John Dean Purr was 46. Craig Dolgin is 48. Both clashed with their mothers. Both had moved back in with their mothers, who were helping them get back on their feet. But both clashed with their parent, to the point that Purr’s mother threw him out. And both wanted to die.
Purr, who had serious mental health issues, succeeded. He was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound behind Walmart on Monday. Dolgin attempted suicide by cop on Tuesday. He did not succeed–not in a county where sheriff’s deputies have repeatedly faced such situations in the past six years and not once fired anything more than a Taser at the individual. In this case, not even that much proved necessary.
Both cases, occurring days after all local governments’ elected officials had met in the first such round-table in years to discuss improving Flagler’s dismal mental health options, are likely to add to the county’s anxious search for supports as Flagler’s suicide numbers continue to outpace state averages significantly.
For Purr, the apparent suicide was the result of a year as a homeless man after his mother could no longer risk his presence in her home. She told his story to Flagler County’s circuit court in a pair of letters last year when she was attempting to throw him out legally.
Until mid-July last year Purr had been working on job sites in Palm Beach County and living with a girlfriend there. But she ended the relationship and for mysterious reasons he felt unsafe working with contractors. He was on psychotropic medication. He’d also been “placed in the mental health center” while there, according to his mother.
He tracked down his mother in Palm Coast. At the time, he drove a brand new $70,000 Toyota Tundra pick-up, but on which he’d not made a single of the $800-a-month payments that were due. He had only a few dollars and was on food stamps when he showed up at his mother’s, and a few days later he had to turn in his truck.
She didn’t want him to be homeless. She knew of his issues but allowed him to stay in the house at 55 Belvedere Lane in Palm Coast, where he pledged he’d make some repairs and use his time to look for work. His mother bought him $100 worth of clothes, bought him an air conditioner, gave him $150, bought him cigarettes, paid his phone bill, paid a $300 traffic ticket he’d incurred in Polk County, placed him on her insurance, added him to her gym membership. He said he’d repay her once his unemployment checks would come in. She estimated he’d collected $3,000 in unemployment and from his union, but saw little paid back to her.
That October he started asking for payments for the work he’d done on his mother’s house–and for the mental abuse he’d allegedly suffered. “Several occasions he would scream and attempt to bully me,” his mother wrote. “I felt concerned, knowing he is on psychotropic medication and an ex-felon.”
He then threatened to sue his mother. “I tried to [give] him back his confidence, keep him from being homeless and broke,” she wrote the court. “Now, he is drinking and using threats to intimidate me.” At one point she feared he may have been trying to poison her–just as he allegedly feared she was doing to him. She claimed to the court that he felt entitled to her income from investments and a pension.
“He cried several times that since prison he has done everything right. His credit was destroyed, his fiancee was swayed by money, he could not get a loan,” his mother wrote. He felt targeted. She tried to empathize and said she herself had felt the same way at times, from her own family and others, to the point of being “humiliated,” but had “stood strong.”
“I knew of my son’s past but the condition he arrived and what I have been through living here has been tremendous,” she wrote the court.
On October 30, 2018, his mother revoked his right to be at her house and sued to have him removed. He tried to evade being served. But eventually he had to comply. Purr never responded to the court action, and a judge a year ago entered a judgment against him by default. His mother ended her last letter to the court by saying that her son “has constantly been saying this is end times, no one has morals.”
Late the afternoon of Nov. 25, it was she who called law enforcement to tell them she had located her son in the woods behind Walmart. It was she who walked a deputy to the site of her son’s location, not far from a homeless encampment. She told the deputy she’d last seen her son alive that morning at 9:30. She didn’t know if he normally carried a gun, she told the deputy. When she was walked away from the crime scene being established, she “immediately became hostile towards law enforcement and refused to answer any other questions.”
The incident involving Dolgin culminated the evening of the next day at 22 Oasis Circle in Palm Coast, where deputies had been called to respond to a physical disturbance.
Dolgin’s 70-year-old mother had taken in her son in September and allowed him to live in the house to help him out. But she’d been trying to get him to help around the house and had hidden a bottle of alcohol from him, which upset him. They argued. He allegedly threw a drink at her “and called her names before blaming her for his life issues,” an echo of the dynamics between Purr and his mother. She tried to call 911, he allegedly assaulted her and broke two phones. She fled to take refuge at a neighbor’s house, from where she called 911. Dispatchers told deputies before they arrived at the house that he’d made statements about wanting suicide by cop.
When deputies arrived they could see Dolgin through the windows. Loud music was playing. He answered the front door.
“Craig, can we talk to you?” a deputy asked him, in a conversational tone.
“No,” Dolgin answered, stepping back from the front door. The deputy was a distance away.
“Craig, listen to me buddy, listen to me,” Sgt. Michael Breckwoldt tells him.
“I don’t want to live,” Dolgin says, his arms at his side, a knife in each hand.
“I understand you’re upset, but we need to do things the right way,” Breckwoldt tells him. “We’re willing to help.”
Dolgin, wearing Sloppy Joe’s Key West t-shirt that features Ernest Hemingway (who ended his life by suicide), says he’s not going to jail.
“Craig, I can tell you this right now,” Breckwoldt tries again, “You have my word, OK? Nobody is going to jail. If you put the friggin’ knife down, we could talk like men, you can sit out here, I’m the sergeant on patrol, look. If you put the knife down, I’ll holster my gun in a second. I don’t want my gun out.”
Dolgin puts one knife down on a nearby table. “And your other knife,” Breckwoldt tells him. Dolgin complies. Breckwoldt holsters his gun. He asks him to walk out, so Dolgin is not near the knives. Dolgin hesitantly walks back to the doorway but refuses to walk outside, gesturing to the sergeant to walk his walk. Breckwoldt asks to pat him down. Dolgin throws various items out of his pocket. Breckwoldt, telling him to relax, again asks him to step out, his tone still conversational, unthreatening. Dolgin refuses. Breckwoldt asks if he could come in. “No, you can’t come in.”
“OK, I gave you my word, right? Breckwoldt says.
“Yeah but I don’t know if I could trust your word,” Dolgin says, his arms raised. Breckwoldt tells him he wants to hear his side of the story, again repeating that he’s not going to jail. Dolgin says he doesn’t believe him, then tells the deputy to step back, at which point Breckwoldt and others pull him outside and bring him down. The body cam video–on which this account is based–goes dark, but a deputy is heard repeatedly ordering Dolgin to “stop resisting” as a brief struggle ensues. Dolgin then gets seated outside, and Breckwoldt tells him: “Now can we talk, like I wanted to do from the beginning?” Dolgin says he’d been complying and had been grabbed.
Dolgin was taken to AdventHealth hospital, cleared, and booked at the county jail on several charges, including battery on a person 65 or older, tampering with a witness and battery on a law enforcement officer.
“Sgt. Breckwoldt and his team did an outstanding job trying to deescalate a very dangerous situation despite the suspect’s actions and resistance,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “This is another example of our training paying off. Everyone got to go home or to jail with no injuries. However, this is not the way we want to start the long Thanksgiving weekend but if you resist and fight our deputies you will go to jail.”