Christopher Leclair boarded his fishing boat with his wife on an early summer Saturday—and returned to the shore of Lake Erie alone. The following day, he sailed back onto the Great Lake, where he radioed the U.S. Coast Guard. His wife had disappeared into the lake within the past 15 minutes, he told emergency responders.
Investigators believe Karen Leclair, 51, is still in Lake Erie. Her last sighting was shortly after noon on June 10, when surveillance footage at the marina where the couple moored their boat captured her and her husband boarding their commercial fishing vessel. Hours after the same surveillance footage showed her husband returning to shore alone, he allegedly went to his mistress’ house and invited her to live with him. Despite the lack of a body, Pennsylvania authorities have charged Leclair with his wife’s murder.
"It's incredibly unusual" to try a murder case without a body, Leclair's attorney Bruce Sandmeyer told The Daily Beast, adding that police had not concluded their investigation into the suspected homicide. "They're going on the barest circumstantial evidence."
The homicide investigation began as a missing persons case. On Sunday June 11, Christopher boarded his fishing boat in Erie, Pennsylvania, and set sail into the lake. Around 1:40 p.m., he radioed the Coast Guard. His wife had been feeling ill, and had taken a seat on a bucket near the back of their boat, he claimed. When he returned to check on her 15 minutes later, she was gone.
Karen Leclair wasn’t the type to get seasick. She and her husband made a living off Lake Erie, where Christopher, 48, worked as a commercial fisherman, and the pair once operated Leclair Point Inc., a marine equipment and fishing shop.
But the pair appear to have fallen on difficult financial times. Leclair Point Inc., which the couple founded in 2004, is now closed, GoErie reports. Karen took a job at a Toyota dealership, according to her social media profiles. In an interview with police, Christopher said he was having money trouble, and could “barely afford his home,” according to an affidavit obtained by the Meadville Tribune. The couple were named in a public foreclosure warning for their house in 2014. It is unclear if they were able to keep the home, although they kept the Doris M., Christopher’s 52-foot fishing boat.
It was from the Doris M. that Christopher reported his wife missing on June 11, sparking a day-long manhunt with dive teams, search boats, and airplanes. But surveillance footage proved more useful than any water rescue team. The footage, collected from a nearby dock, revealed that Karen had not boarded the Doris M. that day. The last time she set foot on the vessel was June 10, when she and Christopher boarded shortly after noon, and Christopher returned alone four hours later.
In the hours between his two boat trips, Christopher allegedly went to his girlfriend’s house, the woman told police, according to an affidavit. He allegedly stayed the night with the woman, and on the morning of June 11, asked her to move in with him. Pictures on the woman’s social media appear to show Christopher posing with her two children. Christopher offered police a different account of events, admitting that he was having an affair, but that he spent the night of June 9 at his girlfriend’s house.
In her interview with police, the woman recalled a detail from a discussion with Christopher several months earlier. While out for pizza, Christopher mentioned that his wife had a $30,000 life insurance policy, the woman told police.
Christopher has previously been convicted of committing a crime for insurance money. In 1990, he, Karen, and his father were charged with burning a building in order to collect $200,000 in insurance on their losses, GoErie first reported. The allegedly damaged items were later discovered safe in a storage locker, and Christopher and his father were convicted of criminal conspiracy and attempted theft.
This time, Christopher appears less likely to collect on his insurance policy. He is being held on homicide charges, without bail. His wife’s body remains in the water, investigators believe.