'20/20' tonight: A police podcast jump-starts a cold murder case and aids manhunt for a killer

A special '20/20' that airs tonight takes a look at the U.S. Marshals Service's five-year search for Peter Chadwick.

ByMichela Moscufo, Keren Schiffman, and Amanda Karrh ABCNews logo
Friday, October 21, 2022
What Peter Chadwick was like while living on the run in Mexico
Rick Davis, a resident of Pátzcuaro, Mexico, who knew Peter Chadwick under the alias of Paul Cook, said he was "never upfront about conversation" and "wouldn't look at you."

It was just another quiet day in an exclusive, residential neighborhood of Newport Beach, California, where it seemed that nothing could go wrong, let alone be the backdrop for a horrific murder.

A neighbor of Peter and Q.C. Chadwick noticed the couple's children had not been picked up after school.

The two kids were found waiting at the bus stop on that fateful day in October 2012. The following chain of events would involve a tale of kidnapping, the murder of Q.C. Chadwick and a manhunt for a killer.

"The Chadwicks are not the kind of couple who forgets an obligation to their children," Newport Beach Police Press Information Officer Jen Manzella told "20/20." "So she [the neighbor] immediately pulls over, scoops them up and takes them home."

When they arrived at the Chadwicks' house it was empty, and word quickly spread around the neighborhood that something must be wrong, according to their neighbor Heidi Pascal.

When the Newport Beach police searched the home, showing up for a welfare check, they found blood in the master bathroom and the family's safe opened and empty. There was no sign of Peter or Q.C. Chadwick.

U.S. Marshals' Detective Craig McCluskey shows ABC News' Bob Woodruff the pay phone near the Mexico border from which Peter Chadwick first called the police.

Investigators had no leads until Peter Chadwick called 911 early the next morning and told officers that his wife had been killed and he had been kidnapped.

Peter Chadwick had called from a gas station pay phone a few miles from the Mexico border, two hours south of Newport Beach.

A special "20/20" that airs Friday, Oct. 21, at 9 p.m. ET takes a look at Q.C. Chadwick's murder and the tireless effort by law enforcement authorities to track her killer.

At the San Diego Police Department, Chadwick's story began to unravel. "One thing was noticeably lacking," said Manzella. "And that was any concerns about his children."

Peter Chadwick was claiming that a man he had hired for a paint job killed Q.C. in the couple's bathroom while Peter was home. He told authorities he heard screaming, and when he went to see what was happening, the man held a pocketknife to Peter's neck, and forced him to help wrap up Q.C.'s body, put her in the car, and then drive towards the Mexican border. But investigators were unable to corroborate his story. The facts instead seemed to indicate that Chadwick had committed the murder.

"It becomes clear that, whatever the other details may be, Q.C. has been killed and her husband Peter was involved," said Manzella.

On October 11, Peter Chadwick was arrested on homicide charges.

Seven days after Q.C. went missing, Peter Chadwick's attorney called the police to tell them Peter would reveal the location of Q.C.'s body.

He told police his wife's body was in a dumpster in a place called Wildcat Canyon near San Diego.

When authorities finally located the dumpster, they found her body.

This undated booking photo provided by the Newport Beach, Calif., Police Department shows Peter Chadwick. (Newport Beach Police Department via AP)

"She had extensive wounds," the medical examiner in the case, Dr. Robert Stabley, said. "My initial impression is that she met with some kind of trauma shortly before her death."

During the autopsy, Stabley said they found evidence that she had been strangled. "I believe she put up a good fight, was significantly traumatized with blunt force injuries, and then the ultimate assault was strangulation."

Peter Chadwick pleaded not guilty and paid the bail, which was set at $1 million.

Q.C.'s friend Karen Thorp said that there may have been turmoil in the marriage. "She wanted to please him," she told "20/20." "But he was very controlling."

"He is in Santa Barbara staying with his dad," ABC News Contributor and crime reporter Pat Lalama said of Chadwick following his arrest. "He has a relationship with his kids. And for two years he shows up for hearings."

"He's making his court appearances," Manzella said. "Until one day, he does not." This was in January 2015.

Chadwick had emptied his safe deposit box and made his way, authorities would find out years later, to Mexico.

In 2018, after the case had essentially run cold, a new sergeant to the Newport Beach Police Department, Court Depweg, would bring new energy to the case.

Newport Beach police officer Jen Manzella during an interview with ABC News.

He approached police spokesperson Jen Manzella and asked her if she had any ideas on how the department could re-publicize the story. Manzella decided to create a podcast.

The first episode of "Countdown to Capture" was Sept. 17, 2018. The department started receiving calls with tips and Peter Chadwick was put on the U.S. Marshals 15 Most Wanted Fugitives list. A $100,000 reward for his capture was offered.

At the end of the last podcast episode, Sgt. Court Depweg sent out a final appeal, speaking directly to Peter Chadwick who, at that point, had been on the run for more than three years.

"Peter, end this now," he said. "We are coming for you. This begins your countdown to capture."

With help from police agencies, including the U.S. Marshalls and the Mexican Federales, tips coming in, and good old-fashioned police work, investigators learned Peter had escaped to Mexico.

Police were able to track him down, based on a call he made from a pay phone in Cholula, Mexico, nearly 2,000 miles from Newport Beach, California. By the time of his arrest and extradition back to the U.S. in August of 2019, Peter had been living on the lam for nearly five years.