Details of Disappearance
Pegye and her husband, Eric Christopher Bechler, rented an 18-foot powerboat and went for a sail in the Pacific Ocean off Newport Beach, California on July 7, 1997, to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Photographs of of Eric and the boat are posted with this case summary. He was later found alone, clinging to a body board in the water and screaming for help.
Eric said Pegye had been in the boat and he had been towed behind on the body board when he slipped under the water. When Eric resurfaced, Pegye was no longer in the boat and he assumed she had been swept off by a wave. At the time he was rescued the boat was found nearby, running in circles. Pegye's remains were not recovered, but she was presumed to have drowned.
Eric and Pegye got along well and had three children together, but he drank heavily and was frequently unfaithful. The police were also called to their home twice for domestic disputes; no charges were filed in either incident.
The Bechlers had founded Geri Care Rehabilitation, a retirement services company, and ran it together, but both of them were fired in March 1997 for alleged misconduct and misuse of company funds. The company had made Eric and Pegye very wealthy, but the Bechlers were having financial trouble by 1997 and were also under investigation for alleged Medicare fraud. Eric took out an insurance policy worth over two million dollars on Peggy's life shortly before the boat trip, but was unable to collect on it afterwards.
Although investigators and many people who knew the Bechlers had strong suspicions of murder from the beginning, Eric was not arrested until October 1999. He began dating an actress and bikini model, Tina New, a few months after Pegye disappeared. New was contacted by police and agreed to wear a recording device on her body. While both of them were under the influence of alcohol and the drug Ecstasy, Eric made incriminating statements about Pegye's alleged murder to New. The taped confession led to his arrest and was used against him at his trial.
Prosecutors stated that Eric beat Pegye to death with two 35-pound dumbbells, then tossed her body overboard, weighted by the dumbbells. The dumbbells were missing from the Bechler residence when police searched it. Eric's best friend testified that Eric had planned to kill his wife and dump her body in the ocean. The purpose of her murder was to get life insurance money.
When confronted with the evidence, Eric still maintained that Pegye had drowned in a boating accident. He said he had made up the murder confession to impress New. No traces of Pegye's blood were found on the boat they had rented for the day, which is inconsistent with the statements Eric made to New.
Eric was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. His supporters set up a website proclaiming his innocence; they stated Eric had been unfairly convicted and Pegye may be alive and living in Spain, Australia or Morocco.
Eric remains in prison and all of his appeals have been denied. Pegye's remains have never been found.