A Deadly Game: The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation, by Crier, Catherine
- ISBN: 9780060849634 | 0060849630
- Cover: Paperback
The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation
Chapter OneDecember 24, 2002
Scott was running late. It was about 4:45 P.M. as he pulled into hisdriveway, parking next to his wife's Land Rover. In less than twohours, he was due for dinner at his in-laws' home. It had been abusy day already, and there was a long way to go.
Scott entered the backyard through the gate and patted McKenzie,the couple's beloved golden retriever, as the dog bounded out tomeet him. He unclipped the dangling leash from the dog's collar andtossed it on the patio table. Passing through an unlocked back door,Scott moved through the dark, quiet house. Stopping to tidy up abit, he carried a bucket of wash water and two mops outside. Hetossed the water onto the lawn, then left the cleaning items by thedoor. He then headed for the fridge. Cold pizza and milk wouldpacify his growling stomach, empty since a bowl of cereal early thatmorning.
Carrying a veggie slice with him, Scott went over to the washingmachine, hidden behind bifold doors in the den. He pulled out somedirty towels. Then, stripping down to his underwear, the young manloaded his green pullover, blue T-shirt, and jeans into the washer,covered them with detergent, and started the machine.Then he was off to the bathroom, where he finished the pizza beforestepping into the shower. Emerging in clean clothes, Scottchecked his watch. It was 5:15 P.M. He picked up the phone.
Sharon Rocha was scrambling to finish preparations for her familydinner that evening when the telephone rang. It was already 5:17;her daughter Laci and son-in-law, Scott, would be arriving soon.
"Hi, Mom," Scott said. "Is Laci there?"
"No," Sharon replied.
"Laci's car is at the house, and McKenzie is in the backyard withhis leash on," Scott said flatly. "Laci is missing."
Missing? The word took a moment to register. Her daughterwould be pulling into the driveway with Scott any minute, shethought. Laci was a well-mannered, efficient young woman. Shewouldn't be late for a family gathering.
Suddenly, a wave of fear washed over her. Laci was eight monthspregnant. Had she gone into labor? Was she at the hospital? Tryingnot to panic, Sharon told Scott, "Call your friends. Ask them ifthey've seen her. Then call me back!"
Sharon put down the phone and turned to Laci's stepfather, RonGrantski. His normally jovial face had turned serious as he listenedto his wife's conversation.
"Laci's missing," Sharon said, echoing Scott's phrase.Just two or three minutes went by before the phone rang again.Sharon grabbed it on the first ring, nervously running her fingersthrough her short blond hair.
"I checked with friends," Scott reported, "but nobody's seen her.""Try the neighbors," Sharon commanded, her alarm escalatingas she put down the receiver. Laci had sounded fine when they lastspoke on the phone at 8:30 the previous evening. There was no reasonfor her to be missing, unless she was hurt or had been harmed.The wait seemed endless before Scott called back, althoughphone records would show that only a few more minutes had passed."I checked around," Scott said again. His tone remained even; theyoung man was not one for histrionics. "Nobody's seen her." Scottexplained that Laci had planned to walk their dog that morning. Herusual path would have taken her through East La Loma Park, locatedat the end of their street on Covena Avenue. But he reminded Sharonthat McKenzie had been at home when he arrived, trailing his leash.
By then it was 5:32 P.M., fifteen minutes since Scott's first call. Inhindsight it seems surprising that Scott could have gathered informationfrom so many people so quickly, but Sharon wasn't going towaste any more time. She told Scott to meet her in the park, thenhung up, phoned her friend Sandy Rickard, and asked her to helpsearch for Laci.
Moments later, Sandy pulled up in front of the house. "I'm goingto look for her," Sharon yelled out to Ron. "Call the police." Thenshe raced out the front door.
For months, Laci had been taking McKenzie for morning walksin the nearby park. Sometimes Sharon went along, but in recentweeks, Laci had begun tiring easily, and Laci's yoga instructor andobstetrician had both recommended that she give up the walks untilthe baby was born. At first, Laci resisted -- she was always headstrong -- but now her body was insisting that she slow down. Thenarrow, sandy footpath that sloped down toward the park entranceno longer provided sure footing, and Laci was less inclined to completeher regular half-mile loop around the leafy grounds.
Sharon knew it was unlikely that Laci had taken that walk.At 5:47 P.M., Ron Grantski dialed 911.
"I'd like to report a missing person," he told the dispatcher.It was Christmas Eve, so only a skeleton crew was on duty, butthe Modesto Police Department knew the emergency line wouldprobably stay busy. Many people find Christmas one of the loneliesttimes of the year, and the department often logged an especiallylarge number of calls from people whose anxiety levels jumped duringthe holiday season.
Grantski gave his own address -- 1017 Marklee Way -- thenLaci's -- 523 Covena Avenue, between Encina Avenue and EdgebrookDrive. Their houses were less than two miles apart in the small city ofModesto, southeast of San Francisco and about ninety minutes fromthe Pacific coast.
Grantski told the dispatcher that he was relating information from his son-in-law, who had notified him that his stepdaughter, LaciPeterson, was missing.
The dispatcher who took the call made the following notes:
STEP-DAUGHTER, LACY [sic] PETERSON, PORTUGUESE/WHITE FEMALE, 26 YEARS, LEFT TO WALK DOG AT DRYCREEK PARK & NEVER RETURNED HOME. SUBJECT IS 5FOOT 1, DARK HAIR & DARK EYES, 8 MONTHS PREGNANT,UNKNOWN WHO LAST SEEN WITH. DOG RETURNED HOME WITHLEASH & UNABLE TO LOCATE WOMAN ANYWHERE. REPORTRECEIVED FROM WOMAN'S HUSBAND, SCOTT PETERSON.HUSBAND IS NOW LOOKING FOR WIFE IN THE PARK. OFFICERJOHN EVERS DISPATCHED TO THE PARK AT 17:48. AT17:58, OFFICERS DERRICK LETSINGER AND MATT SPURLOCKAND SGT. BYRON DUERFELDT DISPATCHED TO 523COVENA AVENUE.
An adult missing person report rarely generates a major responsewithin the first twenty-four hours, but the emergency operator recognizedthat Laci's condition made her situation different. The youngwoman might be injured or experiencing a problem with her advancedpregnancy. And, of course, there was always the possibility of foul play.By 6:00 P.M., officers from the Modesto Police Department wereen route to both the couple's home and East La Loma Park.
Dry Creek Park spans twelve city blocks and is parceled into severalsmall mini-parks. East La Loma Park, barely three blocks from thePeterson home, was the area where Laci usually strolled with the dog.McKenzie had been a gangly, energetic puppy when Laci gave him toScott for Christmas just a month after they met. He was almost eightyears old now, sprouting white whiskers around his muzzle, but Scottstill warned strangers that the retriever was very protective of Laci.Sharon Rocha was growing increasingly worried as her friendSandy steered them into a parking lot just west of El Vista Avenue.Jumping out of the vehicle, Sharon hurried across the stubby grass,Sandy trailing behind her.
During the short ride from her house, Sharon had called Scottand arranged to meet him at El Vista Bridge to begin the search.Now she raced through the park calling out, "Laci!" and peeringinto the shrubbery, checking trash cans lined along the pathway. Sheand Sandy were nearly breathless when they reached the site.Sharon later recalled that it seemed like "forever" before Scottarrived, although he had said he was already in the park when shelast called. She finally spotted Scott walking along the south side ofDry Creek with McKenzie at his side.
"Scott!" Sharon called, waving her arms. "Scott, we're over here!"But Sharon couldn't get his attention. Scott seemed to be lost inhis own world. Although he was just fifty feet away, he didn't seem tohear or see his mother-in-law. It wasn't until Sharon's nephew,Zachary Zwald, walked over to him that Scott actually acknowledgedthe other family members around him.
Sharon was surprised to find her son-in-law so calm. She latertold police that Scott wouldn't look her in the eye as they spokeabout Laci. Eventually the lights of a police cruiser distractedSharon, and she headed over to meet the police; Scott and the othersfollowed close behind.
The first uniformed officer on the scene, John Evers, had been onpatrol for ninety minutes when the missing persons dispatch cameover his radio. A sixteen-year veteran of the Modesto Police Department,Evers noted the darkening skies and dropping temperaturesand quickly got down to business.
According to his radio call, the husband had been the last personto see the missing woman earlier that day. "When was the last timeyour saw your wife?" he asked Scott.
Scott told Evers that he'd last seen Laci around 9:30 that morningbefore he'd left home to go fishing. During their brief conversation,Scott said that Laci had planned to take their dog for a walk inthe park that morning, then go grocery shopping for the dinner partyat her mother's that evening. She planned to spend the afternoonbaking gingerbread cookies.
When Scott left the house, he continued, his wife was moppingthe floor. He returned in the afternoon to find McKenzie in the backyard,his leash still attached. Entering through the unlocked patiodoor, he found the house empty.
"Is her purse at home?" Sharon interrupted.
"I don't remember," Scott said blankly.
"Where does she usually keep it?"
"On a coatrack by the front door."
"I'm going to the house to see if it's there," Sharon announced.Officer Evers stopped the anxious mother and told her he'd go checkit out himself. She should remain at the park.
John Evers pulled up in front of Scott and Laci's home along withOfficers Letsinger and Spurlock and Sergeant Duerfeldt in countypatrol cars, and quickly established a command center for the missingpersons investigation at 523 Covena Avenue.
The Petersons' home was a modest, single-story ranch with drabgreen shingles on the west side of the street. The couple had purchasedtheir three-bedroom, two-bath home for $177,000 in 2000.
In less than three years, its value had appreciated by $100,000. Thepeaceful neighborhood, with its well-kept houses, manicured frontlawns, and flower beds, had a small-town feeling. Neighbors tendedto stop and chat with one another, and children felt safe playing andriding their bicycles in the quiet streets. The Petersons' property wassurrounded by an imposing six-foot wooden fence. The police noticedthat several of their windows looked out on Covena Avenue,but heavy drapes covered the openings and blocked any view -- inor out.
As Officer Matt Spurlock led the men down the brick walkwaytoward the Petersons' front door, Sergeant Byron Duerfeldt dialedthe unit's on-call supervisor to alert him to the situation. Carter,the head of the Crimes Against Persons (CAP) unit that night, listenedintently as Duerfeldt reported the details: A woman namedLaci Peterson, age twenty-seven, eight months pregnant, was missingfrom her residence. The husband, Scott Peterson, age thirty, said he had left early that morning to go fishing for the day. When he returnedhome at 4:30, she was missing.
"Where is Peterson now?" Carter asked.
Duerfeldt reported that Scott was walking the neighborhoodlooking for his wife. Other family members were already gatheringat the residence. No one seemed to know where Laci might be.
"I'm requesting the assistance of a CAP detective, sir," Duerfeldtsaid. The Crimes Against Persons unit had six full-time detectives assignedto investigate felony assaults, robberies, homicides, and missingperson cases. Carter agreed, then instructed the field sergeant tolocate the husband and bring him back to the house for a more indepthinterview. He also wanted calls made to area hospitals in caseLaci had checked herself in without the family's knowledge.
"Call me back with any new information," Carter instructed.Sergeant Duerfeldt left to find Scott Peterson while his three uniformedpatrol officers examined the Peterson premises. Officer Spurlockled the way to the house.
Duerfeldt found the front door unlocked. Most of the interiorlights were on. A carefully trimmed Christmas tree glimmered in acorner of the dining area next to the fireplace. The officers quicklyinventoried the presents piled beneath the tree. One large boxwrapped in deep blue paper was addressed from Scott to Laci; anothergift, a Louis Vuitton wallet, was nestled in an open bag. Initialreports assumed that this was Scott's gift to his wife. However, acredit card receipt showed that Laci had purchased the wallet duringa trip to Carmel the previous week, although whether it was for herselfor someone else was never established.
In the galley-style kitchen, painted a cheery yellow, a chalkboardon the wall read Merry Christmas. There was some leftover pizzasitting on the kitchen counter in an open box, and an open containerof ranch dressing nearby. A telephone book on the counter was opento a garish full-page ad showing a young man being handcuffed by auniformed officer. "Criminal Defense -- Former Deputy District Attorney,"the ad read. Among the specialties the lawyer listed wasmurder.
The living room, painted a vibrant burnt orange, was furnishedwith overstuffed couches topped with fluffy throw pillows. Butsomething seemed out of place in the carefully ordered environment.Evers noticed a tan-and-white throw rug bunched up on the flooragainst the patio door as if something had been dragged over thethreshold.
The officers also walked through the nursery, with its deep bluewalls and nautical theme. A small white crib was set up against onewall, its mattress covered with new baby clothes. Miniature sailboatsdangled from the ceiling, and a decorative life preserver hung on thewall bearing the greeting Welcome Aboard!
The officers continued their examination, opening closet doorsand pulling back the shower curtain, looking for anything out of theordinary. After checking the rest of the house, the men moved to thebackyard through the living room door. They carefully stepped overthe bunched up rug, leaving it undisturbed.
Spurlock noticed that a mop bucket and two mops were leaningagainst an exterior wall just beside a side door. The bright bluebucket was still wet, apparently from recent use, as was the sidewalknearby.
The police surveyed the area quickly, then left the residence.Evers saw Scott standing outside and asked him to check the housefor any signs of a struggle or burglary.
The officers accompanied him back inside. Evers tossed out somequestions as they walked. According to Scott, Laci had been wearinga white, long-sleeved crewneck shirt and black maternity pants whenhe left home that morning. She was barefoot at the time, but she usuallywore white tennis shoes when walking McKenzie. He also toldthe officers that she had been wearing expensive jewelry -- a diamondnecklace, diamond earrings, and a gold-and-diamond Geneve wristwatch -- when he last saw her.
"Is your wife's purse still in the house?" Evers asked.In response, Scott went not to the hall coatrack he'd mentioned toSharon in the park, but into the master bedroom. The bed was tidy.Hanging behind some scarves on a hook in the closet was Laci Petercrie son's purse. To most women, this might seem an unusual place to keepan everyday handbag, but Scott went straight there to find it. The bluepocketbook contained her wallet, keys, sunglasses, and other personalitems. The young husband told the police that nothing seemedto be missing.
Although Scott seemed calm about the discovery, Evers knew thatfinding a woman's purse left behind like this was an ominous sign."Have you been working all day?" Evers asked.
"I went fishing," Scott replied. Pulling a piece of paper from hispocket, he volunteered it to the officer. It was a receipt from theBerkeley Marina for 12:54 P.M. that afternoon.
The officers exchanged glances. Scott was certainly quick to provideproof of his whereabouts without being asked.
"What time did you leave the house?" Spurlock inquired.
"Earlier this morning." Scott did not pinpoint an actual time.
"What did you go fishing for?"
"What did you use for bait?" Spurlock persisted. He wasn't comfortablewith Scott's awkward answers, and as an avid angler, the officerknew just what to ask.
"Some type of silver lure," was the best Scott could do.
"Where do you keep all your fishing gear?" Spurlock asked.
Finally, a direct response. "I keep it atmy company's storage facility."
Scott began reciting his movements after leaving home thatmorning. First, he drove to his company's warehouse at 1027 NorthEmerald. Checking his e-mail and faxes, he sent a message to hisboss in Portugal. After straightening up his work space, he spentsome time assembling a mortiser -- a woodworking tool -- before finallyhitching up the new boat to his truck.
I would later wonder about his use of time. Scott had decided tofish only two hours earlier, according to his own account. It was toocold to golf, he said, so he chose fishing in the bay as an alternative.He left home knowing he had errands to run before the dinner with hisin-laws at six o'clock that evening, including picking up a Christmasgift basket by 3:00 P.M. for Laci's grandfather. Yet, when he arrived at the warehouse, he allegedly spent time cleaning up the interior, workingon his computer, and casually assembling the mortiser, all beforesetting out on the ninety-mile trip to the Berkeley Marina to fish.In describing his trip, Scott specifically mentioned that he'dmade two calls to Laci from his cell phone during the drive home -- one to her cell and another to the house. He left messages, he said,but he never reached her.A Deadly Game
The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation. Copyright © by Catherine Crier. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Deadly Game: The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation by Catherine Crier
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