Autopsies yield little

04/16/2003 8:45 AM

11/20/2007 6:15 AM

Laci Peterson's family says the "waiting is the worst," but Tuesday they learned it might take days, or even weeks, to identify a woman's body found along San Francisco Bay.

A coroner's spokesman in Contra Costa County said autopsies had been completed on the woman, whose body was found Monday, and a baby boy found nearby the day before.

"One of the key questions we're trying to answer right now is whether or not there's any relationship between the adult female and the baby male," spokesman Jimmy Lee said. "That is really the key question."

Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant when reported missing in Modesto on Christmas Eve. Authorities have described the infant's body recovered along the bay as a "full-term male child."

Lee said an autopsy on the woman's body did not reveal an obvious cause of death. Officials said earlier that the baby's autopsy also was inconclusive.

Modesto police are watching closely, and have called in the San Francisco medical examiner's office to consult, amid speculation that the bodies could be those of Peterson and her son, Conner.

Authorities believe both decomposed bodies washed up from the bay. Lee said a specialist will be called in to determine how long the bodies had been in the water.

After conducting autopsies on both bodies on Monday, officials are turning to DNA testing to help with the identification, he said, while noting the length of time required.

Lee did not address questions about whether dental records could be used in the identification process. A Modesto police spokesman referred the same question back to Contra Costa County.

Lee would not describe the state of the bodies when they were found about a mile apart by different passers-by.

Also, when asked if the body was clad in maternity clothes, he would not comment.

Lee said the days or weeks time frame for the DNA test results was typical.

"This is not 'CSI,'" he said after his news conference, referring to the CBS crime drama. "It's not instant. It's going to take some time."

Modesto police called on the state Department of Justice forensic laboratory to expedite the DNA tests.

"It is a top priority of the lab that they do the DNA tests as quick as they can," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Modesto.

Investigators also are looking into a "suspected human bone," found Monday afternoon near the Berkeley Marina, to see if the bone is linked to either of the two bodies, said Chief Norman Lapera of the East Bay Regional Park District Police Department.

An Oakland resident walking a dog found the bone in a section of shoreline exposed by low tide, Lapera said. The bone was found a little more than three miles south of Point Isabel, a park popular with dog owners where the woman's body was found Monday, Lapera said.

Lapera would not comment on the size or type of bone.

The resident turned the bone over to the Oakland Police Department, which gave it to the Contra Costa coroner's office, officials said.

Lapera and Lee said they were unaware of any missing person cases in the Bay Area involving women and their babies.

But, for now, and until and if there is an identification of Peterson and her baby, the case remains the responsibility of authorities in Contra Costa County, Modesto police spokesman Doug Ridenour said.

Ridenour said detectives are still hopeful that Peterson will be found alive, but added: "If it is Laci, it will be a relief to the department, a relief to the family and a relief to the community."

Monday afternoon, five Modesto police investigators watched Contra Costa officials remove the woman's body from Point Isabel Regional Shoreline.

An official with the San Francisco medical examiner's office confirmed Tuesday that the office is acting as a consultant to the Modesto Police Department in the Peterson case.

Ridenour said Tuesday that he had not heard that.

Two detectives observed Monday night as coroner's officials conducted the autopsy on the woman, Ridenour said.

Scott Peterson, Laci Peterson's husband, told detectives that he went fishing at Brooks Island on Christmas Eve, the day she was reported missing.

Authorities have previously searched the waters between the Berkeley Marina and Brooks Island, which is off Point Isabel. Ridenour said Tuesday that there is a possibility of renewed searching in the bay. Ridenour said that Scott Peterson has not been ruled in or out as a suspect in a case that police have classified as a homicide.

Family members, meanwhile, are waiting to hear news of identification of the bodies.

Laci Peterson's family released a statement: "While in the news reports these are two bodies that have been found, to us they could potentially be our daughter and grandson, our sister and nephew, loving members of our family or possibly someone else's family who is experiencing our same pain."

Ridenour said he did not know Scott Peterson's whereabouts Tuesday. The Bee could not locate him.

His mother, Jackie Peterson, speaking from her home in San Diego County, said Monday that her son was in the Modesto area, and that she had spoken with him about the discovery of the bodies in the East Bay.

Last week, Peterson said her son was still working for TradeCorp. That is the Spanish fertilizer company that he worked for at the time of his wife's disappearance.

He is TradeCorp's California-Arizona sales representative, selling to retailers rather than direct to farmers.

He was a regular face in the region until his wife disappeared, according to fertilizer dealers. Since then, they said, Peterson has made rare sales calls.

The Bee learned Tuesday that the 30-year-old Peterson became a member of Del Rio Country Club on Dec. 1, and was seen often at the fitness center there. He sold the membership early this year, a club official said.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini contributed to this report.

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

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or pgiblin@modbee.com.

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