More than twenty years have passed since the actual events depicted by the 2019 movie Above Suspicion, so most likely, those who watched the film today don’t know the true story behind it. The murder of Susan Smith occurred in 1989, a crime committed by FBI agent Mark Putnam, and not many remembers it today. Joe Sharkey published a book in 1992, Above Suspicion, explaining the events and directly inspiring the film. It’s a dark story that deserves to be told: let’s discover it.
You can watch the official trailer for Above Suspicion here on Youtube.
Above Suspicion: the true story of Mark Putnam & Susan Smith
In the 80s, Susan Smith was a woman in her mid-20s, living in Kentucky. Her life wasn’t easy: she had two kids and was divorced, but she was still living with her ex-husband in the same home. Susan had some drug problems: her ex-husband was a local dealer, and their addiction has always negatively affected their relationship.
In 1987, FBI agent Mark Putnam began an investigation in the area where Susan Smith lived. His target was a famous bank robber, Carl Edward Lockhart. To help with the investigation, a local deputy introduced Susan Smith to Mark Putnam: Susan was an old friend of the deputy, and he believed he could work as an informant for Putnam.
The collaboration between Mark Putnam and Susan Smith worked pretty well: Susan regularly shared information with Mark about Lockhart’s criminal plan, and her help was crucial for the mission’s success. In December 1987, Putnam arrested Lockhart, and the year after, Lockhart was sentenced to 57 years in prison. For her collaboration, Susan Smith received a compensation of $5,000.
According to Putnam, his contacts with Susan Smith became less frequent after the arrest, but she insisted on meeting him regularly. In 1988, they began a romantic relationship, although Mark was married. Worried about the evolution of this relationship, in 1989, Mark Putnam requested to be transferred to Florida. However, a few weeks later, he needed to return to Kentucky to complete one of his investigations.
After his return, things escalated quickly. Susan Smith contacted Mark Putnam in the first half of 1989, informing him she was pregnant with his baby. Suddenly, his relationship with Susan became an actual threat to Mark: the upcoming baby was incompatible with his married life. He even proposed to Susan to adopt the baby, but she refused.
On June 8, 1989, Susan Smith and Mark Putnam had a violent confrontation in his car. They started fighting, and Mark strangled Susan. He hid her body in the trunk, where it remained until the day after. Then, he dumped the body in an isolated area nearby and returned to Florida to his family. Susan was reported missing by her sister three days later, but police couldn’t find her body.
One year later, Putnam became a suspect in her disappearance. He finally confessed he murdered her and explained where to find her body. In 1990, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison, becoming the first FBI agent to be charged in a homicide.
Mark Putnam was released in 2000, with a six-year sentence reduction for good conduct. His wife had died two years before. In 2023, when Above Suspicion was released on Netflix, he was 63, living in Georgia.