A former soldier has been found guilty of murdering his nextdoor neighbours with a commando dagger following a dispute over parking, moments after his wife told him she wanted a trial separation.
Collin Reeves carried out a “brutal and savage” attack on Jennifer and Stephen Chapple at their home in the Somerset village of Norton Fitzwarren while their two children slept upstairs.
Reeves, 35, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of the Chapples on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but denied murder. However, jurors at Bristol crown court decided he did not have an “abnormality of mental functioning” at the time and convicted him of murder.
Reeves stabbed Jennifer Chapple, a 33-year-old cafe worker, and Stephen Chapple, 36, a teacher, six times each using a dagger he had been presented with when he left the army.
After the verdict, the couple’s family said they would concentrate on bringing up their two sons as their parents would have wanted. “We will now focus on Jennifer and Stephen’s beautiful boys, helping them to live the life that Jennifer and Stephen would have wished for them,” they said.
Reeves did not react to the verdicts, but his wife, Kayley, wept and was able to hold her husband’s hand in the gaps in the glass of the dock for a few seconds before he was led to the cells. He will be sentenced on Tuesday, when he will hear how many years he must serve before being considered for release.
A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Reeves sought to avoid responsibility for murder by claiming his actions were the result of PTSD linked to his previous army service.
“Two psychiatrists agreed that although Reeves suffered from mild to moderate depression, this was not sufficient to be considered abnormal mental functioning that could lead to diminished responsibility.”
DI Neil Meade of Avon and Somerset police’s major crime investigation team said: “There are simply no words to fully describe the horrors Collin Reeves committed. My heart and all those at Avon and Somerset police goes out to Jennifer and Stephen’s families and, in particular, their two boys.
“For reasons only Reeves knows, he robbed them of their parents, destroying the lives they knew in a matter of minutes. His actions are beyond comprehension.”
Reeves claimed he was triggered into action by the bright white of the Chapples’ security light flashing on, reminding him of flares in a war zone. He described being stationed in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and witnessing colleagues being brought back from patrols horrifically wounded. He said after his tour he had not been given time to “decompress”.
An army spokesperson said they could not talk about individual cases but added: “Our service personnel are our most valued asset and we take the condition of their health and wellbeing extremely seriously.
“This is why we offer mandatory mental health training, a 24-hour helpline with pre-and post-operational stress management training and trauma risk management, which provides peer-to-peer support after a traumatic incident, and access to MoD departments of community mental health for six months post leaving the service.”
Jennifer Chapple twice contacted the police to raise concerns about Reeves. After the first time, she expressed frustration that – to her mind – little had been done. “I called them before because he tried this before and they did jack shit,” she said. She described Reeves as a “trained killer” who “gets off on how I react to his popping off”.
The force’s handling of Jennifer Chapple’s concerns has been investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, but it is not expected to find that officers did anything wrong. “Nobody could have predicted what happened,” Meade said.