Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Public safety

Man faces felony murder charge in Valrico fire

VALRICO — The man had been pacing the street for hours. Nancy Ball first noticed him just after sunset Sunday as she sat inside her screened porch watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game on a small TV set. The man, she noticed, was carrying a hammer.

Ball, 68, clutched her phone, poised to dial 911, as the man approached her door.

"Can you please take me to the mental hospital?" the man asked.

Ball told him she couldn't help him. He walked away, but soon returned and asked again.

"If you need help," she told him, "I can call the police for you."

He stepped back.

"Oh, no," he said. "Please, don't call the police."

When he came back a third time, Ball was already on the phone with a dispatcher. Sheriff's deputies were on their way when Ball noticed a flicker of yellow light inside her neighbor's house. Soon, she saw smoke.

Firefighters clogged the tiny street in front of 133 Oakhill View Drive just after midnight Sunday as the tiny mobile home went up in flames. When the blaze was out, they walked inside and found a man's charred body.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies detained 42-year-old Frank Stanley Chapman Jr., who stood nearby, still clinging to the hammer, and mumbling about setting the blaze, authorities said.

Chapman, who was booked in the Hillsborough County jail on an arson charge, was late Monday also facing a felony murder charge, the Sheriff's Office said.

Authorities identified the victim as Archie Ennis Carr, 72, who lived in the home. Investigators did not disclose a motive for his killing and did not say how he had died.

Ed Chapman was 30 miles away at his home in Lakeland when he heard about the fire on the morning news.

Just after 7 a.m., the 44-year-old hobbled up the cold asphalt in Oakhill Village Mobile Home Park in Valrico, his weight resting on a cane, to where the yellow tape and deputies' cars blocked the street.

In the parched, soot-scented air, he pressed a cigarette to his lips and watched firefighters pry through melted aluminum siding and crumbling wood framework. He stood silently as medical examiners wheeled a gurney into the back of a white van.

"I need to talk to a detective," he told a deputy. "I'm the suspect's brother."

The younger Chapman had apparently lived at the mobile home for about two weeks, his brother said. He had little money because he had no job and a hard time getting work because of his criminal history.

State records show Frank Chapman has run afoul of the law more than 20 times in the past two decades on theft, battery, drug possession and other charges.

He has done several stints in state prison, most recently for a 2011 conviction for grand theft. He also served about two years in federal prison, records show, the result of a 2003 mail fraud conviction.

But buried within the lengthy minutiae of Chapman's many brushes with the law are signs of what his brother says are behind his actions. Specifically, in 2005 he was found not guilty in a robbery case. The reason: insanity.

Frank Chapman has suffered for years from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, his brother said. Since his last release from prison in 2012, he has twice been committed to a psychiatric hospital.

He was supposed to be taking psychiatric medication, his brother said. But he didn't have money to get the treatment he needed.

"My brother talks out of his mind," Ed Chapman said. "He says things that don't make no sense. I tried to help him. But it seemed like wherever he went, no one would give him a chance."

As investigators picked apart what remained of the charred mobile home Monday morning, Frank Chapman was held in jail.

"My brother is not the animal that everybody makes him out to be," Ed Chapman said. "He's got a kind heart. He likes to please."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or [email protected]

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