Laci Peterson was missing for four months until her body washed ashore in the San Francisco Bay. She went missing December 24, 2002. The pregnant woman’s body had been dumped in the bay.
Peterson’s husband, Scott Peterson, is on death row after he was convicted of first-degree murder. The body of Conner Peterson, her unborn child, washed up on shore April 13, 2003. Laci Peterson’s body was found the next day. She was eight months pregnant at the time of her death.
The location of her body and the location of her fetus was a key piece of evidence used at trial. A hydrologist testified that the bodies’ locations indicated they were dumped at Brooks Island, which is where Scott Peterson told police he had gone fishing the day of his wife’s disappearance. Attorneys for Scott Peterson argued in his appeal the hydrologist’s testimony was not factual, and that the locations of the bodies indicated the body could have been discarded at one of two locations, the appeal said.
ABC 20/20 is revisiting the high-profile case with interviews with Scott Peterson himself and with Amber Frey. Peterson was having an affair with Frey. The new episode, “One Last Chance,” airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time Friday, May 14, 2021.
Here’s what you need to know:
Laci Peterson’s Body Was Found Washed Ashore in the San Francisco Bay After a Storm 4 Months After Her Disappearance
Laci Peterson disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2002, and it would be four months before her family would have any inkling what became of her. A late spring storm dislodged the remains of Peterson and her unborn child. Over the course of two days, the remains washed ashore on April 13 and 14, 2003, according to the appeal filed in the Peterson murder case.
Conner Peterson’s body was the first to wash ashore on April 13, 2003, according to the appeal. The next day, Laci Peterson’s body was found. Conner’s body was found about one mile north of Brooks Island, where Scott Peterson had been fishing. Laci Peterson’s body washed ashore two miles northeast of Brooks Island, east of Conner’s body.
Because it was four months before Laci Peterson’s body was found, there was no forensic evidence tying the body to Scott Peterson. The state of California relied on three key pieces of evidence based on testimony from expert witnesses. An expert in fetal growth testified evidence indicated the unborn child, Conner, was killed December 23 or 24. The evidence was collected from Conner’s leg bone. Another witness testified to dog scent evidence. A dog alerted at the Berkeley Marina, indicating Scott Peterson transported his wife’s body to the marina. Thirdly, a hydrologist testified to body movement in the bay. The witness said Laci Peterson’s body was left exactly where Scott Peterson told police he was fishing.
After the murder, according to the prosecution’s theory, Scott Peterson put his wife’s body in the toolbox on the back of his truck and took it to his warehouse in Modesto. At the warehouse, he attached the body to homemade cement anchors, placed it on the back of his boat and towed it to the Berkeley Marina. Testimony indicated he launched the boat and pushed the body overboard.
Laci Peterson’s Badly Decomposed Body Offered Few Clues to How She Died
Prosecutors in the Peterson case contended Scott Peterson murdered his wife at their home in Modesto on the night of December 23 or the morning of December 24. Then, they said, he dumped her body in the San Franciso Bay. The body of Peteson and her fetus washed ashore after a storm in April, prompting murder charges to be filed. The defense team for Peterson argued that Laci and Conner were still alive December 24 when Scott Peterson drove to the marina, according to an appeal filed in his case.
However, the exact way Laci Peterson died has never been determined. Her body was found badly decomposed. The fetus of Conner, Peterson’s unborn child, was more intact than his mother. A forensic pathologist determined the fetus was protected from the elements in the uterus. The length of Conner’s leg bone, however, was used to determine the date Laci Peterson died. The bone indicated that Conner died on December 23 or 24, which matched the state’s case that Scott Peterson murdered his wife and dumped her body on a fishing trip, the appeal said.
There was no evidence to indicate Laci Peterson was smothered, the appeal said. Law enforcement did not collect pillows to test for evidence. The appeal argued the smothering theory was presented to explain why there was no blood found at their Modesto home.
“Dr. Peterson speculated she may have died from strangulation or smothering which could leave behind no forensic evidence, but it was impossible to be sure because her head and neck were missing, as well as her forearms, most of both legs and all internal organs, except for the uterus,” the Sioux City Journal reported.