Catherine Crier has been covering the Peterson case since Laci Peterson disappeared from her home on December 24, 2002. Crier, a former judge and one of television's most popular legal analysts, was among the first to question the behavior of Laci's husband, Scott Peterson. And with her network of journalistic sources, Crier was soon able to penetrate the core of the police investigation that followed — gaining access to a huge and revealing body of previously unseen police reports, transcripts of recorded conversations, photographic evidence, and other exclusive materials. In her book, "A Deadly Game," Crier details what happened inside the police investigation of Scott Peterson. Here's an excerpt:
Ever since Laci Peterson disappeared on December 24, 2002, and the public became galvanized by the story, people have asked me Why? Why was there so much interest in this single murder case? Why did it sustain our attention for so long? Women — even lovely, very pregnant women — go missing all too often in this country, and many of them are murdered. In fact, statistics show that homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. And these deaths generally occur not at the hand of a stranger; they are usually the work of the person the woman loves and trusts most — the father of her child.
Often enough, I gave the pat response. It was a slow news day that Christmas Eve, when this beautiful young woman with the most engaging smile vanished from her quiet suburban neighborhood in a matter of minutes. No one saw anything untoward. She had no enemies. Most important, she apparently had the ideal marriage. Everyone described Scott and Laci Peterson as completely in love. In those first few days, no one mentioned any hints of tension or strife between them. Both sets of in-laws would contend that they were perfect together.
By all appearances, things were going well for Scott and Laci. Their finances were shaky, but that could be said of many young couples. The husband was charming, industrious, and obviously in love with his wife. The wife was a responsible, level-headed young woman, radiant in her happiness over the upcoming birth of their son.
Laci Peterson did wear expensive jewelry, even on her walks in a neighboring park. Early on, that seemed the only logical explanation for her disappearance: Someone must have kidnapped her for those gems. Or maybe, just maybe, some horrid soul had wanted the baby she was soon to deliver. After all, such hideous demons were out there, and the smallest quirk of fate could send an innocent into their terrible clutches.
As the story began to unfold, however, I had my doubts. After almost three decades studying, practicing, and reporting on the criminal justice system, I felt that something wasn’t right in those first news stories about Laci Peterson. It was reported that her husband, Scott, had been fishing in the San Francisco Bay on that fateful day. Fishing, of course, seemed like an innocent activity.
And yet it was a cold, gray Christmas Eve. Laci was about to deliver their first child. The couple was having an elaborate brunch for their in-laws the next day. There was shopping and cooking to be done, presents yet to buy.
Why would Scott Peterson be fishing?
As I followed each new development and watched Scott’s first fleeting appearances before the press, I noticed that he seemed rather removed from the tragedy unfolding around him. His emotional affect was flat. He did not jump onto the airwaves with pleas for the release or recovery of his beloved wife. His behavior was discordant and disturbing.
Nevertheless, in those first days there were plenty of pundits who scrambled to explain away Scott Peterson’s behavior. Eminent defense attorneys stepped forward to proclaim that everyone grieves differently and that Scott’s behavior displayed no evidence of a guilty mind. I disagreed. The more I looked into the story, the more fascinated I became with Scott’s personality. Before long, I began to raise questions on the air about whether he was showing signs of a behavior disorder. Scott seemed to display many of the textbook qualities of a sociopath. He seemed relatively intelligent, was charming and gregarious, and claimed to be devastated by Laci’s disappearance — yet beneath the superficial reactions, I sensed something else. Scott Peterson showed no normal signs or expressions of grief. He seemed to have no emotional insight into the extent of the tragedy unfolding around him. To put it plainly, he seemed insincere.
As the story developed, more and more evidence emerged to support this analysis. The inconsistencies in Scott’s story failed to resolve themselves. There was little sign that he was leading, or even involved in, the search for Laci. Then came the explosive news about Scott’s girlfriend, Amber Frey, whom he had hidden from Laci and her family. Scott’s life, it appeared, had been entwined in a knot of outrageous lies, and now the lies were unraveling. His abnormal calm in the face of both families’ unbearable sorrow, his self-serving, narcissistic manner, and his failure to lead the search all supported my initial hunch that this man, Scott Peterson, was a sociopath.
In fact, the character he immediately brought to mind was Ted Bundy, the charming serial killer who murdered at least sixteen women in the 1970s. Of course, Scott hadn’t roamed the country killing strangers the way Bundy did. Yet the defining element of a sociopath is not his record of violence; it is his character — that mix of charm and cold, emotionless calculation that I saw in both men. Sociopathic behavior can be found anywhere in our society; some of the most successful CEOs in our country could be classified as having sociopathic tendencies.
It’s when such people turn violent that even the most insightful among us can be caught by surprise.
Such was the case, I believe, with Scott Peterson. And my conviction was only bolstered by the unparalleled access I have had to the inner workings of this investigation and trial. Many participants have given me in-depth interviews, often sharing with me stories that never made the news or reached the jury. My associate, Cole Thompson, and I have also had access to previously unseen police and Justice Department records, photographs, audiotapes, and forensic reports, all of which have contributed to the detailed account that follows in these pages.
But the most important purpose of this book is not merely to chronicle the events that this unforgettable case comprises. It is to take an intimate look at the character and psychology of a man convicted of the most heinous of crimes — the murders of his wife and his unborn son.
The question Did he do it? has now been answered by the people.
But that other question — why? — haunts us still.
His look was California chic — jeans, a dark T-shirt, dress shoes. He turned to go, then paused. Removing his wedding ring, he slid the band into his pocket. Now he was ready. Roses were his calling card; it was amazing how quickly young women fell for an armful. Janet Ilse was no different. An attractive sophomore at California Polytechnic Institute, she was taken by his dark good looks and soft, husky voice from the moment they first chatted on campus. When he arrived on her doorstep for their date, carrying twelve separate bouquets of a dozen roses apiece, she nearly melted.
Despite the six-year difference in their ages, and the fact that he was soon to graduate from Cal Poly, Janet was charmed by this courteous, self-assured young man. His sheepish grin was complemented by just enough of a swagger to set her pulse racing as he helped her into his black and gray Ford pickup for a night of eating and drinking in the lively college town of San Luis Obispo.
Aside from a few casual flirtations in class, Janet knew little about Scott Peterson before their first date. He was a senior agriculture student who shared a house with three male roommates somewhere off campus. During that first dinner, he described his love of fishing and hunting, but he revealed almost nothing of a personal nature. Instead he focused intently on everything the twenty-year-old had to say. She was flattered by how swiftly he made her the center of his attention, and apparently his admiration as well. As the expensive meal ended, he leaned back and lit up a cigar. He spoke of his future in terms of money and prestige, with the confidence of someone certain of his own success.
Their relationship flowered quickly. Scott was especially generous, thoughtfully planning each of their dates, taking her to nice restaurants and lavishing her with intimate presents — a delicate necklace with sparkly green gemstones, a fancy black designer dress. Janet was a vegetarian, and they hadn’t been dating long when Scott announced that he had stopped eating meat. She was surprised and flattered. Scott Peterson seemed almost too good to be true.
As Scott began talking of their future together, Janet found herself falling in love. Yet every now and then something happened that didn’t seem quite right. On one of their dates to a California rodeo, for instance, Janet giggled about the youngsters running around the fairground. Scott turned to her and announced emphatically that he did not want kids. They would simply get in the way of his intended lifestyle.
While she was smitten with Scott, Janet was uneasy about his quick intimacy. It wasn’t long before he suggested they take an extended vacation to Mexico. To her, it all seemed too much, too soon. Yet Scott was polite and gracious, not only to her but also to her housemates, Tracy and Wendy; he often showed up at their apartment with small gifts and groceries, saying that he loved helping the cash-strapped college students.
Scott had just moved into a house with three others, Rob, Nando, and Juan, after responding to an ad on the Poly Union billboard.
The four young men began as strangers but quickly became more like frat brothers, throwing barbecues and parties at their place. Janet enjoyed spending time there and her roommate Tracy often came along. For a while, Tracy was seeing one of Scott’s roommates, and the two couples double-dated. On one occasion, both women stayed overnight at Scott’s house.
Over the months, Janet and Scott’s relationship grew stronger. Scott often brought his dog, McKenzie, along on their dates. The frisky golden retriever was just a puppy. As he parked himself happily on the rug in Janet’s living room on Walnut Street, the couple talked about moving in together. They were acting more and more like a family.
Janet found it both exhilarating and scary to have someone so interested in her every thought and feeling. Scott expressed a desire to meet her relatives, but he rarely talked about his own, and he never asked her to meet his parents. Janet knew that Scott’s dad lived in San Diego, but that was about all. She was reluctant to introduce him to her folks, especially her father. She feared that her dad would view Scott as slick or conceited. She found him a little cocky on occasion, and she knew some people might think he was nothing more than a smooth operator. Nevertheless, she was crazy about him, and their relationship continued to grow.
The couple had been dating for nearly five months when Janet decided to surprise Scott with a late-night romantic encounter at his place. It was after midnight when one of his roommates let her into the house. She quietly opened his bedroom door, held her breath, and tiptoed into the room.
Janet Ilse was stunned, dumbfounded, at what she saw. There on the bed, a dark-haired woman lay curled up next to Scott. Even more disturbing was Scott’s reaction. When he saw her, he did not move. He did not jump up, or cry out, or beg her forgiveness. He just lay there coolly and stared as she lashed out at the two of them. Only later would she realize that the man she was berating was someone else entirely — someone with a life in which she played no part.
“I’m sorry,” was all Scott would say as his roommate burst in and pulled Janet away from the bed. Dazed, she allowed herself to be led outside and into a car. As they drove on the quiet streets back to her apartment, she found her voice again.
“I can’t believe he cheated on me,” Janet shouted.
“He’s not cheating on you with her; he’s cheating on her with you,” the young man explained. “He’s married.”
“What?” Janet was flabbergasted.
It was true. When he moved in, the roommate explained, even his housemates had no idea that Scott was married. Not until a woman phoned the house identifying herself as Scott’s wife did they realize the truth.
Janet did not hear from Scott for a week. Then, one afternoon, an apologetic Scott Peterson showed up on her doorstep.
“I’m sorry you found me in bed with Laci,” was all he could say.
Janet made it clear that she did not want to hear from Scott again. The relationship was over. Scott and Laci Peterson were newlyweds when he began his affair with Janet Ilse. It was just one link in an increasingly serious chain of dishonesty that marked Scott Peterson’s life in the time before his wife’s murder. His web of deceit would eventually trap everyone he knew, from virtual strangers to his closest family members. And over time, his deceptions would become far more sinister.
Excerptedfrom “A Deadly Game:The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation” byCatherine Crier. Copyright © 2005 by Catherine Crier. Published by Regan Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.
© 2005 MSNBC Interactive