Fugitive Peter Chadwick went from millionaire to bussing tables while on the run
[This story previously aired on August 10, 2019.]
Produced by Chuck Stevenson and Gayane Keshishyan Mendez
A manhunt is over and a mystery solved. After a nearly five year-long manhunt, Peter Chadwick was captured in Mexico in August 2019. The 55-year-old was accused of strangling his wife, Quee Choo “Q.C.” Chadwick to death in 2012 in their Newport Beach mansion.
“48 Hours” gained exclusive insight into the U.S. Marshals’ search for Chadwick, who was charged with killing his wife and then jumped bail.
Peter and Q.C. Chadwick were college sweethearts, married for 21 years and had three sons. They lived in a gated community in Newport Beach, Calif. That dream life collapsed one day in 2012 when neither of the Chadwicks turned up to pick up their sons from the bus stop. Investigators had little idea that day the search for the couple would lead them on an international manhunt.
The next morning, San Diego authorities got a 911 call from Chadwick, claiming a house painter named Juan murdered Q.C. and forced Peter Chadwick to get her body out of the house. He said a man helped Juan and they were planning to cut up his wife’s body and dispose of it south of the border. Law enforcement didn’t believe Chadwick, and he was arrested and charged with Q.C.’s murder. He was released on $1 million in bail. Then he vanished. That was 2015.
Chadwick was one of the U.S. Marshals’ 15 most-wanted fugitives.
U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey told “48 Hours” that a previous edition of the broadcast – which aired in May 2019 – focused on the case caused Chadwick to alter his life while on the run and ultimately helped lead to his capture.
“He said when he saw that episode, he realized his situation had escalated a lot,” McCluskey told correspondent Tracy Smith. “Because he didn’t realize the U.S. Marshals were after him at that point.”
How was Chadwick able to elude those trying to find him for so long?
After nearly five years on the run, the international manhunt for Peter Chadwick — accused of killing his wife Q.C. — ended on August 4, 2019.
CHIEF JON LEWIS | NEWPORT BEACH POLICE [to reporters]: We’re pleased to announce that Peter Gregory Chadwick was located in Mexico on Sunday night … With the help and cooperation of the United States Marshal’s Office and authorities in Mexico, he was flown to Los Angeles International Airport where our detectives took custody of him.
How did it come to this? It’s a twisted tale that began on a picture-perfect autumn day in October 2012, in a posh neighborhood in Newport Beach, California.
The couple had been living the good life, enjoying the trappings of wealth and raising three sons. Their oldest was away at boarding school and when his two younger brothers returned home on Oct. 10, the family’s world turned upside down.
Tracy Smith: So, these boys got out of school and what happened?
Sgt. Ryan Peters | Newport Beach Police Dept.: They get out of school and a bus drops ’em off at a bus stop near their house.
Sergeant Ryan Peters remembers that day.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: And a neighbor saw ’em sittin’ at the bus stop past the time that they typically get picked up by either Peter or Q.C.. … So, she stopped and asked, “Have you reached your mom and dad?” And they said, “No, they haven’t been able to reach ’em.” They were calling them, and nobody was answering.
Lt. Bryan Moore | Newport Beach Police Dept.: It was very unusual for the Chadwicks not to be punctual.
Lieutenant Bryan Moore was called in later.
Tracy Smith: Dad should be here to pick them up?
Lt. Bryan Moore: Dad is always here.
Lt. Bryan Moore: Normal protocol during a missing persons case is we’re … checking with friends, we’re checking with relatives.
Tracy Smith: And checking the hospitals, checking with family, neighbors — anybody have any idea where they are?
Lt. Bryan Moore: All attempts to locate them were — were a dead end.
That same night, with their parents still missing, the boys slept at a friend’s house. Investigators combed the Chadwick home for clues.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: And then when they go upstairs and they walk into the master bath … then that’s when patrol realizes there’s more to the story.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: In the master bathroom, they initially saw the broken glass. …Decorative glass that was around the bathroom tub, the edging.
Lt. Bryan Moore: We had blood at the bottom of the bathtub.
Lt. Bryan Moore: As you continue through the downstairs … the safe is clearly ajar.
Tracy Smith: So, it’s starting to look like more than just a welfare check situation.
Lt. Bryan Moore: Yeah. Obviously, whoever left, left in haste. … It looked quite suspicious.
Heidi | Neighbor: We were all in shock. Like “Where is she? What’s going on? Why is she missing?”
Word that the Chadwicks were gone spread quickly through the neighborhood. Heidi lived just across the street.
Tracy Smith: What were they like?
Heidi: Well, Q.C. was the one with all the personality. … She was always looking forward to my annual Christmas party, because she came over and she got to dress up. And she looked like a million dollars. And she had fun!
Karen Thorp | Q.C.’s friend: My first impression of her was that she was a completely devoted mother.
Karen Thorp had known Q.C. for years. Their children went to school together.
Karen Thorp: She was… very determined to make sure they were getting good grades and they were completing their assignments, and they were taking music and were doing a sport. She wanted them to be the best at everything.
Tracy Smith: And, how were they?
Karen Thorp: They were the best at everything.
Their father, Peter, came from a wealthy family. He was born in Britain and had dual citizenship. Q.C.’s family was also affluent. They met at Arizona State University.
Tracy Smith: Did you get the sense that she was very in love with him?
Karen Thorp: Yes. That she was in love with him and that she depended on him also…
Tracy Smith: What do you mean depended on him?
Karen Thorp: Q.C. found our country to be a bit new and strange, different from where she had come from and she was learning about how to do things here.
Tracy Smith: Did you get the sense that Peter liked her depending on him?
Karen Thorp: Yes. Yeah, we definitely all felt that he was completely comfortable with that. … She was definitely less independent than many of her friends.
Q.C. and Peter married in 1991. When he grew more successful, the couple moved to that home in Newport Beach. They eventually had three sons.
Art Scott taught the two older boys piano.
Art Scott: They were great students … They did everything I asked.
Art Scott: I would teach him [plays a tune on the piano]. Then after a few months, after he got a bit more advanced, I would teach him … [plays an extended tune]. And it would expand beyond that as he got more committed and did more work. … They were very bright kids.
Art Scott: I really enjoyed being in their home. She always had a beverage for me, and something to eat every single time. And that doesn’t happen, you know, every day of — for all the clients that I see. … And so, she was very congenial, very much — making me feel warm in her house.
Tracy Smith: And what was Peter like?
Karen Thorp: He almost seemed painfully shy when we first met him. … I felt like I never really knew him very well.
Tracy Smith: What did Peter do?
Karen Thorp: At first, we didn’t really know. We thought he ran his own business and we then learned he managed some apartment buildings.
Tracy Smith: Was Peter kind of a mystery?
Karen Thorp: Yes. Peter was a mystery.
But, Thorp says, she did sense that the couple’s dynamic had been evolving over the past few years.
Karen Thorp: Q.C. was really beginning to come into her own and be her own person.
Karen Thorp: I’d say she was less insecure about what to wear and what to do and she was able to follow more of her way of doing things.
Tracy Smith: So, you could see the self-confidence?
Karen Thorp: I could see the self-confidence, yes.
Karen Thorp: I felt at the time like I really knew the family, but I have to say, with so many things in life, you never really know about peoples’ inside lives and what’s really going on.
Now, police were left with two missing parents and those disturbing clues in the master bathroom.
Tracy Smith: And what were the boys saying?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: The boys had no idea where mom and dad were.
Tracy Smith: Anybody have any clue?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: No. At that point, nobody had any clue at all.
But that wouldn’t last long. The first big break came near the Mexican border in San Diego. It was just before dawn the day after when someone there — 100 miles from Newport Beach — called 911 with an emergency. It was Peter Chadwick:
911 OPERATOR: 911 Emergency. This is Crystal…
PETER CHADWICK: They took her… they took her
911 OPERATOR: Who took her?
PETER CHADWICK: The guy who broke into my house. He — he drove me here. He had a friend … I think they’re going — they might be going to Mexico or somewhere.
A BIZARRE 911 CALL
In surveillance pictures taken at a gas station near the Mexican border, Peter Chadwick can be seen — he’s about to make that 911 call:
PETER CHADWICK [TO STORE CLERK]: Can you call 911? Somebody killed my wife.
Moments later, Chadwick tells the operator Q.C. had been murdered:
PETER CHADWICK: My wife’s dead … They’ve gone in a pickup truck.
911 OPERATOR: So, your wife was kidnapped?
PETER CHADWICK: She’s dead …
911 OPERATOR: Uh, hold on. Let me get my supervisor on the phone.
Tracy Smith: This is the gas station where Chadwick called 911?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: Yeah. This is where he chose to kick off our investigation.
Tracy Smith: And this was a huge break
Sgt. Ryan Peters: This was huge.
Tracy Smith: Just to get a sense of where we are, how close are we to the border — is that?
Sgt. Ryan Peters [pointing to city lights in the distance]: It’s right there.
Tracy Smith: What are we looking at?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: We’re looking at Tijuana.
Tracy Smith: What did Chadwick tell 911?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: Chadwick calls 911 and says he was kidnapped. And he was kidnapped by a guy named Juan who had killed his wife in Newport Beach.
911 OPERATOR: How do you know Juan?
PETER CHADWICK: I picked him up to look at some painting work at the house. I brought him to the house.
Tracy Smith: So, Peter and Juan go back to his home … and then what did Peter say happened?
Lt. Bryan Moore: At some point Peter and Juan separated, Juan continued upstairs, and Peter went down to his office … Peter said within seconds, he heard his wife Q.C. screaming.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: He hears Q.C. scream “Peter, Peter…” and as he runs upstairs he sees Juan strangling Q.C., who’s in the bath, in their master bedroom and he’s drowning her.
911 OPERATOR: How do you know she’s dead?
PETER CHADWICK: She drowned, she drowned. … Her body was stiff, even!
Sgt. Ryan Peters: As he goes up and sees this, witnesses this, he’s being held at bay by Juan with a 2-inch pocket knife.
Chadwick told police he was helpless to save Q.C.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: Instead of being able to rescue his wife he’s held at bay by Juan and Juan proceeds to finish killing his wife.
Then, Chadwick said Juan ordered him to help get Q.C.’s body out of the tub and wrap it in a blanket.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: And Peter says he walks over and grabs a green blanket and wraps her up in it. And that’s the blanket they used to take her downstairs.
With Juan at his side, Chadwick said he was forced to drive all through the night with his wife’s body in the back of his SUV.
PETER CHADWICK [TO 911]: I’ve been driving with them.
PETER CHADWICK [TO 911]: I think they might be going to Mexico or somewhere. … I want you to get ’em …
Chadwick says that’s how they ended up at a border town gas station, where they met up with another man named “Chee.”
Sgt. Ryan Peters: And they took the body out of Chadwick’s car, put it in a truck and took it to Mexico.
Chadwick says Juan and Chee drove away, leaving him alone with his vehicle in a dreary parking lot. That’s when Chadwick made his 911 call:
911 OPERATOR: OK, and where is she now?
PETER CHADWICK: They have her body. They said they’re gonna cut her up.
911 OPERATOR: What color car did Juan leave in?
PETER CHADWICK: Wha — What?
911 OPERATOR: What color car did Juan leave in?
PETER CHADWICK: Dark green. Dark green uh, umm, like a — like a pickup van but covered. Um what do you call, uh, umm. And — and a — a Chevy.
Within a few minutes, police arrived and took him to the station. Lieutenant Bryan Moore says his detectives found holes in Chadwick’s story.
Tracy Smith: Any signs of Juan at all?
Lt. Bryan Moore: No.
Chadwick told 911 that Q.C. was killed at about 11 a.m. the previous morning, but surveillance footage shows Chadwick’s SUV leaving his gated community in Newport Beach about two-and-a-half hours after that. Police say there’s no Juan in the vehicle. And later, Chadwick’s at a toll. Again, no sign of Juan.
Lt. Bryan Moore: Everyone we talked to and described this Juan individual, no one had any idea who that was, or could give us any information related to this person.
Tracy Smith: What about Chee?
Lt. Bryan Moore: No. Some of the video surveillance we picked up, in the area where Peter said he met this Chee person, there was no other vehicles involved that we could see.
What’s more, Chadwick’s own body had some incriminating injuries.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: He had scratches on his neck and his arms. You know, bite mark on his forearm.
Tracy Smith: Did he try to explain that as these came from Juan?
Lt. Bryan Moore: He explained some sort of a struggle between him and Juan, but there was never any specifics on how he obtained those injuries
And then there was this: a packed suitcase in Chadwick’s car.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: We had a suitcase with … all male clothing inside that was just kind of thrown in there, as if somebody had kind of packed hastily.
Tracy Smith: I’m sorry — there was a bag in the car of men’s clothes?
Tracy Smith: What kind of kidnapper says, “Hey, go ahead and pack yourself an overnight bag?”
Sgt. Ryan Peters: Which is part of the problem. That’s not normally a thing that happens, no.
Q.C.’s friend, Karen Thorp, says nothing Peter said made any sense.
Tracy Smith: When you first heard that story, did you buy it?
Karen Thorp: Absolutely, not! I don’t even think the 911 operator bought it! If you’ve heard the tape her reaction is, “Um-hmm, really? Um-hmm?”
911 OPERATOR: OK, wh — what?— are you on any kind of medication, sir?
PETER CHADWICK: …Not — not — not, uh, that heavy one …
911 OPERATOR: OK, but this happened yesterday at 11. You’re now calling us at 5: 30 in the morning.
Detectives weren’t buying any of it either.
Lt. Bryan Moore: During the initial contact … Peter was — was kind of all over the map. His story was very disjointed. He’d go through the range of emotions, crying — however, the officer never saw a tear — to moments of anxiety and just complete quiet.
Tracy Smith: So, he went from great displays of being distraught to nothing?
Lt. Bryan Moore: And the most interesting thing was during the entire contact with law enforcement and with our detectives, he never once asked about his kids.
Tracy Smith: He never asked about the boys?
Lt. Bryan Moore: No.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: And we’re talking, he hasn’t seen them since the morning prior when he dropped them off for school. … So, it’s almost 24 hours.
Tracy Smith: What did that say to you?
Lt. Bryan Moore: To me, it means that he is more concerned with his story, creating an alibi —
Tracy Smith: — than he is about his own sons.
Lt. Bryan Moore: It appeared so, yes.
Karen Thorp: People’s first feeling was that there had been a takeover robbery and they had both been kidnapped I don’t know if there was speculation in the media about that. … [emotional] But I never for a moment thought that it had happened. I somehow knew he had killed her.
A BIG BREAK
Karen Thorp: I remember calling and I said, “He’s killed her, hasn’t he?” And I can’t tell you why I knew. My friend said, “Are you OK? Are you at work?” And I said, “I am, but I’m going home now.”
On Oct. 11, 2012 — just six hours after that 911 call — Peter Chadwick was arrested for murder.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: He wasn’t defensive, angry, sad, emotional in any way as if somebody that was being placed under arrest that was innocent would have acted.
Lt. Bryan Moore: Almost like he wasn’t surprised that we were putting the handcuffs on him.
Chadwick quickly lawyered up and stopped talking to detectives. The community was shocked.
Karen Thorp: Just, just unthinkable that, that he would do that and that someone would do that, and that she would be gone.
Karen Thorp could only guess what led to her friend’s murder.
Karen Thorp: I think, over time, knowing Q.C., it seemed that she wanted to become more independent and she would start doing more things for herself … and I wondered then if maybe some of her reservations and insecurity were because of Peter.
Tracy Smith: Why do you think she didn’t confide in you?
Karen Thorp: I think she was very proud … and I think everyone was shocked.
Bryan Moore believes Q.C. had uncovered a dark side of her husband.
Lt. Bryan Moore: Probably the most telling things that we discovered was a handwritten piece of paper that had Peter’s computer search history on it. Looked like it was written out by Q.C..
Tracy Smith: And what did that say?
Lt. Bryan Moore: How to torture, Chinese sex massage, abortion costs in Orange County.
Tracy Smith: These were all in his search history?
Lt. Bryan Moore: Yes.
Lt. Bryan Moore: So, as we dug into it further. We started to get the real account that there was some turmoil in their marriage. There was some talk of divorce.
Tracy Smith: He visited prostitutes?
Lt. Bryan Moore: Based on his search history … we have to assume so.
Tracy Smith: This isn’t that happy Newport Beach family that it appeared to be from the outside?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: Absolutely, not.
In court, Peter Chadwick pleaded not guilty. His two sons, who had lived at home, were now with their mother’s brother more than 50 miles away in the Los Angeles area. Their mother was missing and presumably dead.
Tracy Smith: Did the boys have any idea about what happened to their mother? What their dad was doing?
Lt. Bryan Moore: None whatsoever.
Then, seven days after Peter Chadwick called 911, detectives got another big break. This time, a tip they say they can’t discuss, that led them to a location in the mountains, more than 100 miles from Newport Beach.
Tracy Smith: This is remote.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: It’s extremely remote. … Kind of south San Diego County, in the middle of nowhere.
Tracy Smith: Where are we headed?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: So, we’re going to crime scene number two.
Detectives found themselves on a barren mountainside in rural San Diego County: Wildcat Canyon. They believe Peter Chadwick came here that night.
Tracy Smith: What do you think he’s thinking of as he’s driving up this road?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: If you kind of put yourself in his position, he’s been driving around for hours, over 10 hours with Q.C.’s body in the car. … He needs to find a place to drop the body. He needs to find a place to drop the body where he’s not gonna be seen. Where it’s dark and it’s not gonna be seen anytime soon after he drops it.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: The first place he comes to is this little road.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: We were not sure we were ever gonna find her. …The chances were slim to none.
That’s where they came upon a dumpster.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: When we lifted it up it was full.
Tracy Smith: So, what did you see?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: We started finding Q.C.’s items. … We found nice bags. … We found a really nice purse. … So, we set those aside. … When we opened up the bag, that’s when we found Q.C.’s ID; her permanent residency card; $10,000 cash. … And all of this stuff is the stuff that he described Juan taking with Q.C.’s body into Mexico.
And wrapped in a green blanket: Q.C.’s body.
Lt. Bryan Moore: It was huge break for us. … The dumpster was scheduled to be picked up the Thursday morning, which was the next morning after we believe Peter disposed of Q.C.’s body. … The issue with that was there was some kind of billing dispute.
Tracy Smith: So, they were supposed to pick up the dumpster … but they didn’t.
Once detectives finally found Q.C., the medical examiner was able to determine how she died.
Lt. Bryan Moore: There was a pretty violent struggle which resulted in strangulation and possible drowning.
As the state built its case against Peter Chadwick, he sat in jail for two months, until December, when bail was set at $1 million. No sweat for the multimillionaire businessman.
Karen Thorp: I heard he got out on bail … and I remember being absolutely infuriated and disgusted. He should not be out on bail.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy says the court really had no choice. Chadwick was entitled to bail.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy | Orange County Senior Deputy D.A.: We had a guy that had — he had no criminal background. He had roots in the community.
Chadwick also had that multimillion-dollar home and three sons. And he surrendered his U.S. and U.K. passports.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy: We can keep him on a short leash. We can keep him, you know, engaged in the process. We can keep, you know, we can keep eyes on him.
Heidi: Peter came back and got her van, which was really creepy. … He returned to get her van, because his car was impounded. So he drove off with her van. … And I was just happened to be out on the street, and he gave me a nod and I’m just like, turned my head in disgust.
Even before Chadwick could face trial, Karen Thorp’s mind was made up.
Karen Thorp: He was – shameless … Talk about chutzpah. He sent out an email inviting people to a 100-day vigil, candlelight vigil, at the home where he murdered her. … How can you kill your wife … throw her in a dumpster … and hold a candle light vigil at the home where you killed her?
Two years passed. Chadwick moved into his father’s home in Santa Barbara, a swanky town up the coast. All three sons ended up in boarding school.
Tracy Smith: How solid did you think your case was as you headed for trial?
Lt. Bryan Moore: Extremely solid. … I mean with all the circumstantial evidence, the body … the injuries … and the lack of plausibility on behalf of Peter’s story. … So overall, we thought we had this thing wrapped up.
Tracy Smith: So as you’re looking down the road, you’re thinking Peter Chadwick is gonna end up where?
Lt. Bryan Moore: In prison.
But Peter Chadwick had other plans.
Peter Chadwick was awaiting trial and making his court appearances for hearings, doing what he was supposed to do.
Tracy Smith: … until he wasn’t anymore.
Lt. Bryan Moore: Yeah … we got word from his attorney … that said … “I don’t know where he is.”
After two years out on bail, Peter Chadwick disappeared.
NEWS REPORT: This is one of the most wanted suspects in the entire United States …
Heidi: What do you mean he’s gone? You know, didn’t somebody keep an eye on this guy?
Prosecutor Matt Murphy was outraged.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy: Nobody thought that he would flee from his sons.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy: He abandoned his family … he made his attorney look terrible, and … he thumbed his nose at the court and the justice system.
Tracy Smith: Is part of this just that rich guys can get away with an awful lot?
Prosecutor Matt Murphy [Takes a deep breath]: You know, it’s — it’s just — it’s frustrating. … You shouldn’t be able to take advantage of the system because you have money. And you know, that’s what happened here. Most people can’t afford this bail. You shouldn’t be able to do this because you got money. … He took full advantage and he used his financial resources to do it.
Karen Thorp: A million dollars bail really wasn’t enough to keep someone as cold hearted and narcissistic as him to stay around.
At first, investigators heard that Peter Chadwick might be dead.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: Initially, Michael Chadwick started relaying information that he was suicidal.
Tracy Smith: So, Michael Chadwick, Peter’s dad, said he was gonna kill himself? That Peter was gonna kill himself?
Sgt. Ryan Peters: He alluded to the fact that he was suicidal.
Karen Thorp: I don’t know if it was his attorney or his father had said he had been despondent and suicidal. No.
By the time investigators realized that he’d flown the coop, Chadwick was long gone. He had a three-week lead on them, and he’d been studying up.
They discovered books in Chadwick’s home on how to disappear and how to change identities and leave false trails.
Investigators learned from a taxi company that someone – who police now believe was Peter Chadwick – took a cab from his dad’s house to an airport in Santa Barbara. The cab driver says that the person he picked up that day was a woman. Was Peter Chadwick in disguise?
When he got to the Santa Barbara Airport, he went inside with his suitcase and then he must have changed clothes, because surveillance cameras have pictures of Chadwick dressed as himself hanging out at the airport.
Hours ticked by, but he never got on a plane. Instead, Chadwick went back outside, got into another cab, and drove away. And that’s the last anyone here saw of Peter Chadwick.
The search for Chadwick was now an international manhunt with the U.S. Marshals leading the way.
Marshal Craig McCluskey led the team that would track Chadwick.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: We’re gonna catch him. …He’s gonna make a mistake. We’re gonna choke him off … and grab him.
Not only did Chadwick have a head start – his life on the run would be well-financed.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: What makes him so difficult to find is the fact that he fled with a decent amount of money.
Tracy Smith: So, it was about a million dollars that he had in cash when he left?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Approximately a million dollars, yes.
Tracy Smith: Do you feel like he slipped through your fingers?
Lt. Bryan Moore [exhales]: Yeah. I honestly wished, uh, you know, we could have wrapped this case up a lot sooner.
Sgt. Ryan Peters: He got the better of us, at this point.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Once you find a string, you gotta start pulling on it. And, uh, we found a couple strings.
Before the final tip that led investigators to Mexico, tips had come from everywhere.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: The countries that we’ve had active leads in that we’ve pursued include Japan … they include Canada … Belize … Panama … the Ukraine.
McCluskey was convinced Chadwick was getting help while on the lam.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: I didn’t think this case was gonna turn into what it did. But I think one reason that it did is not because Peter’s smart. It’s not because he was savvy. It’s not because he outsmarted us, it’s because he’s getting help. I think once we cut him off from his source of help that he’s gonna make a mistake and we’re gonna catch him.
Karen Thorp had always hoped whoever was helping Peter Chadwick might have a change of heart.
Karen Thorp: Someone needs to come forward. Someone with a conscience. Someone who cares about those kids and who cares about what has happened to this lovely woman. This lovely, devoted mother who has no justice.
But justice would be in reach — when the manhunt ended south of the border, and the millionaire murder suspect was taken into custody.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: You know, a fugitive, he has to be lucky every single day of his life. We only have to be lucky once. … The day he got arrested is the day we got lucky.
After almost five years, basically overnight, everything changed. Late on August 4, 2019, “48 Hours” learned of a new dramatic development in the Peter Chadwick investigation.
In handcuffs and shackles, authorities had their man and Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis made the official announcement:
CHIEF JON LEWIS | NEWPORT BEACH POLICE [to reporters]: After receiving hundreds and hundreds of tips from all over the world, one of them led to our suspect …
The chief would not go into detail about what that tip was. Chadwick was picked up by Mexican federal police near the city of Puebla, south of Mexico City.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: I think he was surprised. I don’t think he expected to be arrested.
U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey was at the airport in Los Angeles when Chadwick arrived, and he slapped the cuffs on him.
Tracy Smith: What’s the first thing you said to him?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Peter…my name is Craig McCluskey. I’m from the US Marshals. I’m placing you in the custody of the United States Marshal Service.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: I think he actually recognized me from the “48 Hours” episode that aired.
Tracy Smith: Whoa — he watched the “48 Hours” episode?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: I believe he did.
“48 Hours”‘ report on the hunt for Peter Chadwick aired in May 2019. McCluskey told “48 Hours” at the time he was confident Chadwick would be found. “I think it’s only a matter of time. And I think that day is coming soon,” he said.
Tracy Smith: And he recognized you from the “48 Hours?”
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Cause the first question he asked — he looked me right in the face and he asked me, “How’s Ben?” And Ben’s his oldest son. … I guess he assumed I had some contact with his family.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He said when he saw the episode, he realized his situation had escalated a lot. Because he didn’t realize the U.S. Marshals were after him at that point.
Tracy Smith: So, he was watching us watching him?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: In essence, yes.
Tracy Smith: And he knew people were coming after him. He’d seen the coverage.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He became really stressed out. That’s an incredible weight. Looking over your shoulder every day.
Details are still murky about where Chadwick spent all his years on the run, but when he was picked up in Mexico he was living in an apartment.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Peter was in a small village outside of Puebla Mexico, about two hours north of the Guatemalan border and about an hour and half south of Mexico City. The makeup of the town was mostly Caucasians, but also and Asian community as well.
His hideout was next to a country club.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: That had tennis courts and, of course, you know, Peter preferred playing tennis.
Tracy Smith: So, he continued to play tennis?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Yes.
Tracy Smith: Did he change his appearance?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He changed his appearance slightly. So, his hair was a little darker. He had some facial hair. He had a goatee. He tried to make himself a little younger, and I think he was successful at that – I mean his face looked a little different as well.
Tracy Smith: A little nip and tuck in Mexico?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Possibly. I don’t know for sure.
Chadwick apparently used many fake ids and aliases, including “Paul Cook,” “Paul Craig” and “John Franklin.”
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He even had an ID card. It was a copy of some fictional security force. And he was representing himself as some type of analyst with top secret access…with his photo on it…
But, strangely, Chadwick never got a fake passport and that may have forced him into some lifestyle changes. He had started off his escape staying in nice hotels.
Tracy Smith: And he stayed at some fancy hotels in the beginning?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He did stay at hotels. But I think he started to change his pattern when Mexico started changing some of their immigration laws – whether they required visas for non-citizens when they checked into hotels. … Which forced him into, you know, more discreet places that would accept cash and no identification.
And then there was money. Even though authorities figure he had about a million dollars in cash when he fled, he occupied his days by picking up odd jobs.
Tracy Smith What was he doing for money?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He did flee with a large sum of money. … Most of that he lived off it. But I think he did some small things on the side, maybe taught conversational English to children to make a few extra bucks. … He was bussing tables, working in kitchens.
Tracy Smith: But he went from a real estate millionaire to bussing tables?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: Right, I think he was just desperate to fit in and stay on the run. He was willing to do anything to sustain his flight.
One of the biggest investigative breaks that led the U.S. Marshals to Chadwick was their discovery that he was in communication with people who knew him.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: We learned … that he was receiving help from those close to him. To what extent, I don’t know. And how the quantities of money that were provided him, I don’t know. We do know that he was getting assistance from those close to him back up here still.
That information, combined with the new tip and old-fashioned police work by Newport Beach Police, the U.S. Marshals, and Mexican authorities ultimately led to Chadwick’s arrest.
Tracy Smith: The bizarre thing is that this took you know nearly five years to unfold and then boom! It happened overnight.
Marshal Craig McCluskey: That’s entirely due to the relationship with had with the Mexican authorities. Their response to the intelligence that was gathered, their own intelligence gathering, that’s really paid off.
At this point, authorities are not saying if they will charge anyone else in connection with Chadwick’s escape.
Meantime, they are savoring their victory. Chief Lewis says he always knew Chadwick’s days were numbered.
Tracy Smith: Did you ever, for a moment, think, “He’s gone forever?”
Chief Jon Lewis: Not — not for a minute. I believe in our investigators. I believe in our process. I believe in the — in the heart of this police department towards solving these cases. And, so, in my mind, it was just a matter of time before we got him. It wasn’t gonna be an if. It was a when.
Tracy Smith: Did he seem at all relieved?
Marshal Craig McCluskey: He did. At the end. … He said something along the lines of, “It was getting hard keeping up with the lies.”
For Karen Thorp, Q.C.’s close friend, Chadwick’s capture brings mixed emotions.
Tracy Smith: What’s it like to see that?
Karen Thorp: I’m angry, repulsed. I want to make him know the pain that everybody else suffered.
Tracy Smith: One of the things we heard was that he was at a resort in Mexico. What do you think of that?
Karen Thorp: Outrageous. … Somebody who could have done this to her and then live the high life is just a testament to his coldness and depravity.
And that coldness, investigators say, extended to Chadwick’s willingness to abandon his three sons forever.
CHIEF JON LEWIS [to reporters]: Our investigation shows that Peter Chadwick never intended to return from Mexico. He had no intentions of coming back to Orange County to face trial or raise the three sons that he’d abandoned. Speaking of the boys, our hearts go out to them and we ask that everyone respect their privacy at this incredibly emotional time.
We don’t know how the Chadwick boys have reacted to their father’s capture, but we do know that in recent months Karen Thorp told “48 Hours” they’ve been doing well.
Tracy Smith: Do you have a sense of how the boys are doing?
Karen Thorp: They’re really, really strong, really, really supported by Q.C.’s family. There’s so much love around them and so much love for them. They’ve really – they’ve continued to flourish in spite of this tragedy.
And that is a fitting tribute to a dedicated mom whose life was cut so short.
Art Scott | Music teacher: We lost in Q.C. a mother who cared for her children deeply, and who loved life and loved vibrancy, and loved to give her children all that she possibly could.
In February 2022, Peter Chadwick pleaded guilty to killing his wife in exchange for a 15-years-to-life prison sentence.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.