Bodies of Fetus, Woman Found by SF Bay; Cops Investigate Laci Peterson Connection
Modesto, Calif., police investigating the disappearance of Laci Peterson were summoned to the East Bay on Monday after the badly decomposed body of a woman washed ashore in Richmond a day after the discovery of a male fetus a mile away.
Authorities began an autopsy Monday night but were unable to immediately determine whether the woman's body is that of the 27-year-old pregnant Modesto woman, who was reported missing by her husband on Christmas Eve. Scott Peterson, a 30-year-old fertilizer salesman, has told police that he last saw Laci when he left for the Berkeley Marina for a day fishing trip.
"There's still a lot of unknowns here," Contra Costa sheriff and coroner's spokesman Jimmy Lee said Monday night when the coroner's office closed for the day after conducting autopsies on both bodies. Without explaining, Lee said it most likely would take several days to identify the bodies.
The deteriorating body of the fetus was discovered at 4 p.m. Sunday by a dog walker on the Richmond shoreline. At 11:45 a.m. Monday, another dog walker found a decomposed body on the rocky shore of the Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, a popular park in Richmond for walking dogs. The bodies were discovered about a mile apart at opposite ends of an inlet along the Richmond shoreline.
East Bay Regional Park District Police Chief Norman Lapera said it was apparent that the woman's body had been in the water for some time.
FETUS REVEALED TO BE BOY
An autopsy on the fetus Monday revealed that it was a boy at full term or near full term. The coroner did not determine the cause of death, and the body was too decomposed to determine the fetus' race or to tell how long it had been in the water, authorities said.
Authorities revealed little after the autopsy on the woman later in the day.
A police source told The Chronicle that the woman was wearing a nursing bra, a fuller-fitting bra preferred by some pregnant women. Authorities would not confirm a report that the woman's body had been found clad in maternity wear and that the head and legs were missing.
Authorities said they did not yet have enough information to say whether there was a link between the two bodies.
"It could be a coincidence," Richmond police spokesman Enos Johnson said, adding that the close proximity, the time and the fact that both bodies were decomposed and found in the water suggest there could be a link.
Johnson said it was likely that recent storms had caused the bodies to wash ashore.
Meanwhile, Modesto police stressed that they still had no suspects in the case.
"We have no indication that this is related to the Laci Peterson case," detective Doug Ridenour, Modesto Police Department spokesman, said in a statement.
The area where the two bodies were found is about 2 miles north of the Berkeley Marina, the area Scott Peterson says he spent the day of Dec. 24 fishing and an area that has been repeatedly searched by police and divers.
Almost from the very start, Modesto police questioned Peterson's truthfulness. They have not called him a suspect, but they have asked the public for help in confirming Peterson's account that he spent the day fishing off the Berkeley Marina. They also repeatedly searched the waters off the marina and spent three days looking in the waters around Point Richmond.
A FAMILY'S ANGUISH
Ron Grantski, Laci Peterson's stepfather, told The Chronicle from his Modesto home that the family was going through a full range of emotions as they awaited official identification of the bodies.
"It's hard to explain," Grantski said. "You want it to be, you don't want it to be. We gotta have closure, but this isn't the closure we want."
At the home of Laci and Scott Peterson, a "Missing" sign offering a $500, 000 reward stood in the yard. Candles were lit, surrounded by stuffed animals. Neighbors said they hadn't seen Scott Peterson for weeks.
Laci Peterson, whose case has drawn national interest, was eight months pregnant at the time she went missing. Scott and Laci Peterson's son, already named Conner, was due Feb. 10.
Authorities were being cautious until the Contra Costa coroner's office completes its autopsy of the woman's body in the presence of Modesto investigators, who were flown by helicopter to the site Monday afternoon.
Police continued searching the shoreline around where the bodies were found for more clues.
Modesto police, using high-tech sonar devices, had searched the waters off the East Bay shoreline from Berkeley to Point Richmond as recently as March. Investigators treated the case as one of a missing person until last month, when they reclassified it as a homicide.
Scott Peterson has come under increasing public scrutiny since the revelation in January that he had been having an affair, prior to Laci Peterson's disappearance, with a Fresno woman who worked as a massage therapist.
Scott Peterson has told police he launched his aluminum boat from the Berkeley Marina for a solo fishing trip on Dec. 24. He said when he returned home, his wife was gone.