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Chainsaw deaths ruled murder-suicide, concern turns toward couple's 3 sons

Police say Christopher Peppelman used a chainsaw to kill his estranged wife and himself. Their eldest son found the bodies.

Lower Moreland home where police say a man used a chain saw to kill his estranged wife and himself. (John Moritz / Staff)
Lower Moreland home where police say a man used a chain saw to kill his estranged wife and himself. (John Moritz / Staff)Read more

IF ONLY IT were a police officer, a family friend or uncle, any adult in the world who could have found them instead, and spared a boy from a horror he'll never forget.

The eldest son of Christopher and Nicole Peppelman was alone, though, when he found his parents dead Tuesday afternoon, a bloody chain saw beside them in the Lower Moreland, Montgomery County, house where they'd once been happy. He's 14 and has two little brothers.

Now it's up to the adults who are still here to help get him through it, because it's probably too late to lie about it.

"I'm not ever sure there's an adult explanation for this tragedy," said the Rev. Eric Carswell of the Bryn Athyn Church, where the two younger Peppelman boys attend school.

Yesterday, Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Walter Hofman said that Nicole Peppelman, 43, was stabbed in the neck and choked and suffered a "gaping wound" to the abdomen. Chris Peppelman, 48, died from a self-inflicted, gaping wound to his abdomen and right side.

Court records show that Nicole Peppelman filed for divorce in June 2010 and the process stretched on for years. A divorce decree was issued in January, but there were additional filings up until February.

"To say things were tumultuous is an understatement," said a family friend, who asked not to be identified. "They could not come to any agreements on what was going to be settled in terms of the divorce. They were just two people who should not have been together."

Neighbor Glen Nathan and the family friend both said they didn't understand why Nicole Peppelman would have been at the home because she had moved in with her parents.

Nathan lives about 1,000 feet from Peppelman home and said he saw Nicole Peppelman "flying around the corner" toward the house in her Cadillac on Tuesday morning but didn't pay much attention to it.

"She always drove like that. There was a lot of anger," he said.

Nathan said police visited the house numerous times over the years, though court records show neither of the Peppelmans was ever prosecuted for domestic abuse.

Lower Moreland police confirmed yesterday that there had been calls to the home, but specific details were not available as of last night. Court records do show that Nicole Peppelman was found guilty in March of a harassment charge filed in January.

Nathan said Chris Peppelman told him months ago that he and his wife were trying to reconcile. Chris' divorce attorney, Lynne Gold-Bikin, declined to comment yesterday, and Nicole's attorney, Cheryl Young, said that not all the details of the divorce had been resolved.

"This is an incredible tragedy, for the children in particular," Young said. "It's devastating and shocking."

The Peppelmans owned an excavating business in Huntingdon Valley.

Their three sons were involved in youth sports seemingly all year, Nathan said, including ice hockey and soccer. The two younger boys are in third and sixth grade at the Bryn Athyn Church School, Carswell said, and were there Tuesday when this all happened.

Carswell said an aunt and uncle picked them up, and he wondered what they would say then, what anyone could ever say, to make it better.

"How do we take care of the kids, so they're not afraid?" he asked. "It's not a perfect world we live in."