Police talk to 4 women who live near Petersons' home about murder case

06/26/2003 9:20 AM

11/20/2007 6:40 AM

Police last week contacted two women living in Laci Peterson's neighborhood who also were pregnant with their first babies Christmas Eve.

Like Laci Peterson, both have dark brown hair and regularly walked their dogs -- but neither did that day, they said.

Two other women, also neighbors, say Scott Peterson contacted them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as he spread the word about his missing wife. They also told their stories to police.

One said Peterson cried, and she hugged him to show support. But she said she since has wondered if they were tears of sorrow or guilt.

The other woman said Peterson appeared wracked with anxiety as he let another man do the talking.

Police spokesman Doug Ridenour, citing a court-imposed gag order, refused to comment Wednesday.

Scott Peterson has been charged in the deaths of his wife and their unborn son, Conner. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Three of the women -- Leslie Streeter, Janet Kenworthy and Joan Barnett Lee -- work in various departments at The Bee. The fourth, Jill Lear, is employed by a private social services company.

The women's accounts could play a part in court if attorneys bring up reports by people who said they saw Laci Peterson walking her dog the day her family reported her missing.

Scott Peterson told police he left their Covena Avenue home about 9:30 a.m. to go fishing in San Francisco Bay, and that his wife had planned to walk their dog in nearby East La Loma Park. A neighbor found the golden retriever less than an hour later, its muddy leash attached, and returned it to the Petersons' yard.

The bodies of mother and fetus washed up along the bay in mid-April. Police arrested Scott Peterson a few days later.

Streeter said Scott Peterson and another man came to her door between 7 and 8 p.m. Christmas Eve. She didn't know Brent Rocha, Laci Peterson's brother, at the time, but figured he was the other man after seeing numerous reports about the case.

A Rocha family spokeswoman said family members would not comment because the gag order extends to witnesses and potential witnesses.

"Scott didn't say anything," Streeter recalled. "He just stood there; he looked kind of stressed out."

The other man explained that they were looking for the woman in the picture, Streeter said. She said Scott Peterson was in the picture as well.

"After about an hour, we heard search planes going over the park," she said. "That's when we knew something was terribly amiss."

Streeter called police the next day, more to offer help than to report the encounter, she said, and an officer called back to take a statement.

Encounter in the park

The next day -- Christmas -- Kenworthy happened upon Scott Peterson as both walked their dogs in the park, where authorities and volunteers already were searching.

"He reaches in his coat, pulls out a flier and says, 'My wife's missing,'" Kenworthy recalled. "He about broke down in front of me. I did see tears, retain-your-composure efforts."

Kenworthy was especially touched, she said, to learn that the missing woman was pregnant. She said she gave Peterson a hug.

"I would have sworn at that time that he was innocent," Kenworthy said.

A police investigator tracked down Kenworthy last week and asked questions about her dog-walking routine. She has a white husky named Aroo; the Petersons' dog, McKenzie, is a golden retriever.

"I think there is so much pressure to make this case tight, (police) don't want to go to court and say they didn't follow up on all calls," Kenworthy said.

Other pregnant women worried

Also last week, an investigator questioned Lee and Lear, both of whom were pregnant at Christmastime.

Peterson was 5-foot-1, while Lee is 5-foot-5 and Lear, 5-foot-7 1/2. Peterson was 27, Lee is 33 and Lear, 36.

Lee was only four months along in December. She had walked her chocolate Labrador retriever, Kramer, in the neighborhood in November, but quit when the weather turned colder and was not out on Christmas Eve, she said.

"I didn't look half as pregnant (then) as she did," Lee said.

Lear said she was six months pregnant at that time, but hardly showed. Her hair color is close to Laci Peterson's. And their dogs were about the same size, although Lear's Australian shepherd, Maitland, was mostly black with some white and copper.

"From a distance, a lot of us probably look similar," Lear said.

The park was her favorite destination while running and walking the previous seven years with Maitland, who died in February. But she clearly remembers not being out on Christmas Eve.

Both Lee and Lear quit walking as the missing-woman case was splashed across newspapers and television screens all over North America.

"I remember being freaked out about that," Lee said. "We didn't know if there was some crazy person abducting pregnant women."

Said Lear: "It made everyone more cautious. Things like that are a little too close to home."

Both resumed walking, pushing strollers, after delivering their babies -- and after police made it clear that their investigation pointed to no one other than Scott Peterson. But they prefer to walk with their husbands.

Kenworthy, who was not pregnant, never stopped walking Aroo.

"I did give (Peterson) a hug," she recalled. "When someone approaches you and says, 'My wife's missing, and she's pregnant, too,' it makes your heart squeeze tight."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

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