A Review of Above Suspicion (2020)

The movie Above Suspicion (2020) covers the tragic outcome of the forbidden relationship between FBI agent Mark Putnam and his pregnant informant Susan Smith. Putnam was a fairly new agent who, after graduating from the FBI Academy in 1987, was assigned to a two-person resident agency in Pikeville, Kentucky. Putnam opened Susan as a confidential source supplying information about drug deals. They began a torrid affair that he soon regretted and hoped would end after he transferred to another office. However, when Susan Smith learned she was pregnant, she threatened to tell Putnam’s wife and his FBI superiors. In a moment of panic, he strangled her and tossed her body into a ravine. The film recounts the development of their doomed relationship. However, if you want to learn more about the FBI’s investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of Smith, I recommend you listen to, if you haven’t already, the episode with the retired case agent Jim Huggins. Episode 066: Jim Huggins – Mark Putnam, FBI Informant Murderer

When I interviewed him several years ago, the movie had not yet been released. However, Jim had worked as a technical consultant during the filming and shared his thoughts about the making of the movie during his interview. Now that both of us have seen it (so cool to see Jim’s name in the closing credits), I called him and we had a fun conversation about Above Suspicion. We agreed the movie was entertaining, and the actors played their roles well. Jim remarked that he’s, “not sure if Hollywood can make a movie without jazzing it up.” He pointed out scenes that were accurately portrayed and a few scenes that did not actually happen in real life, “creative compromises.”

True Story

  1. The veteran agent assigned to the two-man resident agency in Pikeville with Putnam was a nice guy who was near retirement and not interested in training a new agent.
  2. Susan Smith provided information to Putnam that led directly to the arrest of a bank robber (real name – Carl “Cat Eyes” Lockhart).
  3. Susan did give Putnam a Christmas gift, an early sign that the relationship was inappropriate.
  4. Susan was brutally beaten, suffering a broken arm and ribs for cooperating and testifying for the FBI.
  5. Putnam’s FBI replacement was rumored to have solicited Susan for sex. (Never proven)
  6. Susan and Putnam’s wife Kathy did have a friendly relationship and spoke on the phone occasionally.

Creative Changes

  1. Putnam did not allow a bank to be robbed in order to capture the bank robber. This would have been a major violation of FBI policy and procedures.
  2. Putnam was never in a shootout. The arrest of the bank robber was uneventful. No shots fired.
  3. Susan did not stay overnight in the Putnam’s home and have sex with Mark while Kathy was upstairs asleep.
  4. Putnam’s house was not firebombed. He and his family were never threatened.
  5. The drug raid in the movie was actually a raid on a chop shop where they stripped down stolen cars for parts.

Above Suspicion, a truly sad and tragic tale, is currently available for rent on Prime Video. You can watch the trailer here.

Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 200 episodes available for free subscription on all popular podcast apps.

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