Laci's husband held for murders
How young husband became slaying suspect

Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, April 19, 2003

For months, police carefully avoided saying he was a suspect, but Scott Peterson has been the focus of the investigation into his wife's disappearance almost from the moment she was reported missing Christmas Eve.

The 30-year-old fertilizer salesman was an unlikely person to be in the spotlight of a murder probe. Peterson grew up in a nice neighborhood, graduated from good schools, always had a job and never had a reputation as a troublemaker.

"I had nothing to do with Laci's disappearance," Peterson said in one of several televised interviews he gave in late January and early February, more than two months before he would be arrested on suspicion of killing his wife and their unborn child. "It is entirely too selfish of me to defend myself against these accusations. . . . All the media time should be spent on finding Laci."

Peterson was born Oct. 24, 1972, at Sharp Hospital in San Diego, the youngest of Jacqueline and Lee Peterson's seven children.

Along with his four older brothers, Peterson learned fishing, hunting and golfing at an early age. At Scott's urging, his father, owner of a San Diego packing company, bought a fishing boat.

Peterson also became an avid golfer. At the University of San Diego High School, he played with Phil Mickelson, who went on to star on the professional golf circuit.

During high school, he struck up friendship with an elderly woman, referring to her as his grandmother -- even though his biological grandparents were dead, Jacqueline Peterson has said.

"One day, he told us he was bringing his grandmother to Grandparents Day at the school," Jacqueline Peterson told the Modesto Bee. "I asked where he got a grandmother. He told me he'd had one for a while. I went and met her the following Sunday. She just kept saying what a great kid he was, and how nice it was that he visited an old lady and brightened her day."

After graduating from high school in 1990, Peterson attended Arizona State University on a partial golf scholarship, but withdrew and moved to Morro Bay where his parents had relocated.

His mother has said he moved out of their home six months later and began working three jobs to put himself through Cuesta Community College and then California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

It was at one of those jobs where he met his future wife, Laci Rocha. Her neighbor worked with Scott Peterson at the Pacific Cafe, and sometimes Laci stopped in there. She and Scott would chat when she ordered coffee.

Laci had her neighbor pass Scott Peterson a slip of paper with her phone number, his family said. At first he thought it was a practical joke and tossed it in the trash. He later retrieved it and called her.

"The moment he was with Laci, they just beamed at each other," Jacqueline Peterson told the Modesto Bee. "No one else ever made my son smile like that. They did everything right." In 1997, the couple married.

After graduating, the Petersons opened a cafe in San Luis Obispo called the Shack that quickly became a popular hangout for students to eat hamburgers and sandwiches. They sold the place two years ago and moved to Modesto to be closer to Laci Peterson's family.

Scott Peterson got a job as a fertilizer salesman for Tradecorp, a Spanish company that does business around the world, and the couple bought a fixer- upper that Scott remodeled.

After Laci Peterson became pregnant in May 2002 with what would have been the couple's first child, Scott "put a lot of hours into making that baby room just right," family friend Guy Miligi told the Modesto Bee. "He was real excited about having his first child. He talked about that all the time."

But the public scrutiny that followed his pregnant wife's disappearance cast a new light on him.

Police sought to check out his story of going fishing in the bay off Berkeley on the morning of Christmas Eve. He told investigators he last saw his wife as she was about to walk their golden retriever. But after using bloodhounds to search places where she often walked, police concluded that she had been taken away in a vehicle.

Police then said that although investigators were not discarding other theories of her disappearance, they were focusing on trying to corroborate Scott Peterson's alibi.

They also started searching the bay.

Peterson's actions also aroused suspicion among his wife's relatives. He traded in his wife's Land Rover for a new pickup truck, approached real estate agents about selling their home and admitted to having had an affair with a Fresno woman while his wife was pregnant.

Massage therapist Amber Frey said she became Scott Peterson's girlfriend after he told her he wasn't married.

The affair turned Laci Peterson's family against the son-in-law they had supported earlier. They begged him to cooperate with Modesto police, who had labeled him uncooperative.

Many of his Modesto friends began to shun him. His fellow golfers at the Del Rio Country Club quietly bought out his membership for an estimated $25, 000 in cash.

Scott Peterson launched his own search effort, separate from the one organized by his wife's family and sanctioned by police. At one point, as searchers looked in the bay and around Modesto, Peterson showed up in Los Angeles to distribute flyers to volunteers at a local hotel.

"We simply have to expand the geographical area," he said at the time.

In February, he told a television interviewer that he missed his wife and the child she was to bear.

"I can't drive. I can't sleep," he said then. "Sometimes I feel I just can't do it. I feel like I'm in a dark corner, and I just can't function."

Chronicle news services contributed to this report. / E-mail Jim Herron Zamora at