Find Peter Chadwick: Manhunt continues for fugitive multimillionaire years after being charged with wife's murder

A California real estate investor accused of killing his wife and staging a kidnapping leads U.S. Marshals on a global manhunt. Have you seen him?

#FindPeterChadwick

Produced by Chuck Stevenson and Gayane Keshishyan Mendez

A murder that stunned an upscale California neighborhood more than six years ago is now the focus of an international manhunt — and authorities are asking the public for help.

"We had no idea this was going to become the logistical monster that it has," U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey tells "48 Hours."

Peter Chadwick and his wife, Q.C. Chadwick, seemed to have the perfect life. College sweethearts, they were married for 21 years and had three sons. They lived in a gated community in Newport Beach, California. 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 case would lead to an international manhunt.

The next morning, authorities got a 911 call in San Diego, the next county over. It was Peter Chadwick, claiming a house painter named Juan murdered Q.C. and forced him to put her body in his SUV and drive down to the Mexican border. Once there, Chadwick said Juan met another man and took off with Q.C.'s body. Chadwick told the 911 operator they were planning to cut her up and dump the body south of the border. Authorities didn't buy Chadwick's story, and charged him with his wife's murder. He was soon released on a $1 million bond. Two years later he vanished.

What led to the alleged murder? How has Chadwick been able to elude capture?


Before they mysteriously disappeared, Peter and Q.C. Chadwick had been raising their family in posh Newport Beach, California.

Their oldest son was away at boarding school on Oct. 10, 2012. That's the day his two brothers found their 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.

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Broken glass found in the tub of the Chadwick's upstairs master bathroom Newport Beach Police Dept.

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.

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Q.C. Chadwick, a devoted mom to three sons, was described as having a "bubbly personality."  "She was very funny," said friend Karen Thorp. "And so smart and talented, she could do anything." Of Peter Chadwick, Thorp said, "I felt like I never really knew him very well."

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:

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Peter Chadwick is seen in surveillance pictures taken at a gas station near the Mexican border. Newport Beach Police Dept.

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.

Peter Chadwick to 911: "My wife's dead ... They took her!"

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.

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Peter Chadwick told 911 that his wife was killed at about 11 a.m. the previous morning, but surveillance footage shows Chadwick's SUV leaving his gated community in Newport Beach at 1:32 p.m. — about 2.5 hours later. Newport Beach Police Dept.

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.

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Peter Chadwick's own body had some incriminating injuries. Newport Beach Police Dept.

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.  

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Peter Chadwick was arrested for Q.C.'s murder Newport Beach Police Dept.

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.

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On a barren mountainside in rural San Diego County, investigators came upon this dumpster. Among the items they found inside of it: bags of  Q.C.'s belongings, $10,000 in cash and her body wrapped in a green blanket Newport Beach Police Dept.

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.

DISAPPEARING ACT

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.

LOCAL NEWS REPORT: Breaking news to tell you about an accused murder on the run from California … 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: Nobody thought that he would flee from his sons.

Prosecutor Matt Murphy was left holding the bag.

Tracy Smith: Why didn't he have an ankle bracelet?

Prosecutor Matt Murphy:  That's actually a great question. Only under certain circumstances is there a monitoring system set up. … Believe it or not, we don't typically do that on bail situations.

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. [shakes her head] 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?

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Peter Chadwick is seen on surveillance video at the Santa Barbara Airport U.S. Marshals

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 has now become an international manhunt with the U.S. Marshals leading the way.

Peter Chadwick's on their most wanted list and there's a $100,000 reward.

Marshal Craig McCluskey leads the team.

Marshal Craig McCluskey: We're gonna catch him.He's gonna make a mistake. We're gonna choke him off … and grab him.

Disappearing is a tough thing to do, but Evan Ratliff is one of the few who did it successfully and is willing to talk about it.

Evan Ratliff | Author: I disappeared by leaving everything in my life behind, selling my car, ceasing any contact with my family, and adopting a new identity and trying to start a new life.

Tracy Smith: How many phones did you go through?

Evan Ratliff: I probably went through seven or eight.

Ratliff isn't some kind of sketchy criminal; he's an author. His book, "The Mastermind," is about an accused drug and arms dealer who relied on disappearing techniques to cover his tracks. 

A few years ago, as a kind of test, Ratliff staged his own disappearance while researching an article for Wired magazine.

Evan Ratliff: I was trying to sort of get inside that experience and understand what it felt like.

Evan Ratliff: The only way to really know was to try and experiment, a short-term experiment … leaving my life behind, adopting a new identity and trying to live within that identity as a new person.

Tracy Smith: And then you said to the world "come find me."

Evan Ratliff: That was the second part of it.

The "Find Evan Ratliff" challenge became a bit of an online phenomenon — especially when the magazine put up a $5,000 reward.

Tracy Smith: How many people were looking for you?

Evan Ratliff: Thousands and thousands of people, uh, all over the country. …They were online, you know, on Twitter, in groups, private groups and public groups. They were on Facebook. It was in the media different places.

Tracy Smith: Did you feel hunted?

Evan Ratliff:  I did.

Author who intentionally disappeared sets off online challenge to find him

Within days, tech wizards and regular folks were able to find out a shocking amount about Ratliff's life.

Evan Ratliff: Every address I'd ever lived at, all my family members publicly exposed, my social security number, my signature, and that's when it really hit me – Oh, these people are, they're taking it very seriously.

Ratliff had studied up on tactics and he had a plan. 

Evan Ratliff [holding device]: I had a thing like this — basically a GPS device — it actually gives your GPS location.

Tracy Smith: So, there are ways like this to throw people off?

Evan Ratliff: Sure … I would leak this and then leave it somewhere. … Or put it in someone's bag so it would keep going without me.

Evan Ratliff: Buying airplane tickets all over the place that I knew people would find. They would discover that I had made those purchases and that would lead them away from where I was actually going, you know, on a bus or on a train.

Tracy Smith: And at one point you even hopped on with a rock band on a tour bus?

Evan Ratliff: I did, I did. … They were kind of just out of college. They were touring the southwest and through Texas … I was also paying for gas, so they had no complaints.

Tracy Smith: You were connected through email, you were logging into social media. How do you do that and not leave a digital footprint that investigators can see?

Evan Ratliff: There are ways to do it. … Even if someone got through my initial layer of security they would end up in Las Vegas … in fact it was just an empty room with a couple computers in it.

Tracy Smith: Then the disguises.

Evan Ratliff: Then the physical disguises. You know, shaved head, beard, goatee work.

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Just a few of Evan Ratliff's many disguises  Evan Ratliff

 Evan Ratliff: Grow a beard, and then dye my hair, dye the beard, shave the beard into various, you know, mustache, goatee. … I shaved the top of my head sort of in the manner of male pattern baldness.

Evan Ratliff: What you're trying to prevent is someone who's seen some image of you very briefly, recognizing you.

Tracy Smith: What do you think ultimately was your undoing?

Evan Ratliff:  I think it was probably, it always felt like laziness more than anything else. 

It took a group of techies nearly a month to find Ratliff and collect that $5,000 reward. He had carelessly used his new identity to visit a Facebook page about the hunt, accidentally revealing just a little too much information.

Evan Ratliff: It was a matter of taking the identity and tracing it to my actual location … as soon as they saw me, I was sunk.

Tracy Smith: So, with all that in mind, how could Peter Chadwick be gone for so long?

Evan Ratliff: Well, it is kind of extraordinary, I have to say, for that period of time.

Peter Chadwick has been missing for more than four years.

Evan Ratliff: I think it gets more and more exhausting over time. I think it's harder and harder to keep up the level of paranoia that's necessary to really maintain all of your, you know, security systems that you've set up for yourself. That's just a very difficult thing to do.

Ratliff says it's money that makes the biggest difference and Chadwick had plenty. After he disappeared, the U.S. Marshals discovered surveillance shots of Chadwick taking money from his bank accounts.  Little by little, he withdrew $1 million in cash.

Tracy Smith: I try to do the math on this. If Peter Chadwick has been gone since 2015, he took about a million dollars with him. … What do you think? Could he burn through close to a million dollars?

Evan Ratliff: I guess it depends on what's his taste for — for living conditions and — and where he is in the world? … He could make it go a long way. I mean you can find very cheap places to live all over the world.

Tracy Smith: If he's willing to rough it. 

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: He just doesn't strike me as the kind of guy that would be roughing it … Peter likes his red wine…he likes nice hotels… he likes room service...

McCluskey thinks somebody, maybe a tourist, is bound to run into Chadwick.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: I think the-the public is gonna be key in the capture for Peter Chadwick. … I think somebody's gonna encounter him in a restaurant or on a busy street and it's gonna be that tip that comes that's really gonna put us right on his trail.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE FUGITIVE

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: This is definitely one of the toughest cases.

Craig McCluskey is still leading the hunt for Peter Chadwick.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey:  We didn't expect it to become the monster fugitive manhunt that it has become today.

Chadwick has one big advantage over the average fugitive.

U.S. 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?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: Approximately a million dollars, yes.

Yet, the Marshals have been getting lots of leads.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: Once you find a string, you gotta start pulling on it. And, uh, we found a couple strings.

They've come from everywhere.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: The countries that we've had active leads in that we've pursued include Japan … they include Canada … Mexico … Belize … Panama … the Ukraine.

Tracy Smith: So, you're basically chasing this guy all over the world.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: Yes.

There have also been misfires. Like one lead from the Canadian Rockies. A man claimed to have spotted Chadwick on a train just last year.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: He fell back in his chair when he saw the photo and said, "I just spent four days with this guy on a train."

But that man – according to authorities – was a known scammer looking to cash in on that $100,000 reward.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey:  This case isn't a rapid hunt.  It — it's more like fishing.  You know, you set your bait and you row out to your spot … and you wait and you hope that somebody bites on it.

For the last four years, Chadwick hasn't taken the bait. Even though he gave up his passports when he was arrested, he's gone international and made himself invisible.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: For the first two to three years, I believed that he went north and in fact we learned that he did. … He intentionally threw us off his trail. He wanted us to believe that he was going north to Canada when, in fact, he doubled back and went down south.  We learned that in 2017, he was in a bus accident in Mexico … So, we know, at least as recently as 2017, he was down in the country of Mexico.

And the Marshals have been zeroing in on Mexico.  They say it's easier for a fugitive to get a phony passport there.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: The last two top 15s on the US Marshals' list were both caught having Mexican passports, so it seems like that's a first stop on the fugitive train.

Tracy Smith: Do you think, could Peter Chadwick be a fugitive forever?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: I don't think so. … Nobody can survive on their own for this long without some type of contact. And I believe that's coming from inside the family somewhere.

"Inside the family" — McCluskey doesn't think it's the Chadwick kids.  He doesn't believe Chadwick has even contacted the boys since he vanished.

Tracy Smith: What does it say to you about him as a person?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: That he doesn't care. I mean, he's perfectly comfortable leaving everything behind and he's more about self-preservation than he is about taking care of his kids.

Peter Chadwick's father, Michael, now lives in Pennsylvania.  The U.S. Marshals captured surveillance video of a shadowy figure entering his home in 2017. That person remains unidentified.

"48 Hours" asked Michael Chadwick to talk with us. He declined to comment. 

U.S. 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.

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: I think he has to be getting help from somebody.

Tracy Smith: The question is who?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: And that's a big question, because if we identify that, we find Peter.

Tracy Smith: Could you narrow it down to one hand?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: I could.

Tracy Smith: Will you?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: I can't disclose that at this time.

Authorities say Peter Chadwick has gotten away with murder for more than six years now.

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.

Tracy Smith: Do you feel like he slipped through your fingers?

Lt. Bryan Moore: 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.

Karen Thorp hopes whoever is helping Peter Chadwick will 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.

Karen Thorp: So selfish, so cold, so— I'm sorry— sociopathic.

Tracy Smith: And those poor boys.

Karen Thorp: It makes me incredibly angry to see that he could abandon his children and that he could, well, that he did what he did to her. … Instead of staying around for his children he left to save himself.

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.

qc-chadwick.jpg
Q.C. Chadwick

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.

The man accused of taking her life is still out there … somewhere.

Tracy Smith: If he's watching, what do you want to say to him?

U.S. Marshal Craig McCluskey: "Peter, it's a matter of time. We're gonna get you" … You know, "become a man. Step up, own a little responsibility in your life." And, "if you don't, we're gonna get you anyway."

HAVE YOU SEEN PETER CHADWICK?

chaswick-peter.jpg
Have you seen Peter Chadwick? Newport Beach Police Dept.

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-336-0102 or submit a tip online at http://www.usmarshals.gov/tips

Newport Beach Police Department 1-800-NBPD [6273] or email: tips@nbpd.org