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What began as an innocent love story would later become one of the country’s most sensationalized murder cases, which continues to play out to this day.
The story began with a young Laci Peterson becoming enamored with a man she spotted at a café in the 1990s. Outgoing Laci — who friends say made “everybody laugh” — boldly asked a waiter at the café to pass her number to the object of her affection: her future husband, Scott Peterson.
“She wasn’t bashful,” her mother Sharon Rocha recalled on “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Wednesdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Rocha admits she too had been impressed by Scott, who once brought two bouquets of flowers to the house, one for Laci and another for her.
She called Scott “very charming, very polite” and the “perfect gentleman.”
The young couple got married and started a life together. Scott worked as a fertilizer salesman, while Laci stayed busy working as a substitute teacher. They had a small house together in Modesto, California, a dog, and by the winter of 2002, the couple was expecting their first child together, a son that they planned to name Conner.
But the couple’s story turned tragic on Christmas Eve of 2002, when Laci — who was eight months pregnant at the time — disappeared.
Scott told authorities he had planned to go golfing that day but changed his mind at the last moment and decided to go fishing instead when he realized it was too cold for a game of golf.
Scott said he drove to his warehouse office a few miles away from the couple’s home, assembled a mortiser — which he described as a “woodworking tool to make tables” — checked his email, and then took off with his new boat to the Berkeley Marina, about 90 miles away.
“I mean, a lot of — lot of the reason I went was just to get that boat in the water,” he told detectives in an interrogation room just hours after his wife disappeared.
Scott said he returned home around 4:30 p.m. and noticed the couple’s dog in the backyard with its leash still on and no sign of Laci. He found the discovery unusual, but decided to grab some pizza from the refrigerator and take a shower before searching for his wife.
He told investigators he assumed Laci was at her mother’s house, where they had planned to go for dinner later that night, but when he called Rocha around 6:15 p.m., she told Scott she hadn’t heard from her daughter all day.
“I was absolutely panicked,” Rocha recalled.
Rocha’s longtime boyfriend called 911 soon after, sparking a massive search by friends, the community, and law enforcement for the pregnant 27-year-old.
As the days went by, there was still no sign of Laci.
Modesto Police Detective Al Brocchini, a seasoned fisherman himself, had been troubled by Scott’s account of the day his wife disappeared.
To Brocchini, it didn’t make sense that Scott would have driven 90 miles to the Berkeley Marina just to get his new boat in the water, if that was his goal for the day.
“His fishing pole was like one you’d use in a stream and his lures are jigs that you’d use in a delta,” Brocchini told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.” “He didn’t even know what he was fishing for he didn’t know what bait he was using. He didn’t have any gear that was really meant for fishing in the bay.”
Although Scott had described the trip as a last-minute decision, the two-day fishing license had been purchased on Dec. 20 — days before he’d set out with the boat.
Rocha initially stood behind her son-in-law, telling “Dateline” in 2003, “People who know Scott and Laci have no doubt whatsoever that he has nothing to do with her disappearance.”
But during a vigil for her daughter, Rocha said she was troubled that Scott had been off on the phone and seemed to lack genuine concern for his missing wife and unborn child.
“I started just kind of thinking could he be involved?” she told "Dateline" correspondent Keith Morrison.
Investigators' suspicions about Scott grew when they learned he’d been hiding a secret. Scott had been dating a massage therapist, Amber Frey, since late November.
Frey believed that Scott was single and began to see him after being set up by a friend.
“We just had a really great first date, like really good,” the single mom later told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.” “I would say there was a mutual attraction.”
Frey was impressed by Scott’s romantic nature, recalling how he used to buy groceries to cook her a romantic meal, got gifts for both her and her young daughter, and was always showering her with affection.
A few weeks into their courtship, in early December, Frey said an emotional Scott called her one day and confessed that he had been married in the past, but said he had lost his wife earlier that year and it would be his first holiday season without her.
“He was crying and just, you know, like very emotional,” Frey said.
Scott told her he’d be out of town at the end of the month on a trip to Europe with some friends, but promised to call her regularly.
Frey said she started to feel that “something just wasn’t right” about her new romance and asked a friend to check into Scott. She was shocked when the friend soon returned with a news story about Scott’s missing pregnant wife.
“I just remember crying, like I don’t know for how long. I was shaking, like the adrenaline, just, I was in shock,” she said.
Frey immediately reached out to police and agreed to begin secretly recording her calls with Scott.
On New Year’s Eve, Scott called her, claiming to be in Paris near the Eiffel Tower, while in reality he had been at the vigil for his missing wife.
“The crowd is huge,” he had said during the call to cover for the background noise.
Scott finally decided to come clean about the elaborate ruse during a phone call on Jan. 6, where he confessed that he had been lying to Frey and admitted the girl he had been married to had “disappeared just before Christmas.”
“You came to me earlier in December and told me that you had lost your wife,” an incredulous Frey asked in the recording. “What was that about?”
“She — honey — she’s, uh, alive,” he replied.
“How did you lose her then before she was lost? Explain that,” Frey demands later in the call.
“There are different kinds of loss, Amber,” Scott said.
Frey eventually went public with the relationship at a press conference called by police. Scott continued to call her even after the public admission, but Frey eventually told him they would need to go their separate ways.
Detectives continued to keep a close eye on Scott as those close to him began to come forward with troubling stories, telling investigators that Scott had once said he had been hoping for infertility and seemed uncomfortable around babies. They also found cement dust in his office warehouse, suggesting he had made multiple concrete anchors in the office, but only one anchor was recovered.
On April 18, 2003 — just days after the body of a baby and the torso of an adult woman washed up along the shoreline north of Berkeley — investigators took Scott into custody after an hours-long pursuit. When they finally pulled the vehicle over, they found camping gear, four cell phones, his sister’s credit card, brother’s driver license, and large stash of cash inside the car.
Along the drive back to Modesto, authorities told Scott the bodies had been positively identified as those of his wife and unborn son Conner. If he was upset, it didn’t affect his appetite. Scott ate a double hamburger, fries, and shake later that drive.
Scott was convicted of killing his wife and unborn trial in a sensational trial in 2004 and sentenced to death.
“I remember I just burst into tears,” Rocha said of the convictions.
However, in June of 2020 the California Supreme Court overturned Scott’s death sentence and ordered a lower court to re-examine his conviction based on an accusation of juror misconduct.
He was re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in late 2021. It’s still unclear whether Scott could get a new trial.
Scott and his family continue to insist that he is innocent.
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