Pensioner, 72, battered wife to death with wooden vase made by her son as she slept

A pensioner who battered his 81-year-old wife to death with a wooden vase made by one of her sons has been jailed for life.

John Chapman, 72, was sentenced to a minimum term of 16 years at Chelmsford Crown Court after admitting the murder of wife Jean at their second-floor flat in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.

The court heard Chapman had launched a “powerful, sustained and determined attack” at around 4am on June 12 – six days after his wife’s 81st birthday – as she lay asleep in bed.

Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, said Chapman then dialled 999 just after 6am, calmly telling the operator: “I’ve just killed my wife.”

Scene – John Chapman battered his wife to death as she lay asleep at their flat in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex (Pictures: SWNS)

Mr Jackson said: “Asked what had happened, he said basically ‘there have been problems. I’ve been trying to kill myself but I couldn’t do it as I was thinking about what she would do when I’m gone.'”

During the call, Chapman said he had “cracked her on the head with a wooden vase” then strangled her.


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Police called to the scene found the 72-year-old sitting on a sofa in the living room and the body of his wife wedged between their double bed and the wardrobe. She had died of serious head injuries.

Chapman had tried to throw himself from a balcony “but was unable to do so”, the prosecutor told the court.

“That vase had been a gift years before,” said Mr Jackson. “It was made by one of her sons when he was a schoolboy.

“It’s the prosecution case that when his wife was in bed and probably asleep, this defendant hit her probably 10 times with the wooden vase.”

He said the couple had been married for more than 35 years and had no children together, but Mrs Chapman had two sons from a previous marriage and was a grandmother.

A birthday card found in the flat from Chapman to his wife said:  “All my love, thank you for your understanding.”

Bruce Bowers, one of Mrs Chapman’s two sons from a previous marriage, said in a victim impact statement that the family were in “shock and disbelief”.

“If he had wanted to end his life, he should have just got on with it,” he said.

Judge Charles Gratwicke, sentencing, said it was a “merciless, sustained attack on a defenceless woman who stood no chance as she slept” and that there was no suggestion Mrs Chapman showed her husband “anything other than love and affection”.

Craig Rush, mitigating, said Chapman pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, had a depressive illness and sent his apologies to his wife’s two sons from her previous marriage.