Child Sex Crimes Suspect Hangs Self in Jail

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Jacobsburg resident James Chaplin, charged with committing numerous sex crimes, took his own life Tuesday while lodged in the Belmont County Jail.

Charges against Chaplin were slated to be presented to a grand jury Wednesday, and Belmont County Sheriff Fred Thompson said those counts involved as many as 25 local victims. Chaplin, 52, was being held in lieu of $1 million bond on two counts of rape, one count of gross sexual imposition and two counts of corrupting another with drugs.

Chaplin hanged himself with a sheet in his cell, Thompson said. He was still alive, however, when jailers discovered his suicide attempt. Thompson said the staff worked to revive him while waiting for Cumberland Trail Fire Department personnel to arrive.

“The jailers on duty worked on him with chest compressions until Cumberland Trail came in and took over resuscitation efforts,” Thompson said. “He was transported to East Ohio Regional Hospital, and there he was placed on a ventilator.”

Chaplin was later transferred to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he died.

Detective Andrea Gatti was investigating Chaplin’s case. Thompson said Chaplin was arrested Nov. 6, and the more Gatti talked with people, the more victims were identified.

According to Thompson, Gatti had determined that 25 local male juveniles had been victimized by Chaplin. She also had discovered that Chaplin had other victims in neighboring counties and states, and even some outside the United States. Thompson said those incidents occurred while Chaplin was in the military, with some dating back to the 1970s.

He noted that Gatti estimated that Chaplin had 40-50 total victims.

Thompson also said Gatti does not intend to let the case conclude with Chaplin’s death.

“She is going to continue to talk with victims and make sure the sheriff’s office is there to offer them any type of support and get them going in the right direction for counseling,” Thompson said.

Chaplin’s death marked the second suicide by hanging at the jail in Thompson’s eight years as sheriff. Thompson said there have been other attempts by inmates, but jailers have managed to intervene.