The lethal rampage of Joseph Chappell; Obsession, rejection led to acts of horror; Acquaintances say failed love made him mean

By Joshua Benton and Robin Erb
Blade Staff Writers

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It was a terrifying way to show affection.

Slashed car tires. Sugar poured in her car’s gas tank. Perverse name-calling.

And when Vivian Morris, 30, finally went to authorities Friday for protection from her co-worker, Joseph Chappell, 39, she could not have known how far he would go.

Within two hours, the slender mother of two was bleeding to death in her Brooke Park Drive apartment, with stab wounds across her torso and arms and two deep gashes in her chest. Her two young children were stabbed repeatedly but survived.

By the time Chappell was felled by police gunfire an hour later, he had shot a 21-year-old woman who refused to let him steal her truck, fired at and wounded two firefight ers, and led police on a gunfire-riddled chase in West Toledo. It was a scene no one could have predicted – even those who feared Chap pell the most.

“He wanted her, was obsessed by her,” said Ms. Morris’s longtime friend and co-worker, Kelly Hamilton.

The two former Woodward High students worked with Chappell at Merit Industries, 300 Phillips Ave.

“He just wasn’t her type,” a tearful and shivering Ms. Hamilton said of her friend. “And you can’t make someone love you.”

Chappell first befriended Ms. Morris when she began working at Merit, Ms. Hamilton said.

Merit Industries is a work rehabilitation program for people with serious mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, though it does hire some people without illness. It employs about 40 people, employees said, and is run as a division of Zepf Community Mental Health Center. Chappell and Ms. Morris packaged and treated auto parts at the plant, he for Saturn, she for Chrysler. Police said they had no indication either suffered from mental illness.

Chappell had been at Merit about seven years, even though the company knew he had a criminal record, said John Swearengen, a supervisor at the plant. Chappell had had several run-ins with authorities, including a 1986 incident when police found eight pipe bombs and marijuana in his basement. He was convicted of unlawful possession of a dangerous ordnance and attempted drug trafficking.

He went to prison in 1987 for those crimes. But when he got out on parole about three years later, Merit hired him because, Mr. Swearengen said, “he was a very good worker.”

Whenever he had a chance, Chappell – whom a co-worker described as “jovial” and “laughing all the time” – would flirt and talk to the women, especially Ms. Morris, but she resisted his advances, Ms. Hamilton said.

Then last September, while having problems with her longtime boyfriend Phillip Yeaney, Ms. Morris finally agreed to go out with Chappell. They had a single date. Ms. Morris then patched up her relationship with Mr. Yeaney and told Chappell that there was no chance for anything between them, Ms. Hamilton and some of Ms. Morris’s family members said.

Stunned, Chappell turned mean, Ms. Hamilton said.

The women found their cars vandalized several times. Chappell dumped sugar in Ms. Morris’s gas tank and drove roofing nails into her tires, Ms. Hamilton said. A week ago, Chappell spit in Ms. Morris’s face at work, Mr. Swearengen said.

Annoying at first, the harassment became terrifying. Ms. Morris tried to tell supervisors, but the complaints didn’t stop him. The more she complained, the more he harassed her, Ms. Hamilton said.

“His brother told me, `Joe’s very possessive. He needs to control,”‘ Ms. Hamilton said.

If that wasn’t terrifying enough, his sheer size was. At 6 feet, 2 inches and weighing about 190 pounds, Chappell towered over Ms. Morris by almost a foot and outweighed her by 60 pounds.

“He was big and he had a big mouth and a big head,” Ms. Hamilton said. “He intimidated you just by his size.”

Chappell’s size came in handy at his weekend job as a bouncer at Nick & Jimmy’s, a Monroe Street bar. Owner Nick Tokles said in the seven months he had worked there, Chappell had impressed him as “a nice guy.” He had been a trouble-free employee.

Friday began as any other work day for Ms. Morris. She arrived shortly before her shift started at 8 a.m. Two hours later, she took a break and bought a can of pop, employees said, and put it down on a table in the plant’s break room.

Chappell approached, opened the can, and took a drink from it.

“That seemed to bother her,” Mr. Swearengen said.

She threw the pop away and went to a supervisor’s office to complain about the constant harassment. Three supervisors suggested she file a police report and try to get a temporary protection order.

Paulet Bartlett, Ms. Morris’s stepsister, said Chappell tried to enter the office during the discussion but was told not to enter.

Ms. Morris was crying, and her bosses said she should go home. She drove to her cousin Dave Grandowicz’s home, picked up Ms. Bartlett from her house a couple of doors down, and returned to Mr. Grandowicz’s home to talk.

Ms. Morris told the two about Chappell’s behavior over the last five months. She told them of a bouquet of flowers Chappell had sent to her home with a note reading: “Just to let you know I’m still around.” She continued to cry.

“My sister’s always happy, and when she comes in the room, she livens it up,” Ms. Bartlett said. “Well, [Friday] it was different.

Just before noon, Ms. Morris returned to Merit to pick up her friend, Ms. Hamilton, who would accompany her downtown to talk to police on her lunch break. Chappell followed them.

Downtown, at 1:40 p.m., the women filed a police report and asked for the protection order. They were sent next door, to Toledo Municipal Court, to talk to city prosecutors about a citizens’ dispute resolution program.

As a matter of procedure, first-time and low-level menacing re ports are referred to the program because disputes often can be resolved without criminal charges.

All the while, Chappell was following them from building to building, Ms. Bartlett said. She said the two women told workers in the prosecutor’s office they were being followed. The workers told the two to call the office from a local McDonald’s if he continued following them on the way home.

As Ms. Morris left, Chappell was waiting outside. She dropped off Ms. Hamilton at work and went home. Soon after, Mr. Swearengen said, Chappell returned to work and decided to leave, saying: “I can’t take this any more. I’ve got to go home.”

By that time, Ms. Morris’s two children, Ashley Morris, 10, and Adam Fonseca, 11, had arrived home from school at Meadowvale Elementary School. Shortly after 3:30 p.m., Ashley was inside their apartment, but Adam was outside, in the complex’s parking lot, playing with friends.

That’s when Chappell arrived. He followed Adam inside.

Adam, seeing his mother’s reaction, paged his father, Adam, Sr.

Adam and Ashley were planning to spend the night at their father’s house, while Ms. Morris and her live-in boyfriend, Mr. Yeaney, 22, would be going out.

Mr. Yeaney was in the apartment when Chappell entered and, seconds later, began brandishing a large knife. After pleas to put it away, Chappell did.

Mr. Yeaney ran out of the apartment for help, asking neighbors if they had a gun. He called 911, neighbors said.

The building echoed with screams. When Mr. Yeaney returned, he found Ms. Morris on the floor, bleeding.

The children, each stabbed repeatedly and covered with blood, ran to a nearby apartment for help, where neighbors pressed laundry against their wounds to stanch the bleeding. Life squads arrived and took the three victims in the direction of Toledo Hospital.

In one of the life squads, at 4:27 p.m., Ms. Morris bled to death, Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, said.

Adam Fonseca was in serious condition last night in Toledo Hospital, where Ashley Morris was in fair condition.

Having received his son’s page, Adam Fonseca, Sr., called the apartment several times, getting no answer. He drove there. By the time he arrived, Chappell’s first burst of violence was over.

But Chappell was far from finished. A few minutes after the stabbing – after picking up a 12-gauge shotgun at his home – he stole a minivan from Suzanne Carter of Temperance in the parking lot of a North Toledo Kmart.

He tracked down the life squads carrying Ms. Morris and the children and fired on one of them, slightly injuring a firefighter. Another firefighter, Lt. Jeffrey Cook, 43, was shot in the abdomen and the arm while trying to assist his colleague. He was in serious condition last night in Toledo Hospital.

Chappell fled to Barrows Street, where he saw 21-year-old Brandy Williams in front of her home and demanded she turn over her Dodge truck. She refused and was shot in the back as she ran away. She was pronounced dead at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

Still in the van, he drove to Toledo Hospital to finish off the Morris family. Sgt. Bob Case, on patrol, spotted him and began a chase that took them through rush-hour traffic on some of Toledo’s busiest streets.

Chappell began firing out of the van’s rear window at pursuing officers and fired at a passing car, police said.

On Monroe Street, just short of Secor, Sergeant Case rammed the van with his police car, putting the van into a spin and forcing it into the path of another car.

Sergeant Case, joined by two other officers, pulled their semiautomatic handguns. Chappell got out of the van and leveled his shotgun.

The officers fired 19 times. Seven slugs were recovered from Chappell’s body. An unknown number passed straight through him.

Blade staff writers Jennifer Day and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.