It was Tuesday, January 14, 2003. It was three weeks to the day since my pregnant sister-in-law, Laci Peterson, had gone missing. This was my second trip from San Diego to Modesto in those three weeks. Laci and I were married to half-brothers; her husband, Scott, and my husband, Joe, shared the same father. Members of our family had been traveling back and forth from San Diego to help in the search, but at the moment, I was the only out-of-town family member in Modesto. That night, Scott and I had dinner with Laci’s mom and stepdad, Sharon and Ron, at their home.
After dinner, Scott and I went to his home. The kitchen was tidy, and the counter was clear except for a photograph. I picked it up and saw the most precious image of Scott and Laci. They were sitting on their couch, and his hand was on her stomach, feeling for a kick from their unborn son. She held his hand in just the right spot as the two of them laughed.
The click of a camera captured the moment. One that words cannot describe. Their son, Conner, was due to arrive in about two months, and they were ready. The nursery was painted blue, the crib was assembled, and the nautical theme was well underway. In the days following the taking of this photo, the finishing touches would be added. A small stuffed otter and a boat bag (to serve as a diaper bag) would be bought on their annual mid-December trip to Carmel. A trip to Home Depot would yield the perfect shelves to display the nautical-themed treasures, including a wooden boat that was handmade by Pappy—what the grandkids call Scott’s dad.
Laci’s disappearance immediately became a national news story, and there were not enough pictures to feed the interest. Countless photos had been handed over to news agencies—anything to keep her picture out there. It was never enough for the media; they always wanted something new, something no one had ever seen.
This photo had just been “developed.” Back in 2002, after you took a photo, you would take the film to the store and have the pictures developed. It was very common to get “double prints,” which means you would get two printed copies of each photo. It was commonplace to give the second copy away. That’s what happened here. Someone had just developed some pictures they had taken about a month before, right before Laci went missing, and they gave the duplicate print to my brother-in-law. The photo was priceless; it was like a secret. A glimpse into a beautiful private moment. I was glad Scott had a picture of himself and Laci that the media did not have.
In the three weeks since Laci had been missing, there were reports that she was seen walking their dog McKenzi in the neighborhood after Scott had left for the day. However, the police repeatedly told our family and the public that they could not confirm she was walking her dog. The biggest lead came in when it was found out that the house directly across the street was burglarized around the time she went missing, However, the police said their investigation determined the burglary occurred two days after Laci went missing, and it was unrelated to her disappearance.
The story remained in the headlines, and a couple of months later, my brother-in-law was arrested for the murder of Laci and his unborn son, Conner. Whether I passed people on a park bench reading the newspaper or was in the check-out line at the grocery store, I was likely to see a photo of Scott or Laci in the headlines. As Scott’s trial began, my brother-in-law’s guilt was presumed to be a foregone conclusion, and we were in a constant battle to correct misinformation perpetuated both in court and in the media.
During Scott’s trial in 2004, there was testimony insinuating that Scott didn’t want a child, a possible motive for murdering his wife. I’m not sure when, but at some point, during the trial I thought back to that treasured photo. Where was it? All we need to do is enter it into evidence to dispel this myth. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Ironically, this false narrative would grow over the years to include the very specific notion that Scott would not touch Laci’s stomach.
I had only seen the photo that one day, so during a visit with Scott in the jail adjoining the courthouse, I asked if he knew where it was. He did not. At this point, he’d been in jail for over a year. I mentioned it to his attorneys and asked them a few times over the coming months to be on the lookout for the photo. I thought maybe the police had captured a photograph of it sitting on the kitchen counter during the February 18, 2003 search of the house, or maybe the police had collected it during that search. Nothing was ever found.
My brother-in-law and I were the only two people in our family who had seen the photo. I had no memory of him telling me who took this candid photo, and at this point, he couldn’t remember who had taken it. We presumed that whoever the photographer was, they likely now believed Scott to be guilty, along with the rest of the world. Over 99% of those polled in an online survey said they believed Scott to be guilty. Our public support for Scott’s innocence made us very unpopular, so I had no standing or evidence to talk about the photo publicly, so I didn’t. In the coming years, the drumbeat of injustice beat loudly in the background of life, and we fought for Scott’s freedom in any way we could think of. An occasional search for this missing photo was part of it.
The trial ended in 2004 with Scott being convicted and sentenced to death. Right after Scott was convicted, he was transferred to death row at San Quentin State Prison. All the items that were in his county jail cell could not go with him and were sent to his parents. This included the laptop Scott had been allowed to have in his cell to access case files. This laptop contained over 43,000 pages of police files as well as most of the evidence photos. This is the kind of information that families can rarely get their hands on, and it became the basis for our family to research Scott’s wrongful conviction and follow up on leads that the police ignored.
It was and still is an overwhelming amount of information to comb through. Before posting anything about the case, we search these 43,000 pages of police files along with thousands of pages of trial transcripts to make sure we are being accurate. It certainly wasn’t a priority, but we eventually looked to see if the police files could yield the proof we needed to verify the existence of the missing photo. At first glance, there was no evidence of the missing photo. It wasn’t photographed during the search warrant nor captured on the kitchen counter during the search warrant video. Additionally, during that second search warrant, the police collected all the photos in the home. Our family was eventually given a CD copy of these photos, but the missing photo was not among them.
In our search of police files, we did find a police report that Scott touched Laci’s stomach, but we still had no proof the photo existed. The report we found was written within one week of Laci’s disappearance. The report says that Laci’s mom, Sharon, told police that “Scott appeared to be excited about the baby. Sharon described an incident where Laci had yelled at him to come feel the baby moving her stomach and he went over to her appearing excited to feel the child.” It was proof that Scott touched Laci’s stomach, but still no proof of the photo.
When Kim answered, I told her who I was and that we had met while Laci was missing. She remembered me. The first thing she did was profusely apologize for her behavior all those years ago. She then told me that she no longer had any of the photos, and to the best of her recollection, she had returned everything she could find. She remembered that she had discarded some items, which were never recovered. I believed her. I thanked her for her time, and that ended the search for the time being.
Then, in early 2020, while again combing through police reports on another unrelated topic, I stumbled on a police report that described one of the photos that Kim had stolen from the home—a photo where “Scott had his hand on Laci’s stomach.” I couldn’t believe it. There was proof the photo existed. Clearly, I had reviewed the 50 pages of reports on this burglary too quickly in previous years.
We intended to post the rendering as a sweet remembrance of Laci. She was my sister-in-law, pregnant with my nephew, Conner. We loved her, and we miss her. While we certainly planned on telling the story of this photo and authenticating it with a police report, we did not plan on going into this much depth. However, based on the number of comments we had to delete, there is a tight grip on this falsity that Scott would not touch Laci's stomach.
I repeatedly state that Scott is innocent, so I’m used to being called a liar (or worse). I also understand that, as Scott’s family, we will always have to offer proof for what we say. So, I now offer these 2,600 words to explain a photograph that was supposed to speak for itself about Scott touching Laci's stomach. That’s okay. We’ve spent countless hours refuting false information in this case and will never stop doing so, and this lost picture is worth it. This lost picture is priceless.
Some people who think the rendering is a lie probably will not read this, or if they do, they will still think there is some sort of deception at play. Unfortunately, those same people who accuse us of lying about everything from a photograph to Scott’s innocence seek no explanation for how Scott could have carried out this crime. They are content with what the prosecutor said in his closing argument, “I can’t tell you when he did it. I can’t tell you if he did it at night. I can’t tell you if he did it in the morning. I’m not going to try to convince you of something that I can’t prove. I don’t have to prove that to you.”
Those five sentences get no pushback from these critics—ever. I waited 20 years to talk of this photo until I could prove it existed with a police report, and still people are skeptical. Is this double standard acceptable? Those who put Scott on death row admit to being unable to provide one shred of evidence as to how, when, or where Scott commited this crime. Should that be okay? Or do Laci, Conner, and Scott deserve better?