ABCNews.com, May 23, 2003
It’s a theory that sounds like a script from a 1970s horror flick, but the idea that Laci Peterson could be a victim of a satanic cult was in fact part of the police investigation before her body was even found.
Modesto authorities aren’t talking about the satanic cult theory, but early on in the investigation police briefly looked into the idea after receiving an anonymous tip, according to a man who was questioned in the case.
Modesto furniture store owner Bill Austin says police investigating Laci Peterson’s disappearance contacted him in January and asked him about a possible cult connection.
Store Owner: Police Responded to Cult Call
“Early in the investigation, one of the detectives called me on the phone. He said he had received a phone tip about a cult that was operating out of my building,” Austin said.
Austin says he told the detective he knows nothing about cults and doesn’t believe one is operating out of his building. He said he never heard anything more about the cult from police after that initial phone call.
The defense team for Scott Peterson, Laci’s husband, who has been charged with murdering her and the couple’s unborn child, have publicly raised the possibility of a cult connection.
Scott Peterson’s high-profile defense attorney, Mark Geragos, told People magazine in its June 2 issue that he is working on a number of scenarios for Laci’s death, including one in which members of a satanic cult abducted her in a brown van.
In the People interview, Geragos also suggested a link between Laci’s Dec. 24, 2002 disappearance and the unsolved case of another pregnant woman, Evelyn Hernandez, who went missing on May 1, 2002 and also later washed up in San Francisco Bay. Geragos said that both dates mark holy days on the satanic calendar.
But Richard Ofshe, author of organized satanic cults are a complete myth.
“I think you’d be better off suggesting Saddam Hussein really did it,” Ofshe told ABCNEWS.
Ofshe says police departments nationwide created special task forces to investigate cults back in the late 1980s, but in the end, no one was ever able to prove such cults really existed.
Ofshe said the phenomenon known as “satanic panic” was short-lived in the world of law enforcement.
The Court & Cult Cases
Prosecutors in a few high-profile cases have referred to cults and Satan worship in court. Even Modesto’s District Attorney, Jim Brazelton, successfully tried such a case in Salida, Calif., during the early 1990s.
The victims in Salida killings suffered severe beatings, multiple stab wounds and slashed throats during a midnight massacre May 21, 1990.
All four of the defendants in the murder case were said to be part of an evil cult and they were convicted of multiple murders.
Divers have continued to search San Francisco Bay this week for clues about Laci’s death. Authorities have been tight-lipped about what they’re looking for, how long they plan to search, or what they’ve found so far.
Scott Peterson, 30, a fertilizer salesman, said his 27-year-old pregnant wife vanished when he went fishing Christmas Eve. He helped conduct searches for his wife and pleaded for her return until her body and the remains of their unborn son washed ashore last month near where he said he was fishing.