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Millionaire fugitive hid in Mexico for years before a tip ended the manhunt

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 8/7/2019 By Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times
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Video by CBS News

LOS ANGELES — A tip to investigators ended a yearslong manhunt for an Orange County multimillionaire accused of killing his wife and dumping her body before fleeing to Mexico to avoid prosecution, officials said Tuesday.

Peter Chadwick, 55, a fugitive on the U.S. Marshals’ most-wanted list, was taken into custody late Sunday and arrived in California early Monday. A photograph of a handcuffed man said to be Chadwick was taken as he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport.

Police allege Chadwick strangled and drowned his wife — 46-year-old Quee Choo Chadwick — in the bathroom of their Newport Beach home, wrapped her in a comforter from their bed and dumped her body in a trash bin in San Diego County on Oct. 10, 2012. The couple had been fighting over a possible divorce and related financial issues, police said.

Investigators later learned that Chadwick had been unfaithful in the marriage. Inside his wife’s closet, detectives found a list detailing topics Chadwick had allegedly searched for online, including escorts, a divorce attorney, abortion costs and, chillingly, how to torture someone, police said.

When Chadwick first arrived in Mexico in 2015, he initially stayed at luxury resorts in various towns. Eventually, those resorts began requiring identification that he couldn’t provide, authorities said, so he turned to more modest accommodations at motels and hostels. Most recently, Chadwick had been staying at a residential duplex near Puebla, just outside Mexico City.

a person holding a sign: Detail of a U.S. Marshals Most Wanted poster at a news conference with Newport Beach Police and U.S. Marshal's officials to discuss the manhunt for murder defendant Peter Chadwick, who jumped bail a few years ago. He's accused of killing his wife. Photo taken at Newport Beach Police Department headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif., on Sept. 19, 2018. © Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS Detail of a U.S. Marshals Most Wanted poster at a news conference with Newport Beach Police and U.S. Marshal's officials to discuss the manhunt for murder defendant Peter Chadwick, who jumped bail a few years ago. He's accused of killing his wife. Photo taken at Newport Beach Police Department headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif., on Sept. 19, 2018. Last year, Newport Beach police officials 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 Tuesday that the podcast, along with “good old fashioned police work” using a tip led to Chadwick’s capture.

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

U.S. Marshal David Singer said sustained interest in the case made Chadwick nervous. He moved around frequently, doing odd jobs to supplement the wad of cash he brought with him when he fled the United States, Singer said.

“When these people feel pressure, they have to keep moving and they make mistakes,” Singer said.

The probe into Quee Choo’s death initially started as a missing person’s investigation after a neighbor, who noticed the couple’s sons standing at a bus stop waiting to be picked up after school, called police to report the missing parents. When investigators entered the home hours later, they found a decorative vase broken near the bathtub and tiny droplets of blood splattered on the bathroom wall. The home’s safe had also been emptied, police said.

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.

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 American passports, and showed up to hearings for two years before authorities discovered he had vanished in January 2015.

Authorities had long suspected that, even without passports, Chadwick probably had been able to leave the country.

Investigators discovered several books in his home detailing 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.

In addition, authorities discovered that Chadwick had been making test travel trips to other states, including Pennsylvania and Washington, to test the bounds of law enforcement and his court orders. He planted items at his father’s home that Singer alleges were meant to convince investigators that he had fled to Canada instead of Mexico.

“We promised the community in 2018 when we placed Chadwick on our 15 most wanted that we would pursue and bring him back to face justice,” Singer said. “Together with our law enforcement partners we have accomplished this and it should be an example for any fugitive on the run.”

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

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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