Skip to main content

What happened to Laci Peterson?

Scott and Laci Peterson on their wedding day
Image: Scott and Laci Peterson on their wedding day | The Murder of Laci Peterson

The Murder of Laci Peterson presents the shocking facts of this story, and profiles the key players, including her husband Scott and his mistress. Available to watch now on Crime + Investigation Play.

The case was practically made for media attention - and it certainly attracted a lot of it. 27-year-old Laci Peterson and her husband Scott were a young, attractive, seemingly happy couple who were expecting the arrival of their first baby, a boy they had named Conner.

Then, on Christmas Eve 2002, Laci went missing in the San Francisco Bay Area when she was eight months pregnant.

Scott, a 30-year-old fertiliser salesman, quickly became the prime suspect. His demeanour in the days after her disappearance raised suspicion. Then, a month after his wife disappeared, his mistress came forward.

He was arrested in 2003 and found guilty of murder in 2004. He was sentenced to death, but that death sentence was overturned in 2020.

In the years since, Scott has continued to maintain his innocence and the case is one that still draws attention and questions.

What happened to Laci Peterson and what led to Scott’s conviction?

Scott Peterson said he hadn’t been with his wife of five years the day she went missing. He had planned to spend the day playing golf but decided it was too cold and went fishing at Berkeley Marina instead. He said that he had last seen her at 9:30 that morning when she was going to walk their dog, McKenzie.

When he returned home later that day, their dog was in the back garden. A neighbour had found McKenzie wandering around covered in mud and with her lead still on, but Laci wasn’t there. Scott called Laci’s mother to see if she was there. He told her she was missing, a word he used only an hour after he arrived home to find she wasn’t there. Laci’s stepfather called the police.

As Laci’s husband, Scott became a person of interest early in the case and his behaviour only added to that. He refused to take a polygraph test and police reported he seemed uninterested in the investigation. A day after she was reported missing, he asked police if they were planning to use cadaver dogs. Then there was the fact that he couldn’t remember basic details from the morning his wife went missing, like the kind of bait he used when fishing.

He also didn’t publicly act in the role of a grieving husband. While Laci’s family spoke about the case and their grief to the media, Scott declined. He refused to speak at a candlelight vigil held for Laci but was seen smiling and laughing with people there.

He also called his mistress. He didn’t realise that not only did the police know about her, but she was working with them to try and extract information from him.

27-year-old Amber Frey had met Scott in November 2002 and he told her that he was single. He told her about Laci the following month, but claimed she had died and that he was a widower facing his first Christmas alone.

When Amber saw the reports of Laci’s disappearance, in which Scott was named and pictured, she was shocked and horrified. On 30th December, Amber contacted the police tip line and let them know about the relationship she had been having with Scott Peterson.

She quickly started working with the police, allowing them to record her calls with Scott, who was still lying to her about Laci and her disappearance. When he called her from the candlelight vigil, he said he was in Paris for work, ‘near the Eiffel Tower’.

By mid-January, the public tide was turning against Scott. First, Amber Frey went public with news of their relationship, after tabloids obtained a picture of the two of them together. Then Scott did an interview with Diane Sawyer, in which he alleged that Laci knew about his affair with Amber, despite the fact he hadn’t revealed it to police. He also referred to Laci in the past tense. Laci’s family, who had previously been supportive of Scott, began to turn against him, too. That same month, they gave a press conference demanding he tell the police everything he knew.

All the time Laci was still missing. Divers searched the area where Scott had gone fishing, but nothing was found, although tracker dogs picked up her scent at the marina. In March of that year, police officially reclassified the case as a murder investigation.

It wasn’t until April 2003 that Scott was arrested. On 13th April, the body of a male foetus was found on the Richmond shoreline in the San Francisco Bay area, north of Berkeley. The following day, the remains of a woman’s body were found a mile away by a dog walker. Scott was arrested on 18th April.

He was in San Diego, playing golf. Detectives on the case were reportedly concerned he was going to attempt to cross the border into Mexico. He had died his hair blond and had grown a goatee. When they searched his car, they found around $15,000 in cash, camping supplies, a rope, knives, his brother’s ID and four cell phones.

Prosecutors alleged that Scott killed Laci on the evening of 23rd December then took her body out on his boat and dumped it into the water, weighing it down with concrete anchors. Strands of Laci’s hair were found on a pair of pliers on a boat he had only bought weeks before while using his mother’s name and paying in cash.

There was further evidence of a clean-up at the Peterson’s house, including dirty rags, a mop and a bucket, despite the fact the Petersons' maid reported mopping the floor on the afternoon of the 23rd.

Scott’s supporters argued the evidence against him is weak. But it was enough to lead to a conviction and in 2004, he was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Laci Peterson and the second-degree murder of their child, Conner.

He has been in prison ever since.