They were a good-looking couple. But when the wife went missing, and the oddly calm husband was found to be having an affair, he was accused of her murder.
Sounds like the plot of Gone Girl? Yes, but it’s also the real-life story of Laci and Scott Peterson. When Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn was asked in 2012 if she’d based her novel on any particular real-life case, she mentioned the high-profile disappearance that had been splashed across the media a decade earlier.
"One could point to Scott and Laci Peterson – they were certainly a good-looking couple," she told Entertainment Weekly.
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Laci Rocha was a former high school cheerleader who was studying ornamental horticulture at university in California when she met Scott Peterson in 1994.
A talented golfer, he was also studying at university and working part-time at a café. One of Laci’s friends worked at the same café, and Laci often dropped by. One day she gave Scott her phone number, and before long, the two were dating.
"The moment he was with Laci, they just beamed at each other," Scott’s mother Jacqueline told The Modesto Bee. "No one else ever made my son smile like that."
Three years later, they were married. They opened a sports bar and ran it together, and also enjoyed entertaining friends at their house.
"Laci and I loved having people over," Scott wrote in a letter published in In Touch. "We were always happy when our pool was filled with friends, the grill was smoking, and the outside fridge was being emptied."
The couple sold the bar. Laci began working as a substitute teacher and Scott got a well-paid job as a fertiliser salesman.
In mid-2002, when Laci discovered one morning she was pregnant, she started ringing family and friends at 7am to share the exciting news. The couple decided they would call their baby boy Conner.
On Christmas Eve, Scott reported Laci missing. By then she was eight months pregnant. He said he had left the house earlier that day to go fishing at the Berkeley Marina, which was nearly 150km away, and Laci had been planning to walk their golden retriever, McKenzie. McKenzie was found by neighbours and returned to the couple’s yard. But there was no sign of Laci.
Modesto police detective Jon Buehler dropped around to see Scott that evening.
"I suspected Scott when I first met him," Buehler later told ABC News. "Didn’t mean he did it, but I was a little bit thrown off by his calm, cool demeanour and his lack of questioning."
A huge search began. Hundreds of locals turned out to look for the heavily pregnant woman. A reward of $US500,000 was offered.
Massage therapist and single mum Amber Frey saw an article about Laci’s disappearance and was horrified. She’d met Scott in November 2002 and they’d started a relationship, with Scott telling her he wasn’t married. Amber called the police.