Inside Drew Peterson's Twisted Path to Prison: One Wife Dead and Another Missing Without a Trace

It wasn't until his fourth wife disappeared that authorities decided to take another look at the 2004 death of the third Mrs. Drew Peterson, which had been ruled an accident.

By Natalie Finn Nov 20, 2021 3:00 PMTags
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Drew Peterson continues to insist that he didn't kill his third wife.

"The prosecution is making up facts," he said in a new interview with Dateline from prison that aired Nov. 19. "The prosecution staged a prosecution with Kathy. They took an accident and staged a prosecution. Everybody's twisting it to make me look bad, okay? They're twisting it to make their prosecution or what they're trying to say against me work."

Kathleen Savio was found dead in her bathtub on March 1, 2004, the tub itself dry but her fingertips pruney and her hair wet with blood from a 1-inch cut to the back of her head. Police figured she slipped and fell, and at some point the water had drained from the tub. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning.

The 40-year-old left behind two sons and an acrimonious financial battle with her ex-husband that was at long last just a few weeks away from being settled.

Three years later, when Peterson's fourth wife disappeared, investigators decided to take another look at what happened to Kathleen.

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"There are some unusual circumstances in the 2004 case," Illinois State's Attorney James Glasgow told reporters Oct. 31, 2007. Kathleen's death, which occurred before he was in office, the prosecutor noted, was being "re-looked at." But in the meantime, he stressed, they had a missing-person case on their hands, not a criminal investigation.

Three days prior, a Sunday, Drew said he had woken up at 11 a.m. to find his wife of four years, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, already gone, off to help paint a friend's house. The friend recalled speaking to Stacy at around 10:15 a.m.

Per a timeline of events compiled by the Chicago Tribune, her sister Cassandra Cales, not having been able to reach Stacy all that day, went to the Peterson home on Pheasant Chase Court at 11 p.m. Neither Drew nor Stacy was there, and one of the children told her they had had a big fight that morning. 

Cassandra called the Illinois State Police to report her sister missing at 4 a.m. on Monday.

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

"Sgt. Peterson is cooperating fully with the state police," Lt. Ken Teppel, like Drew a cop with the Bolingbrook Police Department, told the Tribune on Oct. 31. "Obviously, he's distraught." Drew's mother, Betty Morphey, told the newspaper, "My son is very upset. She's just a lovely girl, they get along beautifully. They're loving and kind."

But Peterson also told the Tribune that he had last spoken to Stacy on the phone at 9 p.m. on the 28th—and she said she was leaving him. "I believe she's with someone else," he said, "but I believe she's safe."

Her family said they found that highly unlikely, not least because she was the mother of two young children with Peterson.

On Oct. 29, Stacy's aunt Suzan Robison told the Tribune that, two days before she disappeared, Stacy had told Drew she wanted a divorce. He was "a very jealous, very controlling person," Robison said. "He followed her. He tracked her with GPS on her cell phone, called her constantly."

Peterson had told the paper that his wife probably wasn't using her cell because "she knows you can find people with the phone."

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Every resource the authorities had was dispatched, from tracker dogs to divers, but to this day, no trace of Stacy has ever been found.

The same day state police called her case a "potential homicide," less than two weeks after she disappeared, the Will County state's attorney's office officially reopened the investigation into Kathleen's 2004 death and had her body exhumed. 

"I'm convinced she was the victim of a murder. 'Who done it' is up to the police to resolve," pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, known for consulting on high-profile cases and a regular on cable news, told the Associated Press in November 2007 after he examined Kathleen's remains at her family's request. In his opinion, there was a struggle and someone put her in the bathtub after she was already dead.

Frank Polich/Getty Images

Per the AP, Glasgow concurred that there was evidence that Kathleen had been the victim of a homicide staged to look like an accident.

"She told me that she was afraid, she told me that he would kill her, that it would look like an accident but it wasn't, so make sure you take care of my kids" Kathleen's sister Sue Doman told CBS News at the time.

Among the things the inquest jury never heard back in 2004: Police had been called to Drew and Kathleen's home 18 times for domestic disturbances, though Drew was never arrested, and Kathleen had tried to get a restraining order against her estranged husband in 2002.

In November 2002 she had written to Will County Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Fragale, "He knows how to manipulate the system, and his next step is to take my children away. Or kill me instead."

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Stacy's family, meanwhile, was appalled at how Peterson—who had already been suspended from the Bolingbrook Police Department in September 2007 for an alleged "serious lack of judgment" during a police pursuit and then resigned Nov. 20 with his full $6,068 monthly pension—was behaving in light of everything that was happening.

Too nonchalant, they felt.

"This man doesn't take it seriously," Pam Bosco, a spokeswoman for the family, told the Chicago Tribune. "The public is seeing that this is not a man concerned about his third wife being declared the victim of a homicide or that Stacy has disappeared. As long as he keeps showing his side, it's fine. Let him be a joke in front of the media."

Joke or not, the media ate it up: The beautiful young fourth wife of a cop whose third wife died under suspicious circumstances vanishing into thin air? Pure catnip. 

AP Photo/Paul Beaty

Relatives and acquaintances on Stacy's side painted the picture of a domineering, jealous husband who believed that his wife's life should revolve around him and resented Stacy's attempts to maintain her independence. When she went missing, she had been enrolled in junior college, hoping to one day become a nurse.

"I was a loving husband, okay? I was, what can I say?" Peterson recently told Dateline. "I was a good husband, a good provider."

In 2007, he maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing and lamented how he was being portrayed in the press, how longtime friends from the police force wouldn't talk to him anymore and some had sold their stories to the tabloids. Peterson's lawyer, Joel Brodsky, looking to bolster the theory that Stacy really had just left Drew for another man, said in January 2008 that there was a racy text message on Stacy's old phone that proved she'd been having an affair. (They had the phone because Stacy had given it to her stepson, Brodsky said.)

In the wake of Stacy's disappearance, Peterson's high school sweetheart and first wife, Carol Brown, told the Tribune that her ex had never been physically abusive but could be controlling. And, she said she found out he was cheating on her while she was pregnant. "I thought he always had respect for me, but I guess when you stray in a relationship, you don't have respect for the person that you were doing that to," she said. (Carol had two children with Peterson, sons Eric and Stephen.)

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After his marriage to Carol ended in 1980, Peterson was briefly engaged to 20-year-old Kyle Piry and then married 23-year-old single mom Victoria Rutkiewicz in 1982. His former stepdaughter, Lisa, told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in November 2007 (appearing only in silhouette, her last name withheld) that Peterson had been abusive toward both her and her mother during their nine-year marriage, and was a cheater. (Peterson denied her allegations of physical abuse.)

Drew and Victoria divorced in 1992 and married 28-year-old Kathleen Savio that same year. Drew was 38.

Piry, who met Peterson when he was on the job investigating a crime at the gas station where she worked, told Today's Meredith Viera in 2007 that she was never afraid of him when she was with him, "probably naively." She recalled, "He was attractive. He was funny. He had a good wit about him. He was complimentary and that sort of thing. He was charming."

But, she did recognize some of the behavior—jealous, possessive, abusive—she'd heard about in accounts of his second, third and fourth marriages. "It seemed like it started with me," Piry said. "I heard his first wife said there was no abuse of any sort—and maybe snowballed—with each woman got a little worse."

Ultimately she broke off their engagement after four months, Piry said, because "there were too many things that just made me really uncomfortable." After that, he continued to stalk and harass her, even pulling her over to write bogus traffic tickets, she alleged. Piry said in multiple interviews that she called the police on him after he pushed her when she returned to his house to pick up some of her possessions, but officers on the force who were friendly with Peterson encouraged her not to press charges. They "swept it away," she told ABC News.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Stacy Cales first met Drew in 2001, when she was 17 and working as a desk clerk at the local SpringHill Suites. The 30-year age gap apparently didn't faze the recent high school grad and, perhaps in no small part influenced by her own peripatetic upbringing, she fell quickly for the married father of four.

"Stacy was a good kid," a childhood friend told journalist Joseph Hosey, author of the 2008 book Fatal Vows: The Tragic Wives of Sergeant Drew Peterson. "In my eyes, she was just a little girl who got mixed up with the wrong guy."

Stacy's parents had split up in 1990, when she was about 6. Her mother, Christine Toutges, had a history of depression and alcoholism and her father, Anthony Cales, was awarded custody of Stacy and her two siblings, brother Yelton and sister Cassandra. The family moved around a lot and Anthony remarried five years later. When she was in high school, Stacy went to live with her older half-sister, Tina Kokas, Christine's daughter from a previous relationship.

Eerily enough, Christine disappeared in March 1998, when Stacy was 14. According to reports, she left her house with her purse and her Bible, possibly on her way to church or to a friend's house, and was never seen again.

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Peterson would later claim that Stacy was following in her mother's footsteps, taking off without saying a word.

"It's the last thing she would have wanted," Stacy's aunt, Christine's sister Candace Aikin, told Hosey. "When you have something happen in your childhood, you try to do the opposite. Her mother disappeared. She knew how that felt. She would never do that to her children."

Within weeks of meeting the teen in 2001, Peterson helped Stacy get a new job as a clerk for the village of Bolingbrook and basically installed her in the basement of his family's home, unbeknownst to Kathleen and their two sons, Kristopher and Thomas. (Per Hosey, Stacy later insisted to friend and next-door neighbor Sharon Bychowski that Drew had assured her his marriage was for all intents and purposes over by the time she started seeing him.)

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An anonymous note eventually tipped Kathleen off to her husband's affair, the messenger—presumed to be someone who worked with her husband—letting her know that Drew's behavior had become "an ongoing joke within the department."

She filed for divorce and the split was finalized in October 2003, but animosity lingered. Kathleen didn't want to let the proceedings go without the assets she felt was owed her after their 11-year marriage, which to her ended in a most humiliating fashion.

Drew wasted no time remarrying, tying the knot with Stacy on Oct. 18, 2003, the ink on his divorce barely dry and just shy of three months after they welcomed son Anthony. Daughter Lacy (named after Stacy's little sister who died in infancy) was born in 2005. 

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Kathleen's sister, Anna Marie Doman, told Hosey that she predicted Drew's fourth marriage wouldn't last, either, because when Stacy "hits 21 and sees there's a whole world out there, the s--t's going to hit the fan, which is pretty much what happened."

Drew and Stacy's marriage was alternately happy or frequently rocky, depending on whose side of the family was talking about it. After Lacy was born, Stacy underwent a tummy tuck, a breast enhancement and Lasik, so-called gifts from her husband.

Bychowski remarked to Hosey, "After all that money he invested in her, at what point did she just become expendable bulls--t?"  

But in 2006, Stacy's older sister Tina died of cancer, and not long afterward friends and family got the impression that she wanted to leave Drew and take all four kids with her—Anthony and Lacy, as well as Tom and Kris, whom Stacy had grown close to (especially after they moved in fulltime when their mother died).

According to Aikin, Stacy once told her sister Cassandra, "If I don't answer my cell, something's wrong."

AP Photo/Belleville News-Democrat, Steve Nagy

Toward the end of November 2007, a then-unidentified relative of Peterson's told a friend—who then called police, after which they interviewed the relative—that he had helped Drew carry a 4-foot-long plastic blue barrel that was warm to the touch and seemed to weigh 120 pounds out of Drew and Stacy's bedroom and load it into Drew's SUV, after which Drew drove the relative home. The next day, the man was hospitalized following an apparent suicide, having overdosed on pills washed down with alcohol.

After the Tribune reported on that development, family spokeswoman Pam Bosco said the volunteers who'd been on the lookout for Stacy would start searching for that container. Peterson denied the whole story, his lawyer telling the paper that the relative had "serious psychological issues."

The man in question, Peterson's stepbrother Tom Morphey, said of Drew on Good Morning America in March 2009, "I know he killed Stacy. All the circumstances point to it." Morphey, who died in a car crash in 2014, received immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperating with the investigation into Stacy's disappearance. 

He said that Peterson had told him Stacy was cheating and something needed to be done, and asked if Morphey loved him enough to kill for him. When Morphey demurred, Peterson asked if he would rent a storage locker for him instead. (He didn't have his ID on him, so he didn't, Morphey said.) But, he added, he thought Peterson was talking about killing the other guy. "I didn't think for a minute he was going to try to kill her," he said.

In response to Morphey's story, Peterson's attorney Joel Brodsky told reporters, "If [prosecutors] found him credible, he would have been one of the first witnesses they would have brought in and they would have based the entire investigation and the entire case on his testimony." Peterson said in a radio interview he had looked into renting a storage locker because he needed somewhere to keep tires.

A grand jury investigation was convened, but Peterson was never arrested or charged in connection with Stacy's disappearance.

However, Kathleen's death had officially been reclassified as a homicide following the release of the official autopsy findings in February 2008.

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

While both investigations were ongoing, 23-year-old Christina Raines, a mother of two, moved in with Peterson. His camp claimed in December 2008 that they were engaged, but the following month Raines told CBS News that was never the case, that she let him say that for publicity, so he "could be in the media."

That being said, they did date, and she did believe him initially when he told her he had nothing to do with Stacy's disappearance, Raines explained on Court TV's In Session. But "seeing her pictures in the house, seeing how she was with her kids, and all her pictures, I kind of think, 'Wait, just wait a minute.' How could she leave them?" She ultimately moved out with the help of her father, Edward Raines, who didn't approve one bit of their relationship but had told his daughter he would support her if marrying Peterson made her happy.

"I did reverse psychology," he said on In Session.

Also in May 2008, Peterson was arrested on a felony weapons charge, investigators having found that one of the guns confiscated from the suspect's home in the wake of Stacy's disappearance was of an illegal size. He pleaded not guilty and flashed a smile at reporters after posting bail.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

But he was indicted and arrested for Kathleen's murder on May 7, 2009. Bail was set at $20 million, but while he was still wrangling with banks over home equity and other financial matters in order to post bond, a judge remanded him to jail for the duration of the trial.

Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

First, a hearing was held in 2010 to determine if dozens of witness accounts of Drew's alleged behavior and threats, comprised largely of comments made by Kathleen or Stacy to others, could be admitted as evidence at trial despite being hearsay.

A former colleague of Kathleen's testified that she had told him that her husband had threatened to kill her while holding a knife to her neck. Eric Peterson, one of Drew's sons from his first marriage, testified that in 1993 he witnessed his dad dragging an intoxicated Kathleen down the stairs as she screamed for help. Morphey testified about his whole exchange with Drew. A divorce attorney named Harry Smith testified that, a few days before she disappeared, Stacy Peterson had told him that she knew her husband had killed Kathleen and she was thinking of leaving him.

At first the judge's answer was no, the hearsay was not admissible.

But on appeal, citing a law passed in 2008 by the Illinois State Legislature that allowed hearsay testimony in first-degree murder cases if the prosecutors could prove that a witness had been killed to be prevented from testifying—nicknamed "Drew's Law because it passed in the wake of Stacy's disappearance"—eight statements, including the one relayed by Smith, were allowed into testimony

The law allowed victims to "testify from the grave," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, who had championed the legislation.

The trial got underway in 2012 (but not before Rob Lowe and Kaley Cuoco played Drew and Stacy in the Lifetime movie Drew Peterson: Untouchable), the case against Peterson largely circumstantial but also now featuring a number of statements that strongly implicated Peterson in the deaths of two of his wives.

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The deputy coroner and others who processed the scene when Kathleen died testified that they didn't collect physical evidence or treat her death as suspicious because investigators had already told them was an accident.

A witness named Jeff Pachter, who used to work with Peterson at a cable company (in addition to being a police officer, Drew had a variety of jobs over the years), testified that, months before she died, his former co-worker offered him $25,000 to hire someone to kill Kathleen. The defense accused him of fabricating the entire exchange.

But thanks in no small part to the hearsay, in September 2012 Peterson was found guilty of murder.

Having conveyed little emotion during the trial, he surprised the court at his sentencing in February 2013, shouting, "I did not kill Kathleen!" into a microphone at the defense's table.

"Yes, you did! You liar!" screamed Kathleen's sister Susan Doman, after which she was promptly removed from the courtroom.

He continued with his statement, tearfully saying, "I loved Kathy. She was a good mom. She did not deserve to die. But she died in an accident." He also insisted that he didn't deserve to go to prison and, fixing his eyes on Glasgow, the prosecutor, said, "Never forget what you've done here."

Peterson was sentenced to 38 years in prison.

Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Glasgow told reporters afterward that the outburst had allowed everyone to see "a psychopath reveal himself in open court."

Peterson has since filed multiple appeals, arguing among other things that the hearsay should have been inadmissible and that he had a subpar defense, but all have been rejected. In 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld his conviction, ruling that the use of hearsay did not violate his constitutional rights.

And in 2015, Peterson was charged with trying to hire a fellow inmate to kill Glasgow, the prosecutor who put him behind bars, for $10,000. He pleaded not guilty.

"He looked right at me and smiled and called my name," Candace Aikin, Stacy's aunt, told CNN in 2016 as the man she believes killed her niece went on trial for murder-for-hire. "He's very jovial and, you know, making jokes. I don't understand where he's really coming from, how he can be so happy."

A jury found Peterson guilty and he was sentenced to another 40 years in prison.

In 2019 he appealed his murder conviction again, arguing that Joel Brodsky (whose law license was suspended that June) had made egregious errors at trial. In a statement, Brodsky pointed to the previous decisions that had rejected Peterson's claims of ineffective counsel.

"The reasons that Peterson was convicted has nothing to do with me or any of his counsel," Brodsky said, per the Chicago Tribune. "The Illinois Supreme Court put a great deal of work into its well written opinion, and anyone who wants to know why Peterson was convicted should read it."

An appeal on the murder-for-hire conviction was also rejected last December. "Our society would collapse if criminals could get away with their crimes by murdering the prosecutors before or after being brought to justice," Glasgow said in statement. "A prosecutor's family should never be placed at risk because the prosecutor has done their job." He thanked all of the involved authorities and deliberative bodies for their due diligence.

Speaking of jobs not done, though, back in 2009 when the grand jury investigation into Stacy's disappearance was underway, Jim Pretto, one of the inquest jurors who ruled that Kathleen's death was an accident, expressed his frustration to ABC News.

"There was no evidence at all to point toward it being a murder," he recalled. "There was nothing presented at all."

Pretto said, "If we would have come back with murder instead, maybe Stacy Peterson would still be here today. There is a little bit of guilt that because of that, maybe somebody else was murdered because of that. That maybe could have been stopped."

(Originally published Sept. 19, 2021, at 5 a.m. PT)