Crime Scene A: 523 Covena

If you’ve done any exploring of my blog, you are probably aware that I have a slight obsession with the Laci Peterson case. I readily admit that it’s a big part of the reason I created this site. So, any who consider the investigation a done deal will just have to pardon me while I revisit the crime scene.

On Christmas Eve of 2002, Scott Peterson returned home from a “fishing” trip at the San Francisco Bay. He estimates his arrival at approximately 4:30 pm; however, witness testimony places his return closer to 5 pm. He and his pregnant wife Laci were due to have dinner at her parents’ home at 6:00 that evening. Laci’s Land Rover was parked in the driveway, as it had been when he left that morning. All entrances to the couple’s home are fully enclosed by a privacy fence. Peterson entered his residence by way of the north gate, which accesses a covered patio area adjacent to the “backyard”.

Click the above image for an enlargement of the 523 Covena floorplan.
I have added a few labels and placed blue dots to mark the approximate positions of the mop bucket. All images can be enlarged with a click.

Inside the yard, Peterson encountered McKenzie, the couple’s golden retriever, dragging his leash. Per Scott’s statement, Laci had planned to walk the dog in a nearby park that morning. Had Scott Peterson been innocent in the murders of his wife and unborn son, this should have been the first red flag — an indication that something was amiss. However, Scott merely removed the leash from the dog’s collar and laid it aside. In light of his subsequent actions, this oddity apparently caused not the slightest bit of alarm.

Housekeeper, Margarita Nava, had mopped the floors the previous day in preparation for a Christmas brunch to which several family members were invited. Perhaps in consideration of Laci’s preparations, Scott removed his wet, dirty shoes before entering the house through the French doors. In contradiction to that accommodating act, he claims that he allowed the dog and cat to follow him inside. The cat immediately ran over to a bucket full of water near the front door. Concerned that the cat would either drink out of the bucket or knock it over (“yeah, right” on both), Scott picked up the bucket and carried it outside, where he dumped the water and left the bucket on the walkway. However, rather than taking it out the nearest exit, the main entrance, he toted it through the kitchen and the den to a small side-door near the laundry room. In his statement to Detective Brocchini, Scott made no mention of the mop and claimed to have taken the bucket out immediately upon entering the house. Yet when responding officers arrived at the house more than an hour later, the mop was standing in the bucket and the pavement beneath was still wet. A second mop — the one used by Ms. Nava on the 23rd — was there also.

Another inconsistency with Peterson’s claim that Laci was mopping that morning is his statement that she intended to bake gingerbread that day. It seems more logical that Laci would have mopped after her kitchen work was complete so that the floors would be spotless for the arrival of her brunch guests the following morning. Speaking of gingerbread…that brings me back to the afore-mentioned red flags and Scott’s failure to take note. With less than an hour to spare before the couple was due at her mother’s house, Laci was absent. She wasn’t in the bedroom getting dressed, or primping in the bathroom, or even putting the finishing touches on whatever gifts or edibles she intended to present that evening. She was gone. Her car (with her cell phone inside) was in the driveway, her purse was in the bedroom closet, but Laci was nowhere to be found and hadn’t even left a note for her husband. There was no evidence — no gingerbread, no dirty or freshly washed bakeware, no aroma — nothing to indicate that Laci had done any baking or made any other preparations throughout the day. Still, no alarm bells sounded for the loving and attentive husband. Instead, apparently oblivious to the flashing message light on the answering machine, Scott wolfed down a couple of slices of leftover pizza and a glass of milk before throwing his fishing clothes in the washing machine and hopping in the shower.

The two tales of the mop bucket and cleaning rags — Scott’s versus Ms. Nava’s — are curious in their disparate nature. According to Scott, Laci was mopping the floor in front of the French doors when he left the house that morning. Because of her advanced stage of pregnancy, she was unable (again, according to Scott) to carry heavy items such as the bucket of water he filled for her, so he set it in the main entryway near a cubby-style divider between the dining room and kitchen sitting area. This, in and of itself, seems odd to me; why not set it nearer the area that Laci needed to mop — the vicinity of the French doors, where the family pets track dirt and debris in from the yard? Ostensibly, the pets are the reason Laci needed to mop that morning, being that the housekeeper had mopped the floors throughout the house less than 24 hours earlier.

Margarita Nava gave the Peterson’s house a thorough cleaning on December 23rd. In addition to mopping the floors, she cleaned the bathrooms, baseboards, windows, and a couple of exterior doors. She used a number of white, terrycloth rags in doing so. Ms. Nava states that when she was finished with her duties, she set the mop outside, where it appears in the above photograph, and placed the cleaning rags in the mop bucket, which she set atop the washing machine. When asked if she may have put the rags directly in the washing machine, Ms. Nava replied, “Never.”

Now back to Scott’s statement: Peterson claims that his clothing was wet, salty and sandy from his fishing trip in the bay, so he stripped down and threw them in the washer before heading to the shower. According to his statement, the cleaning rags were inside the washing machine; he removed them and put his soiled clothing in, adding detergent and starting the wash cycle — possibly even washing them twice.

Examine this evidence photo and determine for yourself whose statement it corroborates. Peterson’s clothes were inside the washing machine when this photograph was taken. I contend that this photo proves Scott the liar. If the rags had been inside the machine, as he states, why then are they on top of the washing machine lid with his clothes inside? If he had removed them from the tub, he would have had to set them either on top of the dryer or on the floor in order to get his clothes off of his body and into the washer, closing the lid afterwards. Does it make any sense that he would have moved them back to the washer lid after starting the machine? Didn’t he intend to put the clean clothes in the dryer? The explanation is simple. The rags are on top of the washer because no mopping was done until after the laundry was started. He dumped the rags out of the bucket onto the machine lid in order to use the bucket and the second mop. It was Scott, not Laci, who mopped the floor on the 24th, and he did so after returning from the bay, most likely after taking a shower, certainly after starting the wash, and probably even after calling Sharon to tell her, “Laci’s missing!” Laci was already dead and at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay when the floor was mopped. But you already knew that. The bigger mystery is “What area did Scott mop and why?”

If Scott’s fabrications regarding Laci’s activities that morning are not enough to indicate that she never left the house alive on December 24, consider these photographs of the master bedroom. It can plainly be seen that the bed is not properly made — certainly not to the standards of a woman who showed such care and consideration to detail in her home as did Laci Peterson. The comforter is sloppily pulled up over the bed pillows, and the second set of sham-covered pillows still rest in a nearby chair. Laci did not make that bed, nor did she oversee the making of it. It can also be seen that there’s a large impression in the comforter at the foot of the bed. Some speculate that Laci’s body may have lain across it before Peterson moved her to the bed of his pickup, where he camouflaged it with patio umbrellas wrapped in a blue tarp. Scott told Detective Brocchini that he had loaded the umbrellas that morning, intending to store them at his warehouse; however they were still in the back of his truck when he returned home that afternoon. The umbrellas and tarp are viewable in this photograph of the Peterson’s covered patio. The top half of the umbrellas are leaning against the ivy covered privacy fence, and the blue tarp is folded and wadded up on top of the lawn mower in the adjacent shed.
The lower half of each umbrella was still in its respective weighted base in the covered patio. Odd that Peterson intended to store the umbrella tops for the winter, but nevermind the other half of the poles. There were two blue tarps — one in which Laci’s body was wrapped and a second to make a similar looking package of the market umbrellas. The former may have been found very early in the search of the San Francisco Bay. A blue tarp was found in the water off the coast of Cesar Chavez State Park, not far from the area where Laci’s body was believed to have been submerged. A cadaver dog showed great interest in the tarp, even after it had been stowed in an onboard compartment.

As can be seen in this series of photographs and the diagram below, the route which Peterson used to remove Laci’s body from the house has hard surface flooring. The bedrooms, hallway, dining room and sitting room have hardwood floors. The kitchen, bathrooms, and a traffic area in the den have terra cotta tile. The remainder of the den is carpeted. It’s possible that the tarp-wrapped body left drag marks on the recently cleaned hardwood and/or tile, and that’s why Scott decided to give it a once-over with the mop. Another possibility is that, although he removed his shoes, his socks (or perhaps just his jeans) were wet with saltwater and muck from the bay, leaving tracks across the immaculate floors as he traipsed through the house.

Not drawn to scale

I think it’s more likely that he was cleaning up after himself rather than the removal of the body. Otherwise, he would have noticed the accordian-scrunched rug, where he’d dragged Laci’s body out the door, and straightened it up before police arrived. At that point, it isn’t unlikely that he was still planning to use the golf alibi and intended to keep his trip to the bay and his new boat under wraps. The quickness with which the Modesto police responded and began investigating the case as a “suspicious missing person” probably forced him to switch to the absurd excuse of a Christmas Eve fishing trip some 90 miles away.

Based on observations at 523 Covena, it isn’t any wonder that police were suspicious of Scott Peterson. Add to that his odd behavior, inconsistent claims about his and Laci’s activities for the day, and an implausible alibi, and it’s easy to see why the man with the ice-cold facade was deemed hot by investigators.

Coming Soon — Crime Scene B: Tradecorp Warehouse

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