Beckett murder trial: When wife fell in lake, accused killer grabbed his fishing rod

By Tim Petruk

Murder accused Peter Beckett says he tried to save his wife.
Murder accused Peter Beckett says he tried to save his wife.

A former New Zealand politician accused of drowning his wife while on vacation in B.C. in 2010 told police his first instinct when he heard her body splash into a Revelstoke-area lake was to grab his fishing rod.

The B.C. Supreme Court jury in Kamloops tasked with deciding Peter Beckett's fate watched a 2.5-hour videotaped re-enactment on Tuesday, taped with Beckett on Upper Arrow Lake 10 months after his wife's death.

Beckett, 59, is charged with first-degree murder in connection to the Aug. 18, 2010, drowning of Laura Letts-Beckett.

Her death, on Upper Arrow Lake, was initially ruled accidental, but a subsequent police investigation resulted in Beckett's arrest one year later.

The Crown has alleged Beckett killed his wife out of greed, hoping to cash in on life-insurance and accidental-death benefits, as well as her schoolteachers' pension.

Court heard Beckett was flown from Alberta to Revelstoke in an RCMP jet on June 10, 2011. He was then driven to Shelter Bay, on Upper Arrow Lake, where investigators took him on a boat and had him painstakingly go over his version of events.

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Laura Letts Beckett was an elementary school teacher for 27 years before her death. Photo / Supplied
Laura Letts Beckett was an elementary school teacher for 27 years before her death. Photo / Supplied

Beckett has claimed his wife fell off of their Zodiac dinghy. He has said he had his back to her when she fell.

Beckett said he could not get far enough underwater to rescue his wife, so he swam to shore, retrieved a rock and swam back out to her, where he used the stone to sink below the surface of the water and pull Letts-Beckett to shore.

In the video, Beckett called the rock a "negative buoyancy compensator."

"My buoyancy is incredible," he said. "I'm an incredibly, positively buoyant person."
Later, he suggested divine intervention helped him find the rock.

"I knew that I only had one chance to get the rock right," he said. "This rock just appeared to me, like a spiritual thing."

In the video, Beckett told investigators his first instinct when he heard the splash of his wife's body hitting the water was to grab his fishing rod - something he called "fisherman's instinct."

"When you hear a splash and you're a fisherman, and you're tuned into fishing, you think maybe a big one's hit," he said.

"I didn't think she had fallen over. That's not initially what came into my head."
Investigators pressed Beckett about the splash.

"It sounded like somebody jumping into the water," he said.

"I mean, that's what it sounded like. If you jumped over now, it sounded like that. I thought I'd hit something or a big fish had jumped, which happens often on this lake."

In the video, Beckett referred repeatedly to the detective driving the police boat as "skipper."

He also offered investigators lessons on the feeding habits of trout and the differences between igneous versus sedimentary rocks.

Beckett and Letts-Beckett met in 1995 in New Zealand. Five years later, he moved to Westlock, Alta., to be closer to her. The couple married in 2003.

Previous witnesses have described their relationship as rocky. The Becketts split briefly in late 2007, but reconciled months later.

Letts-Beckett also went to police alleging physical abuse on the part of her husband, but no charges were laid.

Through her questioning, defence lawyer Donna Turko has suggested Letts-Beckett was depressed prior to her drowning.

Beckett was formerly a city councillor in Napier, New Zealand.

His trial, which began in mid-January, is expected to last three months.

- NZ Herald

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