As observers across the world earlier this year waited for word on the missing Laci Peterson, secret, emotional bonds apparently developed between her loved ones and her husband's lover.
Amber Frey, who emerged Jan. 24 with a bombshell revelation of her romance with Scott Peterson, the next day began calling friends and family of Laci Peterson, according to partial telephone records.
By March 14, Frey had reached out 53 times to people close to Laci Peterson, totaling nearly 6 1/2 hours of telephone time.
Well-placed sources say Frey hoped to assure Laci's loved ones that Frey did not know that Scott Peterson was married when they began dating Nov. 20. Frey also shared with them her hope, sources say, that the missing pregnant woman and her baby would be found safe.
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It was not to be. The bodies of mother and son were recovered in mid-April along the shore of San Francisco Bay.
Peterson, 30, has pleaded not guilty to double-murder charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Peterson talked with Frey in February about him taking a lie-detector test, according to two sources. The phone records show that Frey called a respected polygrapher in Fresno, but the test never occurred, sources said.
Frey, a 28-year-old Fresno massage therapist, continued talking with Peterson for almost four weeks after she publicly acknowledged their romance, phone records reveal.
She appeared at the same time to have a direct line to authorities, who were secretly wiretapping Peterson's phones. Frey reported to her police handler immediately following many of her conversations with Peterson, the records show.
"I hand it to Amber for doing the right thing," said Ron Grantski, Laci Peterson's stepfather.
Most of the people connected to Laci Peterson who were called by Frey declined to comment. Grantski said they do not want to violate a court-imposed gag order preventing potential witnesses from discussing the case.
Frey did not return calls seeking comment.
Grantski indicated that some of the conversations with Frey included details of the investigation.
"A lot of it does pertain to the case," Grantski said. "It'll all come out in court; at least I hope it will."
Grantski declined to comment further.
More than half of Frey's phone time with Laci Peterson's family and associates was spent with Lori Ellsworth, a close friend of the then-missing woman. She spoke with Frey at least 20 times totaling nearly 3 1/2 hours, phone records show.
Ellsworth declined to comment.
Expert sees emotion behind calls
Frey dialed three phones used by Laci Peterson's brother, Brent Rocha, nine times over the six-week period. She called Laci's sister, Amy Rocha, twice in February.
Frey called the home number of Grantski and Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, twice, and dialed Rocha's cell phone twice, once talking for 22 minutes.
That conversation occurred on Feb. 4, the day that the court order for the first wiretap on Peterson's phones ended.
It also was the day that a car dealer returned Laci Peterson's Land Rover to her family. Her husband had traded it in toward a pickup the week before.
Phone records show that Frey additionally called Rene Tomlinson, another friend from Laci's youth. And, she called the Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation and the cell phone of its executive director, Kim Petersen.
Kim Petersen has served as a spokeswoman for Laci Peterson's family. She said authorities notified her that she, too, may be called to testify at court proceedings.
A legal scholar said Frey may have connected with Laci Peterson's loved ones because all perceived themselves as having a common enemy: Scott Peterson.
"It would be easy for (Laci Peterson's friends and family) to say, 'See, he victimizes others, too,'" said Jeanette Sereno, an attorney and criminal justice professor at California State University, Stanislaus.
Sereno said it is not surprising that some of the conversations, according to phone records, were lengthy. For example, Frey and Ellsworth appear to have spoken for 90 minutes on Jan. 28, the day that Peterson, in a nationally televised interview, admitted his affair with Frey.
"They're talking about emotional things," Sereno said. "Both sides have a lot to say. It's not a business call."
Ruth Jones, a criminal law professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and a former prosecutor, said that without knowing what was said, the calls between the family of a missing woman and the "other woman" appear odd.
"Maybe I'm cut from a harder cloth," Jones said. "My friend, daughter or sister is missing, maybe dead, and you're the (woman) her husband is sleeping with; I don't want to chat on the phone with you."
More important in a legal sense is how an important witness's credibility might be affected if she shared sensitive information with the victim's family, Jones and Sereno agreed.
"For a key witness, credibility is always the issue -- always, always, always," Jones said. "Jurors are given the task of interpreting what people did and what it meant."
Sereno said defense lawyers might be expected to question whether any bias by Laci Peterson's family could have worn off on Frey, perhaps unintentionally. Prosecutors, on the other hand, will want Frey "to look like a victim, not a temptress," Sereno said.
Calls to Peterson were numerous
During the same period that Frey called Laci Peterson's loved ones, she also was busy on the phone with her former boyfriend. Records show that she exchanged at least 76 calls with him over nine turbulent weeks that started nine days before Laci Peterson's disappearance.
The calls between Frey and Scott Peterson stretched through the holidays, her birthday and the due date for Peterson's son before apparently ending Feb. 19 -- 15 days after investigators stopped bugging his phones.
Frey first called Modesto police at 1:43 a.m. Dec. 30. She would call authorities more than 200 times in the next six weeks, totaling more than 20 hours of conversation.
Prosecutors might have hoped to induce Peterson into making damaging statements that the wiretaps would pick up, Assistant San Francisco District Attorney James Hammer has said.
On Feb. 1, Frey called one of Laci Peterson's friends -- Ellsworth -- and Scott Peterson nine times for a total of 91 minutes, and dialed her police handler, Detective Jon Buehler, 19 times on calls that lasted a total of 61 minutes.
That was the day that Frey explored arranging a lie-detector test for Peterson, according to sources. They said Peterson apparently offered to submit to a polygraph, but that the plan never materialized.
Phone records from that same day show that Frey twice called Melvin King, a former Fresno police lieutenant who operates a polygraph and private investigation service. King has refused to discuss the calls.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or email@example.com.