It likely was the weekend storm that roiled the San Francisco Bay and dredged from its deep waters two ghastly specters. The first, found April 13 by a dog walker, was the decomposed body of a male infant lying in the grass not far from shore. The next day, at a park a mile and a quarter away, a passerby spotted a nearly skeletal body washed up on the rocks, this one an adult female reportedly missing her head and legs. Immediately the questions came: Could this be Laci Peterson and her unborn son?

As of April 15 the mystery of Laci's disappearance remained just that as forensic experts analyzed the bodies. Discovered in California's Contra Costa county—90 miles from the Modesto home where a pregnant Laci and her husband, Scott, lived before she vanished last Christmas Eve—the remains were in such bad condition that conclusive results could be several days, or even weeks, away. The bodies "could potentially be our daughter and grandson, our sister and nephew, loving members of our family," Laci's relatives said through Kim Petersen, executive director of the Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation and a family friend. "If this turns out to be Laci, we want the animal responsible for this heinous act to pay."

The discovery could mark the first significant development in the case since police changed it from a missing person investigation to a homicide March 5—three weeks after Laci's due date. In the past her family has heard rumors about bodies found, but this time the presence of an apparently full-term infant—the 27—year-old Laci was eight months pregnant—raised expectations. Instead of calling Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, 51, and stepfather Ron Grantski, 56, Kim Petersen drove to their Modesto home on April 14 to tell them the news. When Sharon heard, "she cried," says Petersen. "Laci's family has shown great dignity in how they have handled themselves and said, 'We want to know everything.' "

The location of the bodies also seemed significant. They washed up on the shores of Point Isabel park, about three miles north of the Berkeley Marina. Laci's husband, Scott Peterson, 30, told police that after saying goodbye to his wife on the morning of Dec. 24, he drove to the Berkeley Marina and spent the day fishing. Police have not named Scott as a suspect, nor have they officially cleared him (he could not be found for comment). "Obviously there are questions he hasn't been able to answer," Sharon told PEOPLE before the discoveries. "We don't know what those questions might be. But they've managed to clear other people."

Earlier this year Scott angered Laci's family by selling her Land Rover and putting the couple's two-bedroom house on the market (he later took it off). But even before that, they stopped publicly defending Scott when Amber Frey, 28, a massage therapist, told police she had a relationship with Scott, something he had denied. "We felt betrayed because we asked him point blank," says Sharon. "By his not being completely honest, it was one more delay in the investigation."

And now another excruciating delay. "This waiting is the worst," Laci's loved ones said—the not knowing if Laci and the boy she would have called Conner had been found. Just two weeks ago, Laci's brother Brent, 32, and his wife had a baby boy—Sharon's first grandchild. It was a bittersweet moment for a devastated family. "This is a nightmare," says Sharon. "And I keep waiting to wake up."

Alex Tresniowski
Vickie Bane and Melissa Schorr in Modesto

  • Contributors:
  • Vickie Bane,
  • Melissa Schorr.