Drowning victim always careful around water, Kelowna jury hears

The wife of a former New Zealand politician was careful around water, jury in murder trial hears

Laura Letts-Beckett was afraid of the water and never went boating without taking precautions, a jury looking at the circumstances of her 2010 drowning was told.

“She couldn’t swim,” said Mary Hawkins, a Crown witness testifying at Peter Beckett’s murder trial Tuesday. “She told me she was afraid of the water and always wore her life jacket.”

Letts-Beckett died Aug. 18, 2010 in Upper Arrow Lake, near Revelstoke, and her husband, a former New Zealand town councillor was charged with her murder a year later.

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Hawkins and her husband Ron were friends with the Becketts for several years and they were all expecting to meet up on the day Laura mysteriously drowned.

“Around 7 p.m. we pulled into Shelter Bay and Ron went for a swim,” Hawkins told the jury. “Then we walked toward (the Becketts’) motorhome … we heard Peter shouting for Ron. I thought he’d caught a big fish.”

As they moved closer to the shore-line, they were approached by a couple who asked if they were “Mary and Ron” and they said yes. They were then told there had been an accident and Laura was dead.

“It was quite a shock,” said Hawkins, stopping her testimony to reach for a tissue to wipe her eyes.

They went to the shoreline and saw Peter on the pontoon boat and Laura, lying in the aisle of the boat.

“It was such a shock, I don’t remember what was said,” she testified.

She did, however, remember that Peter was standing in the boat in just his underwear. He told them he’d taken off his pants when he went in for Laura. He joined them at their home for several days before going to his own home.

Another witness called to testify Tuesday who was also aware of Laura’s apprehension when it came to water was Wendy Scinski, the principal at the school Laura had taught at.

She said she was aware from various field trips and social occasions that Laura couldn’t swim.

She also offered some insight into who Laura was, noting that she was careful and meticulous.

“She was a wonderful lady, an excellent teacher,” said Scinksi. “I don’t know anyone who would have anything to complain about.”

Scinski also said that Laura was estranged from her family at the time of her death and it was difficult for her.

“She missed her parents,” said Scinski.

Although Scinksi was primarily friends with Laura, she had also spent some time with Peter in social circumstances and in the weeks after her death she had one afternoon where she had a significant amount of one-on-one time.

Peter called Scinski a week after his wife drowned and asked her to help arrange a service.

In time for the event, Peter said he wanted to buy a fountain to memorialize his wife, and he asked Scinski to join him in Edmonton for the purchase.

She went, but wasn’t expecting one detour that occurred.

Peter had her go to a lawyer’s office to discuss his concerns about his wife’s will. To his knowledge, Scinski said, Laura had never made a will, yet one had shown up in the days after she had died.

He believed the Letts‘ family lawyer Ray Barlow had whipped the document up and falsified that it had been done beforehand.

There was a lot of discussion between the lawyer and Peter, said Scinski, and when they left he asked her if she thought the lawyer would take the case.

“I said ‘you don’t have a case — there’s nothing here,’” she said.

In cross examination she added that she told him she didn’t understand why he was bothering, as there was no money for him to pursue.

He said he believed it was a matter of “righteousness and justice.”

Beckett, a former New Zealand town councillor, told at least one person in the aftermath that his wife fell off the zodiac, slipped underwater and he didn’t notice until it was too late, said Crown counsel Evan Goulet in his opening statement.

“He saw her under the water flailing,” said Goulet, explaining how the story was told by Beckett. “He tried to get down to save her, but he couldn’t. He went to shore, grabbed a rock, swam back to her with the rock, and sunk down to her … to get his wife.”

At some point Beckett flagged down another boater, who tried to no avail to help revive Letts-Beckett who was lying on the shoreline. A subsequent autopsy confirmed the death was caused by drowning.

Crown is arguing that Beckett killed his wife in an attempt to get her money.