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Radnor murder-suicide sparked by love triangle, police say

Radnor Township police say a murder-suicide that claimed the life of Villanova University assistant vice president Meredith Chapman was well-planned.

Meredith Chapman with dog Indy.
Meredith Chapman with dog Indy.Read moreCourtesy of University of Delaware

On paper, Meredith Chapman and Jennair Gerardot had plenty in common.

Both were well-educated, accomplished women with backgrounds in marketing. Both had notable ties to Delaware: Chapman once ran for office there, and worked for much of the last eight years at the University of Delaware. Gerardot lived in Wilmington, and her husband, Mark, briefly worked for the university, too.

Mark Gerardot proved to be another way in which the two women's lives overlapped, police say — and earlier this week, that shared interest turned fatal.  According to law enforcement officials, the 49-year-old had been having an affair with Chapman, 33, who was recently named an assistant vice president at Villanova University.

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Jennair Gerardot caught wind of her husband's relationship, and plotted her response in a series of text messages and emails that made her intentions clear. She wanted revenge.

On Monday, Gerardot, 47, disguised herself by donning a wig, and took a train from Delaware to Radnor, where Chapman lived alone in a three-story brick property on the bucolic-sounding Lowrys Lane.

Chapman wasn't yet home from work. Gerardot broke into her house through a front door, and was careful to clean up the shards of broken glass that had scattered to the floor, according to Radnor Township Police Superintendent William Colarulo. She didn't want Chapman to realize that something was amiss, he said.

When Chapman walked into her house, Gerardot pounced. In the moments that followed, the sound of gunfire jarred this otherwise quiet neighborhood. Residents called police shortly after 7 p.m. to report that they'd heard gunshots.

Officers arrived at the scene within minutes, and were met by an unexpected visitor. Mark Gerardot was standing in Chapman's driveway, and told the cops "my wife might be inside," Radnor Police Lt. Christopher Flanagan said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Once inside, the officers found Chapman dead in the kitchen from a single gunshot wound to the head. Jennair Gerardot was dead, too; she'd committed suicide by turning her Taurus Tracker .357 revolver on herself.

"It's cleared as far as we're concerned," Colarulo said of the shocking murder-suicide.

"You had a man who's married who's having an affair with this other woman. His wife knew that. This was a calculated attack," he said.  "She broke into the house. She was lying in wait, and then she shot herself. There were emails and text messages indicating what she planned to do. Detectives are still sorting that out."

Why, then, was Mark Gerardot in the area?

Investigators believe Gerardot might have been told that Chapman was going to meet him for dinner somewhere nearby. When she didn't arrive, "that's when he got concerned and showed up at the house," Colarulo said.

Chapman was married to former Newark City Councilman Luke Chapman, who announced earlier this year that he was not running for a fourth term. He could not be reached for comment. Colarulo said the couple no longer lived together.

Mark Gerardot, who recently worked as the creative director at the University of Delaware, also could not be reached for comment. He left his position at the university earlier this month.

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According to Jennair Gerardot's LinkedIn account, she'd worked as a marketing manager for a South Carolina-based manufacturing company called Circor Instrumentation for five years, but left the company in December. Before that, she and her husband worked at their own marketing and design company, Gerardot & Co.

On her website, Gerardot described herself as a "highly-driven businesswoman" and an "environmentalist at heart" who loved animals and traveling. She wrote that she graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

There was no hint of any marital discord on their Facebook accounts, which showed the couple — who got married in Allen County, Ind., in 1993 — smiling together, sometimes posing alongside their golden retrievers. "My birthday present 24/7. I'm a lucky guy," Mark captioned a photo of his wife on Instagram in October 2015.

But then the Chapmans appeared just as much in love on Meredith's Facebook page, where they were shown cuddling together in Paris, on their wedding day, on the beach. "Happy eight years, lukerchapman! Love you," Chapman tweeted at her husband in September.

News of Chapman's death sent shock waves through local political and higher-education communities.

A 2007 graduate of the University of Delaware, Chapman worked for a time at WHYY, where she produced nightly news segments and managed the outlet's website. She later took a job as a communications manager for U.S. Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, and was thrilled by her time in Washington.

"The fast-pace, excitement and impact of being at the epicenter of our country's government system was inspiring and invigorating every day," Chapman wrote on her website.

In 2010, she returned to the University of Delaware, where she was hired to work as a media relations manager, but quickly advanced. Chapman later got a master's degree in educational technology, taught hundreds of undergraduate and MBA students, and became the university's senior director of marketing.

Chapman even tried her hand at politics, running unsuccessfully for a Delaware state Senate seat as a Republican in 2016. "She was the type of person who you thought was going to help shape the world," Andrew Mitchell, who volunteered on Chapman's campaign, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Mitchell noted that Chapman had been excited to begin working at Villanova, only for her life to come to a sudden, violent end.  "It doesn't make sense," he wrote. "I doubt it ever will."

Chapman loved the color green — her social-media accounts often featured the hashtag "#alwaysthegirlingreen" — and often wore it, her colleagues said. She loved to run and spend time with her dog, Indy. High-heel shoes were another passion.

Melissa DeJoseph was one of the last people to see Chapman alive. They lived just two doors away from each other on Lowrys Lane, and DeJoseph watched from her back porch as Chapman pulled up in her Audi between 5 and 6 p.m. on Monday.

In an interview at her home Tuesday, DeJoseph, 40, retraced Chapman's final seconds. The petite former cheerleader carried a bag as she stepped out of her car and walked toward her redbrick twin house, which bumps up against train tracks for the Norristown High Speed Line. A dresser stood on the curb outside, and a mattress appeared to be propped up inside her enclosed front porch.

DeJoseph didn't see Chapman step inside her house — her line of sight was blocked by some bushes — but she heard what happened next.

Within seconds, noises echoed from Chapman's house. Then came an even louder, sharper sound that left DeJoseph unsettled.

"In my head, I was like, 'Is that a gunshot? No it can't be a gunshot,' " she said.

About an hour later, neighbors began gathering outside, and law enforcement swarmed the neighborhood, which is just blocks from Villanova's campus.

DeJoseph said she initially felt guilty for not having called 911,  but she couldn't imagine that a violent crime had occurred on her block, which is home to several young families. DeJoseph said she and her husband met Chapman for the first time Sunday, when she stopped by to introduce herself. She'd only recently moved into the area.

Both Villanova and the University of Delaware offered statements that similarly underscored the heartache felt by those who knew Chapman, while her friends and former colleagues took to social media to try to process their grief.

"She was a beloved professor and a wonderful neighbor," tweeted Emma Lyles, a University of Delaware student.

Erik Raser-Schramm, the chairman of the Delaware Democratic Party, released a statement that read in part: "Like so many Delawareans touched by Meredith, I am devastated to learn of the tragic loss of a dear friend. In the hours since receiving the news, it has been impossible for me to imagine our Delaware without someone so transcendent and committed to service."

Natalie Hines, who graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in communications in 2015, said Chapman always went out of her way to help students in and out of the classroom and solidified Hines' desire to go into the communications field.

"It was so nice to have a young woman so close to our age to look up to," Hines said. "She had that magical touch of being able to connect with students."

The year after Hines graduated, she and Chapman met for lunch, because Chapman wanted to hear how she was doing in her new job.

"Despite whatever comes out with this story, I don't want anyone to forget about all the people she inspired, especially the young women at UD," Hines said.

Staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.