- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

MODESTO, Calif., Jan. 2 (UPI) — Police conceded Thursday they had little in the way of new leads into the Christmas Eve disappearance of a pregnant Northern California woman.

Investigators were looking into the possibility that Laci Peterson, 27, left her Modesto neighborhood in a vehicle as suggested this week by the handler of a tracking dog, however they had not ruled out the chance she vanished while walking her own dog along a dirt trail in a nearby park.

"We are not eliminating the possibility that she left on foot," Police Det. Doug Ridenour told CNN Thursday. "We don't have any solid leads that would put her in a car or put her anywhere else."

Peterson, a substitute teacher who is expecting a baby in February, was last seen on the morning of Christmas Eve when her husband, Scott, left for a fishing trip on San Francisco Bay. He told police he could not reach his wife by telephone that afternoon and returned to find the family golden retriever wandering around the neighborhood with its leash still attached. Laci Peterson's car and purse were found inside the home.

Peterson is not considered a suspect in the case and his wife's disappearance has not been ruled a crime though police officials have said foul play was a possibility.

An intensive search of the Petersons' neighborhood has failed to turn up any sign of the missing woman. The handler of a bloodhound that had been used in the search this week said the dog had picked up scents that to him indicated she never made it to the park.

"The dog handler said it was their belief that Laci never went to the park and left the area in a car," Police Chief Roy Watson said Thursday on NBC's "Today Show."

Ridenour confirmed Thursday that a lead placing her in a sporting goods store turned out to be a mistake.

Meanwhile, around 1,500 Modesto residents attended a New Year's Eve candlelight vigil for Laci Peterson while a reward fund grew to $500,000.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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