Crime & Courts

‘Do the right thing’: Dad urges son to turn himself in hours before murder-suicide

John Bocek’s father talks about his attempts to contact his son and law enforcement before the attack

John Bocek shot and killed two people near Providence Country Club before his killed himself. His dad talked about worrying about his son and his efforts to reach police.
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John Bocek shot and killed two people near Providence Country Club before his killed himself. His dad talked about worrying about his son and his efforts to reach police.

John Bocek Jr. got a phone call at 1:02 a.m.

“Johnny, what’s going on?” his father remembers asking him.

“The sheriff’s department is at your mother’s house and they’re looking for you.”

He said: “I don’t know but let me call you right back,” his father recalls.

But he did not call back.

Almost 24 hours later, police would find Bocek Jr., suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a home in south Charlotte. He’d fatally shot two people inside — 15-year-old Jenna Hewitt and 51-year-old Matthew Chaplin — and then he turned the gun on himself.

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The murders happened on Sunday, Feb. 24. Police had been looking for Bocek Jr., a convicted felon, since the Thursday before.

In the three days between, Bocek Jr. was staying at a hotel eight miles from the home where Chaplin lived with his 16-year-old daughter, who survived the shooting.

And Bocek Jr.’s father, John Bocek Sr. — who lives 700 miles away from Charlotte, in New York — had tried frantically but unsuccessfully to contact law enforcement.

His father says his son had told him he was staying in a hotel. He believed his son was in or near Charlotte, possibly on the brink of doing something horrible, he said.

“I thought he might hurt himself,” Bocek Sr. told the Observer.

“I never dreamed he’d do what he did.”

Pictured at right, John Bocek Sr., from New York, pleaded with his 23-year-old son to turn himself in as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police searched for him. On Feb. 24, John Bocek Jr. died after he murdered two people then turned the gun on himself inside a home in the Providence Country Club neighborhood. John Bocek Sr.

A wanted man

The initial search for Bocek Jr. stemmed from an alleged assault and robbery at the Chaplin home three-and-a-half days before the murders.

A police report from Feb. 20 shows Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police responded to a call from Chaplin’s 16-year-old daughter around 6 p.m. The call came from a home on Glenn Abbey Way, a tree-lined neighborhood street near the Providence Country Club in south Charlotte. The Charlotte Observer is not naming the victim because she’s a juvenile.

The girl told officers Bocek hit her with the butt end of a pistol and stole her iPhone and $25 in cash, police say. Detectives later would learn Bocek and the girl met online and had known each other only a few weeks.

Within hours, officers issued three warrants for Bocek Jr.’s arrest: one for robbery, one for assault with a deadly weapon and one for possession of a firearm by a felon.

But police didn’t know where Bocek Jr. lived.

The next day, the search began.

CMPD entered Bocek Jr.’s name in a national database that contains files on wanted suspects. If Bocek were on the run and any law enforcement officer encountered him, for example, on a traffic stop, the National Crime Information Database would alert the officer that Bocek was wanted — possibly armed and dangerous.

But, in the first 24 hours of the police search, Bocek was nowhere to be found.

John Bocek committed multiple offenses before allegedly killing two near Providence Country Club.

Looking for leads

On Day 2 of the search, CMPD officers tried to determine where Bocek Jr. was living and whether he had family in the area.

The case, by that Friday morning, was assigned to CMPD’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Team — the area’s top unit for tracking down some of the city’s most-dangerous offenders.

Officers established Bocek “was transient, moving from location to location,” CMPD spokesman Lt. Brad Koch has said.

Bocek’s last known address was in Indian Trail, Union County, just east of Charlotte. And according to his father, Bocek Jr. has lived in Union County in recent years, at various addresses — sometimes with friends in an apartment, sometimes in hotels for days or weeks at a time as he found work as a plumber.

The address of the hotel Bocek Jr. was staying in didn’t appear on any prior law enforcement records.

Still, his past arrests and prior address in Indian Trail pointed CMPD detectives to Union County.

Public records show Bocek Jr.’s criminal history goes back to when he was 16 and includes a domestic violence assault conviction, one drug conviction, and a two-and-a-half year stint in prison for felony theft charges related to a string of car break-ins in 2013. And as CMPD searched for him, they learned he had pending criminal charges — including possession of marijuana, attempting to destroy evidence and illegal carrying of a concealed weapon — and was due in court on Monday, Feb. 25, in Union County.

A detective from Charlotte asked a Union County Sheriff’s deputy by phone on Friday morning if his agency would be willing to go to the courthouse for Bocek Jr.’s court hearing to look for him, according to Union County Deputy Sheriff Tony Underwood.

“They told us they had a robbery warrant for Bocek. They didn’t ask for (our detective) to go out and proactively do anything,” Underwood said.

And Union County authorities had no information to suggest Bocek Jr. was an immediate threat to anyone, he said.

Still, two Union County deputies took an extra step, Underwood said, to drive by Bocek Jr.’s old home in Indian Trail on Feb. 22. From the outside, he said, they could tell no one was living there.

Just a few minutes drive away, Bocek Jr. was a registered guest at the Quality Inn and Suites on Highway 74 in Indian Trail, according to hotel workers and Bocek Sr. But, law enforcement had no information to lead them there.

Had there been a tip from his friends or family, Underwood says, the sheriff’s office would have assembled a team of deputies and its warrant squad to check hotel locations in Union County or assist CMPD’s VCAT with the search.

“Sometimes you just don’t have that information when you need it most. You use every database available but it’s not easy,” he said, adding, “But I understand the scrutiny.”

He called the double-murder in Charlotte and Bocek Jr.’s ability to elude police “very, very sad and tragic.” Still, he and Sheriff Eddie Cathey both said they believe CMPD’s officers, as well as their own deputies, seem to have done all they could.

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‘Turn yourself in’

On Saturday, Day 3 of the search, Bocek Jr.’s father and mother learned police were looking for him.

Bocek Sr. remembers getting a call in the middle of the night. He provided personal cellphone records to the Observer showing a flurry of calls from Saturday, Feb. 23, that began at 12:59 a.m. The first was a call from his son’s mother.

“She said, ‘The cops are at my house. There’s six of them here. They have warrants for Johnny’s arrest,’” Bocek Sr. recalled.

But Bocek Jr.’s mother told police she didn’t know where his son was living.

Within three minutes of her call, Bocek Sr. and his son spoke by phone.

According to his father’s phone records, it was the first of many phone calls. Bocek Jr. claimed to his father that he didn’t know he had outstanding warrants, Bocek Sr. said.

Minutes later, by text message, the father, still in New York, pleaded with his son:

“Listen buddy. You have to deal with this. Don’t let them (the police) come find you. I think you should call and turn yourself in,” Bocek Sr. wrote by text to his son.

Bocek Jr. responded at 1:30 a.m.: “It Ends Tonight Dad I love you.”

Unanswered phone calls

Over the next few hours, from about 1:30 a.m. to 3:50 a.m., Bocek Sr. tried to call his son more than 20 times, his phone records show.

When his son didn’t pick up, Bocek Sr. says, he started calling local authorities in North Carolina from his home in New York.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed to the Observer much of the information found in Bocek’s phone records from that Saturday. First, he called a general communications line for the sheriff’s office, then he was transferred to their 911 call center. Then — because the father told them his son at one point lived in Indian Trail — they assigned the call to a Union County deputy who works in that area of the county.

Bocek Sr. and the Union County deputy spoke on the phone at 3:55 a.m. He told the deputy he was worried his son was suicidal and that he’d been staying in a hotel but didn’t know the address. The deputy saw Bocek Jr.’s outstanding warrants from Charlotte and advised his father to contact authorities there.

But Bocek Sr. found the wrong number online for police.

His phone records show he called the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office — not the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department — and he dialed a number that’s not staffed on weekends or after 5 p.m. It was Saturday, 4:14 a.m. — just 24 hours before his son would kill two people and then himself.

‘Please do the right thing’

As Bocek Sr. made frantic calls to police, he kept texting his son — who he and the rest of his family call “Johnny.”

He showed the Observer the string of unanswered texts on his phone from the early hours of Saturday morning:

“Please do the right thing I’m begging. You will get through this.”

“You’re killing me. Is that what you want.”

“Please call me back please I love you so much I’m so sorry.”

“Please call me back please please.”

When Bocek Sr. didn’t hear back from his son by Saturday afternoon, he packed a bag and started the more-than-15-hour drive from his home in New York.

What exactly Bocek Jr. did during the day Saturday is still unclear to his father. His son didn’t have a car, he says. And CMPD says detectives don’t yet know how Bocek Jr. got to the Chaplin home early Sunday morning.

At 3:53 a.m., Feb. 24, the 911 call came in from Chaplin’s 16-year-old daughter. She told the call taker: “Three people have been shot in my home.”

By the time Bocek Jr.’s father arrived in North Carolina, his son had already killed two people and was on life support himself at a hospital in Charlotte. There, around 8 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, he found his son clinically dead — being kept alive by a ventilator as the hospital prepared to honor Bocek Jr.’s wish of being an organ donor.

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‘The whole thing was tragic’

With Bocek Jr. dead, police in Charlotte called an afternoon news conference Monday, Feb. 25, to discuss the double-murder-suicide and a series of other recent violence around the city.

“The whole thing was tragic,” said CMPD Maj. Cam Selvey, head of the homicide unit.

The case was solved, Selvey said, but there were still details police didn’t know or didn’t want to discuss publicly.

Asked about Bocek Jr.’s motive, Selvey said: “With somebody who does something like this, there’s no telling what was in that man’s mind.”

Detectives don’t know, according to CMPD, how Bocek Jr. — a convicted felon who cannot legally buy or possess a firearm — had obtained the gun he used to kill. And police officials say they’re still investigating the relationship between Bocek Jr. and his two youngest victims.

Later, Bocek Sr. talked to a detective from CMPD and he says he’s raised concerns with the police department about the way the case has been handled.

“There’s just still so many questions,” he said.

Bocek Sr., after the murders, retraced his son’s steps to the Quality Inn in Union County.

Two workers at the hotel told the Observer Bocek Jr. had been registered at the hotel as a guest for several days. Police, according to the workers, had not searched the hotel for Bocek Jr. before the murders. The two people requested anonymity, saying they are not allowed under corporate rules to speak with news reporters.

When his father arrived at the front desk last week to ask for permission to get his son’s belongings, he was allowed inside the room, he says. There, he saw the bed he believes his son was sleeping in on Saturday morning, the last time they talked.

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Anna Douglas is an investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Previously, she worked as a local news reporter for The (Rock Hill) Herald and as a congressional correspondent in Washington, D.C., for McClatchy. Anna is a past recipient of the South Carolina Press Association’s Journalist of the Year award and the Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists’ Outstanding Journalism Award. She’s a South Carolina native, a graduate of Winthrop University, and a past fellow of the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Anna has lived in Charlotte since May 2017.