An 88-year-old "Renaissance man" suspected of helping his wife kill herself doted over his partner, caring for her in a custom-built home overlooking a canyon as she became increasingly ill, relatives say.
Margaret "Jo" Purdy, 84, was sick for several years and tried to kill herself before, said John Muster, a son-in-law. He did not know the circumstances of her death or the previous suicide attempt.
"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 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."
Alan Purdy was arrested Tuesday, local time, on suspicion of aiding a suicide after paramedics found an elderly woman dead inside the Purdys' home in San Marcos, north of San Diego, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said. He was released on $15,000 bail.
Authorities declined to identify the victim or say how she died, but Muster confirmed she was Margaret Purdy. He said Alan Purdy's son posted bail.
The pair were close friends for many years through family acquaintances but didn't marry until later in life, relatives said. Four relatives called it an excellent match.
"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 over the last five years or so.
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 noise a person could tolerate inside a truck.
Lois Purdy called him a "Renaissance man."
Alan Purdy was raised with three brothers 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.
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 (who) often try to hide their millions and billions of income in foreign banks."
Muster said both were "fully functioning mentally."
"They get tired but stay engaged," he said.
The San Diego County 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. In December, Connecticut officials dropped charges against a man charged in the death of his father, who had Alzheimer's disease.