Police can't say whether woman and infant are Laci Peterson and son

04/15/2003 6:50 AM

11/20/2007 6:14 AM

RICHMOND -- An autopsy continued into the night Monday after a discovery that sent Modesto police rushing to the East Bay to see if Laci Peterson's body had been found.

A woman walking her dog along the beach found a female adult body at 11:43 a.m. Monday, less than a day after someone else found a baby boy's body about a mile away along San Francisco Bay.

Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Christmas Eve. Authorities described the body found Sunday afternoon as that of a "full-term male child."

It was found about 15 feet from the waterline in marshy wetlands bordered by condominiums and an industrial area, said Sgt. Enos Johnson of the Richmond Police Department.

Residents said the grassy patch where the baby's body was found is often covered by water.

An autopsy Monday morning did not confirm if the baby was connected to the Peterson case, or to the adult body found Monday, authorities said.

Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, said it was "way too early" to tell if the baby's body and woman's body had been in the water the same amount of time.

The adult's body was found lodged in rocks in the vicinity of Point Isabel Regional Shoreline. East Bay Regional Park District police notified Modesto detectives after the discovery.

"Because of the location of where we found the body and the notoriety of the case involving Modesto, it was prudent to notify the Modesto Police Department," said Norman Lapera, police chief of the park district. "This potentially could be a drowning victim."

Doug Ridenour, spokesman for Modesto police, said his department got the call at 12:15 p.m. Investigators were flown to the scene by helicopter; they arrived about 5 p.m.

"At this point, we have no information nor has the recovered body been identified as that of Laci Peterson," Ridenour said in a news release Monday evening. "Until such time as our department has been notified and it has been confirmed that the East Bay body is related to the Modesto case, this is an East Bay Regional Park District Police Department case."

Still, Modesto police and Stanislaus County sent five people, including a representative of the district attorney's office.

At one point, a total of about 20 investigators converged at the scene. The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department dispatched canine teams trained to detect human remains.

Lapera said it appeared the woman's body had been in the water for "quite some time" but he could not give specifics about the condition of the body.

The autopsy on the woman's body began shortly after 6 p.m. at the county coroner's office in Martinez.

Lee said it could take several days to process the information and determine the cause of death and the identity of the body.

Lee said investigators were examining some clothes found with the woman's body. He would not elaborate on the clothes, other than to say they were not maternity clothes.

The autopsy on the baby's body did not yield cause of death, Lee said. DNA-type tests were performed, but results could take weeks.

Peterson's stepfather reported her missing Dec. 24 after talking with his son-in-law, Scott. Scott said he had returned from a fishing trip out of Berkeley, and Laci was gone when he came home. Police started searching in East La Loma Park, where Scott says his wife had planned to take their dog for a walk. Earlier in the day, a neighbor had found the golden retriever, with a muddy leash attached, and returned the dog to the Petersons' back yard.

Police have conducted a number of searches at Scott and Laci Peterson's Covena Avenue home and a Modesto warehouse used by Scott Peterson in his work as a fertilizer salesman. They also confiscated Scott Peterson's 2002 Ford F-150 pickup and his wife's Land Rover sport utility vehicle. They also have searched several waterways, including the area around the Berkeley Marina.

The case gained worldwide attention, and a $500,000 reward was offered for Laci Peterson's safe return. In February, Peterson's due date passed; she was expected to give birth about Feb. 10 to the couple's first child, a son they had named Connor.

In March, police reclassified the case as a homicide, and a $50,000 reward was issued for information that leads directly to the location and recovery of her body.

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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