Cora Ann OkonskiCourtesy photo Tama News-Herald
Cora Ann Okonski

Cora Ann Okonski

Homicide

TAIT PURK FOUND GUILTY OF FIRST-DEGREE MURDER 

Cora Ann Okonski
AKA: Cora Miller or
Cora Lambert
23 YOA
DOB: March 18, 1977
Tama, IA
Tama County
April 16, 2000

 

LATEST UPDATES

MAY 10, 2017 — Tait Otis Purk, 50, was found guilty of 1st degree murder of his fiance, Cora Ann Okonski, in Tama 17 years ago. A 12-member jury received the case at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, and reached a verdict shortly before noon Wednesday. The verdict was read in court about 12:45 p.m. Sentencing was set for July 10 at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo by Judge Mitchell E. Turner. Full story at TamaToledoNews.com.

May 6, 2017 — According to the latest update by Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier writer Jeff Reinitz, Cora Okonski was killed with a “choke slam” and buried in a wooded area in a hole so deep steps were needed to reach the top, according to a man who served prison time with Tait Otis Purk.

Sean Ward, who served time with Tait Purk in 2005 at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, told the jury on Friday, May 5, 2017, that inmates in prison tend to talk about their exploits, and that Purk had confided to him that he lost his temper [with Okonski], ran across the room at her, grabbed her by the throat and choke slammed her. Ward said Purk told him he thought he’d knocked her unconscious, but realized he’d broken her neck. Full Story

May 1, 2017 — The first-degree murder trial for Tait Otis Purk, 50 — accused of killing Cora Ann Okonski in April 2000 — began Monday, May 1, 2017, at the Iowa County Courthouse. Okonski’s body has never been found.

Prosecuting a murder case without a body is almost unheard of in Iowa,” wrote Grant Rodgers in a Des Moines Register article published April 30, 2017.

March 8, 2017 — A judge granted a change of venue for Tait Purk after Public Defender Scott Hunter argued his 50-year-old client couldn’t receive a fair trial in Tama County.

On Tuesday, District Court Judge Mitchell Turner ordered the trial be moved to Marengo, in Iowa County. The trial is still set to begin May 1, 2017.

February 8, 2017 — On Feb. 2, 2017, Tait Purk waived his right to a speedy trial. A jury trial originally set to begin Feb. 21 is now set for May 1, 2017, at the Tama County Courthouse. Full story at the Tama News-Herald / Toledo Chronicle


PREVIOUS UPDATES:

An Iowa Department of Public Safety press release dated Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, said a multi-agency law enforcement task force has reviewed Cora Okonski’s April 2000 missing person case and concluded her disappearance was not voluntary.

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Special Agents with significant experience working cold cases — working in conjunction with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Tama County Sheriff’s Office, Tama Police Department and Tama County Attorney’s Office — said interviews and additional discoveries led to the case being classified as a homicide.

Okonski’s ex-boyfriend, Tait Park, is set to be released from a federal prison in Kansas in April on unrelated drug and gun charges.

Additional updates will be provided by law enforcement and prosecutors.

If you or anyone you know has any information or tips that could be beneficial to this investigation please call Iowa DPS Communications at (515) 323-4360 or email dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us.

Media contact: Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn at (563) 370-5109


December 9, 2016 — Iowa Department of Public Safety Press Release

TAMA COUNTY, Iowa – In March of 2015, the investigation into the April 2000 disappearance of Cora Okonski, 23, was reopened by the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agents with significant experience working cold cases, working in conjunction with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Tama County Sheriff’s Office, Tama Police Department and Tama County Attorney’s Office concluded Okonski’s disappearance was not voluntary.

Through interviews and additional discoveries, the case was classified as a homicide investigation. Agents traveled extensively throughout the country conducting multiple interviews of key witnesses relevant to the investigation. Their findings were submitted to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Tama County Attorney’s Office.

Upon review of the report, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Tama County Attorney’s office convened a grand jury to review evidence and testimony. A grand jury returned a True Bill indictment on Tait Otis Purk, 50, for the crime of Murder in the First Degree in violation of Section 707.2(1) of the Code of Iowa.

If convicted, Murder in the First Degree carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Media contact: Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn at (563) 370-5109.

Note: A criminal charge is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

KCRG TV-9 report, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016


Case History compiled by Jody Ewing

Cora Ann Okonski, a 23-year-old young mother engaged to be married the following month, went missing from her Tama, Iowa, home around 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 16, 2000.

Tait Otis Purk, 33 — Okonski’s live-in companion and the man she planned to marry — told police she left that night to go to the store to buy cigarettes but never returned. He said he’d stayed home to care for Okonski’s 2-year-old son, Austin, and that he’d last seen his fiancée walking west on 5th Street in Tama.

Cora and Austin OkonskiCourtesy photo Tama News-Herald
Cora Ann Okonski with her son, Austin.

Purk told officials he believed she’d just gone to a friend’s home and said he spent the following day trying to track her down. He said he knocked on a number of doors, but got the same response from all of them; Okonski had not visited them the night before and they hadn’t seen her.

Purk said he had to work the second shift that night in Grinnell, but left a note on the door for Okonski to let her know Austin was at his family’s home. The note was still on the door when Purk returned home from work.

Early Tuesday morning, Purk contacted Tama police, who advised him to come in and file a missing persons report.

According to police records, Purk and Okonski sometimes had a “stormy” relationship, and both had reported threats from the other in the past.

Court records cited by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier showed Purk had been charged with domestic assault against Okonski just a few months earlier in December 1999. A no-contact order was put into place at that time, but both Purk and Okonski later filed to have the order cancelled; they were trying to work things out and talked of marrying the following May.

The assault case was dismissed in March of 2000. Nearly three weeks later, Cora Ann Okonski headed down a street to purchase cigarettes for the two of them and vanished without a trace.

Transitions

Okonski had moved to Tama from Chicago, Illinois, about one year before her disappearance and worked as a waitress at the King Tower Café on Highway 30 on Tama’s east edge.

Tait PurkCourtesy photo Tama News-Herald
Tait Otis Purk

Austin went to stay with relatives after his mother went missing, and Okonski’s family said it would be uncharacteristic of her to abandon her child.

Three years after Okonski vanished, Purk was indicted on unrelated federal drug charges of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, possession of pseudoephedrine and being a felon and user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm. His scheduled release date was set for February 2017.

He denied having any knowledge of his fiancée’s whereabouts, and investigators would not confirm whether they considered him a suspect in Okonski’s disappearance.

The young mother had her own share of run-ins with the law, and officials considered her a suspect in cases that included narcotics, domestic violence, and burglary. At the time she went missing, an active warrant existed for her arrest on a charge of failure to appear at a pre-trial conference as a witness.

Due to the outstanding warrant, Okonski wasn’t listed on the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Missing Person Information Clearinghouse list. Police said persons cannot appear on both “wanted” and “missing” lists at the same time.

Search provides few clues

On September 18, 2003, Tama police published an appeal in a local newspaper asking the public for information regarding Okonski’s disappearance. It also served as a reminder, said Tama Police Chief Dan Wilkens, that police were still working the case.

Cora Ann Okonski

Cora Ann Okonski

Community members rose to the occasion and tips began to surface.

Tama County
Tama County in Iowa
Tama in Tama County Tama in Tama County

Armed with a search warrant, the Tama Police Department, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and four other agencies began an extensive four-day search of a rural farm on Iowa Highway 21 near Irving, Iowa, in Tama County as well as an Irving salvage yard. Nancy and Don Purk — Tait Purk’s cousin — owned the Highway 21 property outside Belle Plaine, and the new leads indicated Okonski might have been out at the property the night before she disappeared.

A police department press release said the occupants at the location were cooperating with the investigation.

Items sought — which officials felt might point to the young woman’s whereabouts — included clothing, jewelry and other unnamed items.

Bone fragments and some articles of clothing collected during the search were sent to the DCI’s crime lab to determine whether the bones were human or if the clothing belonged to Okonski.

Chief Wilkens told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier on Oct. 3 that the lead was a result of tireless efforts on the part of Tama police officer John Carr.

“He is a good investigator. He is a good officer. He took the original call and he is just refreshing (the case),” Wilkens told The Courier.

DNA results revealed the bone fragments came from an animal, and other evidence failed to lead to any other resolution.

Cora and AustinCourtesy photo Tama News-Herald
Cora Ann Okonski and her son, Austin.
Fading Hope

On the eighth anniversary of her disappearance, police told the Times-Republican their emphasis remained on determining the whereabouts and well-being of Okonski in order to bring closure to Cora Ann’s family, particularly her son — now a grown man.

Police also continued seeking out individuals who knew Okonski in efforts to establish biographical information about the young woman’s life before she vanished. That knowledge, they said, could aid in the investigation. They reiterated to the press there was more to the case than just a missing person.

Said Det. Carr in a Tama News-Herald article acknowledging the 10th anniversary of Okonski’s disappearance:

“Cora chose a dangerous lifestyle. [Her] apparent high-risk lifestyle choices also increase [the] likelihood that she may be a victim of an accident, misadventure or homicide.”

Police told the News-Herald that while Okonski lived in Tama, she’d been listed as the victim of two burglaries involving assault with intent.

As early as 2003, police conceded to Okonski’s family in Oak Lawn, Illinois, that they believed Cora Ann was dead. In a 2003 telephone interview with the Tama News-Herald, Okonski’s adoptive father, Jerry Okonski, who lives in Chicago’s suburbs, said the family “is convinced she is dead.” He stated at that time:

“Cora Ann is the kind of girl who would maintain contact with us at all times when she was away from here. If somebody killed her, we hope they would be brought to justice. We want to find her body or remains and have a proper burial.”

One other solemn reminder seemed to corroborate the theory that Okonski wasn’t just “missing”; the 23-year-old received Social Security disability payments and she’d stopped claiming them after April 16 — the date she’d last been seen alive.

Tait Purk Contacts Press from Penitentiary

Shortly after media covered the 10th anniversary of Okonski’s disappearance, Tait Purk, then 43, wrote a ‘Letter to the Editor’ of the Tama News-Herald, disputing a small detail the newspaper printed regarding Purk’s account of the last time he saw Okonski.

Purk wrote:

“The article says that Cora “borrowed” $5.00 from me. That is not true and I am upset that being stated in the article that way. I will tell you about this day and you can go verify what you want.”

According to a News-Herald story published June 11, 2010, Purk wrote the letter — dated May 27, 2010 — from the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. The News-Herald office received it June 2.

Purk also wanted to make known his efforts to locate Okonski.

The full contents of his letter read:

May 27, 2010

Mr. Spears,

I am writing to you about the article in the paper “Where is Cora.”

I would tell you for the most part the article was done well. But I do take issue with it stating I said something that I didn’t say. I want you to please go and verify what I state to you and you may print any of it you wish.

The article says that Cora “borrowed” – $5.00 from me. This is not true and I am upset that being stated in the article that way. I will tell you about this day and you can go verify what you want.

It was palm Sunday as they call it, and everything was fine. Cora said she was going to go up to the church with Austin and she said she would be right back. I thought this as weird because she never went to church any other time. But she is a Catholic I guess as her family are also. The church is one block from our house. She goes and when she comes back she had some branches from a plant long and skinny. She put them on the wall and we stated talking about things and I said to her we wait for a while in getting married. She got upset and said she was going for a walk.

She left and she was gone all day and came back late in the afternoon 6 or 7. I stayed at the house all day with Austin and I cleaned the house and watched movies and took care of Austin. She didn’t say much of anything she showered and said she was going to the neighbors house for a second.

She left and came back a few minutes later with a writing tablet and went into the bedroom and was writing for a little bit than she came out to the living room and asked “Do you have any money.”

I said for what, she said she needed smokes and I gave her 6-7 dollars for her to get us both some. I watched her walk up 5th St. and she never came back. That is what I see when I think of her.

I went everywhere I could think of her being the next day and everyone said she never came over to anyones house. That was Monday.

I went to work in Grinnell that night 2nd shift and Austin was at my familys house. I left a note on the door telling her where Austin was and the note was still there when I got home.

When we got up I called to see if she was in jail or to find out if they could check in Marshalltown and I was told to go to the police station and report it that she left and I had Austin.

Everything after that has been a nightmare. A lot has happened in my life. I ain’t going to say what I have been through over all this, this isn’t about me.

I just don’t like it when things are taken out of context. I have never given up hope that everyone gets answers most of all Austin she loved him and he her.

Thank you

Tait Purk

Leavenworth, Kan.

Dan Wilkens and John CarrCourtesy photo Tama News-Herald/John Speer
Tama Police Chief Dan Wilkens (left) and Detective John Carr sort through boxes of evidence in the Cora Ann Okonski missing person case on April 15, 2010.
On his mind, daily

In the April 22 News-Herald story, “Where is Cora?” editor John Speer asked Tama Police Det. John Carr how often Cora Ann’s case is on his mind. “Daily,” Carr replied. “I want to solve this before I retire from the police force.”

Police Chief Dan Wilkens told the News-Herald that despite the 10 years gone by, “It remains a very active case.” Okonski is Tama’s only active missing persons case.

In the same article, Carr briefly referenced one more set of interviews police would conduct to clarify new statements that had surfaced in the community, and said it gave them “the hope of new information or direction.”

Wilkens and Carr were reluctant to divulge any further details about what they described as “another plan” to follow in the spring.

Task Force Rules Case Homicide

An Iowa Department of Public Safety (IDPS) press released dated November 10, 2016, stated:

Tama County Missing Person Cold Case Now Considered Homicide

TAMA COUNTY, Iowa — A multi-agency law enforcement task force has reviewed the April, 2000 disappearance of Cora Okonski. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Special Agents with significant experience working cold cases, working in conjunction with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Tama County Sheriff’s Office, Tama Police Department and Tama County Attorney’s Office have concluded Okonski’s disappearance was not voluntary. Through interviews and additional discoveries, the case is now being classified as a homicide investigation. Additional updates will be provided by law enforcement and prosecutors.

If you or anyone you know has any information or tips that could be beneficial to this investigation please call Iowa DPS Communications at (515) 323-4360 or email dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us.

Media contact: Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn at (563) 370-5109

Note: A criminal charge is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Tait Purk Charged with Murder

In an Iowa Department of Public Safety press release dated December 9, 2016, officials said they had convened a grand jury and charged Tait Purk with murder in Okonski’s cold case. The press release is as follows:

Man Charged with Murder in Tama County Cold Case

December 9, 2016

TAMA COUNTY, Iowa – In March of 2015, the investigation into the April 2000 disappearance of Cora Okonski, 23, was reopened by the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agents with significant experience working cold cases, working in conjunction with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Tama County Sheriff’s Office, Tama Police Department and Tama County Attorney’s Office concluded Okonski’s disappearance was not voluntary.

Through interviews and additional discoveries, the case was classified as a homicide investigation. Agents traveled extensively throughout the country conducting multiple interviews of key witnesses relevant to the investigation. Their findings were submitted to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Tama County Attorney’s Office.

Upon review of the report, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Tama County Attorney’s office convened a grand jury to review evidence and testimony. A grand jury returned a True Bill indictment on Tait Otis Purk, 50, for the crime of Murder in the First Degree in violation of Section 707.2(1) of the Code of Iowa.

If convicted, Murder in the First Degree carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Media contact: Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn at (563) 370-5109.

Note: A criminal charge is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

A pre-trial conference was held Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, at the Tama County Courthouse in Toledo by District Judge Mitchell E. Turner. On Feb. 2, Purk waived his right to a speedy trial.

A jury trial originally set to begin Feb. 21 was rescheduled for May 1, 2017, at the Tama County Courthouse by Judge Turner.

The Tama News-Herald/Toledo Chronicle also reported on Feb. 8, 2017:

A hearing on a request for a change of venue filed by Purk will be heard on March 7 and a pretrial conference is now scheduled for April 20.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan and Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren.

Purk is represented by Aaron Siebrecht and Scott Hunter of the Marshalltown Public Defender’s Office. — by John Speer, Tamatoledonews.com, Feb. 8, 2017

On March 8, 2017, a judge granted a change of venue for Tait Purk after Public Defender Scott Hunter argued his 50-year-old client couldn’t receive a fair trial in Tama County. District Court Judge Mitchell Turner ordered the trial be moved to Marengo, in Iowa County, and that the trial begin May 1, 2017.

Courtesy photo Tama News-Herald
Cora Ann Okonski
Murder Trial Begins

Jury selection in Tait Purk’s murder trial began as scheduled on Monday, May 1, 2017. Jury selection wrapped up on Tuesday at 3 p.m. — seven women, five men, and two alternates were seated — and attorneys presented their opening statements that same afternoon.

During the trial’s first week, the prosecution called upon a number of individuals for testimony, including Okonski’s now elderly parents, law enforcement officers, friends and acquaintances, and a fellow federal prison inmate who once served time with Tait Purk.

Okonski’s parents, Jerome and Cecelia Okonski of Oaklawn, Illinois, testified that their daughter was diagnosed as a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and later with bipolar disorder.

Jerome Okonski, a retired computer programmer, testified that he last spoke with his daughter on April 16, 2000, according to a Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier article published May 3, 2017.

Cecelia Okonski said she became concerned after her daughter went missing because any time Cora was in trouble, she’d always contact them. Mrs. Okonski also testified that Cora loved her 2-year-old son, Austin, and would never intentionally leave him.

Cedar Rapids Gazette writer Trish Mehaffey wrote on May 3, 2017:

Jerome Okonski said Purk had called them a few days after he initially told them their daughter had gone missing. Purk wanted them to pick up Austin because he had to go to work and couldn’t keep him. When the Okonskis got to Purk’s house, all of Austin’s toys and clothes were outside in front of the house, and Purk brought Austin outside, Jerome Okonski testified.

Tama-Toledo News editor John Speer published the following in a story dated Saturday, May 6, 2017:

Under questioning Friday by Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan, Sean Michael Ward, 37, testified Purk related to him while they both were in federal prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. that Purk “choke-slammed” Okonski during an argument, breaking her neck resulting in her death. The action allegedly took place on Palm Sunday April l6, 2000.

Ward demonstrated for the jury the “choke slam” which involves grasping the neck of the victim from behind and slamming the body to the floor.

Ward accused Purk of telling him he put Okonski’s body in a bathroom closet. The next day, Ward said Purk told him he placed the body in the back of a pickup truck and drove to a State Park or wildlife refuge area and buried her.

He said Purk said be buried the body so deep he had to build steps to get out of the grave.

Purk Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Iowa County jurors found Tait Otis Purk, 50, guilty of first-degree murder in Cora Okonski’s death. The jury received the case around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, and reached a unanimous verdict shortly before noon Wednesday.

The verdict was read in court at 12:45 p.m.

Judge Turner set the sentencing date for July 10, 2017, at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo. According to Iowa law, Purk will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

 

Sources:

 

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20 Responses to Cora Okonski

  1. I pray someone comes forward, and find answers. My heart and thoughts are with the family and friends.

  2. Diana Wilson says:

    I can’t imagine the “not knowing” for so long.

  3. Stacie Jones says:

    I have faith that the truth will come out eventually , may God be with all of family and friends of her! I was young at the time this occurred , but wish her son the best in finding some answers! ?

  4. kyle says:

    hey kim what information do u know about cora and her disappearance if u do email me

  5. kyle says:

    kim do u know anything about cora’s disappearance

  6. Linh says:

    Trial date on Feb 21 2017 and pre-conference on feb 9 2017

  7. Amanda says:

    I love how the article says he served in a federal prison in Kansas in April on unrelated drug and gun charges. Those things might not have happened at the same exact time, but if there are drugs involved, some of the worst things you can think of can happen, especially with meth. Nothing good comes from that drug or that lifestyle. I don’t think it’s unrelated. They may have had their problems, but drugs always compound everything. Hopefully they will find her body. It’s doubtful he’ll ever give up the location, but maybe he will to his jailhouse buddies again. I don’t know the guy who he served with story…but I’m glad for her family that he came forward.

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