Laci Peterson, the beautiful 27-year-old wife of Scott Peterson, seemingly had it all: loving husband, baby on the way, a quiet suburban home, even a family dog. So when she vanished in December 2002 and her decomposed body washed ashore in the San Francisco Bay four months later, the investigation into her disappearance and murder quickly became international news. She had no enemies, and, by all outward appearances, a healthy and happy marriage. Who would kill Laci? Authorities quickly zeroed in on Scott, who had inconsistencies in his story and, as it was later revealed, a secret mistress.
In 2004, the California fertilizer salesman was convicted in the murder of both Laci and their unborn son, Conner. Today, he sits on death row in California's San Quentin State Prison, set to die by lethal injection for his crimes.
It's been 15 years since Laci and Conner were killed, and the case still remains one of the most chilling murders in modern U.S. history. On Wednesday, a two-hour Investigation Discovery special, Scott Peterson: An American Murder Mystery, will take a look at new evidence that's cropped up over the years.
Here's everything you need to know about the horrendous crime that's gripped the nation for over a decade.
On Christmas Eve 2002, Laci and Scott ate breakfast together at their Modesto home, before he left to go fishing. Laci, who was eight months pregnant, then took the family dog, McKenzie, for a walk. Later that day, a neighbor found McKenzie, still wearing a leash, wandering around outside, alone.
Scott told police he drove to his nearby warehouse, where he stored chemicals and products used in his work, to send emails and pick up his boat, which he brought to Berkeley Marina. When he came home, the house was empty. Scott called his mother-in-law, looking for his Laci. Half an hour later, Laci's stepfather called 911 to report her disappearance.
Authorities immediately pegged Scott as a suspect. They noted inconsistencies in his story, his inability to recall details, and an alarmingly calm demeanor he presented throughout the investigation. For example, on the night Laci went missing, Scott refused to take a polygraph test and, after telling police he went fishing earlier that day, was unable to recall what he was fishing for or what bait he was using. As the investigation continued, he hardly questioned police on their progress.
"His major concerns were not Laci," one detective . "His major concerns were his car door hitting his other car door in the driveway, or me taking a picture of this boat in his shop, or getting a receipt for the pink slipper and sunglasses the tracking-dog people used for Laci's scent."
Laci's family spoke publicly, many times and always in tears, in support of Scott, defending his innocence. National news networks began camping out in front of Scott's home, obsessed with the "great guy" and "perfect gentleman," as Laci's brother, Brent, described him to . And on December 31, the residents of Modesto held a public vigil for Laci and Conner. But, during the event, Scott made a phone call to his mistress, Amber Frey, a 27-year-old massage therapist and a single mother from Fresno. He told her he was ringing in the New Year in Paris with friends. She secretly recorded their conversation.
Unbeknownst to Scott, his secret lover had begun working with police the day prior to help extract useful information from her boyfriend. After seeing a newspaper article about Laci's disappearance, she called a tip line and agreed to assist with the investigation. According to , she recorded over 29 hours of phone calls with Scott. The revelation that Scott had a mistress at the time of Laci's disappearance fueled suspicions about his involvement in the murders.
In April 2003, an unrecognizable body and a fetus washed ashore in San Francisco Bay about 90 miles from the Scott's home. Once investigators positively identified the badly decomposed remains, Scott was arrested, at age 30. At the time of his arrest, he'd dyed his hair blonde and police found $15,000 in cash, 12 Viagra tablets, survival gear, and his and his brother's driver's licenses, among other items, in his Mercedes-Benz car.
On April 21, Scott was charged with two felony counts of murder with premeditation and special circumstances. He plead not guilty and, to this day, denies involvement in the disappearance of Laci and Conner.
On August 10, 2004, Amber testified that Scott lied to her about where he lived, where he traveled, and his marital status. She claimed Scott told her that he was a widow during their relationship. Three months later, in November, he was convicted of first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder of their son.
Scott now sits on death row, set to die by lethal injection, at California's San Quentin State Prison. His automatic appeal was filed in the California Supreme Court in July 2012, reports the . And as the 15th anniversary of his conviction approaches, he's still in the process of appealing his sentence.
In a phone call with his sister-in-law, Janey, this June, he maintained his innocence. It was his first public statement about the case in more than 10 years, and appeared in the A&E docuseries ."I wasn't the last one to see Laci that day. There were so many witnesses who saw her walking in the neighborhood after I left," he said, according to . "The police failed to find my family."
He then admitted he was "staggered" by the double murder verdict that landed him on death row. "I had no idea it was coming," he says. "I couldn't feel my feet on the floor, I couldn't feel the chair I was sitting in.
"My vision was even a little blurry."
Scott Peterson: An American Murder Mystery airs on Investigation Discovery on Wednesday, November 29, at 9 p.m. ET.