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Crime News Deadly Waters with Captain Lee

A Man Claimed His Wife Was Taken Out by a Rogue Wave — But the Truth Was More Sinister

It would take years for investigators to learn who killed Pegye Bechler after she disappeared five miles from the shores of Newport Beach.

By Jax Miller

Investigators had little to go on when a man reported a rogue wave made his wife disappear during a boat trip to celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary.

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On July 7, 1997, Gary Greene, who’d operated a vessel called the Greene Machine, contacted authorities about an out-of-control speedboat about five miles from the shores of Newport Beach, California. On the route between Newport Beach and Catalina Island, Greene reported the 18-foot Striper 2000 doing donuts in the water, towing a man screaming for help from a boogie board.

Authorities recognized the boat was engaged in what’s commonly known as the circle of death, according to the host of Deadly Waters with Captain Lee, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.

“Right now, the vessel is demonstrating a phenomenon called the circle of death, which is what happens if the operator releases the steering wheel while the propeller is still turning," Captain Lee explained. “The force of the rotating blades creates torque, which causes the boat to swerve sharply to the left and gets stuck moving in a continuous circle.”

Greene threw the man a life jacket while waiting for the U.S. Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.) to arrive. Soon, they boarded the rogue vessel and gained control, rescuing Eric Bechler from the water.

“He was cold, and he was frantic, and he was yelling about his wife, and he was crying,” said now-retired investigator Sean Murphy of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (O.C.S.D.).

Back on land, a distraught Eric said his wife, Pegye Bechler, was behind the wheel when a rogue wave knocked her into the Pacific. It prompted search and rescue teams to look for the missing woman who, by then, had been in the water for about two hours.  

Eric and Pegye Bechler featured on Deadly Waters With Captain Lee

Eric told authorities, per recorded video published by Deadly Waters, that he’d rented the boat for their anniversary. The Bechlers had little boating experience, but the rental was easy to maneuver. However, they decided on a more “adventurous” route in the high seas, according to reporter Greg Hardesty of the Orange County Register.

Authorities were soon suspicious of Eric’s reports that a rogue wave was responsible for his wife’s disappearance.

“The conditions that day were very calm,” Hardesty told Deadly Waters. “There were swells of one to two feet and a very light wind.”

Who are Eric and Pegye Bechler?

Pegye’s best friend, Glenda Slosser, described the Bechlers as a happy couple with three children. Pegye was a hard-working physical therapist who began her own fitness company before meeting Eric through Glenda and her husband at a volleyball game.

Slosser called Pegye the “happiest, most gregarious” woman she’d ever met.

“Their relationship, the way that it blossomed, centered around physical fitness,” Slosser told Deadly Waters. “They ran together, they biked together … Eric became part of Pegye’s life very quickly.”

Eric eventually began living with Pegye and joined her in her physical therapy work, handling the business side of things. Within one year, the couple married in Newport Beach. Eventually, they had three children.

“Pegye loved him, and they had a perfect, most amazing life without a care in the world," Slosser continued.

Was Pegye Bechler found?

Ocean searches continued through the night, with even the U.S. Navy assisting in the attempts to save Peggy. When there was no sign of the mother of three by morning, searches were called off, and U.S.C.G. investigators turned their attention toward the boat.

They found the rental was “mechanically sound,” Murphy said.

“According to Eric, Pegye was driving the boat, sitting up on the seatback,” said now-retired O.C.S.D. Deputy Investigator Gary Jones. “The Coast Guard determined that whichever way the boat went, the person driving the boat fell inside the boat, not outside the boat.”

Undisturbed sunglasses by the steering wheel also indicated a rogue wave was not the culprit, prompting the U.S.C.G. to call on the sheriff’s office.

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What happened to Pegye?

Murphy told Deadly Waters that Eric, in recorded interviews published by Deadly Waters, said he hoped to surprise his wife for their wedding anniversary. The husband said they picnicked on the boat and had sex before opting to kneeboard at the mouth of the harbor.

Detectives gleaned little from interviews with relatives and loved ones — including Eric’s friend, Kobi Laker — most of whom cited the Bechlers as the perfect couple. However, according to Hardesty, Eric’s mother indicated otherwise, claiming Pegye ”confided in her that they were having financial issues” and were forced to sell Pegye’s business.

“A few months before Pegye went missing, Pegye told me that when they sold the business, they were able to work out an agreement and stay on for a period of time, and they were both getting a salary,” Slosser told Deadly Waters. “But, as things moved on, I think that the company that bought them started seeing some things that didn’t add up to them.”

Jones said they found “some issues about fraudulent Medicare/Medicaid billing,” demonstrating problems behind closed doors.

One theory, as intimated by Eric’s mother, consisted of Pegye faking her death as a means of avoiding taxes and mounting legal troubles related to the alleged fraud. Loved ones, however, didn’t believe Pegye would leave her children.     

Because the U.S.C.G. initially handed the rental boat as an accident and not a crime scene, a lot of physical evidence was lost, according to Murphy. A speck of what appeared to be blood was found on a mattress on the boat, though Eric admitted to detectives that Pegye was menstruating at the time of her disappearance.

Ultimately, there wasn’t enough of a sample to conclude whether the spot was blood belonging to Pegye. An examination using Luminol showed blood that appeared to have been cleaned on the rear motor of the boat, though the evidence still could not prove Pegye was murdered.

“Typically, rental boats are cleaned before each charter, so there’s no way for investigators to determine when and who cleaned the boat,” said Captain Lee.

Suspicions compounded after authorities spoke with Pegye’s brother, an insurance broker. The brother reportedly helped the couple with their life insurance policies, amounting to about $2.6 million each in policies taken out against one another.

Hardesty said Eric called his brother-in-law three months before his wife’s disappearance to inquire about possible scenarios revolving around the policies in the event of their deaths.

How was Eric Bechler caught?

Eric’s friend, Kobi Laker, whom investigators questioned earlier in the investigation, paid a surprise visit to detectives. Laker claimed he wasn’t as forthcoming as he could have been, as seen in recorded interviews published by Deadly Waters.

“Eric told me on several occasions that he’s sick and tired of his wife,” said Laker. “And he would tell me that he just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Laker confessed that Eric expressed plans to take Pegye out to the ocean to kill her before “dumping her in a barrel.” He admitted he was too spooked to come forward with the statements at an earlier time.

Despite efforts to hook Laker up to a wire before meeting Eric, Eric failed to incriminate himself in connection to his wife’s disappearance, leaving investigators with little to go on.

About three months after Pegye’s 1997 disappearance, Eric began dating T.V. actress and model Tina New-Pineda, which “floored” those closest to Pegye, according to Slosser.

New-Pineda told Deadly Waters that she met Eric at a car show, and that Eric purported to create websites for a living.

“At the end of the day, Eric asked me, ‘Do you want to come back to my house?” New-Pineda said. “And I felt comfortable because he was so nice to me and such a gentleman to me, and so soft-spoken.”

New-Pineda knew of Pegye’s disappearance but believed what Eric had told her: that it was a freak accident. She could offer nothing to investigators, though O.C.S.D.’s Sean Murphy left the woman with his card.

How Tina New-Pineda Assisted in Murder Investigation

There was little movement in the missing persons case until October 1999, about two years and three months after Pegye vanished on the ocean. Neighbors reported a domestic violence incident to authorities, and when deputies arrived, Tina New-Pineda, handed them Murphy’s business card.

By then, New-Pineda had broken things off with Eric, though Eric allegedly went to her apartment complex and threatened her.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Department came, and I sat them all down in my living room,” New-Pineda told Deadly Waters. “I said, ‘I know I’ve met with you guys before, but at this point I know that Eric killed his wife.'”

According to the estranged girlfriend, just a few weeks before the domestic call, New-Pineda decided to watch a videotaped T.V. episode in which she was featured onscreen. The part ended before going to a news program about Pegye’s death, over which the T.V. episode had been recorded.

The coverage reported calm weather and other details that did not line up with Eric’s version of events.

When confronted about the inconsistencies, Eric “became white,” according to New-Pineda.

“It just came to me: I said, ‘Oh, my god, you hit her over the head,’” New-Pineda continued. “He goes, ‘How did you know that?!’”

Eric confessed to New-Pineda that on July 5, 1997, just one day before the trip, he collected an ice chest, trash bags, margarita mix, and two 35-pound weights in a deliberate plan to kill his wife. He told New-Pineda that Pegye “didn’t feel a thing” when he hit her in the head with a weight.

He then claimed to have folded the body over and tied her wrists, ankles, and neck together. He proceeded to wrap the body in two garbage bags with the weights before throwing her overboard.

In late October 1999, New-Pineda agreed to help investigators by wearing a wire. She and Eric then arranged to meet at El Torito restaurant in Irvine for margaritas as she hid the wire in her purse.

Detectives were on standby.

In the recorded conversation, as obtained and published by Deadly Waters, New-Pineda asked why go to such great lengths to get rid of Pegye instead of divorce, to which Eric said it was “partly for the money” and “partly about the kids.”

“What was it about her that made you want to go to that extreme?” New-Pineda asked.

“I felt like I was backed into a corner, like, she was going to steal the kids away, and I’d never see them again,” said Eric.

Ultimately, Eric was arrested for the presumed murder of his wife, Pegye Bechler.

What happened after Eric Bechler’s arrest?

Thanks to Tina New-Pineda’s willingness to go to authorities and wear a wire, Eric was charged with first-degree murder, much to the relief of Pegye’s loved ones.

“Finally, finally, he has been arrested,” Pegye’s friend, Glenda Slosser, told Deadly Waters. “Maybe now justice will be served, and he will be punished for murdering my best friend.”

Eric maintained his innocence, but to support New-Pineda’s statements, when authorities searched his home, they found a dumbbell rack missing two 35-pound weights.

He also said he falsified claims of killing Pegye as a means of impressing New-Pineda, claiming the girlfriend “liked the bad boy image,” according to Hardesty.

Though Orange County prosecutors had an uphill battle because there was no body in the murder case, a jury eventually found Eric Bechler guilty on charges of first-degree murder.

He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Investigators credit Tina New-Pineda for her bravery in the case.

“Without Tina, we wouldn’t be here today,” said investigator Gary Jones. “I have to thank her, again, for having the wherewithal to wear a wire.”

Pegye Bechler’s body has never been found.

Watch all-new episodes of Deadly Waters with Captain Lee, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.