February 03, 2003 12:00 PM

Ever since his pregnant wife, Laci, vanished without a trace on Christmas Eve, Scott Peterson has worked tirelessly to find her. Helped by hundreds of volunteers, he blanketed the area around their Modesto, Calif., home with posters bearing a picture of Laci, 27, who was due to give birth to a boy on Feb. 10. Last week Scott traveled 250 miles south to Los Angeles to further publicize the case. Why L.A.? “I’m expanding the search,” he explained.

Some members of Laci’s family are beginning to wonder if the mystery’s solution doesn’t lie closer to home. On Jan. 15 Modesto police told the family that a tabloid was about to publish a story alleging that Scott, a 30-year-old agricultural-supply salesman, had been having an affair. Police are also investigating press reports that he had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife. The disclosures shocked Laci’s parents and other members of her family, who initially fended off suggestions that Scott was involved in her disappearance. “If Scott has nothing to hide, [relatives] are asking him to prove that,” a spokeswoman for the family said. “The family is asking Scott…to fully cooperate with the Modesto police.”

So far, investigators have not named him or anyone else as a suspect (a burglary of Laci’s home last week appears unconnected to her disappearance, say police). “We expected [the scrutiny],” says Scott’s brother Mark, 40. “But it has gone on longer than I thought it would.” On the day Laci vanished, Scott has said he went fishing near Berkeley, Calif., some 90 miles from Modesto, after leaving Laci at home to prepare for a Christmas brunch. As for the insinuations about his extramarital relationship, he defiantly maintained his innocence. “Make me the biggest villain in the world if you want to,” Scott told a reporter. “As long as it keeps her photograph in the press.”

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