A Maryland man who may have been leading a double life has confessed to kidnapping his disabled girlfriend, luring her into the Nevada desert, tying her to a signpost and suffocating her with duct tape, police said Friday.
He allegedly then pretended to be the victim on Facebook, sending her family messages to cover up her disappearance until friends reported her missing earlier this week.
Jaime Rae Feden, 33, suffered from a rare congenital condition called VATER syndrome and stood just over 4 feet tall. Authorities said the Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, woman was sweet-natured and trusting.
“She was a very loving type of a person and I think she was taken advantage of by someone who was a predator,” Bethel Park Police Chief Timothy O'Connor told reporters.
For several years, Feden had a tumultuous relationship with John Chapman, 39, who allegedly asked her to come with him to Las Vegas in September to look at property.
Once there, he convinced her to go with him to the desert for a photo shoot. According to a criminal complaint obtained by WPXI, he used zip ties to bind her to a signpost, and covered her mouth and nose with duct tape, leaving her unable to breathe.
He claims he then untied her, stripped off her clothes and left her in the desert, police said.
A body was found there in October and while the remains have not yet been identified, police said they bear the characteristics of Feden’s medical condition.
Meanwhile, Feden’s friends and family were becoming increasingly concerned about her. Although an uncle was getting messages from her through Facebook, whoever was sending them was answering questions incorrectly; police say Chapman was behind them.
On Thursday, police put out a missing-persons bulletin for Feden. When Chapman showed up at her home, police began questioning him—and he allegedly confessed.
According to WTAE, police found Feden’s cellphone, along with the duct tape and zip ties, inside the house.
Chapman’s stepmother told WPXI that the family was stunned by the allegations, in part because he appeared to be happily married to a woman in Maryland.
She said relatives knew that he traveled to Las Vegas this fall, but he said it was for a business trip. They also knew of Feden, but said they thought she was just a close friend.
“What a horribly sad tragedy,” the stepmom, Pamela Chapman, told the TV station. “It doesn’t seem like it’s real.”
As a handcuffed Chapman was marched past reporters on Friday, he declined to answer shouted questions. It was unclear if he has retained an attorney.
O'Connor said Chapman has not been charged with homicide—and that if he is, those charges would come from Nevada, where the slaying allegedly took place. So far, he is facing several other charges, including kidnapping.