Every day, new technologies are helping to close cold cases and return names to unidentified remains, but these may not be the technologies that you would assume. Recently, investigators have begun looking outside of the lab for answers.
All around the world, people have become fascinated with true crime stories. Shows like Dateline and 48 Hours bring in millions of viewers each week, and podcasts like Serial have made true crime even more accessible. In the past few years, some forward-thinking individuals began to wonder if podcasts could be used for more than just entertainment. What would happen if they could turn their audience into amateur sleuths? By sharing a case, could they uncover leads that otherwise may have remained hidden?
Written by: Tara Luther, Promega
Countdown to Capture
In September of 2018, the Newport Beach, California Police Department launched a podcast called Countdown to Capture where they describe the case of Quee Choo “Q.C.” Chadwick. On October 2012, her two children waited at the bus stop for their father, Peter, to help them cross the busy intersection like normal. When he failed to show, a concerned neighbor drove the children home. When they arrived, they found no one was home, which was unusual as Q.C. was a stay-at-home mom. Worried about leaving the children on their own, the neighbor brought them back to her house for dinner, and then called the Chadwick’s home phone. When no one answered, she called the police.
When police officers arrived at the Chadwick home to investigate, they discovered just enough to make them suspect that something was amiss. The door to the safe had been left ajar. A glass vase in the master bathroom lay broken on the floor with barely-visible droplets of blood on the wall. Most notably, Q.C. and Peter were missing.
The next day, a call came in to 911 from a gas station four miles north of the Mexican border in San Diego. Peter told the operator that an intruder had broken into their home and killed Q.C. Officers were dispatched to his location, and by the time they arrived, he was telling a different story; it wasn’t an unknown intruder who had murdered his wife, but rather a handyman named Juan who had been hired to paint staircase railings.
Peter told the officers that he had been working from home when he heard his wife scream. Running to the master bathroom, he found Juan holding Q.C. underwater in the bathtub. He’d tried to fight Juan off, but wasn’t strong enough. After drowning his wife, Juan turned on Peter and held a knife to his throat, forcing him to empty his safe of all valuables and cash. Juan then placed a dead Q.C. in the backseat and demanded that Peter drive him from the scene for hours. Eventually, Peter said, he was able to escape.
There were many holes in Peter’s story that caused investigators to have serious doubt. Peter struggled to remember many details about Juan, aside from his short dark hair, said that the weapon he was threatened with was a two-inch Swiss Army knife with a dull blade. His demeanor was fairly calm when officers arrived and he didn’t sound upset on the 911 call that he made. Meanwhile, Peter had a number of scratches and bite marks on his body, blood on his hands, and a packed suitcase in the trunk of his car. Finding no evidence that Juan existed, officers arrested Peter within five hours of meeting him at the gas station.
Q.C.’s body was found a week later on October 18, 2012, in a dumpster on a remote road in eastern San Diego County. According to the Coroner’s Office, she had died by strangulation. Based on additional evidence found at the home, prosecutors reasoned that Peter had killed Q.C. after they had argued about financial issues and getting divorced. They asked that Peter be held without bail, but a judge determined he wasn’t a flight risk, as he had no prior criminal record. Peter then paid his $1 million bail and turned over his British and American passports.
Who is Peter Chadwick? He’s a man who killed his wife in the peaceful coastal community of Newport Beach, California in October 2012. He’s also at the top of the United States Marshals Service List of most wanted criminals. – Countdown to Capture Podcast
Concern set in when Peter failed to attend a routine hearing in January 2015. The U.S. Marshalls reported he had emptied multiple bank accounts, maxed out cash advances on multiple credit cards, and had taken “test” trips to Pennsylvania and Seattle. It seemed that he’d now vanished for good. The Chadwicks had connections in Malaysia, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and had travelled all over the world. Officials assumed he’d left the country but had no solid leads to go on.
In mid-September 2018, Jennifer Manzella, spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department had an idea – why not tap into the public’s love of true crime stories to ask for help locating Peter? The Countdown to Capture podcast featured seven episodes detailing the case. Jennifer told Nashville Public Radio that the podcast allowed them to “[find] people where they are: driving on their commute or mowing their lawn or listening during [a] morning run… instead of asking them to suspend what they [were] doing with their day [to] come and watch our press conference.” The Countdown to Capture podcast led to multiple tips a day. Almost a year later on August 6, 2019, a news conference announced the capture of Peter Chadwick.
Re-energizing Cold Cases
Sheila Wysocki, a private detective in Tennessee, believes that the more a case is publicized, the better the chances are of someone coming forward with pertinent information. This belief has led her to crowdsource her investigations. In 2018, Sheila was hired by Lauren Agee’s family to investigate the 21-year-old’s death. Found dead at the bottom of a cliff during a popular wakeboarding contest, Lauren’s death was ruled an accident, but her family members felt differently. Lauren’s case inspired Sheila to launch a podcast called Without Warning: The Lauren Agee Case. Sheila has been sharing audio from detectives, witnesses, and suspects, and as she learns new information, she shares it with her listeners hoping to continue the investigation and produce new leads. Now in it’s third season, Sheila has taken on two other cases that she hopes to crowdsource as well.
Sheila is not the only investigator using the crowdsource technique. In the Spring of 2019, retired detective, Paul Holes, and investigative journalist, Billy Jensen, teamed up to create The Murder Squad, a podcast designed to solve cold cases by asking for listener help. Both Paul and Billy had been intimately involved in the Golden State Killer case and were aware of the power of genetic genealogy. In April, 2019, they asked their listeners to submit their DNA to GEDmatch in hopes of solving additional cold cases.
One such listener, a woman called “Jessi” did just that, and in June 2019, law enforcement contacted her with news that her DNA matched a suspect in a 1980 crime at a third-cousin level. Jessi shared information about her family with investigators and asked her parents to submit their DNA as well. Their DNA led to the arrest of James Curtis Clanton, who was charged with first-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping.
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