#07) March 2003
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: March 2003
March 2 Noreen Renier conducts her first session in trying to determine Laci Peterson’s location. Assuming the identity of Laci Peterson, she describes riding in the back of a vehicle concealed under something. “I’m already dead,” she says, speaking as Laci Peterson. She describes rocks, a bridge, a bumpy road, and a “downward cave or well with smooth, hard rock around the opening” in the water. “It has a fishy odor,” she later tells the National Enquirer. “I think I am at the bottom. I’m stationary…the water rushing past me.” She draws a map of her vision.
March 3 Ted Rowlands reports from near Scott and Laci Peterson’s home, where the large, yellow sign that reads, “MISSING $500,000 REWARD,” is down. Rowlands states that sources “close to the investigation” have told him that Modesto Police Department investigators have discounted Vivian Mitchell’s sighting of Laci Peterson and provided him the rationale. He says sources told him that investigators discovered at least two other pregnant women who had been seen walking their dogs in the La Loma neighborhood on that same morning. Several such sightings were reported to police, he says. All of them, he tells viewers, have been ruled out as possible sightings of Laci Peterson. According to his sources, by the time investigators received Vivian Mitchell’s sighting report, they had already discovered the identities of the other two pregnant women, tracked down most of the alleged Laci Peterson sightings and determined that it was one of those two women witnesses had seen, and not her. He adds that Vivian Mitchell’s sighting, which was reported to police almost a week later, was presumed by detectives at the time to be the same as the others; hence the reason she was never called back for more information. He also states that these same sources tell him that the investigation is “right on track” and that “it’s not a matter of if, but when” an arrest will come. Bill Garcia finds what he believes to be a suspicious piece of concrete and videotapes the scene where it was discovered—on the edge of the Delta Mendota Canal about 20 feet off of the road. According to him, the spot looks to be less than three months old, looks like a half bag of concrete mix was spilled from the back of a trailer or truck that was backed up against the canal and has a track in it that looks as if it is from a trailer tire. A Sacramento Bee article recounts some famous cases of missing pregnant women. The article notes that a 1995 FBI study on abductions of pregnant woman and newborn infants found that the abductor most often is a woman who had faked a pregnancy—out of the 145 cases analyzed for the study, 141 were committed by women. A Modesto Bee article quotes a recent e-mail message from Jackie Peterson in which she stated, “I believed from the beginning that Laci was abducted for her baby.”
March 4 Bill Garcia speaks with Modesto Police Department officials concerning the spilled concrete mix he found near the Delta-Mendota Canal. Carmen Sabatino is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “We have spent the money on Laci because of the media. It is not the city that determines what the media considers a story.” In the March 4, 2003, issue of the Globe, Dennis Rocha is quoted as saying, “In the beginning, the rest of Laci’s family were behind Scott all the way, but I’ve had a gut feeling right from the start that he had something to do with it.”
March 5 Modesto Police Department officials declare Laci Peterson a “homicide victim.” With the Rocha family standing nearby, Det. Craig Grogan and Det. Doug Ridenour say that investigators have reached a point in the case where such a declaration was warranted: “This case began as a missing person case and we were all hopeful that Laci would return home safely; however, we have come to consider that this is now a homicide case.” The police spokespersons cite the passing of Laci Peterson’s due date and “other things we cannot talk about” as the rationale behind the declaration. Kim Petersen reads a statement from the Rocha family. Our family desperately needs to know where she is and what has happened to her,” Petersen reads. “We plead to the person or persons responsible for Laci’s disappearance to dig deep within yourself, find the compassion for our family and provide the information necessary for her recovery.” She also announces a change in the reward being offered in the case: The $500,000 reward remains in place for her safe return, but a $50,000 reward is now also being offered for any information leading to an arrest in the case. Ridenour refuses comment on a police visit to the path along the Delta-Mendota Canal where Bill Garcia said he found spilled concrete mix. However, the Modesto Bee reports that investigators have decided to return to the Delta-Mendota Canal area to follow up on the concrete finding.
March 6 Jackie Peterson fires back at the decision to reclassify the case as a homicide, charging that it will keep persons from looking for Laci Peterson. “I would hope that if I were missing for a month or two, people wouldn’t stop looking for me,” she says. The Stanislaus County district attorney’s office declines to comment on the change. Det. Doug Ridenour replies concerning the Peterson family’s apparent disappointment over the change: “It’s difficult because they don’t know everything investigators know.” He also states that the Laci Peterson investigation has cost the department more than $250,000 in overtime, probably making it the city’s most expensive case ever. Saki Vincent signs a contract to sell photos of Scott Peterson and Amber Frey to be used in People magazine. Members of an identity theft ring, pretending to be relatives of Laci Peterson, check out of their hotel room. Penny Gagnon calls the Modesto Police Department to report that, in October 2002, she met Scott Peterson in a Death Valley bar, where he discussed murdering his wife.
March 7 The Modesto Bee reports that it has filed a petition in Stanislaus County Superior Court asking Wray Ladine to reverse orders sealing search warrants in the Laci Peterson investigation, citing that the orders to seal the warrants were inconsistent with California law and violated the public’s First Amendment right to access public records. Mark Vasché is quoted as stating, “We believe the court failed to follow the proper procedure, as required by law, in sealing the documents.”
March 8 The Modesto Bee reports that investigators obtained court permission to search an envelope recovered in Scott Peterson’s 2002 Dodge Dakota and a storage unit he used at Security Public Storage on Woodland Avenue.
March 10 Gene Ralston, whose Idaho-based company specializes in the recovery of underwater bodies using sophisticated side-scan sonar, aids investigators in a search of San Francisco Bay. According to an article in the Globe, the Modesto Police Department turns over the Laci Peterson case file to the Stanislaus County Office of the District Attorney.
March 11 Ron Frey visits Ava Frey in Modesto. They talk to reporters and visit East La Loma Park. “I want to walk through the park to see what it’s about,” he says. “I really don’t know much about the case.” He states that he does not understand the focus on his other daughter. “The story isn’t about me or about Amber,” he declares. “The story is that Laci Peterson is missing.” Searchers are spotted by media helicopters combing through weeds and driftwood on Brooks Island off Point Richmond. The March 11, 2003, National Enquirer features a six-page spread on the Laci Peterson case. The tabloid features a recap of some of the previous stories along with a few new tidbits. One of the stories is about a possible case of mistaken identity: a neighbor told investigators that she may have been the intended target. The woman is described as “a look-alike for Laci” who “incredibly, also has a golden retriever named McKenzie.” Working as a deputy district attorney in Modesto, she received death threats, one of came when she was visibly pregnant during the sentencing of a violent criminal. These revelations are deflated by the closing paragraph, which states, “Police investigated the deputy DA’s story, but decided that it was not connected to Laci’s disappearence.” Another article reveals tidbits about Scott Peterson and Amber Frey’s relationship, based on accounts of Ron Frey and a then-unnamed Ava Frey. Less than a week before Laci Peterson’s disappearance, Scott Peterson told Amber Frey he had “lost” his wife in December 2001. She was so unnerved by the confession—he had previously stated he had never been married before—that she contacted a private investigator to find out more about her new boyfriend. The story also states that Amber Frey was hurt that Scott Peterson did not give her a Christmas present and, when she asked him for an address where she could send a card, he provided her with a post office box number in Modesto.
March 12 Ted Rowlands interviews Ron Frey, who says that his daughter’s life has been miserable with unknown people calling her and coming to her home since news of her affair with Scott Peterson became public. Ron Frey also states that Scott Peterson continued to call his daughter through at least the month of December 2002. “As far as I could tell, there was nothing different, nothing changed.” He refuted Scott Peterson’s claim that he told Amber Frey about Laci Peterson shortly after she disappeared. Rowlands reports that his sources tell him an arrest may have been pushed back because of the flood of items that now have to be processed from a recent search of Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. Modesto Police Department, San Francisco Police Department and Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department investigators search boats return to San Francisco Bay in the area northeast of Brooks Island, off Richmond, and discover “something of interest” using side-scan sonar, but do not retrieve anything—although later reports are they sight what they believe to be a full body in a Chevron shipping channel, about 4 miles off Brooks Island in 40-foot-deep water. The object is wrapped in some sort of plastic and held down by heavy material. Bad weather prevents divers from taking a closer look. Gene Ralston downplays the significance of any findings. “There’s all kind of stuff on the bottom,” he says, “I don’t know if it’s anything to get excited about.” Det. Doug Ridenour echoes those sentiments, stating: “It’s not any break in the case.” Wind rocks the search boats late in the afternoon, and they return to the Richmond Marina. Sgt. Ron Cloward states that the search for Laci Peterson is frustrating but that investigators “still hold the hope of locating her alive.” That night, Ralston reviews the video and becomes convinced that the object is worth a second look.
March 13 Searchers return to the San Francisco Bay. Gene Ralston, viewing the side-scan sonar picture through a video monitor, sees what looks like a face-down body, covered with crabs, and with shredded clothing undulating like streamers. At about 11:00 a.m. (according to some reports, at about 10:30 a.m.), blustery winds and choppy waters from an approaching storm force investigators to halt their search of the San Francisco Bay. One huge wave knocks a duffel bag into the water. Investigators determine to suspend searches of the area until March 17, 2003. Sgt. Ron Cloward speaks to reporters and states concerning the search for Laci Peterson: “It’s professional, but I’ll have to say it’s personal as well.” He admits that investigators have “quietly searched” a stretch from Berkeley north to the banks of Angel Island, moving between areas to help shield them from the media. KNTV reporter Karen Brown interviews Dennis Rocha, who states following the recovery of Elizabeth Smart, “Maybe it can happen to us.” He remains critical of Scott Peterson: “He shows no remorse. Never pleaded once for Laci, has he? Never.” The Modesto Bee reports that a hearing has been scheduled for April 2, 2003, regarding the newspaper’s request to unseal eight search warrants.
March 14 Amber Frey calls Det. Jon Buehler—the last call of record she makes to him, ending a string of 191 calls over a three-month stretch, totaling more than 19 hours of conversation.
March 17 Investigators return to the San Francisco Bay, but their boats are pulled off the water by early afternoon because of high winds and choppy water. “It was pretty touchy out there,” states Det. Doug Ridenour.
March 18 The National Enquirer dated March 18, 2003, runs a story stating that Scott Peterson commented to a friend about the local manure ponds found on dairy ranches. According to the unnamed source, he said, “What a great place to hide a body!”
March 19 According to Kirk McAllister during Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing, Det. Al Brocchini receives a letter from Ross Lee stating that there had been an internal analysis done of Scott Peterson’s expenditures that verified that they were appropriate. For a second time, Sarah Yoshida tests pliers found on Scott Peterson’s boat. She notices that the pliers have more rust on them during the second set of tests, even though they had been kept in an evidence bag.
March 20 The Modesto Bee runs a story about the reported sighting by Connie Fleeman of Scott Peterson on December 24, 2002. As with the case of Bill and Vivian Mitchell, Connie Fleeman claims that Modesto Police Department investigators have not contacted her despite two calls to the tip line. In the article, Fleeman describes her encounter. “He looked out his side window, and he gave me a look that was the most horrifying, scary look I have ever seen in my life,” she says. “As I’m trying to tell him that stuff is hanging out, the light turned green, he floored that truck, and he took off so fast, you would not believe it.”
March 23 The Modesto Bee runs a story proposing that a double homicide charge is likely for the killer of Laci Peterson. “There’s no question that this case would be charged as a double homicide,” says Jeanette Sereno.
March 24 The Modesto Bee runs a story reporting that the Stanislaus County Office of the District Attorney is arguing that “history and common sense mandate that the public and the press be kept out of the search warrant application process.” According to the article, the declaration is part of a 35-page response to newspaper’s effort to force the unsealing of search warrants in the Laci Peterson investigation.
March 25 The March 25, 2003, National Enquirer runs a story stating that Scott Peterson may have had affairs with at least two other women.
March 26 Carol Shipley is quoted in a Court TV/CNN article regarding the possibility of a double-homicide charge in the Laci Peterson case. “If both the woman and the child were killed and we can prove the child was killed due to the actions of the perpetrator, then we charge both,” she says.
March 27 Noreen Renier conducts her last session in trying to determine Laci Peterson’s location. In this session, aided by Sheri Enzor, Renier states that Scott and Laci Peterson argued the night of her death.
March 29 Investigators conclude a water search of the Richmond area.
March 30 According to an article in the Globe, Modesto Police Department officials turn over case files to the Stanislaus County Office of the District Attorney.