansing, Purkey had a body in his basement he needed to do something with. He needed the house to be empty. It would have to wait until morning.
The gruesome clean-up
In the morning, when Purkey’s wife and stepchildren had left for the day, he went to the basement. He took his new chainsaw out of its box and began cutting Jennifer’s body up inside the steel toolbox.
Purkey hadn’t anticipated that the blade would send blood and human flesh flying in every which direction. He had to stop often to clean the chainsaw when it became too clogged with blood and body parts and quit rotating.
He did this for several days.
~ When he got to her heart, he stopped
and observed the two stab
wounds he had made ~
When he got to her heart, he stopped and examined it and observed, perhaps even marveled, at the two stab wounds he had made in Jennifer’s heart.
Once he finished chainsawing her into pieces, he placed her body parts in several plastic bags. He carried them outside and added leaves and debris from his yard to each plastic bag to obscure what was inside.
Purkey’s crime left a bloody mess in the basement and in the large toolbox. He went to buy cleaning supplies and bleach and forced his stepchildren to help clean up.
He wasn’t done.
He then went to buy several days worth of chopped firewood.
~ He burned each garbage bag with
Jennifer’s remains in the family fireplace ~
Day-by-day he burned each garbage bag with Jennifer’s remains in the family fireplace. The body parts didn’t burn as he expected.
He bought diesel fuel to keep the fire hot enough to cremate human remains. Even then, Jennifer’s bones did not burn completely so he crushed most of the remaining bone fragments. Her jaw bone was too hard to crush.
When he finished cremating Jennifer’s remains in the family fireplace, Purkey rented a wet vacuum and vacuumed up the ashes and residue in the fireplace, placing it in garbage bags.
He took the garbage bags of ashes and residue and drove 200 miles to Clearwater, Kansas, and dumped them in a septic pond. He then discarded her jaw bone and clothes in a field.
Jennifer’s mother kept looking for her. So did the police. No one knew she had been murdered except Purkey.
Purkey strikes again
Nine months after murdering Jennifer Long, Purkey struck again.
By October, Purkey had landed a job as plumber in Lansing.
On October 26, 1998, he answered a service call to repair a leaking kitchen faucet at the home of Mary Ruth Bales.
Mary Bales calls a plumber
Mary Bales was 80-years-old.
She had had crippling polio as a child and needed a cane to walk. Mary welcomed Purkey into her home and stayed with him while he looked at the leaking faucet in her kitchen. Purkey told her that he needed to buy a part to repair the faucet and asked her to give him $70 up front. She gave it to him.
Purkey left. He did not go buy plumbing parts for a leaky faucet.
He drove to the shady part of Lansing and used the $70 to hire a prostitute, buy crack cocaine and rent a cheap hotel room. He stayed overnight with the prostitute, taking drugs.
Murder of Mary Bales
The next morning, Purkey and the prostitute left the hotel and drove to Mary’s home. Purkey parked his truck, grabbed a claw hammer from his toolbox and entered Mary’s home.
He found her in the bedroom.
~ He smashed her head to smithereens
with the claw side of the hammer
until she was dead ~
He smashed her head to smithereens with the claw side of the hammer until she was dead. She put up a fight, to no avail. Purkey left Mary ‘s body on the floor.
Purkey went to his truck and invited the prostitute into Mary’s home, where they stayed for several hours, injecting drugs, smoking crack cocaine and eating Mary’s food.
Purkey stole Mary’s purse and a couple of watches to make the murder appear as if it was part of a break-in.
Purkey returned to the house again the next morning with two gallons of gasoline, intending set fire to the house to cover up his crime. A neighbor spotted him in Mary’s backyard and called the police. He was arrested when the police discovered Mary’s body inside the house.
Did he really murder Mary Bales over $70? He never did say.
Purkey was charged and held in remand in the Wyandotte County Jail in Kansas.
Deal-making for federal charges
After two months in remand, Purkey contacted a detective with the Kansas City police and offered to give him information about an unsolved kidnapping and murder that he had committed almost a year before.
He wanted an FBI agent at the meeting because he wanted a deal – he would confess to an interstate kidnap and murder they were not aware of and in exchange, they would let him serve his sentences in a federal prison.
Purkey met with the detective and the FBI agent and confessed to the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of Missouri teen Jennifer Long. Over time, he provided more details of the crime and ultimately led them to the crime scene and where he discarded Jennifer’s clothes and jaw bone. Nothing was ever recovered.
Conviction for Bales murder
Eventually, Purkey pled guilty in a Kansas state court to the murder of Mary Bales. He claimed, at sentencing, that his wife put rat poison in his cocaine supply a year before the murder of Mary Bales, which he said had diminished his capacity. He was convicted on April 28, 2000, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Then, on October 10, 2001, the federal government charged him in connection with the kidnap, sexual assault and murder of Jennifer Long.
Conviction for Long murder
On November 5, 2003, after a lengthy trial, a federal jury in Missouri found Purkey guilty of interstate kidnapping, rape and murder of a child (Jennifer) and he was sentenced to death.
During the penalty phase of his trial, he affirmed earlier statements about sexually assaulting, killing and dismembering Jennifer but resiled from the kidnapping charge across state lines, saying that he fabricated the kidnapping to make sure he was prosecuted federally but had since changed his mind.
“I lost my house. I lost my job.
I lost my husband.
I lost a lot of things but
most of all, I lost her”
Jennifer’s mother, at sentencing said: “I lost my house․ I lost my job. I lost my husband. I lost a lot of great things but most of all I lost her.”
Purkey’s execution is scheduled for July 15, 2020. He has exhausted all appeals available to him. The execution is federal, which means that there is no prospect of the intervention of a state governor.
The US government has not carried out an execution in 17 years.