An ex-British Army commando who brutally murdered his neighbours to death following a long-running parking row has been jailed for at least 38 years.
The Army veteran, Collin Reeves, 35, stabbed Stephen and Jennifer Chapple to death at their home in the leafy village of Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset in November last year using the ceremonial dagger given to him when he left the Army.
He had been involved in a long-running dispute with them over designated parking on the new-build housing development in Norton Fitzwarren, near Taunton in Somerset.
Reeves, a former Royal Engineer, was caught on CCTV climbing the fence separating their back gardens and entering the Chapples’ back door. Within seconds Mrs. Chapple can be heard screaming in terror, with the ex-soldier shouting, ‘die, you f***ers, die’ as he stabbed them both six times while the couple’s children slept upstairs.
According to Mail Online, Reeves himself called the police few minutes after the killings to confess to what he had done, but later denied murder, claiming he was only guilty of manslaughter on diminished responsibility. However, two forensic psychiatrists found he was not suffering from psychosis or acute post-traumatic stress disorder, and diagnosed him with only mild to moderate depression.
A jury at Bristol Crown Court learned how the father of two had also been having trouble in his own marriage, ‘drank heavily and often’ after his experiences in the military, and less than an hour before he stabbed the Chapples his wife had asked for a trial separation.
He left the Army in 2017 after 15 years and contemplated suicide as he sank into depression and loneliness working as a lorry driver.
Reeves, of Dragon Rise, was unanimously convicted of murder last Friday after a jury deliberated for five hours and 21 minutes.
After the sentencing, Avon and Somerset Police released full victim impact statements from the victims’ families – including those not read out in court. Jennifer’s mother Ann Clayton described it as ‘never-ending pain’ and a ‘horror movie on an infinite loop’. Her sister Rhonda Godley said that six months on she was ‘still riddled with grief’ at the loss of Jennifer.
They also spoke about how they had to tell their young sons three days after the murders that their mummy and daddy had gone and they would not have their hugs or snuggle up to them at bedtime again – as Stephen’s sister Marie Chapple raises the boys as a single mother.
Jailing Reeves, Mr. Justice Garnham said the killings had ‘torn the heart out of two perfectly normal, decent families’.
‘You left (Mr. and Mrs. Chapple) on the floor bleeding to death, and all of the time their two children were asleep upstairs,’ the judge said.
‘Your murderous behaviour left them orphans. They were put to bed that night by their parents and they would never see them again. The harm you did those two innocent children is incalculable.’
Mr Justice Garnham said that, at the same time, Reeves had inflicted enormous damage on his own daughters, who will now grow up without their father.
Mrs Chapple’s mother, Ann Clayton, said in a victim impact statement: ‘For a mother to lose a child is something that causes never-ending pain, knowing there will forever be a darkness inside you, a light switched off that can never be replaced.’
She described her daughter as ‘an exuberant, caring, beautiful light in the world’.
She wrote: ‘How can it be that Jennifer, a vibrant, caring, beautiful light in this world, was taken from us in this way. Why? This makes no sense, this cannot be comprehended, it is like living in a horror movie, that is on an infinite loop.
‘How can Jennifer be murdered, in what should be the safety of her home? The thoughts that enter your head every day, dark, horrid thoughts, you don’t want to imagine the fear that they felt, the suffering that they endured, what their final thoughts were.
As a family we grieve for so much that we have lost, we have lost the ability to have a future, make memories, to laugh together.
‘All conversations with everyone that we know are now tinged with sadness and grief, and this has a detrimental impact on your wellbeing. It is hard to imagine ever having a sense of peace again. Struggling to look at a photograph of Jennifer’s beautiful face as it causes so much pain, you just so want to hold her one last time and tell her how much she was loved and cherished and never let her go.
‘As a grandparent to know that your grandsons are now growing up without the two most important people in their lives creates a rage and an anger that is like a fire in the stomach, Jennifer lived for her children, she loved them with all her being.
‘There was nothing that she would not do for her children, now they will never know what it feels like to hug her, snuggle her, get bedtime kisses from her again. Jennifer and Stephen will not be there for all their milestone moments, this is not right.
‘This should not have happened, he had no right to do this to Jennifer and Stephen, his depraved, evil actions that night have left a tragic legacy that will remain with us all forever.
‘They had so much more to do in their lives, they had contributed so much in the short time they had here, Stephen teaching the future generations and Jennifer on her way to do the same, they offered so much love and light. We should not be thinking of them in the past, they should be part of our present and our future. However now, every waking minute is left with tears, heartache and suffering. A constant ache in the hearts of all that knew and loved them both.
‘We have received the ultimate life sentence by the actions of this person, we implore you to use your powers to ensure that this person is never allowed to harm another person again in their lifetime. No other family should have to suffer this anguish and pain.
‘Jennifer and Stephen, we all love and miss you so much, we will see you in the rainbows and the stars, shine brightly for all of us.’
Kaiya Chapple, Stephen’s sister, said: ‘It was and still is hard to comprehend what has happened, sometimes it feels like it is not real as if I am living a story in a television show, like an out of body experience. I still expect them to be with us, like I will find out there has been some mistake and they are not really gone.
‘There is a certain numbness to how I feel, I need to find things to distract me, whether it is work or immersing myself into something else. When I lie in bed sleep does not come easily. I think of ways that this whole chaotic situation could have been avoided, as if I could turn back time and somehow warn them.
‘Stephen was my little brother; I remember being protective of him growing up and how I could not protect him from this. He was funny intelligent and thoughtful. Jennifer, because of what happened, I feel I did not get enough time to know her well enough, but I know she was creative, passionate about things and spoke her mind.
‘Two boys have been left without parents, I am there for them along with the rest of their family although feel like we are now sharing moments with them that should have been shared with their Mummy and Daddy.’
Marie Chapple, Stephen’s sister, added: ‘Losing my brother and my sister-in-law, my two best friends, has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, and to lose them in such an insufferable way has been unbearable. Their two precious boys have been left without a mother and father, at such a young age, that I spend my days trying to keep their memory alive so that they never forget them, never forget how loved they were, and how much they would have done to give them everything they needed and more.
‘Every day I must be brave for those boys when I am absolutely breaking inside. I’m having to teach them that it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to shed tears, whilst trying to hold back my own, so that I don’t breakdown in front of them.
‘Every day I feel guilty for everything I do with them, that they should be doing with their parents. Guilty for them missing the auntie that has now become their parent, and for me not having the auntie/nephew relationship we used to have, because I now have to set their boundaries.
‘I have to hold it together because of their resilience to move from one emotion to the next, but I know from experience of working with troubled teenagers, that it will be the adolescent years that will be difficult, when they truly understand everything that has happened and begin to process it in the same way as I am now.
‘And I will have to relive everything; every emotion, every heartache. But for now, I’ve had to try to explain to them what has happened to their mummy and daddy, why they went to bed one night with them there, and the next morning they weren’t. I’m having to be careful with every phrase I use so that they feel safe, even though I sometimes don’t, in my own home.
‘My life has been turned upside down in the wake of this, not only from the heartache or the surrealness of the situation, but because I’m now trying to balance a career with being a single parent, because I want to give the children everything they deserve and would have had from their parents, and the worry that I might not be able to provide this.
‘I’ve lost my little brother, the most caring person. The little brother who always wanted to protect his big sister. The little brother who would always make me smile when I needed it most. The person who everyone loved because he would never do anything to upset anyone. This compassion was not only shown in his love for his wife and boys, but also in how he was with family, friends and his students.
‘I’ve lost my best friend, the friend who always looked out for me, who wanted to make sure I was ok, even when she wasn’t. The friend who cared so deeply about others and became my sister and someone my family loved as if she were our own. Someone who wanted everything for her boys and found a soulmate in her husband.
‘It hurts so much that we can’t create new memories with them and their children, but it pains me to know that the boys will not experience all the fond memories we were able to as a family, that they won’t be able to share their stories of their parents in the same way that I was able to with my brother. It absolutely breaks me to know that I couldn’t protect my little brother in the way I’ve always tried since he was small.
‘Not a day has passed where they haven’t been in my thoughts on waking, and when I haven’t cried in the evening, when the boys are asleep, and I only have time to think about what we’ve all lost.’
Rhonda Godley, Jennifer’s sister, said: ‘My sister and brother-in-law were the most wonderful parents I’ve ever known. The love they showed and taught their boys was incredible. They should still be here looking after them, tucking them into bed at night, reading them bedtime stories and easing their little minds for any worries that may occur, and seeing them grow up to be wonderful human beings, all of that stripped away in one night. I think that hurts every one of us in the family the most.
‘With their ages their boys will most likely grow up with no memory of their parents, so they’ll never really remember a time when they had parents.
‘To be told the news as soon as waking up felt like my heart had been ripped out, I thought I was still dreaming and this was all a dreadful nightmare.. Not knowing truly what had happened made every minute of the days after feel like hours. six months on and I’m still in shock and riddled with grief.. I lost the one person I could turn to when I needed help, no matter what my sister Jennifer would always be there for me, and now I feel lost.
‘The first month was dreadful, waking up felt like a chore, reliving the call telling me what had happened, not being able to stop thinking about it. Every waking minute I was, and still am, stuck trying to figure out what on earth could have happened to cause this.
‘Finding out how it happened hurt the most, in their own home while their two children were asleep in bed. I’m incredibly grateful to the police officers that carried their boys out of the house so they didn’t have to see anything.
‘Three days after it happened we decided it was best to let their boys know what happened. I told them, as I lost my Dad when I was four and found out when I was seven, so I knew what was needed, and what would help them with the grief. We knew the earlier the better, so they didn’t have to keep wondering where Mummy and Daddy were.
‘I told them that they’ll always be watching them, just to look out for the rainbows and they’re there, and at night to look up at the sky as they’re in the stars too. The pain it caused me to have to tell them still rips through me every day, to see their hearts break on my lap, and the cry that came from their eldest, I’ll never forget it.
‘We went with other family members to identify the bodies, for me it was to make sure it was real, as it still felt like a horrible nightmare. When walking into the morgue and seeing them, I knew I’d lost them both for good and it was a living nightmare, one I’ll never wake up from. They looked asleep and peaceful, I just wish it didn’t end this way.
‘A few weeks after, we went to their house, and that was a lot of pain, to see it the way they had left, it still smelt the same, as if they were coming to greet us and invite us in, that’s all we hoped for. But it was silent and cold. It felt like we were breaking in, wrong being there but we had to be, to get their boys some of their belongings, so they could feel more comfortable at their new home. Even after being told they still didn’t understand why they couldn’t go home.
‘I think we all dreaded Christmas, the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ yet it felt so wrong to try and celebrate, even for their boys’ sake. Their boys were happy when distracted, and grateful for the huge amount of presents donated by people, but no amount of presents will ever bring their parents back, or make them feel okay. You could see it in their eyes that they knew something was missing, and that Christmas will never be the same for them again.
‘Five days after Christmas we had the funeral, it was beautiful but still felt wrong, we shouldn’t have been saying goodbye, especially not now. We cried a lot, shared cherished memories and all felt the sadness and grief together. We helped to distract their youngest, as at that age you don’t fully understand what a funeral is, or why there is 50+ people in the room crying in unison.
‘At the wake their boys seemed okay, kept close to the people they knew they could trust and be safe with, but it seemed as though they were still waiting for Mummy and Daddy to show up.
‘As time has gone on I’ve tried to think more of the good memories than anything else but it’s been very difficult. When I drive to Taunton I’m still on autopilot to their house, having to remember not to go there as I won’t see them. I have to still remind myself that I can’t just text my sister to see how she is, or ask her for advice.
‘For the past six months I haven’t felt safe in our own home, scared that something like this will happen to us. Always making sure the doors are locked and that we’re as safe as we can be. I can’t go out for walks by myself anymore, or even with my son as I’m terrified, I don’t know what of, but maybe not feeling safe, or feeling like someone is out there planning to get me. I’ve lost the freedom to do whatever I wanted to, now I have to think about how safe I’ll be, if someone was to try and hurt me, how would I make sure I was able to stop that, or get away from it. It’s made my life hell. My anxiety has never been higher.
‘I just know I would never want my son to be without his parents, I will never be able to comprehend how someone could do this, it’s cruel and unjustified. Could the defendant even imagine if it was his children in this situation? Surely not as he’s gone through with it. I am baffled by how his family can still stand by him after this. If my husband ever did anything like this I’d be outraged and wouldn’t want to ever look at him again, and I’m certain he’d feel the same way if it was the other way around.
‘This kind of grief has been the worst I’ve ever dealt with. I couldn’t eat, I barely slept, and have been constantly thinking of all the possible ways it happened. How? Why? Did they defend themselves? Did they try and get to their boys to protect them? Did they try and call for help?
‘I don’t believe I’ll ever know the answers to all of the questions, but I believe the trial will give some sort of closure, to hopefully stop my imagination getting the better of me.
‘I still think of the things we had planned. Stephen was planning to go and watch Sheffield United with my husband and take their boys and our son as they’re all big fans of the same football team. Jennifer and I were going to get matching tattoos, we had talked about it for months. I imagined growing old, sitting together, Jennifer crocheting, and I would be knitting, complaining about something completely irrelevant. But sadly we won’t get to make those memories, which hurts a lot.’
Robert Chapple, Stephen’s father said: ‘There are no words to express how we truly feel, but on the 21st of November 2021 we were woken by a knock on the door by the police.
‘The news we were given about our son and daughter in law devastated our lives, then having to pass that news on to our two daughters was so terrible.
‘We struggle most days to accept reality to think that we will never see our beautiful son and daughter-in-law again and our two grandsons losing their lovely mum and dad at such a young age.
‘It is so hard to get on with everyday tasks we are very close knit family and also met up and did lots of activities together, now when we get together there is always a huge void in our lives, we don’t feel we will ever come to terms with what has happened and the cruel way they were taken from us.’
Irene Selway, Stephen’s grandmother, said: ‘Stephen was one of my many grandchildren, but one of my closest, who I saw regularly with Jennifer and his two boys, and they would always look out for me. It’s now not the same when the boys visit as Stephen and Jennifer are not there.
‘I recently had a tea party for my 90th birthday, with all my family there, but Stephen and Jennifer were missing. It’s not right that I have had a 90th birthday party and Stephen and Jennifer lost their lives at such a young age.
‘Stephen (and later Jennifer too) used to buy me a Cliff Richard birthday card and at Christmas a Cliff Richard calendar every year. Christmas 2021 will be the last year that I received this calendar, from a very much loved grandson, as he had already bought it ready for Christmas. It’s not natural for a parent to lose a child, and having lost children at a young age myself, I can understand the pain and suffering my daughter and son-in-law are going through, along with the rest of our close knitted family.’
On the night of the murders, Reeves was caught on a security camera climbing the fence separating his garden from the victims’ garden, and entering through the back door.
A few seconds later Mrs Chapple can be heard screaming in terror, with Reeves shouting ‘die you f****** die’.
Mrs. Chapple, 33, did not even have a chance to stand up from the sofa to defend herself while Mr Chapple, 36, was found close to the rear door.
The court heard the Chapples and Reeves previously had a good relationship but it had deteriorated when Mrs Chapple learned to drive and bought a second car.
Ten days before the killings, Reeves was caught on a doorbell camera approaching Mrs. Chapple outside her house following an earlier exchange between her and Mrs. Reeves. He accuses Mrs. Chapple of ‘f***ing gobbing off you cheeky little b***h’.
The victim replies ‘she’s the one who started it, just f*** off’, to which he responds ‘what’s that you f****** c***, you fat b***h, you f****** … f****** c***’.
After the killings, Reeves was recorded in the background of the 999 call telling someone, believed to be his mother Lynn, ‘I couldn’t let her (or them) torment Kayley any more’.
Reeves said he had little memory of the incident but recalled sitting on the stairs in tears after the conversation with his wife. He claimed he did not remember taking his dagger out of the picture frame in which it was usually displayed.
The defendant, who had previously recounted his fear of CCTV cameras and being under surveillance, said the next thing he recalled was a bright light coming on, and trying to get down on his front.
‘I felt as though I had been seen or compromised, white light was a trigger when I was a soldier, when a light goes on or somebody sets off a flare, when that white light goes up something is going to happen,’ Reeves said.
Asked what else he remembered, the defendant said: ‘I had a feeling like it was me or them.’
Adam Feest QC, prosecuting, asked: ‘When your wife said you needed to have a separation, did you at least, in part, blame Jennifer because she had tormented (your wife)?’ the prosecutor asked.
Mr Feest added: ‘I can’t let her or them ‘torment Kayley’ – I want to suggest that this is an accurate expression of why you went around to your neighbours that night. I’m going to suggest that’s the truth.’
Bristol Crown Court heard how Reeves and his wife had initially been friendly with their neighbours, but their relationship soured last May after Mrs Chapple passed her driving test and bought a car. Their part of the new-build estate they lived on only had parking for one car per household and Mr Chapple, 36, already used their designated space for his vehicle.
Instead, Mrs Chapple parked her small sky-blue car on the road but in doing so slightly blocked the space used by Reeves, whose car had already been damaged by Mr Chapple reversing. What started as a trivial argument became more and more toxic as the months went by.
On the night of the double murder, Reeves had returned home after taking his children to the Christmas lights switch-on in Taunton and had just put them to bed when his wife asked for a two-week trial separation.
He sat for a while on the stairs crying but then went down and took the back off a picture frame where he kept his ceremonial dagger along with treasured images of his time in the military.
Clutching the knife, he went outside after 9pm and used a compost bin to climb over the nearly 6ft-high fence into his neighbours’ back garden.
In a statement, the Chapples’ loved ones said: ‘No verdict will bring back our beautiful Jennifer and Stephen. If anything, these past 10 days have prolonged us finding out how Jennifer and Stephen spent their final moments.’
They added: ‘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.’
Detective Inspector Neil Meade, of our Major Crime Investigation Team, added: ‘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.’
DI Meade added: ‘Jennifer’s and Stephen’s families have shown incredible strength during the past few months.
‘Specialists family liaison officers have supported them throughout what has undoubtedly been a distressing ordeal and I’d like to thank them for the support they have given our investigation.
‘I hope now the trial has concluded and Reeves has been brought to justice they will be able to find some form of closure.’