A Maryland man is accused of driving his girlfriend, who had mental and physical disabilities, into the desert outside Las Vegas and suffocating her before returning home to his wife -- and pretending to be the dead woman via text and Facebook so her family would not suspect anything was wrong, authorities say.
Bethel Park, Pennsylvania police officials on Friday charged John Matthew Chapman, 39, of Oakland, with kidnapping, obstruction and criminal use of a communication facility in the disappearance of Jaime Rae Feden, who was last seen by loved ones Sept. 15. According to Allegheny County court records, he is being held in the county jail without bail.
A body matching the description of the 33-year-old Bethel Park woman, who was reported missing Thursday by her family and friends, was found Oct. 5 in the Nevada desert, according to WPXI in Pittsburgh. Officials in Clark County, Nevada later positively identified Feden on Nov. 21 through dental records.
“She was a very loving type of person and I think she was taken advantage of by someone who was a predator,” Bethel Park police Chief Timothy O’Connor told a WPXI reporter.
Chapman was silent as he was led out of the Bethel Park Police Department in handcuffs Friday. When questioned by reporters, he just shook his head and stared straight ahead at the ground.
No homicide charges had been filed against Chapman as of Monday afternoon. O’Connor said if a murder charge is levied against the suspect, it would be done by authorities in Nevada because that is where he is accused of killing Feden.
The body believed to belong to Feden was found about an hour north of Las Vegas, in Lincoln County, according to officials there. The remains were taken to the Clark County Coroner’s Office for autopsy and identification.
Chapman’s stunned wife, Maureen Chapman, spoke to WPXI from her Maryland home about learning of her husband’s arrest. She said she was clueless about his apparent double life until he called her around 6 a.m. Friday from the Bethel Park Police Department.
Maureen Chapman said her husband, to whom she’s been married less than a year, admitted in that phone call that he killed Feden.
“I killed her because I had to,” John Chapman said, according to Maureen Chapman. She told the news station her husband had told her in September that his trip to Las Vegas, which was made in her truck, was for work. The truck has been seized as evidence, WPXI reported.
“Oh, my God, it’s sick. It’s really sick," Maureen Chapman said. “I just want the truth as to what happened. I feel I’m owed that.”
Zip ties, duct tape and a photo shoot
A criminal complaint obtained by the news station alleges that John Chapman met Feden at a school for students with special needs. It was not immediately clear what special needs he has.
A longtime friend of Feden’s, Nikki Lawrence, told Buzzfeed News that Feden, who has VATER syndrome, met John Chapman in 2009 and the pair had dated on and off since then. VATER syndrome is a condition that occurs when a baby is born with a series of birth defects in a number of areas, with the letters VATER standing for vertebrae, anus, trachea, esophagus and renal, or kidneys.
Children diagnosed with the syndrome have defects in at least three of the areas impacted, according to Cincinnati Children’s. The condition is found in one out of every 10,000 to 40,000 births.
Lawrence told Buzzfeed News the condition resulted in Feden having an extremely short stature.
A missing person flier from the Bethel Park Police Department describes Feden as 4 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing 75 pounds. According to court records, the body found in Nevada appeared to share many of the physical traits attributed to Feden due to her VATER syndrome.
An entry in the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, also indicated the body’s height was measured at 3 feet, 9 inches. When found, the decomposing remains weighed just 49 pounds, despite being those of an adult female.
The body also bore tattoos of the names Keith, Robin and Jason, along with a four-leaf clover, on the lower right leg, the NamUs entry said.
Lawrence told BuzzFeed News that Feden has an identical tattoo -- the names are of her uncle, Keith, her brother, Jason, and her mother, Robin, who died when Feden was young.
John Chapman’s family told investigators he would often stay at Feden’s townhouse in Bethel Park, WPXI reported. The station’s report did not say if his family knew the nature of their relationship, which Feden’s family and friends described to police as “tumultuous.”
Maureen Chapman told the station her husband would tell her he was visiting family in Bethel Park, which is just outside of Pittsburgh, whenever he would go there. Bethel Park is about two hours from Oakland, which court records list as John Chapman’s city of residence.
John Chapman told his wife he was visiting an aunt and uncle in Bethel Park just prior to his trip to Las Vegas, she said.
According to the criminal complaint, John Chapman told detectives investigating Feden’s disappearance that he persuaded her to make the 2,200-mile trip to Vegas with him in late September to look at potential homes in the area. They arrived in Las Vegas on Sept. 23, according to a timeline put together by WPXI.
John Chapman told police he lured Feden out to the desert Sept. 25 with the promise of a photo shoot, the court documents state. According to KSNV in Las Vegas, the photo shoot was to have a sadomasochistic tilt -- including bondage -- which allowed him to restrain an unsuspecting Feden.
Once Feden was tied up, he killed her, Chapman told authorities, according to the court documents.
“The suspect bound the victim’s hands and feet with plastic zip ties, and affixed her to a signpost,” the complaint alleges. “He then applied duct tape to her mouth, and then to her nose, until such a time that she was unable to breathe.”
John Chapman told investigators he removed the tape and zip ties, as well as Feden’s clothes, after she was dead and left her lifeless body near the signpost, authorities allege.
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee told the Nevada news station that the suspect’s statement to police appears to correspond to a passing motorist’s gruesome find 10 days later along Kane Springs Road.
“Just before he got to (US) Highway 93, he stopped to let his dogs out and discovered the nude body of an adult female,” Lee told KSNV. “Of course, officers responded to the scene. We processed what little scene we had. We figured she’d been there a little more than a week.”
A ‘tumultuous’ relationship
After returning to Pennsylvania, John Chapman allegedly used Feden’s cellphone to send Facebook messages to her uncle, identified by police as Keith Lewis, so her family would not get suspicious, WPXI reported. Lewis told investigators, however, that the person sending the messages incorrectly answered questions to which Feden would have known the answers.
Bethel Park police officers went to Feden’s townhouse just before 7 p.m. Thursday and found no one home, the criminal complaint says. They met with a friend of Feden’s, and a cousin of Feden’s, both of whom were concerned after having had no contact with her for an extended time period.
Neighbors also told Feden’s family they were worried because they had not seen or heard from her in some time. The neighbors reported seeing John Chapman at the townhouse the day before, the documents say.
“All parties were concerned for the victim’s safety due to a tumultuous past with Chapman,” the criminal complaint states.
Lewis, who has legal control over Feden’s finances due to her disabilities, gave officers permission to force entry into the townhouse, where they found Feden’s backpack.
Inside the bag was Feden’s cellphone, along with a roll of duct tape and plastic zip ties, the court documents say.
When initially questioned, John Chapman gave police false information about the case, WPXI reported. Authorities allege he ultimately broke down and confessed to killing Feden.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t process it,” Maureen Chapman told WPXI. “I have no idea why he would do anything like that.”
John Chapman’s Facebook page describes him as a single ADT installation technician who lives in Pittsburgh.
It lists Maureen Chapman as his sister.
Maureen Chapman’s Facebook profile also lists her as single and living in Pittsburgh. John Chapman commented on her most recent profile photo, which appears to have been uploaded Aug. 27.
“Looking good, sis,” he wrote.
“Thanks,” she replied.
‘She just wanted him to love her’
Lawrence also got text messages that appeared to come from Feden multiple times in October. She posted the messages on her Facebook page Saturday evening.
“It’s making me sick now, knowing that this was him texting me the whole time,” Lawrence wrote.
In an exchange dated Oct. 1, Lawrence asked Feden if she and John Chapman had broken up.
“Yeah, but we are still friends,” the text from Feden’s cellphone read.
When Lawrence asks what happened, the response was that “apparently (Feden) was too clingy and he couldn’t take it.”
“Thinking back, maybe I was and I did try to not be, but it’s hard when I care so much,” the response continued.
In an Oct. 17 text to Feden, Lawrence asked when Chapman’s birthday is. The response, two days later, called it an odd question.
“Have you tried asking him? Maybe try getting to know him?” Feden appeared to write.
The texter purporting to be Feden claimed she didn’t know John Chapman’s birthday because she didn’t feel like he was “the one.” The person then alluded to Chapman’s “rough history,” but said Feden never felt unsafe around him.
Lawrence told Buzzfeed News that she’d asked about John Chapman’s birthday because she wanted to use the information to look up his criminal history. By then, she had grown suspicious of him, she said.
Those suspicions escalated after he friended her on Facebook on Sept. 29 -- five days after he told authorities he’d suffocated Feden -- and started commenting on her photos and posting virtual flowers on her timeline.
Lawrence described John Chapman was “very mean” to her friend, who showed up at a local bar about three years ago with two black eyes.
“The owner of the bar chased him down the street,” Lawrence told Buzzfeed News. “After that he didn’t really come around any of her friends and family.”
In one of the text conversations with Lawrence after Feden vanished, the person using the missing woman’s phone blamed her family, in part, for the couple’s split.
Feden’s Facebook page indicates that her family was wary of John Chapman long before the fateful September trip to Vegas. In a December post, she wrote that she found it odd her uncle was so “bent out of shape,” apparently after learning that Chapman was cheating on her.
“He’s the one in the wrong. He’s the one that’s stalking my boyfriend,” Feden wrote about her uncle. “No rational person would take it that far. He had to have created a dating profile because you can’t see other profiles unless you have one of your own, and he’s a married man.”
A family member told her she was being ridiculous.
“This isn’t Uncle Keith’s first rodeo with your so-called boyfriend,” the woman wrote.
In January, Feden wrote that her family had gone too far, and that John Chapman was planning to seek stalking charges against them. A friend called Chapman a coward and said he would never go to police to file a report.
Lawrence told Buzzfeed News Feden likely had no idea her boyfriend was married.
Those who knew Feden mourned her on social media, even as authorities await a positive identification of the body found in Nevada.
“John Chapman, I hope you rot,” Lawrence wrote in a post Friday, in which she shared WPXI’s story about his arrest in her Feden’s disappearance. Another friend, Miranda Smith, responded that she’d just had a Facebook memory pop up -- a photo of Feden holding her young son when he was a baby -- and she was “ugly crying” as a result.
Beth Asper, a former teacher of Feden’s, posted Saturday morning about her kidnapping and suspected slaying.
“All of us who knew Jaime can attest that she was such a kind and lovely woman who never deserved anything but kindness in return,” Asper wrote. “I’m so sorry to post this but I know that all of us who knew and loved Jaime would want to know about this so we can mourn the loss of a friend who is so precious to us.”
Another former teacher, Linda Loar, wrote that she recalled Feden from her elementary school years, during which time Feden’s mother died.
“The circumstances of (Feder’s) passing are so tragic,” Loar wrote. “Let us all take time to honor her life.”
Barb Smith Funk described Feder, whose mother was Funk’s childhood friend, as vulnerable to the suspect’s manipulation.
“As much as her friends and family tried, they couldn’t protect her from (John Chapman’s) web of lies and deception,” Funk wrote, calling the younger woman’s apparent slaying “premeditated, vicious and unfathomable.”
“This monster will rot in hell for what did to our precious Jamie,” she wrote.
Lawrence described her missing friend as “such a sweetheart” in her Buzzfeed News interview.
“She didn’t do anything wrong to anybody to deserve anything like this," Lawrence said. "She loved him, and she just wanted him to love her.”