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This article appeared in the September 23 Bethany Republican-Clipper. It is reprinted here with permission.
Jeremiah Searles, who is charged with the murder of Melissa Chapman, appeared for arraignment Thursday afternoon in Harrison County Circuit Court, where he was confronted by Melissa’s family and friends in an emotional scene at the end of the hearing.
Circuit Judge Thomas Alley set aside Searles’ November trial date on kidnapping and assault charges after Worth County authorities charged the former Bethany resident with second-degree murder and abandonment of a corpse in the death of Ms. Chapman, whose body was found in a ditch on Sept. 21 near Grant City. The Worth County charges will take precedence over the Harrison County cases.
Ms. Chapman’s supporters filled two benches in the Harrison County courtroom. As he was led by a sheriff’s officer from the courtroom following the hearing, Searles attempted to speak to Melissa’s family but they glared at him and shrugged him off.
The supporters stayed behind at the courthouse for a brief time where they told about the abuse that Melissa had suffered from Searles culminating in her murder.
Ms. Chapman’s daughter, Marlena Lawrence of Charles City, Iowa, gave birth to Melissa’s grandson Noah only a day before her mother was murdered. Marlena said she was able to introduce Melissa to her grandson in a brief video call, “but she only got to see him for five seconds.”
Marlena brought her son to the courtroom in an infant carrier and sat with other family members for the brief hearing. She was comforted outside the courtroom by friends after Searles was taken back to the county jail where he is being held without bond.
Sherry Hinten of Branson, Mo., a longtime friend of Ms. Chapman, was among supporters of the murder victim who attended the hearing.
Hinten said she called local authorities about her friend’s abuse at the hands of Searles and had requested a well-being check at the residence in Bethany where she was staying at the time. In one telephone call she received from Melissa’s phone, Hinton said, she overheard her friend’s son pleading with Searles not to hit his mother.
“I will not rest until there are stricter laws to protect people from domestic violence,” Hinton said in an interview at the courthouse.
Bethany police officers took Searles in custody last March at the residence in Bethany where Ms. Chapman was being held without her will. Police Chief Bryan Groom said that Searles threw Melissa’s 9-year-old son on the floor when he tried to intervene. Prosecuting Attorney Johnathan Meyer charged Searles with assault, kidnapping and child abuse. His bond was originally set at $100,000 but it was reduced to $10,000, 10% cash, at the request of the defense.
Hinton said she later learned that Searles had been staying with Melissa in a motel in Mount Ayr, Iowa. She said she last heard from her friend in a video call from the motel just before her car was found abandoned on Aug. 23 in Mount Ayr. Hinton said she had attempted to exchange text messages with Melissa, but she suspects that the texts were being returned by Searles.
Melissa’s former husband, Jerry Chapman, reported her missing on Aug. 23 to the Worth County Sheriff’s Department. Her body was found a week later near Grant City.
Preliminary findings from an autopsy indicated that Melissa had died from blunt force trauma before she was dumped in a ditch.
A celebration of life for Melissa was held on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Grant City Skating Rink.