Father doubted he would outlive son’s killer. And he didn’t


Eight years ago, Tom Chappell, then 86, said he probably would die before Florida executed the man who killed his son, West Palm Beach motorcycle cop Brian Chappell, in 1988.

The elder Chappell’s grim prediction came true. He died Oct. 5 at 94.

The loss of his son “is something we think about every day,” Tom Chappell said in 2006. Asked if he could forgive his son’s killer, Chappell said, “I would forgive him if he would bring my son back.”

Norberto “Spiderman” Pietri was sentenced to Death Row on March 15, 1990. At the time, Chappell figured Pietri would be executed in a dozen years at most. He’s been there nearly a quarter century.

Currently, Pietri is No. 78 of the 385 Death Row inmates, as ranked by date of death sentence, according to Department of Corrections records.

“You saw the effect it had on Tom over the years,” said West Palm Beach Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen, who said he still recalls the day his colleague was killed. “There’s literally tens of thousands of Tom Chappells out there that don’t get closure.”

On Aug. 22, 1988, Chappell, then 31, was halfway through his sixth year as a West Palm Beach officer. He’d made a traffic stop near Southern Boulevard and Dixie Highway, and as he walked to the driver’s window, Norberto Pietri fired once with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

“I grabbed the gun, stuck my head out the window and shot,” Pietri later testified.

The bullet tore through Chappell’s chest. He staggered back, grabbed his portable radio and spoke his last four words: “Officer shot. Officer shot.”

Pietri, then 25, had walked away four days earlier from the minimum-security Lantana Community Correctional Center. Pietri, who was nicknamed “Spiderman” for the 3-inch spider tattoo on his neck, was caught two days later, the day before Brian Chappell was buried.

After the 25th anniversary in 2013, the Palm Beach Post made numerous attempts to contact the elder Chappell, without result.

The Yorkshire native had enlisted in the Royal Air Force at 16 and helped train British pilots at the school in Clewiston, where he met his future wife Julia. The two married in 1943. Chappell returned to England, then came back to Florida after the war where he operated a television repair business in Belle Glade. He moved to Palm Beach Gardens in 1968 and worked for a Lake Worth savings and loan before retiring in 1982.

Thomas Chappell is survived by his wife Julia; sons Richard, Robert, and Geoffrey; and daughter Suzie Smith (Patrick); as well as seven grandchildren. Services were private. The family asked that donations be made to the Brian H. Chappell memorial and scholarship fund with the West Palm Beach Police Benevolent Association.


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