String of Charlotte killings went hidden for 2 weeks

Police: Man killed wife, 2 children, later himself

03/31/2010 12:00 AM

10/12/2010 11:06 AM

For two weeks, police said, a 10-year-old girl went to school terrified that her father would kill her and her 2-year-old brother if she told anybody what had happened at home.

Her mother was missing, and her two sisters, ages 13 and 1, had already been killed. Their bodies were locked in an upstairs bedroom of the family's south Charlotte apartment, police said.

So the little girl said nothing - until Monday, when police began to unravel a grisly series of crimes they say were committed by a package handler who hinted at family troubles on his Facebook page.

"What this man did was despicable and cowardly," Homicide Capt. Paul Zinkann told reporters, fighting tears at one point.

"She continued to go to school. ... She felt that she needed to maintain some composure," he said. "She did not ask any questions because she didn't want her little brother killed."

The killings began about two weeks ago, police said, with the slaying of 35-year-old Nateesha Ward Chapman. Police say her husband, Kenneth Jermaine Chapman, 33, suffocated her in an apartment on Via Romano Drive, from which the family had recently moved.

Within a day of her killing, police say, two of Nateesha Chapman's daughters were also slain, in the family's new apartment at the Berkshires on Providence, around the corner on Providence Square Drive. Nakyiah Jael Chapman, 1, was suffocated and Na'Jhae Parker, 13, was stabbed.

Late Monday, a family member asked police to check on Nateesha because he hadn't heard from her. When officers knocked on the family's door, police said, two children ran out and Chapman fired a shot at the officers. Chapman then fatally shot himself.

Investigators gleaned most of their information from the 10-year-old girl who escaped with her 2-year-old brother Monday. She attends Lansdowne Elementary, but police have not released her name. The children are with relatives.

The girl told police she knew her mother was dead in mid-March, after her parents had a fight one night. The next day after school, "She came home and she never saw her mother again," Zinkann said.

Later that day, the girl heard her sisters screaming upstairs. Then silence.

After that, the door to an upstairs bedroom remained locked.

Over the next two weeks, the girl's father didn't talk about her missing family members, she told police. He only asked her occasionally if she smelled anything. The girl tried to protect her little brother by acting as if she suspected nothing.

Playmates would come to the door asking for her older sister, and the girl's father told her to lie about her sister's whereabouts, police said.

Worried family members would call the house, police said, and Kenneth Chapman would say his wife was busy or at work or not available by cell phone.

Officials at McClintock Middle School called the home twice after eighth-grader Na'Jhae Parker began accumulating absences. They spoke to the father, who said she had health problems.

Principal Pamela Espinosa said the killings devastated the faculty. Both parents were involved in the school, she said.

"We take care of our children," Espinosa said. "It grieves me that we were not able to take care of her."

"Na'Jhae was just a wonderful, outgoing, bright child," she said. "It's hit the school so hard."

Na'Jhae was not Kenneth Chapman's biological daughter, police said, but the other children were. The girl told police that played a role in why he spared her and her brother.

At one point, Zinkann said, Chapman held a gun to the 10-year-old girl's head while she begged for her life. "He said, 'I'm not going to kill you, basically because you're my firstborn daughter, and he's my firstborn son.' "

Money trouble

The family moved to Charlotte less than a year ago. Public records show they moved from Martinsburg, W.Va., last year and resided in New York and New Jersey before that.

Chapman family members declined to comment Tuesday. Neighbors said they barely knew the family of six, who had moved into their new apartment less than a month ago.

Kenneth Chapman got a job working for FedEx, but the family struggled with money problems.

Nateesha Chapman declared bankruptcy in New York in 1998. The family was sued by creditors in at least three states. In 2008, a pediatric practice took her to court in Virginia for a debt of $855. She paid that debt last July.

Landlords at the apartment complex where Nateesha Chapman was found dead began eviction proceedings against the couple three times since last September.

But neighbors never saw troubling signs - the children seemed well cared for, the couple never had public arguments. There was no history of domestic violence in Mecklenburg, according to records.

James Nash, who lives two doors down from the apartment where the children died, said he had only nodded to his new neighbors in passing. He remembers seeing the kids playing outside.

Over the last two weeks, family and friends twice called police about the Chapmans.

On March 19, a friend called 911, saying he feared Kenneth Chapman might be suicidal.

"He called me Tuesday and told me to check the news in a few days, he was gonna be famous," the man told 911 operators.

The caller said Chapman had also sent personal goodbye messages on Facebook. The Web page shows Chapman recently changed his marital status from "married" to "single."

The 911 caller also told police that Chapman had a .45 caliber pistol and a rifle.

In response, an officer went to the family's old apartment on Via Romano Drive and found the door locked. Police would find Nateesha Chapman dead there 10 days later.

A second call to 911 came about 11:15 p.m. Monday, when an uncle reported that he hadn't been able to reach Nateesha for two weeks.

He'd stopped by at least four times, he told dispatchers, and her husband had a different story each time for why she wasn't there.

"It's 11 o'clock at night and she's always there, and she hasn't made contact with us in two weeks," he says on the 911 recording. "There's always an excuse - she went to work, she went to Walmart."

"They've had arguments in the past, so after two weeks ... I'm a little concerned."

Police went to check on the Chapmans late Monday, and found the door to apartment 179 standing open.

They saw Kenneth Chapman inside and asked if they could speak with his wife.

He called upstairs for her, police said, then invited them in. Officers were suspicious and stayed outside.

Then the two children came running out.

Chapman fired shots toward the officers.

When the shooting stopped, they went inside and found Chapman on the stairs, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Researcher Maria David and Staff Writers Lisa Hammersly and Ann Doss Helms contributed.

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