The police suspected foul play early on, saying they did not believe Laci decided to leave without contacting her family. And friends, neighbors and family members confirm that there was simply no way she would ever do such a thing.
"That is completely out of character for her," Modesto police detective Al Brocchini said at a press conference shortly after her disappearance.
Law enforcement agencies from several counties became involved in the search. Fields, parks, roadsides and wooded areas were searched. Streams, sloughs, lakes, rivers and other waterways were inspected. The search covered Merced, Tuolumne, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Alameda and Mariposa counties.
Sophisticated side-scanning sonar equipment was even used to electronically "drag" the Berkeley Marina -- more than once. At one point the police told the press that they found something there that might be a body, but that bad weather prohibited them from sending down divers for a day or two. After a day of making the world sit on pins and needles, the police returned to the place where they thought they had found something and sent down divers who discovered that it was merely an old anchor.
For a brief moment police believed they were onto a hot lead when it was thought that the house across the street from the Petersons had been burglarized at approximately the time that Laci allegedly disappeared. Some suspected that perhaps she had seen the burglars who then panicked and kidnapped her so she could not identify them. But not too long after that it was determined that that burglary actually took place later than originally thought. And not only could no connection to Laci's disappearance be shown, but police announced that they had completely eliminated that theory as a possibility in Laci's case.
Though police knew it was statistically likely that Scott was somehow involved, they approached the case early on treating him simply as a worried husband... a victim. They were impressed, at first, that he was able to produce a receipt for launch fees at the Berkeley Marina that was dated December 24th, though it did not show specific entry or exit times. And another reason they believed his story at first was, in part, because they were able to find people who said they saw Laci in the park with her dog at around 10:00 a.m. that morning.
Everything seemed to add up.
But things quickly changed as police turned their attention more and more toward Scott. It turned out that they couldn't confirm, after all, that Laci had ever actually taken the walk with the dog. In fact, when all was said and done, they determined that last person besides Scott who either spoke to or saw Laci was her mother during that phone call on the evening of December
The dragnet that police were casting out began to snare Scott in a nightmarish limbo between grief-stricken husband and possible kidnapping -- and perhaps even murder -- suspect.
The repeated searching of the Berkeley Marina clearly indicated that police were looking long and hard at Scott and his alleged fishing trip there on the morning of Laci's disappearance. They published photographs of his truck and boat and asked the public to help them corroborate Scott's story.
Scott and Laci's house was searched. Her SUV, his truck and boat, and their computers were seized. And police have dug deeply into his background from every conceivable angle in the days since her disappearance.
At first a $25,000 reward was offered. Laci's friends and family set up a volunteer and command center with the help of the Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, and a generous donation of space from Modesto's Red Lion Hotel. The reward quickly increased to $500,000. Posters and flyers were printed and distributed. Buttons, badges and blue & yellow ribbons were manufactured. Up to 200 people a day came to the center and offered their help. And the first, basic version of this web site was quickly built by Jonathan Smith, the husband of a friend of one of Laci's friends.
Scott refused to talk to the press. He had stormed out of one press conference when reporters started asking about police suspecting him of wrongdoing. Laci's brother, Brent Rocha, defended Scott, saying that he was too emotionally wrought to make public statements about his wife, and adding that that did not mean he was involved in her disappearance. "No way," Rocha said. "Absolutely not!"
Instead, Scott communicated with the public by means of written notes posted on a wall of the command center. For example, in one of them Scott wrote: