A guest post on Crime Traveller by Laura Lewis, a true crime enthusiast and blogger. Her fascination with true crime began during her teens when she read a journalistic account of the Fred and Rose West case. Day-to-day, she handles marketing campaigns for a wide range of businesses, but true crime has always been her passion. Her blog, lauloulew.wordpress.com covers a range of cases, and she readily welcomes reader suggestions on cases they’d like to see covered.
Christmas is always a magical time of year, especially for a young couple expecting their first child. But on December 24th 2002, that magic was to end forever for Laci and Scott Peterson. Eight months pregnant, Laci had gone missing from their home in California. She had left everything behind, including her purse, her phone and her car. Police immediately suspected foul play, as a heavily pregnant woman is unlikely to leave her home without money or transport.
Suspicion soon fell on Scott, Laci’s husband of five years and the father of her child. The media coverage around this case was full-blown and even though Scott refused to give interviews, the papers still managed to plaster his name wherever they could. So, who are Scott and Laci Peterson? What events led up to the disappearance of this woman and her unborn child?
Scott Peterson was born in San Diego, California in 1972. His childhood was normal, with two hardworking parents. After high school, Scott went on to study at California’s Polytechnic State University. While studying, he took on a part-time job in a café, during which time he met Laci Denise Rocha.
Laci was also born in California, the second of two children. Her parents split up after her first birthday, and her father went on to remarry and have another daughter. Laci was a typical American school girl, making the cheerleading squad in junior and high school.
She went on to study at California Polytech, majoring in ornamental horticulture. While studying, Laci met Scott at a café in Morro bay.
By December 1996, Scott and Laci had announced their engagement. They married on August 9th, 1997 and a few months later, Laci had graduated from college. Both husband and wife had made a decision to delay starting a family during the first few years of their marriage, but in December of 2000, Laci became determined to have a child. After trying for almost two years, Laci and Scott announced their pregnancy in May 2002.
Friends and family all regarded the Petersons as an ideal couple, very much in love. With a baby on the way, it seemed as though Scott and Laci were becoming the perfect family.
On December 23rd 2002, Laci and Scott had visited with Laci’s half-sister. Once they were home, Laci had spoken on the phone to her half-sister around 8:30pm. Shortly after 10:15am on the 24th December, a neighbour found the Peterson’s dog running around the street, wearing a collar and a muddy leash, so returned the pet to the Peterson’s yard.
Scott, who had been out fishing all day, returned home on Christmas Eve to an empty house. Although Laci’s car was still in the drive, and her belongings were sat on the kitchen table, Scott didn’t immediately assume that his wife was missing. Some reports state that Scott washed his clothes, ate some pizza, cleaned up the kitchen and took a shower before calling Laci’s half-sister to see if his wife was with her. When told that she wasn’t, Scott stated: “Laci’s missing”.
Laci’s parents finally called the police at 6pm on the 24th. While a huge search, which included police, friends, family members, helicopters and search dogs, was underway, Scott was being interviewed by police.
He stated that he had gone fishing for the day, taking his boat out from the Marina at Berkley. He also stated that Laci’s only known plan for that day was to go buy some groceries for a Christmas dinner and to walk the dog in a nearby park.
As is typical with the disappearance or murder of one half of a couple, the husband or the wife is usually the prime suspect. It was no surprise then, when police zeroed in on Scott as the prime suspect. Away from the media circus that was starting to take place, police investigators thought that Scott’s behaviour was suspicious. He was acting far too relaxed, even prone to laughter, hardly the mannerisms of a worried husband. Scott had also recently taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife, meaning that he was set to gain a large financial benefit if police were to proclaim Laci as missing – presumed dead.
As investigators dug deeper, a neighbour came forward stating that she had seen Scott leave his property the morning Laci disappeared, alone. He had loaded something heavy into the trunk of his truck before driving away. This information on its own did not mean that Scott had murdered his wife, but the case was about to become much more interesting.
The Darker Side
On the 17th January 2003, a woman by the name of Amber Frey reached out to police. A single mother and a massage therapist, Frey claimed that she and Scott had been having an affair since November. Scott didn’t tell Amber that he was married and that his wife was missing. Before this development, Laci’s family had stuck by Scott and couldn’t entertain the idea of their son-in-law being a prime suspect in this case. Once Amber’s statement had been made, Laci’s family publicly withdrew their support. They later said that his affair had not angered them, but that Scott had told Frey that he had ‘lost his wife’ and would be spending Christmas without her – 14 days before Laci had disappeared.
Forensic teams continued to search Peterson’s vehicle for evidence, and he reacted by selling his wife’s car, stating that he only did it to raise money to buy a replacement for his impounded vehicle. Scott even started making enquiries to estate agents about selling the house he shared with his wife.
On the 13th of April, almost four months after Laci disappeared without a trace, the decayed corpse of an eight-month-old foetus was found on the shore just south of where Peterson had been fishing on the 24th of December 2002. A nylon cord was found wrapped around the child’s neck, and significant cuts were found on the body of the foetus.
Just a day later, the corpse of a female was found near where the baby had been discovered. The woman’s head had been removed, along with both forearms, the right foot and the lower left leg from the knee. DNA results showed that the two bodies were that of Laci Peterson and her unborn child, Connor Peterson.
Arrest and trial
Scott Peterson was arrested shortly after the discovery of his wife and child. Despite the horrific state in which his family was found, Scott was playing a game of golf when he was arrested and was reported to be completely calm when told of the discovery.
When he was arrested, Scott had grown a beard and dyed both that and his hair blond. He was also found to be carrying $10,000, which is the legal maximum amount of money that can be taken over the border into Mexico without the required official notification.
Despite the failure to find any physical or witness evidence linking Scott to the murder of Laci and Connor, the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming. At the trial, the prosecution told the jury that Scott wanted to start a new life with his mistress, Amber Frey, and his wife and child had stood in the way of that. The jury found Peterson guilty of murder in the first degree for the death of Laci Peterson, and murder in the second degree in the death of Connor Peterson. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection, and remains at San Quentin State Prison, awaiting an execution date.
Family and friends of Scott Peterson have since set up a website asking for support to file appeals in Scott’s name. It is their belief that police zeroed in on Scott from the beginning, and that they chose to ignore other vital evidence as it didn’t fit their story of the angry husband. Numerous appeals have been filed and rejected since Peterson’s incarceration.