Laci's hubby spent secret cash on lovers


By MARY PAPENFUSS in Modesto, Calif.
and MAKI BECKER in New York

With as many as three girlfriends, multiple cell phones to stay in touch and a checking account hidden from his wife, Scott Peterson had a busy secret life, a source close to the double-murder investigation revealed.

Investigators also have evidence that Peterson - accused of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, named Conner - made a "significant purchase" of items that could have been used to anchor a body, a second source familiar with the case said.

Investigators need to find the items to "connect all the dots," that source said.

The bodies of Laci and Conner washed ashore last month in San Francisco Bay, near where Scott Peterson, 30, had told cops he went fishing Christmas Eve. He reported his 27-year-old wife missing after returning that night.

Peterson, a fertilizer salesman, has proclaimed his innocence. His lawyer, Mark Geragos, has vowed to help him find the real killer.

Lawyer Gloria Allred, representing Peterson's admitted mistress, Amber Frey, urged any other girlfriends to step forward yesterday. Allred also met with prosecutors to discuss their plans to call Frey as a witness, possibly during a preliminary hearing scheduled for July 16.

Peterson, who is being held without bond, showed up in court yesterday aslawyers wrangled over an array of issues, from unsealing document towiretaps.

His bleach blond locks had been shorn to a near-buzz cut that was back to his original dark brown. He said nothing, appearing confident and sometimes flashing a smug grin as the legal eagles duked it out.

Judge Al Girolami heard arguments from California newspapers that want sealed documents - including search warrants and autopsy results - to be made public. He said he would rule this week.

Girolami also threatened to issue a gag order. "Every day we hear about something in the paper that we don't hear in court," he said. "I think we need a protective order."

The judge ordered prosecutors to give Peterson's camp copies of 69 phone conversations that law enforcement intercepted between the defendant and his lawyers in the months before his arrest.

Details of those conversations were disclosed Monday on Fox News Channel, which reported that Peterson told Frey in one conversation: "I know who did it, and I'll tell you later when I see you." That meeting never occurred.

Defense sources have raised the possibility that Laci Peterson was killed as part of a satanic ritual or by a strange man spotted in the neighborhood the day she disappeared.

After the court proceedings, Geragos said the defense team has received several helpful tips from the public that the police also are looking into.

"The big cases tend to bring out the big nuts," he conceded, "but a lot of information we have received has been very good."

Originally published on May 28, 2003