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Utah man accused of killing wife appears in court

Published July 2, 2014 9:58 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ogden • A 74-year-old Roy man made his initial court appearance Wednesday on charges that he killed his ailing wife, possibly by using tips from a book on suicide to poison her with nitrogen gas.

Dennis Vance Chamberlain is charged in 2nd District Court with one count of first-degree felony murder in the Feb. 16 death of his wife, 70-year-old Jean Andersen Chamberlain.

On Wednesday, Chamberlain appeared before Judge Michael Direda via video from the Weber County jail, where the defendant is being held without bail.

Defense attorney Ron Yengich, who is representing Chamberlain, requested a bail hearing, which was scheduled for July 17.

Roy police Detective Jason VanderWarf said Tuesday that Chamberlain did not notify police of his wife's death at the time, but only his family and a mortuary. VanderWarf said that due to her failing health and her having been seen by a doctor shortly before her death, a death certificate was issued.

Mrs. Chamberlain was buried in the Bountiful City Cemetery on Feb. 20, without an autopsy having been performed.

After finally learning of the death, Roy police investigated and found reasons to be suspicious of the defendant's account of his wife's death, VanderWarf said.

"He made a series of inconsistent statements to his family about it, including that certain people were there when she died, but actually they had not been there," the detective said.

According to charging documents, at one point Chamberlain said he had walked his dog only to return home to find his wife dead. However, he allegedly told neighbors that he had taken his spouse of 48 years to the hospital earlier the same day she died; still later he reportedly told family members that his Mormon bishop had come to the house and pronounced Jean Chamberlain to be dead.

Detectives learned that the bishop actually had not come to the Chamberlains' home and did not know of her death until the day after.

Alarmed, police sought and were granted search warrants and subpoenas, and over the course of ensuing months became convinced they were investigating a murder.

A search history on Chamberlain's computers revealed information on how to commit suicide, get doctors to sign death certificates, and specifics on "certain medications, chemicals and poisons," a probable cause statement notes.

Detectives also learned that Chamberlain allegedly had purchased an oxygen mask and a book titled "The Peaceful Pill Handbook," a euthanasia and suicide how-to manual. Several areas of the book pertaining to the use of nitrogen gas and making of a so-called "Exit Bag" — a plastic bag with a drawstring to put over one's head — were marked, the affidavit contends.

Police also found records of purchases for items to make the kit.

The affidavit also claims that in two interviews with detectives, Chamberlain — while not confessing to the alleged crime — did claim that "he would not go to prison and if that possibility ever arose, he would commit suicide before being arrested."

The comments purportedly were made to police while Chamberlain was in the care of St. Joseph's Marion Center — after threatening to kill himself.

After his release from the facility, Chamberlain allegedly cut himself off from his children and chose to stay in motel rooms rather than return home, court documents claim.

VanderWarf said Jean Chamberlain was wheelchair-bound and needed help caring for herself following an apparent stroke. She had been investigating the possibility of moving to a long-term healthcare facility prior to her death, he added.

In addition to the evidence gathered from financial records, computers and the couple's home, police sought and were granted permission to exhume Mrs. Chamberlain's remains. Specific autopsy results were not released, but VanderWarf said he understood medical examiners found evidence of asphyxiation.

remims@sltrib.com Twitter: @remims