(Originally published Dec. 27, 2002)
The 3-day-old search for a missing Modesto woman ended without success Thursday just as police posted yellow crime- scene tape around her house and served a search warrant.
Officers arrived with the warrant at 7:45 p.m. at Laci Denise Peterson's house in the La Loma neighborhood. FBI crime- scene investigators joined police inside the home.
Authorities said the house would remain sealed through the night, and the investigation would continue today. Police said Peterson's husband, Scott, was staying with friends.
Officials declined to say what they might be looking for. No arrests had been made, and no suspects had been identified.
At 10 p.m., workers prepared to haul a pair of vehicles from the Peterson home. Authorities said Laci Peterson's Land Rover sport utility vehicle and her husband's Ford F150 pickup would be examined elsewhere.
Peterson, a 27-year-old who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, disappeared Christmas Eve, and the search has been concentrated in and around Dry Creek Regional Park not far from her home.
Thursday, police brought in a bloodhound that led authorities away from Dry Creek, which is where investigators theorized that Peterson disappeared some time between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. the day before Christmas.
In other developments:
Police expanded the size and scope of the search, adding more personnel and taking in neighborhoods next to Dry Creek Regional Park.
A police officer interviewing people along the park's Peggy Mensinger Trail, and elsewhere around the park, reported that he spoke with a woman who said she heard screams about 10:15 a.m. Christmas Eve. She lives on the park's border.
Over the course of an hour, police went in and out of a home near the Peterson house.
The reward fund went up to $125,000. Laci Peterson's family put up the first $25,000, and family and friends added $75,000 on Thursday. The Modesto-based Carole Sund Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation contributed $25,000.
Scott Peterson is the last person to report seeing his wife for certain. It was about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to police, and he said he was going on a fishing trip to the Bay Area, and his wife was headed to East La Loma Park with McKenzie, an 8-year-old golden retriever.
A neighbor found the dog, with leash attached, wandering at 10:30 a.m., and put the dog in the Peterson yard, not realizing that something might have been amiss. Thursday, Police Chief Roy Wasden said the leash was muddy, as if it had been dragged for some distance.
Scott Peterson reported his wife missing at 6 p.m. after he returned home. Police launched a search then and continued the effort Christmas Day.
Hound veers from creek
Family members and area residents reported that Laci Peterson took daily walks. Under her normal routine, she would go a short distance from her home to a dirt path that leads to East La Loma Park, one of several parks that make up Dry Creek Regional Park.
But at 5 p.m. when officers released the bloodhound in front of the Peterson home, the dog did not go to the dirt path. Instead, the hound led police to houses around the corner, then south to Yosemite Boulevard and eventually to Santa Rosa Avenue near E.&J. Gallo Winery.
Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies, who supplied the bloodhound, concluded the search when the dog began nosing around some Dumpsters. Police searched with flashlights and climbed in, but it was not known what, if anything, they found.
Thursday's search effort involved more than 50 police officers. Eight mounted officers from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department joined their counterparts from the Modesto Police Department.
The Police Department used five of its own dogs. A helicopter flew over the creek.
Family members and friends of the missing woman plastered the city with more fliers appealing for information.
"We just want my sister home safe," Peterson's sister, 21-year-old Amy Rocha, said early Thursday while posting fliers along Scenic Drive.
The first fliers went up Christmas Day. The family did not open gifts, relatives said.
"Christmas is over for us," said Brent Rocha, Peterson's brother. "We all feel empty and want our sister returned."
Family members and volunteers came in from around California.
The family had been using the Peterson home as a headquarters for the volunteer effort. Thursday afternoon, organizers moved the operation to the Red Lion Hotel on Sisk Road to give the family privacy and to offer a centralized location with more phone lines, said Rene Tomlinson, a friend of the family.
Sharon Grantski, Laci Peterson's mother, said her son-in-law was "overwhelmed by the support of the community."
Other family members said Scott Peterson did not want to speak with reporters.
The Police Department set up a command post of its own at East La Loma Park.
The search continued until after dark Thursday. Early in the day, teams of officers performed a grid-pattern search in and along Dry Creek, spacing themselves evenly and slowly while walking across fields and paths, and through small orchards and through the water, in the hope of finding clues.
Park users express concern
Police said earlier in the investigation that people reported seeing someone believed to be Peterson in the park about 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Walter Collinge, an avid bicyclist, said he often saw Peterson walking along the path.
He skipped his bike ride Tuesday. "I wish I had been down there then. Maybe I could have prevented something from happening."
The park seemed to have less than a normal-sized crowd Thursday, and the people there expressed concern.
"The only reason I came down to the park to jog today was I figured it was safer than normal with all the police here searching," said Becky Ballantyne, a Turlock resident who jogs on her lunch breaks from her Modesto job.
"But after this, I'm not going to jog here again until I hear something different."
Bee staff writers Daryl Farnsworth and Ty Phillips contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.