Killed at sea?

The body of Pe­gye Bech­ler has never been found, but what re­ally hap­pened on that boat?

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The cou­ple set out on a ro­man­tic beach trip

hus­band in the DOCK

Pe­gye Bech­ler, 38, and her hus­band Eric, 30, ap­peared to have the per­fect life.

Liv­ing in a lux­ury house in New­port Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, they’d made their for­tune open­ing a re­tire­mentser­vices com­pany.

Hugely suc­cess­ful, they splashed out on two Porsches, and con­verted their base­ment into a disco for par­ties.

Their three chil­dren en­joyed the de­signer life­style, too.

And, on 7 July 1997, four days af­ter Pe­gye’s birth­day and close to their sixth wed­ding an­niver­sary, the cou­ple set out on a ro­man­tic beach trip.

As a spe­cial treat, Eric rented a boat. But, hours later, tourists on a nearby boat heard scream­ing… ‘My wife! My wife! My wife!’ A vis­i­bly dis­tressed Eric was in the wa­ter, the boat float­ing nearby.

But Pe­gye was nowhere to be seen.

Eric said he’d been on a body board, while Pe­gye was steer­ing the boat.

He claimed that, when a rogue wave caught him un­ex­pect­edly, he was taken un­der the wa­ter – and that, when he came to the sur­face, the boat was cir­cling and Pe­gye was gone.

The po­lice and coast­guard were called, and he­li­copters and boats searched the ocean for 15 hours over two days. But the search proved fruit­less, and Pe­gye was pre­sumed dead.

Heart­bro­ken, her fam­ily be­gan to mourn – but, with­out a body, they couldn’t have a cre­ma­tion or burial. So, in­stead of a fu­neral, they held a can­dlelit memo­rial on the beach, which Eric at­tended, scat­ter­ing rose petals on the sand along­side Pe­gye’s rel­a­tives and friends.

Af­ter­wards, life ticked over, and the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing that fatal day be­came part of his­tory.

But Pe­gye’s fam­ily al­ways sus­pected her tragic, un­timely death was not as it seemed.

They wanted jus­tice for Pe­gye, and found it hard to be­lieve she’d drowned in such calm wa­ters.

Sporty, she’d com­pleted nu­mer­ous triathlons, and was a strong swim­mer.

But the fam­ily had no ev­i­dence to prove that Eric was re­spon­si­ble for their pre­cious Pe­gye’s tragic demise.

That was un­til one of Eric’s for­mer girl­friends came for­ward to say he’d ad­mit­ted killing his wife…

Po­lice opened the case and ar­rested Eric on sus­pi­cion of the first-de­gree mur­der of Pe­gye.

When the trial be­gan in late 2000, it at­tracted mass at­ten­tion from the pub­lic and the me­dia.

Pros­e­cu­tors said Eric had told a girl­friend he’d blud­geoned Pe­gye with a dumb­bell be­fore throw­ing her body into the sea, an­chored with heavy weights.

But his de­fence ar­gued there was no phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of this – not even a speck of blood on the boat.

Then the seem­ingly flaw­less re­la­tion­ship be­tween Eric and Pe­gye be­gan to un­ravel in front of a world­wide au­di­ence.

The court heard that the cou­ple had suf­fered mar­i­tal prob­lems af­ter the

sale of their busi­ness.

Ini­tially taken on as man­agers, they were soon fired, leav­ing the fam­ily with­out an in­come.

As a re­sult, their fi­nances dive-bombed, in­creas­ing the strain on their re­la­tion­ship.

Pros­e­cu­tors claimed that, even be­fore Pe­gye’s death, Eric had en­quired about her $2mil­lion lifein­sur­ance pol­icy.

Per­haps he was just mak­ing sure the fam­ily had se­cu­rity?

But a close friend of Eric’s stood in the wit­ness box and tes­ti­fied that, three months be­fore Pe­gye’s death, Eric had con­fided in him that he was think­ing of killing her.

How­ever, he had brushed it off at the time as lit­tle more than a mean­ing­less com­ment in the heat of a dis­pute.

Eric de­nied that this con­ver­sa­tion ever took place. Three months af­ter the death of his wife, Eric met Bay­watch star Tina New through a work col­league. They’d clicked instantly, and had be­come close in a mat­ter of weeks. Within three months, Tina had moved in with Eric at the home he’d once shared with Pe­gye. She said Pe­gye had come up in con­ver­sa­tion a num­ber of times, and she’d asked Eric how he knew his wife wasn’t still alive. He’d replied, ‘I know. I was there.’ Tina be­came sus­pi­cious, and con­tacted Or­ange County Sher­iff’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who fit­ted her with a record­ing wire. As the cou­ple dined out in a restaurant one night, Tina – se­cretly wear­ing the de­vice – made a record­ing of Eric con­fess­ing to the mur­der. That’s when Eric Bech­ler was ar­rested. But, in court, he claimed he’d told Tina the story to live up to the ‘bad boy’ per­sona she de­sired. ‘I felt she was at­tracted to that type of per­son. I wasn’t enough of a risk for her. It was a sick thing to do. I just agreed to sat­isfy her fan­tasy,’ he added. Was Eric Bech­ler so des­per­ate for a sec­ond chance at love, he’d made up a dis­turb­ing lie about mur­der­ing his own wife? And was Tina New a re­li­able wit­ness? She had a pre­vi­ous con­vic­tion her­self – for steal­ing a woman’s iden­tity to gain ac­cess to her cash. Dur­ing the trial, a wit­ness from Bal­boa Boat Rental was brought to the stand in court.

He claimed the com­pany had a pol­icy against body board­ing and tow­ing, and that he didn’t spot a body board when he checked the boat be­fore it was taken out.

A six-week trial ended with seven days of emo­tional de­lib­er­a­tions, dur­ing which Eric con­tin­ued to main­tain his in­no­cence, buoyed by his fam­ily and sup­port­ers from across the world.

Mean­while, Pe­gye’s fam­ily sat in the pub­lic gallery, await­ing the ver­dict, des­per­ate for jus­tice and for an­swers.

So, what con­clu­sion did the jury reach?

Did Eric Bech­ler plot to kill his wife in the shal­low hope of cash­ing in her lifein­sur­ance pol­icy? Or was her death, as he in­sisted, just a tragic ac­ci­dent?

He told Tina he’d mur­dered pe­gye

They had it all But things be­gan to turn sour for the young cou­ple Pe­gye’s fam­ily and friends take pho­tos into the court­room the story so far: was, I n July 1997, Pe­gye Bech­ler Eric, ac­cord­ing to her hus­band was tow­ing driv­ing a speed­boat which Then, Eric him along on a body board. un­der the said, a wave dragged him But wa­ter, and Pe­gye dis­ap­peared. Or had Eric was he telling the truth? got rid of his wife for good?

pe­gye: Triath­lete and swim­mer ERIC BECH­LER: Truth or lies?

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