Market Umbrellas


Collected on: December 27, 2002

Collected by:  Detective Rudy Skultety, Crime Scene Manager

Reason:  Moved from the pickup truck to the backyard

Received by:  Not sent in for testing


Initial Suspicion


Scott said he loaded the market umbrellas into his pickup the morning of the 24th in order to take them to the warehouse for storage but forgot to take them out. 

Mark Geragos: Okay. And he also told you, you also asked him why he put the umbrellas in the back of his truck, right?

Craig Grogan: That’s correct.

Mark Geragos: And he told you that he had wrapped them in a tarp to take them to the shop and that he had forget to take them out on two occasions, right?

Craig Grogan: Yes.

Consequently, they were still in the pickup the night of the 24th, wrapped in the blue tarp.  Sometime between then and the execution of the search warrant on the 26th, he moved the umbrellas to the back yard, where they were found folded up and standing against the fence  (Peoples 1-G).  People's 1-O shows the umbrellas opened for examination on the 27th.


Brocchini questioned why Scott planned to take the market umbrellas to the warehouse for storage but not their stands, and why he failed to leave them at the warehouse when he made a subsequent trip on December 26.  "If he had planned on placing the umbrellas in his workshop on 12/24/02, why did he change his mind on 12/26/02?" (Crier, A Deadly Game, p. 92).




The testimony


Grogan concluded that Scott used the market umbrellas as a cover in case someone saw him loading Laci's body into the truck.

Craig Grogan: The fact that there were umbrellas in the back of his truck wrapped in the tarp, wrapped in a tarp. That those umbrellas are approximately the same height as Laci Peterson.

Birgit Fladager: What conclusion did you draw from that? Why was that significant?

Craig Grogan: Why was that significant? Well, it would enable him to explain anyone seeing him load something in his truck.

Scott Peterson gave a different explanation:

Mark Geragos: Okay. And he also told you, you also asked him why he put the umbrellas in the back of his truck, right?

Craig Grogan: That’s correct.

Mark Geragos: And he told you that he had wrapped them in a tarp to take them to the shop and that he had forget to take them out on two occasions, right?

Craig Grogan: Yes.

Rick Distaso said, in his Closing Argument, that Scott put the umbrellas on top of Laci.

He carries Laci out, he puts her in the back of the truck. Remember what he said he did that morning? He said he loaded a bunch of patio umbrellas into his car to take to the warehouse, which, of course, he never took to the warehouse that day because they were still in his car that night. He said he was doing that, Well, I'm doing it because of the rain. Of course, the patio umbrellas, here they are, and you can see how big they are, those full-size patio umbrellas, everybody's seen them. He says he took the patio umbrellas, they're folded up. He said he was going to take them to the warehouse and, because it was starting to rain. That's what he told the detectives. The real reason why he said that was because he wanted to have a reason why they were still in his truck all day. He loads Laci into his truck. He puts these patio umbrellas on top of her.  She's got the tarp on her.

The weight of the umbrellas

The umbrellas, which according to prosecution played such an important role in hiding Laci’s body, were never measured or weighed:

Rick Distaso: Those patio type umbrellas, they were leaning against the fence like that when you saw them?

Adam McGill: Yes.

Rick Distaso: Do you know how big those were, tall?

Adam McGill: I didn't handle them, and,

Rick Distaso: Did you measure them?

Adam McGill: No, I don't recall.

However, based on Distaso’s description of  them as  “three large patio umbrellas; the kind people have you put them in your backyard. Sometimes you have seen these at farmers markets, big canvas kind of patio umbrellas.” in his opening statement to: full-size patio umbrellas” in his closing, we can conclude that they were the largest commercially available - those of 11’ diameter.

As you will see by following this link and then clicking on the “Height & Weight Chart”, on average an 11’ diameter umbrella, minus the stand, ranges in weight from 26lbs to 36lbs. For the sake of argument, we can take a middle figure of 31lbs as their weight. Three umbrellas, in total weighing approximately 93lbs.

Prosecution were, therefore, stating that Scott Peterson placed just under 100 lbs of weight on top of Laci’s dead body, and this weight remained on her for a couple of hours over a long drive.  Each time Scott hit a bump in the road, the umbrellas would come down with renewed force on the body.  It is difficult to believe that this sort of pressure put upon a pregnant corpse with no muscular resistance, would not:

a) rupture Laci’s amniotic membrane causing her to lose amniotic fluid (an amount totally one quart at her term of pregnancy) or

b) force out bodily secretions from any of her orifices. Blood, bodily fluids or sputum from mouth, nose and ears, stools and urine. 

If she was wrapped in that blue tarp, as Distaso argued that she was, certainly the weight of the umbrellas would have caused bodily fluids to stain it. 

In addition, even with Laci’s body was wrapped in a tarp, with the above occurring, her remains would have left a strong scent for the both the trailing and cadaver dogs, as well as ample trace evidence for those criminalists working at the Department of Justice (DOJ), in Ripon.

According to the Canine Specialist Search Team (CSST) California, in tests conducted in 1997, cadaver dogs could pick up a scent from a body which had been dead for just 1 hour and 25 minutes. Dogs were found to be most consistent after a post-mortem interval of 2.5 – 3 hours (when autolysis advances). The tests were conducted not by using blood or bodily fluids which contain strong cadaver scent, but with gauze pads merely wiped over the cadaver’s dry skin. Neither were these dogs asked to retrieve a dead body, only to indicate residual scent left from one – exactly as the cadaver dogs in the Peterson case were asked to do.

Rick Distaso for the Prosecution, asserted that Laci was murdered after 8.30 pm “the night of December 23rd, or in the morning while she was getting dressed on the 24th”. 

We know the following facts:

Taking the above into account and continuing with the prosecution theory, we can presume that by the time Scott allegedly put the umbrellas on top of her, Laci had been dead up to twelve hours; by the time of her alleged disposal off the boat, she had been dead up to 16.5 hrs.

Given this length of time, and keeping in mind how short a time a body needs to be dead before being able to be detected by dogs, it is startling that no cadaver scent was found -  not in the Covena home, the truck, nor on the tarp or boat cover (both of which were found in the truck bed), nor on the tool box, the boat or the warehouse.

Despite extensive tests, neither were the criminalists at the Department of Justice Crime lab able to find traces of bodily fluids in any of those places.  Even if the gasoline and fertilizer smells blurred the cadaver scent on the tarp and boat cover, trace evidence would have survived, and Pin Kyo never even hinted that the absence of trace evidence on the tarp and boat cover was explained by the gasoline and fertilizer.

The test results


The umbrellas were not part of the litany of items tested by Kyo, but a list of items submitted to Kyo's lab on February 28 included a hair fiber from an umbrella.  Kyo said these items were not tested.




Brocchini, Grogan and Distaso failed to ask this simple question:  If Scott was going to use taking the umbrellas to the warehouse as a cover for being seen loading something into the pickup, why didn't he carry through with the execution of the plan and actually leave the umbrellas at the warehouse?  Especially since, according to Distaso's explanation, the umbrellas were on top of Laci, and so he had to remove them from the pickup in order to get Laci out.  Why would he then put them back into the truck?   


His failure to leave the umbrellas at the warehouse points more to embarrassing absent-mindedness than to a sinister plot to conceal the loading of a dead body into the pickup.  Especially since no trace evidence was discovered to confirm that her dead body was ever in that pickup or the boat or wrapped in that tarp.