On January 6, 2003, Sgt. Tim Helton, MPD, contacted Gene Ralston for help in the search for Laci in the San Francisco Bay and other waterways. Ralston is a renowned underwater search expert. Ron Cloward also spoke to Ralston, who volunteered his services with only expenses to be reimbursed.
On January 13, 2003, Ralston met with the MPD and was assigned to search beneath four bridges in local fresh water lakes and reservoirs. Since a water dog had alerted under the Lake Tulloch Bridge, Ralston first searched there, and found a large garbage bag filled with the remains of a deer.
Ralston next searched under a bridge spanning New Melones Lake were other water dogs had alerted. Ralston did find something, apparently a large plastic bag, but it was anchored to the bottom at a depth of 300 feet. Ralston was unable to recover the bag. Based on images from other searches for Russian Mafia victims, Ralston dismissed the find.
Ralston first became involved in the San Francisco Bay searches on January 18, 2003. Ron Cloward assigned Ralston to start from the Berkeley Marina and head towards the west end of Brooks Island where buoy #4 was located. Investigators already theorized that Scott tied the boat to a buoy in order to steady it while he dumped the body overboard. They had found red paint transfer on the boat and hoped to match it to one of the even-numbered buoys in the area, which were painted red. Red paint transfer
Ralston worked the area around buoy number 4 and thought some images were of particular interest: square-shaped objects near an object 65 inches long. He reported this to Cloward, who sent other teams to search the area, but nothing came of the searches. This map shows the location of the discovery.
In March, Ralston returned and helped the divers find the two solid, 12-inch square concrete anchors, but they were tossed back into the Bay because they were not similar to the ones the MPD already believed Scott had made with the pitcher, as shown in People's 122G.
On March 12, using GPS coordinates provided by the MPD for water dog alerts, he searched the area marked with the red X in the map below and located an oblong object he designated "Target 2." The object was the shape and size they expected Laci to be, wrapped in plastic or a tarp, with weights attached, and appears to be the same object Ralston found on January 18. The next day they scanned the same area and saw an object that looked more like a body than Target 2 -- and it was dubbed "Target 1." Ralston says that the image he saw on the screen was that of the "head, neck, shoulders and most of the back of a prone person." He also says that the body was covered with crabs, the torso had no clothing, but streams of light-colored fabric floated above the lower portion. Ralston believes that what he saw March 13 was Laci's body, based on where she was found. "Piecing all the information we have now, I believe it probably was Laci Peterson," Ralston said. But, he admitted, at the time, there was doubt. At the time, the police kept this find by Ralston a secret, fearing Scott would flee. This map shows the location where the body was found, and its relationship to Brooks Island, the Richmond Marina, where Conner's body was found, where Laci's body was found, and the Berkeley Marina. Click to enlarge.
Strong winds came up on the afternoon of March 13, preventing the divers from bringing either Target 1 or Target 2 to the surface to be examined.
Ralston said he was unable to retrieve the objects on the 13th because of the choppy waves and murky waters caused by high winds. On the 14th, when Ralston, Cloward and others returned, the ROV could not locate either Target 1 or Target 2. However, Ralston claims that on the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th both targets were still in place. A team of commercial divers from Tracy didn't arrive until March 25, but by then, both targets were gone.
Ralston also claims to have recorded images of a drag line, allegedly the body being moved by the tides, dragging the anchors. The drag line follows the trajectory for Laci's body in the map above.
On May 2, after the bodies were found, Det. Dodge Hendee contacted Marine Technologies for a second opinion on Ralston's images. They did not agree that it was a body, and Ralston was not asked to testify at the trial, nor was his theory presented as evidence that Laci was in the Bay. Instead, the State went with Dr. Cheng's theory that traced Conner back to Scott's fishing route.
People who promote the Ralston theory, such as Loretta Dillon, author of Stone Cold Guilty and the blog Misfits, argue that Scott made a trip during the night of the 23rd/24th to the Bay and launched from the Richmond Marina because he would not have had time to motor the 4 miles to the site of Target 1 during his fishing trip on December 24.