Mark Putnam was always determined. After achieving his dream of joining the FBI, he was assigned a position in Pikeville, Kentucky—a remote area in the mountains—and moved there with his wife Kathy and their children.
But when he began having an affair with his informant, Susan Smith, things took a turn for the worse. In 1989, Susan became pregnant and claimed the child was Mark’s. Upon being told about the child, Mark sprang into what he called an emotionally charged violent rage and murdered Susan. A year after the murder, Mark, who was wracked with guilt, led police to her body—in exchange for pleading guilty to a lighter charge of first-degree manslaughter.
Joe Sharkey’s true crime account Above Suspicion, soon to be a movie starring Game of Throne’s Emilia Clarke as Susan and Jack Huston as Mark, gives a detailed account of the events leading up to Susan’s death and the aftermath of Mark’s crime. Believed to be the first active FBI agent ever to commit homicide, Mark Putnam made headlines for his “crime of passion.”
She insisted that the baby was his, and that she would tell the FBI, his wife, and his children about it. But unless it was to renounce everything else and stay with her forever, he could not figure out what she expected him to do. He thought about the two and a half miserable years working grueling hours in Pikeville, the phone calls at three in the morning, the threats, the corruption he saw everywhere he looked, the stress of the impending trial, Kathy’s misery, the intimidating phone calls from Poole, Charlie Trotter wavering in his motel room, the stress of starting a job anew in a high profile bureau like Miami. And now, beside him, Susan shrieking. But then she took a breath and her voice was calm.
“Ron says they’ll fire you when they find out.”
He bristled at that. “What about Ron, goddammit?”
She backed down. “Nothing. He didn’t say nothing. They will fire you, though, Mr. FBI.”
At the coal town of Meta, he turned right onto Route 194, a narrow two-lane that winds southeast along Johns Creek into the rugged hills that border the Tug Valley. Once in the hills, the only turnoffs are narrow gravel roads put in by mine companies who then abandoned the roads when they finished blasting out the coal, leaving behind chewed out mountains.