Long Beach police staged a phony crime scene to catch the wife and stepson of a Long Beach minister in a plot to have him murdered for his life insurance, authorities said Tuesday.
Perma Jean Pritchett, 32, and her son, Jessie Charles Pritchett, 19, were arrested at their Long Beach home Tuesday afternoon when she made incriminating statements after seeing grim photographs of what was portrayed as the Rev. Charles Pritchett’s dead body.
“The apparent motive for the crime was that she was trying to collect his life insurance--the minister said it was about $100,000--but there may be more to it than that,” said Officer Bob Anderson of the Long Beach Police Department.
“During the investigation, we found that there had been two previous attempts on his life, but we don’t know yet whether they can be tied to his wife,” Anderson said.
The investigation started about a week ago, when the department’s Career Criminal Apprehension Team, which was investigating an unrelated matter, stumbled onto what appeared to be a murder-for-hire plot, Anderson said.
“They investigated further, and found that a person--not an undercover officer--had been approached in a real . . . plot to kill Mr. Pritchett.”
Anderson said detectives then approached Charles Pritchett, an aerospace worker who also serves as a minister at the First Shining Light Church in North Long Beach, and let him listen to tapes of conversations they had recorded during their inquiry.
“After he heard those, he agreed to go along with our scheme to stage a mock murder with him being the victim,” Anderson said.
A couple of days ago, police borrowed a chapter from Hollywood, converting a parking lot into a phony crime scene.
“We had everything there--a police van, yellow tapes marking the place off, a forensic team shooting photographs,” Anderson said. “Pritchett was made up to look like a corpse, with bloodstains on him that made it look as though he’d been shot.”
On Tuesday afternoon, somber-faced detectives went to the Pritchett home, ostensibly to inform Perma Pritchett that her husband had been murdered, Anderson said.
“When they showed her the photographs, she made some incriminating statements,” Anderson said. “She and her son were placed under arrest.”
Anderson declined to discuss the statements or to reveal further details about the crime. The identity of the person allegedly approached in the murder-for-hire plot was not revealed.
Police said Perma and Jessie Pritchett will be arraigned Thursday on charges of solicitation to commit murder.
Millard H. Jackson, pastor of the community church in the 6100 block of South Atlantic Avenue, said Tuesday night that Charles Pritchett “has never said a negative word about his wife.”
“Despite what happened, I know that he loves his wife and his family,” Jackson said.
Times correspondents Emily Adams and Psyche Pascual contributed to this story.