Police Produce Podcast to Catch Fugitive Millionaire Murderer Suspect

Outside of the realm of crime scene analysis, the innovative use of technology is not often something we associate with the investigative practices of a local police department. Last week, however, the Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) announced the release of a podcast, written, produced, and narrated by the department itself, to bring fugitive Peter Chadwick to justice. The podcast is called, “Coundown to Capture.”

NBPD Chief explained during a press conference, “Peter could be anywhere in the world. He’s got the financial means to avoid the restrictions placed on his travel.” Peter was arrested in 2012 for the murder of his wife, Quee Choo Lim Chadwick, known to friends and family as simply “QC”. Peter’s bail was eventually set at $1 million dollars, which he quickly paid. For the next two years he attended his court hearings, but he disappeared before his trial and has not been seen since January of 2015.

After six years of fruitless searching for Chadwick’s whereabouts, the NBPD decided to get creative, capitalizing on the public appeal of a $100,000 reward, as well as on the recent surge of popularity that True Crime podcasts have been enjoying.

While most commentators have applauded the creativity behind this move, particularly in a profession that can oftentimes appear to hold onto antiquated practices, many have also called into question the potential legal issues implicated by law enforcement using this platform to enlist the help of the public during an open investigation.

The Crime: QC, a Malaysian-American, and her husband Peter Chadwick, a British-American, made a home together in Newport Beach California with their three sons. Both were reported missing in 2012 after failing to collect their two youngest sons from school.

Peter Chadwick emerged in San Diego 24-hours later with a riveting story of kidnap and his wife’s murder, all at the hands of a handyman named Juan. His story has not been substantiated, as all surveillance footage found shows Peter alone. Peter immediately drew suspicion and was taken into custody. QC’s body was recovered from a secluded dumpster weeks later, wrapped in the couple’s bedroom comforter.

Peter Chadwick maintained his innocence, attending 13 court appearances leading up to his trial, until his disappearance in 2015.

The Podcast: The podcast is a series of six 15-minute-long episodes, detailing some of what the NBPD knows or suspects about the crime and the alleged perpetrator. Each episode reminds the audience that this is an open investigation, and as such, not all details can be shared with the public. Additionally, every episode closes with the same description of Peter Chadwick, reminding the audience that this isn’t entertainment—it’s QC’s death and the lives of her children, friends, and family. This is real, and justice has not yet been served.

The Legal Questions: By using the more intimate podcast platform, the NBPD is able to speak directly to the public, making the listener feel like they are part of the investigation. It is a creative, timely way to put people around the world on the look out for a fugitive, but many have voiced legal concerns.

Thus far, the legal issues discussed have been relatively amorphous, however, an ABA Journal news article highlighted a potential Fourth Amendment issue. Elizabeth Joh, a professor at U.C. Davis School of Law, tweeted about the podcast last week: “Would searches encouraged by a police podcast raise Fourth Amendment questions? Wholly private searches do not, but searches encouraged or directed by the police do.” It’s an interesting question, although it seems doubtful that searching for the missing fugitive himself would raise the issue.

Something we have seen other True Crime podcasts run into in the past is the argument that this medium creates bias towards a suspected criminal, requiring a change of venue in order to find a more impartial jury pool. This issue highlights a tactic used by the NBPD which could lead them into trouble—they never refer to Peter Chadwick as a suspect, or use “allegedly” when telling their version of the crime.

The NBPD has stated that they feel they have a very strong case against Chadwick, and that there are no other suspects being considered. Listening to the podcast, there does seem to be very little possibility that anyone aside from Chadwick murdered QC. Nevertheless, he has not been tried in a court of law. If he were found innocent, the NBPD could have one heck of a civil case on their hands.

Additionally, there could be evidentiary issues that are brought to the court which otherwise may not have been. Many things have been shared with the public that could have been reasonably ruled inadmissible character evidence, but now any juror would have access to some pretty damaging information.

While it seems unlikely that this podcast will cause major problems in the courtroom, most commentators believe that the podcast will be the first of many, especially if successful. Jennifer Manzella, podcast host and spokesperson for the NBPD, noted, “technology makes the world such a small place.” She is not wrong there, and this medium has the potential to make Chadwick’s world feel very small indeed.

The Wanted Man: Peter Chadwick is described as a white male, 5’7” tall, weighing 160 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes.  He was born on February 18, 1964 and is currently 54 years old. If you have any information regarding his whereabout you are urged to contact the NBPD at 1-800-550-NBPD (6273) or email tips@nbpd.org.