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Inside Dateline: Boating accident, or foul play?

How did two young attorneys disappear on a lake? Viewers send in their theories after Friday's show.

October 11, 2006 |

Was foul play behind a boating accident?

NBC News' Chris Hansen traveled to Michigan to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two young attorneys on Lake Huron while on a boat trip August 2005. The body of Lana Stempien, a former model, was recovered, but her boyfriend, Chuck Rutherford, is still missing. The case was officially ruled an accident, but with questions and suspicious clues mounting, many people are wondering if it could have been something else.

, which aired Friday, Jan 13, 9 p.m. ET and Wednesday, Oct. 11, Hansen uncovers new clues as he explores the many unanswered questions that suggest foul play may be involved. He interviews the last known people to see the couple alive, investigators, and the anguished family of Lana Stempien, who is convinced she did not enter the water voluntarily.

What did you think of the report? E-mail

Viewer theories

A lot of people wrote in their own theories on what happened on that lake. Below is a selection:

I have no information about your daughter. I just wanted to write because I just watched Dateline and I really feel you are so right to keep looking for answers.  My heart goes out to you as I have lost my only brother. Not foul play, but it is still a loss. I can't imagine how I would be handle it if I did not know how he died. I pray that both families find the answer. One other thing. --Beth Erickson, Pinellas Park, Fla.

I was just wondering if anyone had looked into the satellite images of that day, in that area? could help if maybe another boat was in the area. --Lory, Calif.

This is so sad. Has anyone done fingerprints on the vodka bottle? What I'm really writing about is that the Great Lakes have multiple mysteries and one of them is that bodies of people that perish in one lake end up in another. Some people who have drowned in Lk Superior never have been found or have turned up in Houghton Lake via the underground water system. --Jackie,
Walker, Mich.

Most likely accidental. CO poisoning is insidious. Has happened on Lake Powell with fatal results. In a 20 mph wind, boat running off plane, downwind, [about 15 mph] a plume of CO will envelope cockpit. I am a boater for 62 years and have also sufferred from an almost fatal CO incident. --Richard Main, J.D., Ventura, Calif.

I'm a watcher of the program Court TV. On a lot of the shows, they have a physic helping many police departments with unsolved cases. I thought maybe you could and should look in to that . Just A thought. May God bless you. --Sandy Carrabine, Columbus, Ohio

Need to investigate the possibility of lethal doses of carbon monoxide not only at the boat's exhaust but also on the rear deck. Test's done by federal agencies have shown that under the right conditions lethal doses of carbon monoxide have killed hundreds of people both in the water and on the deck of various vessels. Maybe Lana didn't intend to go in the water that's why her jewelry was still on her. Maybe they both were still on the boat when they were overcome by the carbon monoxide. --Brian Heath, Hodgenville, Ky.

Theory: Perhaps Chuck was drunk, fell over board, Lana ran to his aide, only wearing a T-shirt and shoes, hastily stripped down, to jump in and rescue him. In the process she steps on the dial and tears her shoe taking it off or the tear was already there. Chuck obviously had a drinking problem, and there was an empty bottle of vodka. While trying to get him up to or on the dive platform she inhales the exhaust fumes, having in her haste to rescue him neglected to lower the dive ladder, leaving her struggling at the back of the boat. --Paul Gray, Belmont, Ma.


Your reactions to the Sharon Rocha interview

I admire Sharon Rocha for how she has handled the murder of her daughter. Always graceful, sound and grounded although thorough devastated by the loss and how it happened. I agree, a big message needs to be repeated over and over, when someone wants "out" of marriage, family, commitment - walk away, just go.  It'll work itself out and in time everyone involved will accept it and go on. Instead of destroying lives, so many people surrounding the victim or the perpetrator - just go, walk away. --Yolanda Gardner

Scott may have killed Laci, but the fact that he was not having a public meltdown like Sharon proves nothing. Different personalities, different reactions to the same event, do not mean Scott's a killer. --Karen M. Campbell, Sacramento, Calif.

There is nothing like a mother's intuition and the fact that Scott was emotionless during the whole investigation. If its any comfort to Sharon, Laci and Connor are up in heaven together rejoicing and have never heard of a Scott Peterson. I admire Sharon for  her strength and my advice is to hold on to the memories of her beautiful daughter especially during the hard times... Sharon, you are a wonderful lady and mothe. ..God bless you and your family.  
--Raelynn G.

I really looked forward to your interview with Sharon Rocha. Her grief was felt by the entire nation. I followed this story from day one and still find myself going on the official Website. Sharon's strength is admired by so many people and my heart still aches for Laci and Conner. I give her credit for finally coming out and speaking to the media. --Anne Marie S.,
Greenwich, Conn.

E-mail to send your opinion.


A mother’s trial (Tim Uehlinger, Senior National producer Dateline NBC)

The wind was all that Sharon Rocha could hear, and the water was all she could see. But standing by the San Francisco bay one day in March 2003, Laci Peterson’s mother says she felt a presence. She knew Laci and Conner were out there, somewhere.

It was a month before Laci and Conner’s bodies washed ashore. There, Sharon says, after months of anguish, she had a rare comforting moment.

On Sunday’s Dateline, Jan. 8, for the first time since Scott Peterson was sentenced to death, Sharon Rocha speaks out in a Katie Couric exclusive.

In her new book, “For Laci,” she details how the love of family, friends, and community helped her survive her ordeal. She writes about how much was lost when her daughter was taken. “You wake up from most nightmares and they’re over,”  she writes.  “Mine was different.”

Sharon Rocha’s nightmare began on Christmas 2002 and it hasn’t ended. That night, her 27-year-old daughter Laci Peterson, eight months pregnant, was reported missing by Scott Peterson, Laci’s husband.

REDWOOD CITY, CA - JUNE 8: Ron Grantski (L) and Sharon Rocha (R), the step-father and mother of Laci Peterson, arrive at the San Mateo County Court House for the double murder trial of Scott Peterson June 8, 2004 in Redwood City, California. Peterson is facing double murder charges for the murders of his wife Laci and their unborn son Conner. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ron Grantski;Sharon RochaDavid Paul Morris / Getty Images North America

Family, friends, and the Modesto California police began a weeks-long search in the glare of national publicity. Police had early and deep suspicions about Scott Peterson, but Sharon didn’t know that till later.  She publicly stood by her son-in-law, as she told Dateline in an interview two weeks after Laci was first reported missing.  But by that time, Sharon says that she too, began to have doubts she just couldn’t shake.  

Among the things that Katie will ask Sharon in this exclusive interview:

  • About the list Sharon wrote one night with a friend, when she first started doubting Scott — almost like a pros and cons list of why she should or shouldn’t suspect her daughter’s husband
  • How and why she met face-to-face with Peterson’s mistress, Amber Frey, twice
  • About her conversations with Scott during the investigation and the phone messages she left him. In one taped phone message, she reportedly pleaded with Peterson to give the police information about what he did with Laci and her unborn child. But other times she wasn’t pleading, going from utter grief to utter rage. She point-blank accused Peterson of murder.
  • About her thoughts of getting a confession out of Scott Peterson. In her book, she says she daydreamed about torturing or drugging him to get the truth.

Throughout the glare of the investigation and the trial, a very private Sharon Rocha seemed to comport herself with quiet, stoic dignity. Why is she going public with her family’s story now?

Click here to preview some quotes from this interview, and tune in to Dateline Sunday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. Click here or write to send us your e-mails on this story, which three years later, still resonates with the American public.