In the four years since Serial released its first season, the podcasting medium has been used to unravel dozens of true crime mysteries, like unsolved murders (Accused), wrongful convictions (Undisclosed), and missing persons cold cases (In the Dark). Very often the authorities who are actually responsible for solving these mysteries decline to participate substantively or at all, and are rarely encouraging of outsiders “playing detective,” even when their own efforts continue to come up short.
One police agency, however, is flipping the script entirely. This week, the Newport Beach Police Department released the first two episodes of their own podcast, Countdown to Capture, about an accused killer-turned-fugitive, who vanished in January 2015 before his case went to trial — and they want listeners to help hunt him down. Hosted by department spokesperson Jennifer Manzella, the six-episode podcast breaks down the case against millionaire Peter Chadwick, who was charged by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office of murdering his wife and the mother of his children, Quee “Q.C.” Chadwick, in October 2012. After his disappearance in 2015, Chadwick was added to the United States Marshals Service list of the 15 most wanted criminals.
The Newport Beach Police Department’s case began on October 10th, 2012, the day Q.C. failed to pick up the Chadwicks’ two youngest sons, ages nine and 12, from their bus stop after school. Both she and her husband were nowhere to be found, and phone calls to both went unanswered. But the next day, Peter Chadwick called 911 from a gas station 100 miles south, in San Diego, and reported that he had been kidnapped by a “handyman” who murdered his wife.
Investigators were suspicious of Chadwick’s story from the jump, and he was arrested just days later; he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment before being released on $1 million bond. Three days after his release, and a week after her disappearance, Q.C.’s body was found in a suburban San Diego trash can.
Chadwick was born in the U.K. and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1991, so police seized both his passports before releasing him on bond. According to the Orange County D.A.’s Office, Chadwick attended 13 pre-trial court appearances in two years before he vanished in January 2015, leaving behind his three sons, who were placed in the care of other family members after his arrest. Reached for comment by Rolling Stone, Manzella said that Chadwick may have decided to run because he realized “a trial was becoming more and more inevitable.”
“Peter Chadwick has been really difficult for us to track,” Manzella tells Rolling Stone. “He was able to withdraw millions of dollars from multiple bank accounts, and he also could take out cash advances on credit cards.”
According to Manzella, a fugitive task force discovered Chadwick had allegedly been “looking up information about living off the grid and changing your identity.”
Coinciding with the podcast’s release on Wednesday, the police department announced a $100,000 reward, funded by private donors, the city and the U.S. Marshals Service, for information on Chadwick’s whereabouts.
On the podcast’s prelude episode, Manzella — who introduces herself as “not a reporter … not a true crime enthusiast… and certainly not a disinterested third party” — tacitly addresses one of the reasons why law enforcement can be squeamish about media attention.
“I’d like to point out that this is an open case,” Manzella says on the podcast. “Which means that I have a delicate balancing act. I will be sharing as much information as I can, without compromising our investigation. Because catching Peter Chadwick is one thing… but putting him on trial and getting a conviction — that’s the ultimate goal.”
On one hand, there’s something refreshing about a law enforcement agency admitting that they’ve hit a dead end and casting a wider net via a medium they’ve typically eschewed. Other other hand, the podcast itself isn’t really about the manhunt for Chadwick — it’s about the murder he’s charged with committing and has fled from answering for.
“Peter could be anywhere in the world,” Newport Beach Police Chief Jon T. Lewis told AP. “He’s taken every opportunity to hide his tracks. We want to spread his picture and the story of his crimes far and wide.”
Chadwick’s picture, the charges he’s facing and the reward for information are all details that could be spread, as Lewis noted, “far and wide” without a six-episode podcast — the FBI does it all the time. By focusing on the murder of Q.C. and their belief that Chadwick is guilty of the crime, Countdown to Capture could drum up additional interest in the case and thus make the public more likely to recognize Chadwick, wherever he may be.
“The case has gotten plenty of coverage domestically,” Manzella tells Rolling Stone, “but we’re not reaching places where he may actually be. The podcast allows us to reach maybe millions of people we wouldn’t otherwise.”
Countdown to Capture is not like other true crime podcasts in one very big way – the story is told by law enforcement, without any independent assessment of the facts, evidence, or their investigation. As other true crime podcasts have demonstrated time and time again, law enforcement is not infallible, and neither are their investigatory methods or conclusions. Newport PD’s case against Chadwick could be rock solid — but without a journalist or other third party’s assessment, Countdown to Capture is one-sided and biased.
It remains to be seen whether the podcast will drum up any tips that lead to Chadwick’s apprehension, but if it does, it seems likely that his attorneys could use it to argue his right to a fair trial has been violated, or attempt to find inconsistencies when compared to the evidence presented in court. But Manzella isn’t worried.
“Anytime we release information about a case — in a press release, at a press conference — we know we’re taking a calculated risk,” she says. “We were very cautious that what we included in the podcast was information that was already out there or had been reported already. We’re not attempting to try him in the media. We are very confident our case will stand up in a court of law.”