Coroner says Chapman's death was suicide; family disputes ruling

The Lucas County coroner's office ruled the Aug. 24 death of Robert Chapman a suicide, according to an autopsy report released earlier this month, and Erie County Coroner Brian Baxter said he intends to sign off on that finding.
Melissa Topey
Nov 20, 2010


The Lucas County coroner's office ruled the Aug. 24 death of Robert Chapman a suicide, according to an autopsy report released earlier this month, and Erie County Coroner Brian Baxter said he intends to sign off on that finding.

Chapman's family, however, continues to insist he did not kill himself. The police investigation and the coroner's ruling have left too many unanswered questions, Robert's brother, James Chapman wrote in an e-mail to the Register.

Baxter initially left the investigation open as he sought answers from Dr. Maneesha Pandey, who conducted the autopsy in the Lucas County coroner's office.

"I'm going to rule it as a suicide," Baxter said Friday.

James Chapman was angered by the decision.

"Baxter's change of determination is incomprehensible," he stated in the e-mail.

Chapman said he talked with Baxter on Friday.

"When pressed, he responded he needed more information from the Lucas County coroner's office, and once received, changed his position," Chapman wrote. "If that's the case, why did he take the position of 'undetermined.'"

Baxter said he left the investigation open initially awaiting answers from Pandey. Baxter said he got some of those answers this week.

One question was how Robert Chapman, a right-handed person, could have shot himself with his left hand. Baxter said Pandey explained it appeared Robert Chapman held the gun with his left hand and steadied his grip with his right hand.

Chapman, 53, was found dead of a gunshot wound in the alley behind his home at 1015 Fourth St. The coroner's report indicates he was shot in the left temple and died within minutes.

James Chapman and other family members also questioned how police conducted the investigation from the start. The family said Robert Chapman acted as a confidential informant for police by recording license plate numbers from cars visiting the neighborhood.

Police said Robert Chapman contacted the department to report suspected drug activity but never served as a confidential informant.

The family also said a suspicious person was seen outside Chapman's home the night he died and raised other questions. Interim Sandusky Police Chief Jim Lang said he's comfortable, however, that the conclusions reached are accurate.

"From what I've read, and who I've talked to, in reading the reports, I feel they did a fine job," Lang said.





Hey Lang and Baxter, if you did such a fine job, give the family some common courtesy by answering the following:

 - Lang: Why is it that potential leads were never followed up on, as promised to the family by your own dectective graybill, per multiple conversations?  Did you think the family was just going to go away, and therefore he felt there was no need to pursue these leads?  Graybill assured me on Wednesday of this week he would follow up on the leads.  Approximately an hour later the family gets a call stating Baxter changed his ruling.  Is this coincidence?

- Lang: Why is it that one of your own boys at the scene hovered over my brother's dead body, making crude and unprofessional remarks about his condition and his lifestyle?  As you know, I have the audio and video to prove it - and you know who it was.

- Baxter: Supposedly the hands were bagged at the scene, as customary, however when the body arrived at Lucas Co. the left hand was found unbagged.  Seems like a coincidence since you are insistent this was the shooting hand.  Because the hand was unbagged, the gunpowder residue tests could not be performed.

- Why was there never anything in the police or autopsy reports referencing a 1" diameter wound on the forehead?  Again, I have the pictures sent by your boys in blue.  Your ruling was that the bullet entered the left side and never exited.  Seems to me the wound on the forehead would be critical to your determination.

Baxter: And finally, what or should I say who swayed your decision to change your original finding, which was deemed unable to determine?  If you didn't have the information you needed two weeks ago when you made this decision, how could you make any decision at all at that time?  You didn't leave the ruling open, as you state.  I have the official, stamped and signed certificate from you stating the cause of death could not be determined.  Come on Baxter, you're supposed to be a professional and elected official.  You owe the citizens that.



I know it must be hard to deal with, and that is why your upset. 


The coroner labeled it a suicide, hard to deal with but come on already.

Julie R.

I don't know anything about this case but after reading about that super shady coroner's office in Cuyahoga County, I don't know if I would have too much faith in coroners anymore, either.


This sounds like a case where the family just can't accept the truth that their relative took his own life.  Dr. Baxter did not change his opinion.  He said the cause of death was undetermined which left it open until he got the report from the Medical Examiner in Lucas County.


you are completely wrong and mis-informed of the process.  I have an official death certificate signed by Baxter 22 days ago and stating cause of death is Undetermined, which is one of the choices he has when ruling on the death.

I also have a wealth of information on the autopsy you dont have, etc, etc.  Truth?  If you know exactly what the truth is here, do tell or better, shut up



 I only know about this tragedy from what I have read...But, it seems to me, if a person was going to commit suicide, they wouldn't do it out in an alley, or driveway, or whatever. It would be done in the home or garage or some place private. I can't recall ANYONE I have read about doing this act OUT IN PUBLIC.  Maybe a suicide bomber, or standing on a train track... 

No.....This whole scenario stinks to high heaven....IMHO


I guess you missed the story about the guy who shot himself right out in the open off Perkins Ave  by Stockholders.


 ok..ONE!!  And I believe that he was making a statement to his employer.... 


I also have been thinking on the left side shot to the head...WHY in the HE 11 would a person go to the trouble of holding a weapon with the NON-DOMINANT hand, STEADY IT with the DOMINANT hand??!!  ANYONE with an OUNCE of common sense would know that you would just take the weapon in DOMINANT hand, raise to head, pull the trigger!  

I also know that GSR can be found on a hand whether or not it is in a plastic bag!! They do it on LIVE suspects ALL the time!  This story is just TOO MUCH to ask a normal, reasonable person to believe!!

columbus avenue

Your quote you use all the time, "That which does not kill us, serves to make us stronger..."

Are you a server at Applebees or something?  What is all this talk about "that whihch does not kill us" and "serving"?  You a waitress somewhere?

Julie R.

Check out the Toledo Blade about the Lucas County Sheriff and the criminal trial that's going on. The Sheriff has been charged by the FEDS with covering up and lying to investigators about the death of an inmate that took place in 2004. It says that an officer used "excessive force" on a shackled prisoner using a "sleeper hold" and he went into a coma and died two days later. The coroner (I assumed this was the Lucas County coroner) ruled the death as "natural" in 2004 but on the stand he claimed that was because the Sheriff and nobody else told him of the circumstances that took place prior to his ruling.  


I guess I would like to know who was the gun registered to? Was it his own? Also. was there any attempt to retrieve fingerprints off of the weapon too see whether or not his were the only ones on it?


tk - unless you have the facts in this case, which you obviously do not, don't shoot off saying the family can't accept the truth.  The process must involve fact finding and follow-through, which obviously is missing here (see my earlier post).  The truth is, we have a signed and stamped official death certificate from Baxter stating the cause of death CANNOT be determined.  This was presented to the family two weeks ago.  Do you have something in your hands that says otherwise?  There was obviously something where Baxter couldn't make a definitive determination.  Please, if you hold the truth surrounding this case, or other information that would make me believe otherwise, enlighten me.  The sad part is that due to the botched and shoddy police work, along with other circumstances surrounding the coroner's ruling and deception, we must go on not knowing the truth.  Cheers to the legal system. 

Bama - it's been nearly 3 months and we have not received the ballistics tests. 


RE: Iamrevolutionary

Are you kidding me??  Why does ANYONE commit suicide??  If someone is at the point to where they want to take their own life, do you think they take the time to decide which hand to hold the gun in??  This paper, from what I have seen, takes every opportunity to make the cops look stupid.  So what is it you are trying to imply here? Why would the cops not investigate this if they thought it was at all suspicious???  You here about suicides every day in this country, so I am guessing this is not their first time handling one.  People like you, who are into all these conspiracy theorys need to stop watching TV and come back down to reality. It is a tragic thing, but it sounds to me like the guy did it himself. What in this world would the cops have to gain here?? As for this guys brother who "claims" to have audio of the cops......I think if you did it would have been plastered all of this website, seems like every chance the SR gets to get at the cops they take it, so if you or they had ANY evidence of would be on here.  Nice try though.....


BuffetRocks - Yes, I do "claim" to have the audio, video and pictures.  And no, I wouldn't stoop as low as to post them on this Website.  Taking the opportunity to make the cops look stupid?  Do you read your local paper?  Wake up.  Guess you haven't been reading about the crime in your fine city all summer.  Why would they want to investigate another death?  Furthermore, the family was promised by sandusky's finest that they would investigate on several occassions, up until last Wednesday.  They continue to dodge questions, yet are continuing to keep the "case" open.  And you ask why others want to portray the cops as stupid.  Get Nuesse back in there to clean it up - Ranger Rick and his fine staff of detectives sure haven't a clue.


Did right-handed Sahel Kazemi shoot herself in the left temple after killing Steve McNair? Lots of stories and unanswered questions about people committing suicide with their non-dominant hand. Too many unanswered questions about having Bob's death ruled a suicide.


RE: 4justice:

You make it hard to feel sorry for you anymore....and PLEASE dont call that MY city, you couldnt pay me to live in that city.  Seems like you just cant accept reality....I am not a cop, but it seems to me people in THAT city only like cops when they need one....imagine your fair city without them.  I live east of Sandusky, where the majority of us realize what life would be like without them.  It is always so much easier to blame someone else.....cops make easy targets, but you know what? Regardless of what you or this rag of a paper say, they will still respond to help you if you need it....


BuffetRocks -

Why in the world would I ask you to feel sorry for me?  And I can't accept reality?  Again, I ask you, what is the reality surrounding this case?  It's obvious you haven't a clue.  Don't open your mouth until you can prove otherwise. 

It's obvious you live in a world where what you read and hear is the bottom line.  And, no matter how I feel, I certainly would hope law enforcement would respond when needed.  It's their job.