Neighbors Say Police Ignored Sightings of Laci Peterson

M O D E S T O , Calif., Feb. 28, 2003 -- Neighbors of Laci Peterson say the Modesto Police Department ignored their report of a Laci Peterson sighting the day she went missing.

Vivian Mitchell, 78, says she and her husband, Bill, were the last people to see Laci Peterson, but she says Modesto police haven't talked to her about their Christmas Eve sighting.

"I called and told them that I'd seen whom I thought was her and it would be pretty difficult to have an identical twin and identical dog," Mitchell told ABCNEWS affiliate KGO in San Francisco. "I did think that it was strange they didn't call. I just thought they had some information that over-rode what I had seen and I just thought it was strange that nobody ever followed up," she said.

Mitchell says it took her a week to call the police, because she assumed others in the neighborhood had also seen Peterson walking her dog.

Mitchell says she remembers seeing Peterson, who was eight months pregnant at the time, between 10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 24. That's about 45 minutes after Scott Peterson told police he said goodbye to his wife and went fishing.

‘It Was Frustrating’

"It was frustrating when the [local] paper went on and on and they kept on reporting that 9:30 a.m. was the last anybody had seen of her," Mitchell said. "I am pretty well convinced it was her because it was just too close circumstance to be not her. What she looked like, the dog, the time element, the whole thing," Mitchell said.

Mitchell's report prompted frustration from the family of Laci's husband Scott Peterson. His sister-in-law, Janey Peterson, says she doesn't understand why Modesto police haven't focused more on reported sightings and tips.

"When this all started, there was many reports of people who had said they seen her walking," Janey Peterson told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "That's why all the posters say 'Last seen walking her dog' in that area. As time went on, it became, 'well, we cannot confirm that she had been walking her dog.' Then it became, you know, 'we believe she left the area in a vehicle,'" Janey Peterson said.

In the wake of Mitchell's claims, Scott Peterson's father, Lee, on Thursday criticized police for focusing suspicion on his son .

"How do you follow up on a lead if you don't return someone's calls?" Peterson said in a Thursday telephone call to The Associated Press from Solana Beach in San Diego County.

"It makes me wonder about their competency," he said of Modesto Police. "Here's an eyewitness account of my daughter-in-law and they don't follow up on it."

Police: ‘We Have 8,000 Tips’

Modesto Police spokesman Doug Ridenour declined comment on Lee Peterson's remarks to the AP. He confirmed that the department received the tip, and said the tip was appropriately handled. "But we have 8,000 tips," he said, "and the majority we haven't called back."

The Modesto Police Department declined a request to appear on Good Morning America, saying it's an ongoing investigation.

Mitchell said she talked to a woman when she called the Modesto police. She says the woman asked for her name, address and phone number.

The Mitchells live about 10 blocks from the home that Laci Peterson, 27, and her huband shared.

Scott Peterson, 30, told police he last saw his wife at about 9:30 a.m., before he left for the Berkeley Marina. Police still say that Peterson is not a suspect in his wife's disappearance, but he hasn't been ruled out either.

Police Search Turns Up Cement

Police removed 95 items from Scott Peterson's home during a two-day search last week. One of the things they found in that search were containers of cement, which he said were for the people who were working on his pool. When police asked the pool workers, though, they said the cement was not theirs.

Police contacted the man who sold Peterson the boat he said he was fishing on the day his wife disappeared, asking the seller to look it over and see if anything was different about it. He said that he saw traces of cement on the boat that were not there when he turned the boat over to Peterson.

"I know it wasn't that way when I sold it to him," the man, Bruce Peterson, who is not related to Scott Peterson, told ABCNEWS affiliate KGO in San Francisco. "I don't know what he used it for, if he was hauling stuff or anything."

When asked about the cement, Janey Peterson said Scott and Laci spent a lot of time on home improvement. "I know they've done a lot of work on their home," she said.

Janey Peterson says her family is waiting for a call from the Modesto Police Chief on the Mitchell sighting.

ABCNEWS affiliate KGO in San Francisco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.