From Willard Purcell’s appeal: On the morning of June 6, 2001, Winnebago County sheriff’s deputies Ciaccio and Leombruni went to the Purcell residence and knocked on the door, but no one responded. The officers looked through a window and saw a leg at the bottom of a stairwell. The officers noticed that an exterior door leading to the basement was open and a pane of glass in the door was broken. They entered through the open basement door and saw Barbara lying on the basement stairs, with her bloody head at the bottom of the stairs and her feet pointing toward the top. Barbara had no pulse and showed no signs of life. The court admitted photos of Barbara’s body as the officers had found it. The officers searched the house, exterior property, and outbuildings and found no one.
Evidence technicians testified that they took photographs, lifted partial fingerprints from the lower-level entrance to the house, recovered glass fragments and blood samples near Barbara’s body, and cast tire tracks found in a field west of the home. The technicians also collected two flashlights, one from the home’s living room coffee table and one from the glove compartment of defendant’s pickup truck. One of defendant’s keys fit the doors to the house.
Debra Foss, the Purcells’ cleaning lady, testified that she last cleaned the home on June 1, 2001. Foss entered using the keypad outside the garage door, and the code had not changed since she began working for the Purcells. Police photos taken of the crime scene indicated that a dresser and a jewelry box in the southeast bedroom were open and “dismantled,” and Foss testified that they were closed when she left the house on June 1. Also, a photo of the living room coffee table’s glass-topped display case showed that it was empty, and Foss testified that the coffee table formerly contained a collection of old coins and currency. A deputy searched defendant’s pickup truck the day after Barbara was discovered, and he found a gold hoop earring, other women’s jewelry, and a plastic garbage bag containing what appeared to be collectible coins and currency.
While executing a warrant to search defendant’s home computer, two other deputies inadvertently found a hidden life insurance policy issued by Barbara’s employer, which named defendant as an 80% beneficiary if Barbara died from an accident. As of the time of trial, no claim had been made on the policy.
Eugenia Blosser lived two doors down from the Purcells. Blosser testified that June 5, 2001, was a normal workday for which she awoke at 3:15 a.m. At 4 a.m., Blosser took her dogs outside and saw a man standing behind defendant’s parked truck. Blosser was “pretty sure” the man was defendant. Blosser and defendant exchanged “good mornings,” and Blosser went back inside. When Blosser left for work 5 to 10 minutes later, defendant and his truck were gone, but lights were on outside the Purcell residence, which was unusual for that time of morning. The next day, Blosser drove past the Purcell home on her way to work and saw the interior lights on, which was also unusual.
Mitch Neiber worked with defendant at a jobsite in Naperville around the time of Barbara’s death in Rockford. Neiber did not notice defendant having any problems with his hands, arms, or legs on June 5 or June 6. Another coworker, Dan McFeely, testified that on June 5, 2001, defendant left for the day at 12:30 p.m. after complaining of a headache and feeling unwell. A sandwich shop employee testified that she sold defendant a hot dog and ice cream between 1 and 3 p.m. on June 5, in Rockford.
Deputy Vincent Linberg testified that he spoke to Tom Vaccaro at noon on June 6, 2001, which was a few hours after Barbara’s body was discovered. During their conversation, defendant called Vaccaro’s mobile phone. On August 22, 2001, Vaccaro testified before the grand jury that indicted defendant for Barbara’s murder, and the trial court admitted portions of Vaccaro’s testimony. At the time of his testimony, Vaccaro was 73 years old and lived next door to the Purcells. Vaccaro knew that the Purcells had a motion detector that activated exterior lights on their house. Defendant had complained about his marriage “for years” but tried to keep the marriage together. The day after defendant was served with the order of protection, Vaccaro saw defendant’s truck parked behind one of the outbuildings on Vaccaro’s property. Vaccaro walked onto the Purcells’ property and saw the basement door partially open. Vaccaro called for defendant but received no response. Vaccaro walked back toward his own property, and defendant walked up behind him. Vaccaro said, “Damn it, Will, what in the hell are you doing over here? You know you don’t belong over here.” Defendant replied, “I got what I came for, [a] carton of cigarettes.” On either that afternoon or the next day, defendant asked to borrow Vaccaro’s car to follow Barbara home from work. Vacarro died in May 2003, during the lengthy pretrial period.
Deputy Tom Murphy testified that he spotted defendant driving at 2:39 p.m. on the day Barbara’s body was discovered. Deputy Murphy stopped defendant and asked him to exit the car. While being patted down, defendant asked, “What did my wife do to me this time?” When two other officers arrived, defendant asked, “What did that bitch say now?” The officers told defendant that he was under arrest for violating an order of protection.
At the police station, defendant received his Miranda warnings and agreed to speak with the officers. They asked him to account for his actions following the issuance of the order of protection. Defendant stated that, after he was released on bond on June 1, he and his brother went to defendant’s home to retrieve defendant’s truck. Defendant admitted that he might have driven past the home once or twice over the next two days to see whether the lawn needed mowing. Defendant stated that, at about 11 a.m. on June 4, he drove to Vaccaro’s house, parked in his driveway, walked to the Purcell residence, and retrieved some tools and some of his wife’s jewelry. Defendant admitted to borrowing Vaccaro’s car to follow Barbara. Defendant returned to his brother’s house, where he remained for the rest of the day. Defendant initially stated that, on June 5, he left his brother’s home at 3:30 a.m. and drove to a work site in Naperville, where he worked until 3:30 or 4 p.m. Defendant later admitted encountering Blosser outside the Purcell residence at about 4 a.m. that morning. Defendant returned to his brother’s house at 5:30 p.m. and did not say what else he did that day.
Defendant did not appear angry or upset when the officers told him that Barbara had been found dead at the bottom of the basement stairs in their home. Defendant did not ask any questions and denied any involvement. Approximately one week later, defendant agreed to another interview, during which he said, “it was an accident.”
Forensic pathologist Dr. Larry Blum testified that his autopsy of Barbara disclosed that her death was caused by trauma due to several blunt-force head injuries, including a basal skull fracture. After examining the Purcells’ staircase, Blum opined that the injuries could not have been caused by an accidental fall. Blum described the injuries as depicted in several graphic autopsy photographs, which were admitted. The lacerations on the top of Barbara’s head were not caused by a fist, but could have been caused by a heavy flashlight. Barbara had no alcohol or illegal drugs in her system, and she did not suffer any significant natural disease at the time of her death. Barbara had contusions on her legs, hip, and arms and a fresh abrasion on her right knee. Blum found fresh lacerations on Barbara’s right hand, and her right index finger exhibited a linear blood blister likely caused by a hard pinch. The small bones at the tips of two fingers were crushed. Blum testified that Barbara likely lived in an unconscious state for “perhaps several minutes” after receiving her fatal injuries. The State’s dental expert opined that defendant likely bit Barbara’s hand, causing swelling and a “C-shaped” abrasion. Defendant’s dental expert testified that the abrasion could have been caused by Barbara’s hand striking defendant’s teeth.
Rockford police sergeant Jeffrey Houde, a bloodstain pattern analyzer, testified that Barbara’s head was bent down when she was first struck. According to Sergeant Houde, the blood splatter patterns indicated that Barbara was struck two or three times as she fell down the stairs.
In his own defense, defendant testified that he did not kill Barbara or attack her with a stun gun. Defendant admitted that his 12-year relationship with Barbara began to deteriorate in November 2000. On May 31, 2001, he awoke between 3:30 and 4 a.m. and began to work on the sunroom in his backyard. At about 6:30 a.m., he went inside for coffee when he saw Barbara. She was startled by his appearance and fell to the floor, dropping her purse. When a cellular phone fell out of her purse, defendant asked why she had it, and Barbara responded that it was none of his business. Barbara would not allow defendant to help her to her feet, and she walked to her car and left for work. Several hours later, defendant left to buy cigarettes, and, when he returned, he encountered two police cars in his driveway. The officers arrested defendant for attacking Barbara with a stun gun, but they could not find the stun gun on the premises. Defendant admitted that he was served with an order of protection at the police station.
Defendant also admitted to a June 4, 2001, conversation with Vaccaro outside the marital residence. Vacarro warned defendant that he “was not supposed to be around” the home. Defendant, believing that Barbara would be at work, retrieved some tools and cigarettes from the sunroom. According to defendant, Vaccaro, not defendant, suggested that defendant borrow Vaccaro’s car. Defendant testified that he drove the car for only 25 minutes, and he denied conducting surveillance on Barbara.
Defendant testified that, on June 5, 2001, he left the work site in Naperville at about 1 p.m. and returned to Rockford. At 2 or 3 p.m., defendant wrote a note asking to speak with Barbara, and he placed it under the windshield wiper of Barbara’s car, which was parked at her workplace. After purchasing some hanging flower baskets, defendant drove toward Vaccaro’s home and saw what appeared to be a police car parked near the Purcell residence. Defendant pulled his truck into a field next to his property, and after the car left, defendant pulled into Vaccaro’s driveway. When defendant could not locate Vaccaro, he went to the Purcell residence.
Defendant hung the flower baskets on the deck and looked to see whether Barbara was home. Barbara arrived and told defendant that he was not supposed to be there, but she allowed him inside. Barbara and defendant sat in the living room and discussed the order of protection. Defendant accused Barbara of fabricating the stun gun attack, and she responded, “Well, I got you out of the house.” Barbara did not mention a divorce, but she told defendant that she wanted him away from the house for a while.
According to defendant, Barbara “ranted” about his presence, and both were angry and upset. Defendant went to the kitchen for a drink of water, and when he returned, Barbara “popped out, hit [defendant] on the mouth, [and] hit [defendant] with the flashlight.” Defendant testified that he and Barbara fought over the flashlight and edged toward the basement stairway. Barbara allegedly struck defendant’s mouth repeatedly with the flashlight until defendant grabbed it and struck her “two or three times at the very most.” Barbara slipped on a rug or some shoes that were lying at the top of the stairs. Barbara fell head-first and backwards down the stairs. She did not move, but defendant did not see any blood. Defendant asked whether she was alright, and Barbara told him to leave because she intended to call the police.
Defendant testified that he struck Barbara because he felt he was in danger from the flashlight and her kicking. Defendant took an overnight bag that Barbara had prepared for him and went to his brother’s home. The bag contained clothing, jewelry, papers, and collectible currency and coins. When he left, defendant believed that Barbara was not seriously injured, and he did not summon medical help because he feared punishment for violating the order of protection.
The parties and the trial court conferred over jury instructions and which exhibits should be sent to the jury. The State did not ask to send Vacarro’s grand jury testimony to the jury, but the jury requested it midway through its deliberations. Over defense counsel’s objection, the trial court granted the jury’s request. The jury found defendant guilty, the trial court sentenced him to natural life imprisonment, and this timely appeal followed.
Rockford Man Found Guilty of Killing His Wife
The People of the State of Illinos v Willard Purcell 2002 (affirmed)
Purcell Murder Verdict Upheld In Appeal
The People of the State of Illinos v Willard H. Purcell 2006 (affirmed)
The People of the State of Illinos v Willard H. Purcell 2013 (affirmed)
Forensic Files: Killer Impression
R25660 – PURCELL, WILLARD
Parent Institution: MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER
Offender Status: IN CUSTODY
Date of Birth: 08/24/1946
Weight: 191 lbs.
Hair: Salt and Pepper
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
MARKS, SCARS, & TATTOOS
ADMISSION / RELEASE / DISCHARGE INFO
Admission Date: 11/20/2003
Last Paroled Date:
Projected Discharge Date: INELIGIBLE
OFFENSE: MURDER/STRONG PROB KILL/INJURE
CUSTODY DATE: 10/27/2003
SENTENCE DISCHARGED?: NO
Filed under: crime, Domestic Violence, murder, murder in the 21st Century, Psycho for Love | Tagged: 2001, Barbara Purcell, beaten to death, domestic violence, homicide, Illinois, Psycho for Love, spousal murder, Willard Purcell | Leave a comment »