- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) In her typical American hometown, she was the girl next door, the high school cheerleader and softball player who went off to college and returned years later in a storybook romance and marriage.
Now Laci Rocha Peterson, 27, is that familiar expectant mother and extrovert who smiles from thousands of fliers, posters and television screens around the world.
More than a month after the substitute school teacher's Christmas Eve disappearance, a multitude of bizarre twists has fueled relentless speculation and innuendo inside a superheated media frenzy.
But none including the surprise appearance Friday of a woman saying she had an affair with Mrs. Peterson's husband, Scott have produced answers or arrests.
Asked late Friday if his department had gotten closer to solving the case, Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said, "I don't believe there's a significant change we can articulate. Are we closer? I hope so."
For family, friends and a police department that already has spent more than $100,000 on overtime pay to search and investigate, January is proving luckless and cruel. Meanwhile, an emotionally charged date is approaching: the Feb. 10 due date for Mrs. Peterson's baby boy already given the name Conner.
"I miss listening to the excitement in her voice when she talks to me about her baby," said Mrs. Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha.
Mrs. Peterson's family and friends initially stood by Mr. Peterson, but his story quickly attracted suspicion and scrutiny.
Tight-lipped police, who impounded Mr. Peterson's pickup truck and boat, say they do not consider him a suspect but have not ruled him out. The specialty fertilizer salesman was reportedly in San Diego this weekend to pass out missing-person fliers.
Mrs. Peterson's relatives publicly withdrew their support for her husband Friday. Hours later, Amber Frey stood shaken before dozens of cameras and reporters to confess to having a "romantic relationship" with the man, whom she met in November.
Mr. Peterson has denied having an affair.
Miss Frey, 28, of nearby Fresno expressed sorrow for "the pain this has caused" and said Mr. Peterson told her he was single. The single mother of a 23-month-old child said she called Modesto police six days after Mrs. Peterson's disappearance when she learned Mr. Peterson was the missing woman's husband.
Police said they have ruled Miss Frey out as a suspect.

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