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California

Cops made a crime podcast to capture fugitive multimillionaire Peter Chadwick. It helped

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Defense attorney Robert Sanger, left, talks to Peter Chadwick at a hearing in Santa Ana, Calif.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities knew almost immediately that Orange County multimillionaire Peter Chadwick had run.

Back in 2012, he was arrested in his wife’s killing and surrendered his passports. But as he awaited trial, he disappeared.

Investigators discovered several books in his home with advice about how someone could change their identity and live on the run. Chadwick also emptied millions from his bank accounts and took cash advances on his credit cards before he disappeared, police said.

It took four years, but police finally found Chadwick in Mexico and arrested him.

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The search was long and frustrating, but was also aided by something novel: a podcast. Detective made the podcast to help generate new interest in the case, and officials said it did just that.

What is Chadwick accused of doing?

Police allege that in October 2012, Chadwick strangled and drowned his wife — 46-year-old Quee Choo Chadwick — in the bathroom of their Newport Beach home, wrapped her body in a comforter and dumped her in a trash bin in San Diego County. The couple had been fighting over a possible divorce and related financial issues, police said.

The investigation began after a neighbor reported that the couple’s son had not been picked up after school. When police entered the home hours later, they found a broken vase and tiny droplets of blood in a bathroom. The home’s safe had also been emptied, police said.

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Early the next day, Chadwick called 911 from a gas station in San Diego County to report that his wife had been killed. Chadwick claimed that someone else killed his wife and forced him to load her body into a car and drive to the U.S.-Mexico border.

He later admitted to investigators that he made up the story, authorities said.

During the investigation, detectives learned that Chadwick had been unfaithful to his wife. In her closet, they found a list of topics Chadwick had allegedly searched for online, including escorts, a divorce attorney, abortion costs and, chillingly, how to inflict torture, police said.

Chadwick was released on $1-million bail shortly after his arrest in 2012 and agreed to live with his father in Santa Barbara as he awaited trial. He surrendered his British and U.S. passports, and showed up to hearings for roughly two years before authorities discovered he had vanished in January 2015.

What did he allegedly do in Mexico?

When Chadwick first arrived in Mexico in 2015, he initially stayed at luxury resorts in various towns, authorities said. Eventually, those resorts began requiring identification that he couldn’t provide, so he turned to more modest accommodations at motels and hostels.

Most recently, Chadwick had been staying at a residential duplex near Puebla, about 80 miles east of Mexico City. Chadwick used aliases including “Paul Cook,” “Paul Craig” and “John Franklin” while on the run and moved around frequently, doing odd jobs to supplement the wad of cash he brought with him when he fled the United States, police said.

Last year, Newport Beach police released the true-crime podcast “Countdown to Capture,” and announced a reward that investigators hoped would drum up interest in the case and lead to Chadwick’s arrest. Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis said at a news conference on Tuesday that the podcast, along with “good old-fashioned police work” following a tip led to Chadwick’s capture. The exact nature of the tip was unclear, including whether it came from someone who listened to the podcast.

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“It’s our belief that we put pressure on Peter, which was something that we wanted to do,” Lewis said.

“Today is sweet: We apprehended a fugitive on America’s ‘most wanted’ list. But let’s not forget, it’s bitter,” said Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer. “There’s a victim — a lovely lady married for 21 years with three kids — who was murdered by her husband, who then mercilessly wrapped her up in a blanket and discarded her body in a dumpster.”

Chadwick faces a felony count of murder in connection with his wife’s slaying. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.

What about this podcast?

The first episode of the podcast introduces listeners to Chadwick and his wife. The couple, along with their three sons, appeared to live model lives in their two-story Mediterranean-style home in upscale Newport Coast.

The tale takes a sinister turn, however, when the couple goes missing on Oct. 10, 2012, and investigators find an apparent crime scene in the master bathroom.

“Peter could be anywhere in the world,” Lewis told reporters at a news conference announcing the podcast. “He’s got the financial means to avoid the restrictions placed on his travel and he’s taken every opportunity to hide his tracks. We want to spread his picture and the story of his crimes far and wide. We want everyone to be looking for Peter Chadwick.”

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In the final episode, Newport Beach police Sgt. Court Depweg implored Chadwick to surrender to authorities:

“Make the decision now to stop this and begin to make amends with your sons. For once, make a decision for someone other than yourself. You and I both know you fled because you can’t look your sons in the eyes. This is your chance to turn yourself in and end this. It’s time to think of someone other than yourself and what benefits you. Think about your boys. Peter, we are coming for you… this begins your countdown to capture.”

What’s next?

Chadwick appeared in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday for a pretrial hearing where he was ordered to remain in custody without bail.

He has pleaded not guilty to a count of murder. He is due back in court on Sept. 16.


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