A veteran cop who knew how to turn on the charm, Drew Peterson was known to those around him for his lighthearted humor and, perhaps more than anything, his devotion to his children. "His kids were the center of his life," Lt. Ken Teppel, a fellow police officer in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, told NEWSWEEK. "He was always talking about them."
Now it seems that everyone is talking about Peterson—and some are questioning if they really knew him at all.
In a dramatic turn, the 53-year-old sergeant has been named a suspect in the disappearance of his 23-year-old wife, Stacy Peterson, who has been missing since Oct. 28. Authorities say the case of Stacy, his fourth wife, is being considered a "possible homicide." But the questions about Peterson don't stop there.
Authorities are investigating whether Peterson played any role in the mysterious drowning death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. Bolingbrook police say they responded to 18 calls concerning domestic violence at the home of Peterson and Savio during their marriage.
As part of the renewed investigation into Savio's death, authorities on Tuesday exhumed the woman's body for an autopsy. When Savio was found dead in a bathtub, police say her hair was soaked in blood and she had a one-inch gash on the back of her head. A coroner's jury ruled her death accidental. Savio at one time had secured an order of protection against Peterson, and she said that he had threatened to kill her, according to her family members.
Peterson's second wife, Vicki Connolly, 48, has now come forward to describe Peterson, when they were together, as controlling and abusive. She said he threatened to kill her and make it look like an accident, according to a report published Friday in the Chicago Tribune.
She told the newspaper that Peterson had a remarkable talent for exuding charm and winning the confidence of people. Connolly, who was married to Peterson for 10 years, said she met him in a Bolingbrook bar in the early 1980s. "This man," she said, referring to Peterson, "just oozing confidence, he wanted to dance with me and buy my girlfriends drinks." She added, "And he set his eyes on me and it was like he was going to get me. He couldn't get me to move in with him fast enough."
Peterson hasn't been charged with any crimes, and he denies involvement in either case. But he acknowledges that he is viewed with deep suspicion. "Based on media coverage," he told the "Today" show earlier this week, "I'm as guilty as they come."
Stacy Peterson was 17 and working as a hotel desk clerk when she met the police officer, who was 30 years her senior. Blond and pretty, Stacy stood five-foot-two and weighed only 100 pounds. When they married, she was taking pre-nursing classes at a community college. The relationship was a mystery to some, including Stacy's longtime friend Pam Bosco. "We were trying to figure out why she was even interested in an older man," she said.
Bosco described Drew Peterson as "personable" and a "man of few words." But she said Stacy became deeply unhappy in the marriage. "She talked about her fear of him," said Bosco. "She said she was worried he was going to kill her. It was scary."
She said Stacy wanted desperately to leave Peterson, who she said had tight control of all financial matters, but didn't know how. "She said he was following her; he was tracking her with GPS," said Bosco. She said Stacy had asked about moving with her two children into a rented place owned by Bosco just a few days before she vanished. "She said she wanted a divorce."
Two days later, on Oct. 28, she said Drew called some friends and family members to say that Stacy was leaving him for another man. In interviews since her disappearance, Peterson has repeated his belief that his wife is somewhere with a man.
Until he became a household name around Chicago, Peterson kept a low profile. A friend of Peterson's for 27 years, Ric Mims says he didn't even know much about Peterson's three previous wives. Mims says he always knew Peterson as a man who played with his younger children, held family barbecues in the backyard, took the young ones to festivals and amusement parks. "They liked to spend a lot of time with their kids," Mims said of Peterson and Stacy. Peterson has two young children with Stacy, two teenage boys from his third marriage and two adult sons from his first.
Peterson, who did not respond to interview requests from NEWSWEEK, was hired as an officer by the Bolingbrook Police Department in 1977. He was lately working the 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift, supervising 10 patrol officers. It seems he has had some troubles at work, too. In September he was suspended for eight days for violating department policy on car chases. Officers under his supervision chased two teenagers who drove off the road and crashed at a construction site. "The pursuit never should have happened in the first place," said Teppel, of the Bolingbrook squad. "We don't pursue for property crimes." Peterson also was fired in 1985 for improper conduct while working as a narcotics officer, but the case was later overturned and he was reinstated.
Since the investigation into his missing wife, Peterson has been suspended without pay. He tendered a letter of resignation this week.
Acquaintances say Peterson, a risk-taker, enjoyed riding a black Harley-Davidson motorcycle painted with blue flames and piloting his ultralight airplane. Friends say he also collected rifles. A former colleague, Don Bolger, who worked as a part-time police officer, said Peterson was "very businesslike, very professional" on the job. He is more outgoing off the clock, said Bolger, who was also a neighbor of Peterson's when he was married to Savio.
"He's a jokester," Bolger told NEWSWEEK. "He has an outgoing personality … If you needed a hand with something, he would help you." Peterson had an interest in photography, and snapped the photos for Bolger's 1981 wedding as a gift. Bolger says he would often see Peterson playing with his two kids with Savio, riding bikes and chasing after them.
Despite the cloud of suspicion, Peterson still has his supporters. A former neighbor, Margie Carcerano, said the family liked to rollerblade, go camping and attend their kids' sporting events. "They were both awesome parents," she said of Peterson and Savio. "What I see of him as a father, he is always there. He is always at every activity."
Margie's husband Steve Carcerano—who found Savio's body—says simply, "I believe my friend. He said she left him for someone else, and I have no reason to think otherwise."
On Thursday the Bolingbrook Police Pension Board voted unanimously to give Peterson his pension. Although one board member said she was "uncomfortable" about the decision, the board said it had no legal basis for ruling that Peterson didn't deserve the money.
Pam Bosco, Stacy Peterson's friend, makes it clear what she thinks the police officer deserves. "We think she met with foul play," said Bosco, referring to Stacy's mysterious disappearance. "And we think Drew had something to do with it."