Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and the Disappearance of Laci Peterson
appearing in the September, 2020 issue of Sisters-in-Crime Magazine
Sometimes an idea for a novel is conceived through something an author hears or reads. In the case of the hugely popular book
Gone Girl, the author, Gillian Flynn, freely admitted in an interview for the Sacramento Bee that the idea for her book came
about because of her interest in the story and mystery surrounding the real-life disappearance of Laci Peterson.
The similarities are worth noting. Both the real-life Petersons and the fictional Dunnes in Gone Girl were photogenic young
couples whose lives seemed to be, if not perfect, certainly perceived to be as close to perfection as can be, by neighbors, families,
and friends. Not a hint of marital discord was ever observed.
Laci, who was eight-months pregnant when she was reported missing in 2002, became the subject of daily media coverage and much speculation about what could have happened to this supposedly happy, friendly suburban young mother-to-be. Her husband Scott, good-looking and with what authorities called “an easy-going manner”, was at first supported by Laci’s family, the couple’s friends, and the community where they lived, in his role as grieving young husband. He was not immediately under suspicion by the police or the media.
Though Flynn stops short of saying that her character of Nick Dunne is completely based on Scott Peterson, she did say that both the fictional Nick Dunne and the real-life Scott Peterson had that “same vibe about them.” We can assume that’s certainly the vibe of charm and smooth deception exhibited by both the actual and fictional husbands of the missing women.
The disappearances of Laci Peterson and the fictional Amy Dunne follow a similar path. Both women were last seen by their husbands and no one else. Both husbands left their wives at home and returned later to find them gone. Both swore they had no knowledge of what had happened to their wives. One of the husbands was lying.
Scott Peterson told police that he last saw his wife on the morning of Christmas Eve as he prepared to go fishing at a marina. In his statement, he made mention that when he left home Laci was watching a cooking show. She told him that she intended to take their dog for a walk to a park which was close by their home. The police report stated that when Scott returned to their house later that day, he found the dog in the backyard but saw no sign of Laci. He told them he wasn’t unduly alarmed and decided to wash his clothes, which he said had gotten wet and smelled bad from his fishing trip. Then he took a shower.
The disappearance of the fictional Amy is slightly different. The morning of the Dunnes’ fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne gets up early and goes to visit his twin sister to complain to her about his unhappy marriage and his increasingly miserable shrewish wife, Amy. He returns home to a scene of overturned furniture, broken glass, and signs of a struggle. Nick calls police and reports his young wife as missing. Like Laci, the young, pretty Amy simply vanished.
While the book follows the same story line as reality, even to the pregnancy and the initial family and friends support of Nick, there are major differences between the two women and their disappearances. While both Laci and Amy disappeared without a trace, there were no clues left behind by Laci Peterson that pointed to an abduction. However, the character of Amy left behind violent clues that would eventually point police to suspect she was taken from her home against her will and those clues pointed directly to her husband Nick.
The intertwining of fact and fiction merge in the case of Scott Peterson and Nick Dunne. All family and media support ceases for the men and police suspicion rises, when it becomes known that Scott Peterson is having an affair. Before she vanished, Laci Peterson was aware of her husband’s affair. In the book, Nick Dunne is also having an affair—an affair that was discovered by Amy before she went missing.
Both men were convicted and found guilty in the public eye before either was arrested. The hatred and anger Nick receives from his neighbors—and even from his beloved twin sister—creates a twist in the story that reflects the real-life events surrounding Scott Peterson. Feelings against Peterson were so strong in his community that his court case had to be moved to another venue in order to assure him a fair trial.
Though Flynn has said that she paid little attention to the media or police procedurals concerning the Peterson case, the writing of Gone Girl strongly reflects a similarity to the case of Laci Peterson. Though the fictional story of Amy and Nick Dunne ends very differently from the tragedy of Laci and Scott Peterson, there are many details in Gone Girl that are all too familiar in both stories—the pregnancies, the affairs, the unhappy lives under a façade of perfection, the missing women, and no concrete clues about their disappearances.
Laci Peterson’s story ended in a horrible way—her remains washed ashore on San Francisco Bay four months after her disappearance. Even though the ME could not give an official cause of death due to the terrible decomposition of her body from the water and sea life, prosecutors told the jury that the mother-to-be had more than likely been smothered to death before her body was tossed into the bay. Obviously they made their case. The jury found Scott Peterson guilty of the first-degree murder of his wife and of the second-degree murder of his unborn son. Peterson, who to this day maintains his innocence, is currently on death row in California,
As for the fictional Amy Dunne, she returns home of her own volition after seeing an interview Nick gives to a Dateline-type TV show where he piles on the charm and tells the interviewer how much he loves and misses his Amy and prays that she will be found alive and well. He only wants her home with him. She decides to forgive him for his affair and the coldness that she felt had settled into their marriage. Only one problem—now she needs to find a new person to blame for her violent disappearance.
Amy chooses a very wealthy, ex-boyfriend named Desi—a person who was so enamored of her that he actually stalked her in school after she had broken up with him—to be her scapegoat. When simply being on the run hadn’t worked out for her she had contacted him for help and he willingly put her up in his luxurious lake house. However, now that Nick has professed his love for her publicly and so profusely, she wants out and to get out she needs to kill the obsessed and possessive Desi.
Her devious story, told to the police with wide-eyed innocence and a sad confusion, is that her crazy stalker ex-boyfriend had broken into her home when she was alone, kidnapped her, held her captive, and raped her repeatedly. One night, as he was attempting to rape her yet again, she fought back hard and, in a life and death struggle, had killed him in order to save herself and her unborn child.
Amazing Amy's return vindicates Nick in the eyes of the police, the media, and the family. Once home alone with Nick however, Amy tells him everything she has done, including the lie about being kidnapped and held against her will by Desi, and how she violently murdered him. He begins to see her not just as an unhappy shrew but as a monster.
Though Nick’s story ends much better than Scott Peterson’s, he is forced to continue living with Amy because he feels responsible for the unborn child, a child he will not leave to be raised by the monster Amy. In a certain way, Nick is also in prison—a prison of Amy’s making.