SAN DIEGO — Relatives say 88-year-old Alan Purdy doted on his ailing wife, caring for her in a custom-built home north of San Diego through several years of sickness. Now, he's been arrested on suspicion of helping her kill herself.
The couple's son-in-law John Muster said it wasn't the first time Margaret "Jo" Purdy, 84, had tried to commit suicide.
"She had mentioned for some time that she was under a great deal of pain and that this was a very hard life," Muster said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Berkeley. "It was a great life. I loved her dearly and I'm sorry she's gone. I'm not going to second-guess her choice."
Muster did not know the circumstances of her death or the previous suicide attempt.
Alan Purdy was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of aiding a suicide after paramedics found his wife dead inside their home in San Marcos, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said. He was released on $15,000 bail.
Margaret Purdy had a bag over her head and died from asphyxia, said Michael Ellano, an investigator for the San Diego County medical examiner's office. The death was ruled a suicide.
Ellano declined to comment on what role Purdy's husband had in her death, if any.
The district attorney's office will decide whether to file criminal charges after the sheriff's department completes its investigation, said spokesman Steve Walker. Sheriff's Lt. Larry Nesbit said he expected to deliver its findings within days.
The case may present prosecutors with a difficult choice, as communities elsewhere around the country have rallied to support people charged with aiding the deaths of ailing spouses and loved ones.
The Purdys were close friends for many years and proved a perfect match when they married later in life, relatives said.
"They walked hand in hand," said James Purdy, a brother.
"They were very affectionate people," said Lois Purdy, a sister-in-law.
Margaret Purdy kept a close eye on her husband, who lost much of his hearing. He, in turn, watched after her as she battled a series of ailments in recent years.
Alan Purdy, a pilot with a doctorate in biomedical engineering, built several homes and airplanes and worked for years at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Muster said. He was an expert at safety conditions on underwater oil rigs and researched questions like how much vibration a person could tolerate inside a truck.
Lois Purdy called him a "Renaissance man."
Alan Purdy was raised in the Detroit area. An older brother, Robert, was a World War II bomber pilot and prisoner of war who went to Cuba to support Fidel Castro's revolution. Another brother, Harry, was also a fighter pilot and died over Germany in World War II.
Both Alan and Margaret Purdy were outspoken Democrats. Alan often wrote letters to the North County Times, a local newspaper, including one last year in which he denounced "greedhead-fat-cats."
Muster said both were "fully functioning mentally."
"They get tired but stay engaged," he said.
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