WOODSTOCK – The mother of a Crystal Lake man who hanged himself in jail said he was troubled his whole life.
Thomas J. Puchmelter, 42, died Sunday after using his bedsheets to hang himself. Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said Puchmelter was taken to Centegra Hospital - Woodstock after being found in his cell about 11 p.m. Friday by a correctional officer performing routine checks.
Puchmelter had been arrested earlier during the week and accused of beating his 70-year-old mother, Elizabeth Puchmelter, with a bat.
“Our family tried to get him all the help we could, but he was either reluctant and/or not able to cooperate with the help that was offered,” Elizabeth Puchmelter said. “Even as a tiny child, he was not like his two brothers.”
Elizabeth Puchmelter said that above all, she felt frustrated: frustrated that her son was unwilling or unable to accept help, frustrated with the court system, and frustrated with police.
But when Thomas Puchmelter attacked her, she had no choice but to turn to police.
“I didn’t want to be murdered by my own son,” she said.
Elizabeth Puchmelter said Thomas Puchmelter had complained that he was having chest pains overnight Feb. 15. About 4 a.m., he became confrontational, grabbing her by the arms and causing her to fall to the floor.
Later that day, she found him striking a wall in his room with the bat. She said he then hit her with the bat five times and held it to her throat.
Elizabeth Puchmelter took out an order of protection against her son for the latest incident, and court records show that she did the same in August 2009.
The previous incident started after Thomas Puchmelter became upset because his mother had no money to buy cigarettes, she wrote in the order of protection. He grabbed her arm, punched her in the shoulder, and tried to dump her out of her chair and onto the floor.
Instead of taking him to buy cigarettes, she went to the Crystal Lake Police Department, where she asked that he be arrested. Several days before that, she said he had severely bruised her wrist and threw a phone against the wall.
“[His] behavior is abusive, threatening, [and] disrespectful every day with escalating anger and rage,” she wrote. “He is an alcoholic.”
But Elizabeth Puchmelter said her son’s alcoholism was a result of his mental illness.
“He was trying to self-medicate with alcohol so that his life would be bearable,” she said.
Zinke said that the section of the jail Thomas Puchmelter was in was subject to checks every 20 minutes.
“He was evaluated during the intake screening process, and there were no indications that he was suicidal at that time,” Zinke said.
Although he had said he wanted to die before, Thomas Puchmelter had never made any previous suicide attempts, so she was absolutely shocked, Elizabeth Puchmelter said.
He previously served time in prison and always said it was a horrible experience that he never wanted to happen again.
“As one of his brothers said, it was just amazing that he was so afraid of going to prison, but he wasn’t afraid to kill himself,” Elizabeth Puchmelter said. “In my mind, that’s a sure sign of how he wasn’t able to think clearly.”
He was very intelligent and very sensitive, she said.
“His sensitivity may have been his downfall,” she said. “He couldn’t deal with a lot of things other people might have been able to.”
Her son’s organs were donated, which gave her some peace.
“In the end, I still considered him to be my boy,” Elizabeth Puchmelter said. “When I had to say goodbye to him, it broke my heart.”
The last suicide in the jail was almost five years ago to the day. Ricky Smith, 31, of Crystal Lake, who had been charged with domestic battery, hanged himself on Feb. 27, 2006, using torn pieces of his bedsheet.