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News Track: Trial in 2000 Tama County cold case murder moved to Iowa County

Tait Purk accused of killing fiance Cora Okonski

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BACKGROUND

A 2000 disappearance of a Tama woman was investigated as a missing persons case until November, when investigators said additional evidence points to homicide.

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation officials said in a news release Nov. 10 that through “interviews and additional discoveries,” the disappearance of Cora Okonski, 23, on April 18, 2000, was being reclassified. A multiagency law enforcement task force reviewed the cold case and concluded that Okonski’s disappearance was “not voluntary.” The case was reopened in March 2015.

Tait Purk, 50, Okonski’s fiancÚ, was indicted Dec. 2 for first-degree murder. He is accused of “willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation” killing Okonski between April 16 and 18, 2000.

No criminal complaint has been filed in this case to provide further details of what authorities believed happened during that time to the Tama waitress and mother of Austin, who was 2 years old at the time.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Back in 2003, while serving time on federal drug charges, Purk told The Gazette in a phone interview from the jail that he wasn’t a suspect in Okonski’s disappearance and he feared for her well-being.

During this time, Purk told investigators Okonski borrowed money from him to buy cigarettes on April 16, 2000, and never returned home.

Authorities, based on a tip from a police informer, said they conducted an extensive search of a rural farm in September 2003 on Iowa Highway 21, nearing Irving, and a salvage yard in Irving. The farm belonged to a relative of Purk’s. Authorities said they were looking for clothing, jewelry and other items that might lead them to Okonski. Police later said bone fragments found there were from an animal.

The couple had a stormy relationship over the years and court records show Purk was charged with domestic assault against Okonski in December 1999. A judge placed a no-contact order against him. The order was lifted in March 2000, and they made plans to marry that year.

In 2010, Purk wrote a letter from federal prison to the Tama News-Herald in response to an article about Okonski’s disappearance.

He said in the letter that days before she had become upset with him when he told her they should wait to marry.

Purk said in the letter he looked for her after she disappeared and never gave up hope.

Purk pleaded not guilty and remains in the Tama County Jail on $1 million bail pending trial. He was already serving time in the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., for manufacturing methamphetamine and firearm charges. He was transferred to Tama County in December after being indicted.

In January, through his attorney, Purk asked for the court to move the trial out of Tama County based on pretrial publicity. His lawyer argued he couldn’t get a fair and impartial jury there.

Earlier this month, the prosecution agreed and 6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner moved the trial to Iowa County District Court, beginning May 1.

This week, Purk wrote a letter to the judge over concerns about depositions taken in the case. Court documents don’t elaborate on his concerns and the judge took no action on it.

A court order shows Purk was to be released from Leavenworth in April. He was transferred to Iowa in December, so it’s unclear what will happen if he’s convicted in Okonski’s death. He may have to go back into federal prison and complete that term before starting any Iowa sentence.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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