11/11/2007 (www.suntimes.com) Chicago Sun-Times

“He was a knight in shining armor” (Stacy Peterson History)



'He was a knight in shining armor'

ROUGH LIFE ON THE ROAD | 'We had a - - - - - - up childhood,' says Stacy Peterson's sister, who fears she is dead. 'I'm not going to give up until I find her,' the sister vows.

November 11, 2007

BY KARA SPAK kspak@suntimes.com

Growing up, Stacy Peterson was on the move.

But no matter where her family went, trouble followed.

There was an absent mother. Alcoholism. Domestic violence. Troubled finances. Two sisters who died young. A brother in prison. More than 20 addresses, and with them, new schools.

Her younger sister, Cassandra Cales, 22, revisits the family's history bluntly.

"We had a - - - - - - up childhood," she said. "It was tough."

Out of this chaos emerged Stacy, quiet, maternal, organized, crafty, pretty, a good student who graduated early from Romeoville High School, a young woman forced to grow up too soon.

Husband named as suspect

She was 17 when she met Drew Peterson, a 47-year-old Bolingbrook cop who seemed to have everything missing from her family life: money, authority, stability and a nice house in the suburbs.

Stacy would find out that he shared that house with his third wife, Kathleen Savio, and their two young sons. Savio was found dead in her bathtub in 2004.

On Friday, Peterson was named a suspect in Stacy's Oct. 28 disappearance, and the case was changed from a missing person investigation to a potential homicide investigation.

Also on Friday, a judge approved exhumation of Savio's body after a coroner said her death was mistakenly ruled an accidental drowning.

It's easy to think Stacy saw a father figure when she fell for Drew. But Stacy may have just been looking for a way out.

Drew Peterson has said he thinks she left him for another man, but her family and friends continue searching, insisting she would never leave that way. They fear the 23-year-old nursing student and mother is dead.

"People that are good, good things are supposed to happen to them," said Dawna Klitzke, whom Stacy lived with in Fort Myers, Fla., for part of Stacy's junior high school years. "And she's come a long way from where she came from."

Stacy Ann Cales was the third of five children born to Anthony and Christie Cales, his second wife. Her older sister Jessica, and baby sister Lacy, both died before the age of 2, one in a house fire, the other from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Stacy's mom 'kind of went crazy'

"After her second child died, Christie kind of went crazy," said Linda Cales, Anthony's third wife, who was married to him from 1996 to 2002 and no longer speaks to his family. Linda Cales said Christie was in and out of the family's life.

Linda Cales said she met Stacy's father in 1994 at the Lani Kai, a tiki bar in Fort Myers, Fla. She had just ended a stint of seasonal work. He was scoping out a marina to buy.

"We danced," she said. "A couple of days later, he invited me out to dinner, and I went."

At the end of a week together in Florida, he told her the baby-sitter in Downers Grove watching his three kids -- Yelton, Stacy and Cassandra -- quit. He offered her the job and a ride to Illinois. She took both. "The kids came home from school and it was like 'Hi!' " Linda Cales said.

Anthony Cales returned to Downers Grove, selling the family's home for money for the marina and moving the group to the home of a friend in Naperville. Within months, the family moved to Florida.

Cassandra Cales estimates the family moved between 20 and 30 times while she was growing up.

"The shortest time I ever went to school was two days," Cassandra said. "Then we changed schools again because we moved."

Anthony Cales drank heavily. So did his wife, Linda. The marina deal fell through.

In March 1996, a justice of the peace married the two in a bar parking lot. She said she thought his drinking would stop. It didn't.

Drunken dad called kids names

"When he was drunk he was very verbally abusive," she said. "He called the girls horrible names."

One night, tired of his drinking and watching his kids, she attacked him and was arrested for domestic violence. She spent 21 days in jail.

Linda's daughter, Dawna Klitzke, 36, lived in Fort Myers, and for nearly two years, she gave Yelton and Stacy a home. Stacy, she said, was a strong student, especially bright in science and history.

"Stacy was a good kid in a bad environment," she said.

She loved playing with Klitzke's babies. "She was a mom before she had kids," Klitzke said. "When she lived with my mom and her dad, she did most of the cooking and took care of Cassandra while her brother was running in the streets."

Yelton Cales, 28, is incarcerated in the Western Illinois Correctional Center, convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a minor.

A year after their wedding, Linda, Anthony and the three kids moved to Morgan City, La., after Anthony read a newspaper article about jobs there. The next year the couple separated, living in trailers. Soon after, Anthony and his children moved back to Illinois. The Caleses divorced in 2002.

Despite the rough life on the road, the loving bond between Cassandra and Stacy was the constant.

"It was just me and her, we moved around so much," Cassandra said. "It was all we had."

Then one day, Drew Peterson appeared at the hotel where Stacy worked. They talked over coffee; he would drop in during her shift. Months later, they became intimate, Stacy told Klitzke.

Savio divorced Peterson in 2003 after learning of the affair and that Stacy was pregnant. Drew Peterson married Stacy later that year.

Cassandra said she was surprised when Stacy told her she was marrying Drew. They exchanged vows in a field in Bolingbrook. Drew invited one son as his witness. Stacy asked Cassandra to be there.

Thrived as a young mother

"They didn't want to tell any of the family," Cassandra said. "They just wanted to get it done."

Klitzke said when she learned about Drew Peterson, she told Stacy she should date someone her own age. Stacy seemed genuinely happy, though.

"There was the jewelry, he wined and dined her," she said. "He was a knight in shining armor."

While Stacy's view of the marriage appeared to sour toward the end -- family members said she wanted out -- she thrived in her new role as a mother. She stocked pantries with food, determined to give her kids variety she didn't have growing up. She spent hours creating scrapbooks filled with pictures of the happy life she craved.

She and Cassandra talked every day until Oct. 28, the day Stacy disappeared. Each day of silence further motivates Cassandra.

"I'm not giving up," Cassandra said. "I'll do anything. I'm not going to give up until I find her."