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Book Review: For Laci

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Traditionally, true crime books are written in retrospect often years after a trial. With the advent of the Internet, however, numerous crime forums, message boards, and Web logs created the opportunity to follow a criminal case live from the earliest news reports through the verdict and aftermath.

One subject that consistently appealed to a large, diverse and dedicated audience was the Laci Peterson murder case. Mainstream media following the trial failed to see the spiritual, cultural, and metaphorical significance of the case. They didn’t appreciate Laci’s influence or the lessons to be learned in Peterson’s modus operandi. Those of us who were fortunate to see beyond painted plywood sets of Peterson’s defense and could distill the truth from superficial syllogism were rewarded when the jury, the only people who really mattered, shared the vision. As time goes by, and bad books on the case come and go, we can hope that thoughtful viewers, misled and misinformed throughout the trial, will learn the truth behind the Hollywood hype.

In Sharon Rocha’s book, For Laci, eager followers of the Peterson case finally witnessed, first-hand, the private and extraordinary experiences of Laci Peterson’s mother and family while her husband Scott continued to baffle a nation. Sharon’s account, describing her overwhelming disillusionment, rage, disbelief, confusion, and ultimately the courage to be Laci’s voice, aptly summarized the divergent emotions and prejudices many of us applied to this story. Her thorough testimonial validated our bold assumptions about so many things, such as Laci’s personality, how she would have reacted to her husband’s affair, the peculiar Peterson family dynamics, and Scott’s bizarre affect from the early days of the investigation to the moment of his final sentencing.

We embraced Laci as a figurative sister, daughter, mother, and ourselves betrayed by love; she was a woman in whom we could vicariously invest our aspirations of fulfillment and domestic perfection. Why else would she attract such an enormous following for over two years? Most spousal murder cases are merely a tragically familiar blip on the crime radar; Laci’s case captured the attention of millions. In Sharon’s book, Laci proved to be exactly as we imagined her.

For Laci traces her life as a happy, irrepressible child, her bout with a large tumor that required delicate surgery, a typical ’80s adolescence, her first serious romance with the (now infamous) Kent Gain; through college, meeting and marrying Scott, moving back to Modesto, and eventually joyfully expecting her first baby. Sharon paints Laci’s experiences with the vivid brush of a loving mother, giving us an intimate and bittersweet appreciation for Laci’s essence. Sharon’s narrative is an accurate and grief-stricken record of the devastation of her daughter’s murder from the first phone call when Scott said Laci was “missing,” to her dramatic, tearful victim impact statement at the penalty phase of his trial. Sharon’s retelling made us cry, seethe, wonder, and even occasionally laugh, along with answering most of the important questions we had about the case.

Predictable, yet nonetheless shocking, was the sickening crush for Sharon to learn the horrible truth of Peterson’s pathology beneath the mask he presented to Laci and her family and friends. Sharon suddenly realized, when attempting to describe Scott to the police and press, that despite eight years of interaction she didn’t really know him at all.

To counter the wildly inaccurate histrionics of cable TV coverage, news stories and other books about Peterson that presented little more than a glorified soap opera, Sharon depicts the crucial events from the perspective of an insider to the investigation and as a representative of the victim. There cannot be a more reliable report; For Laci is the ultimate chronicle of the case.

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About Loretta Dillon

Loretta Dillon began her writing career publishing a neighborhood newspaper and handwritten and illustrated books as a child in a Cleveland suburb. Her strongest literary influences were MAD magazine and Mark Twain. When introduced to the internet, Dillon created a blog to showcase her satire that evolved into a popular forum on relationships, recovery and true crime stories, specifically spousal murder. Selected entries were published as a book in 2005 that was honored as a finalist for a non-fiction "Blooker" award. Dillon's comedy play, "The Smoking Diary" was produced off-Broadway in 2009.
  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Excellent review of a necessary book. There are so many parents of victims out there who no doubt feel powerless as they suffer in silence. Give Sharon Rocha credit for taking this on (it must have been a double edged sword to write).

    Every time I see Petersen’s face it makes me sick. When I see pictures of Laci, so brimming and full of life, I can’t stomach the notion that he snuffed that out.

    Too bad he’ll be on death row for the rest of his life. That’s too good for him.