11/18/2007 (www.chicagotribune.com) Chicago Tribune

“Need for control drove Peterson, families say”



Need for control drove Peterson, families say

By Erika Slife, Josh Noel and Gerry Smith, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Matthew Walberg contributed to this report

November 18, 2007

Whether Drew Peterson was sitting in his squad car watching her as she left the mall or calling her eight times while she got a haircut, Stacy Peterson was accustomed to being the main object of her husband's attention, her family and friends say.

Ultimately, though, Drew Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, had a need to control his wife that got to be too much, they said. Last year, while her sister Tina was dying of cancer, Stacy Peterson would stay at her home, sometimes for long stretches. One day, her husband showed up unannounced to see if she was cheating on him, her sister Cassandra Cales said.

"That's when she said, 'You know, I can't do this anymore,' " Cales said.

Stacy Peterson, 23, told her husband she wanted a divorce days before she disappeared Oct. 28, her loved ones say. Drew Peterson, 53, says she ran away with another man. He has not been charged with a crime, but police labeled him a suspect in what they have called a "potential homicide investigation."

The disappearance led authorities to re-examine the death of Drew Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, 40, who was found dead in a bathtub in 2004. A coroner's jury ruled the death accidental, but officials—and an expert brought in by the Savio family—now suspect it may have been staged as an accident. Her body was exhumed Tuesday.

Drew Peterson has denied involvement in Savio's death and Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

The portrait of Drew Peterson that has emerged from scores of interviews is mostly of a charming man who stops at nothing to win the hearts of the women he desires. In an exclusive interview with the Tribune on Saturday, Drew Peterson's first wife, Carol Brown, described her ex-husband as a charming teenager and doting young husband who also could be controlling and, eventually, unfaithful. Peterson's second wife, Vicki Connolly, spoke of the extremes she experienced with him: wonderful at times, and "really bad" at others, including threats on her life.

In her living room in her west suburban home, Brown, 50, said Peterson never threatened her or abused her during their six-year marriage, from 1974 to 1980. In fact, she described a thoughtful husband who doted on her as she went through a miscarriage. Peterson was by her side when she was bedridden in the weeks before, bringing her food and "always being very supportive of me," she said. It would have been the couple's first child, and Peterson was devastated, she said.

Brown was hesitant to point out negative characteristics in her ex-husband, but her current husband, David, who has known Peterson since they were kids, described him as "very controlling."

In Peterson's next three marriages, as each wore on, he became increasingly controlling and suspicious—even though he was the one who was already on to his next affair, said his second wife and relatives of other wives. As Drew Peterson got older, the age gap between him and his wives grew.

Brown was just three years younger. He was a senior at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park and she a freshman when they began dating. Three years later, in 1974, they married and, after Peterson briefly attended the College of DuPage, they moved to Falls Church, Va., where he trained as a military police officer.

They later moved to Bolingbrook, where they went out to dinner with other police couples. Brown rarely went out on her own, she said.

"He didn't really like me going out at night with friends," she said. "But he wouldn't hold me hostage and say, 'No you can't go out.' "

Peterson, by contrast, was out almost every night as an undercover police officer, she said. Then, when she was pregnant with their second child, she discovered that Peterson had been cheating on her.

"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," Brown said.

The couple divorced amicably in 1980.

Brown was given full custody of their two children and remarried in 1981.

Though she received only $250 per month in child support, "if the kids ever needed anything extra, whether it was sports equipment or extra fees in school, I would ask him and he would pay it," she said. "There was no argument ever."

In 1982, Peterson married Victoria O'Neil (now Connolly), who was 23 at the time. He was 28. They met at a Bolingbrook bar.

She had a daughter, Lisa, from a previous relationship, and she said Peterson's desire to have Lisa call him "Dad" was nearly obsessive. Lisa's real father was not welcome in the home, Connolly said.

"[Lisa's father] didn't fit into our little realm," she said. "It took a lot of years for me to see that. In [Peterson's] eyes, I was in his world, and he didn't want any interference."

Peterson said he preferred she and Lisa remain at home, where he knew they were safe, she said. That left time for his career—and multiple affairs, she later learned.

Peterson performed his job with fervor but landed in trouble in 1985. The police commission found him guilty of official misconduct, disobedience, failure to report a bribe and self-assigned police action. The trouble forced the couple to sell their home and move in with his parents, Connolly said. A year later, however, Peterson was reinstated after a judge overruled the commission.

Connolly decided to leave Peterson, primarily because of his infidelity. The divorce was amicable, Connolly recalled, because Peterson was already involved with the woman who would become his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Savio didn't know Peterson was still married when she started dating him, her brother, Henry Savio, said. "He told my sister that he wasn't married and that he didn't have any kids when he met her," he said.

Savio, who was known to relatives as Kitty, was about 28 at the time, working as an accountant and looking to get married, her brother said. She and Peterson met through a friend, and Peterson, about 10 years older than her, swept her off her feet, Henry Savio said.

"He's a charmer," he said.

They married in 1992 and had two boys. Throughout the 10-year marriage, Henry Savio said he never felt comfortable about it.

"I was kind of on my guard all the time," he said. "[Peterson and the kids] would do crazy stuff with my sister. They had a staircase at my sister's house. They would tie her up and roll her down the stairs. It was the big joke of theirs. I would say, 'What's wrong with you? Why would you let them do that stuff? There's no respect.' She would say, 'It's fine.' "

Don Bolger was a reserve police officer and neighbor. Bolger, 68, said Peterson was a "businesslike and professional" cop and a friendly neighbor who seemed to get along with his wife. He insisted that his boys call Bolger "Mr. Don."

"He's a good guy, and they seemed like very happy people," Bolger said. "Kathy was very pleasant and a very good mom."

Steve Carcerano, who lived two doors from Peterson and Savio, called the couple "great neighbors." He said Peterson was always quick to lend a tool or help unclog pipes.

But the marriage disintegrated. Medical records and letters obtained from Savio's relatives outline a pattern of alleged abuse and frustration with inaction by Bolingbrook police.

Carcerano, who would discover Savio's body in the tub, said the abuse may have gone both ways. Twice after their separation, he saw Savio lash out at Peterson and Peterson respond with restraint, Carcerano said.

Once, Carcerano said, he helped Peterson move out of the home he shared with Savio. She became angry and hit Peterson in the face with an extension cord, then spit on him, he said. "He laughed it off and said, 'You see what she's doing?' "

Peterson was still married to Savio when he met Stacy. She was just 16 when she met Peterson, her sister Cassandra Cales said. Stacy Peterson was working at SpringHill Suites hotel at the time. Drew Peterson was night commander, and his partner was dating a woman who worked there. Drew Peterson started hitting on her.

Cales said Drew Peterson was still living with Savio but was sleeping in the basement. Stacy Peterson would sneak in and spend the night, she said.

Drew Peterson's need to be in control kicked in even before the two married, said Stacy Peterson's close friend, Sherrie Mills, who had been married to one of Stacy Peterson's cousins.

Mills and her husband, Eddie, hired Stacy Peterson to work at their flooring company in 2001. After three or four months on the job, Mills said, Drew Peterson made an unusual request. "He was drinking with Eddie one night and told him, 'You need to fire her, but don't let her know that I told you to fire her,' " Mills said.

Despite Mills' protests, her husband fired her. Mills thought Drew Peterson wanted his wife reliant on him. "To me, it was because he didn't want her having money or independence," she said.

Drew and Stacy Peterson married in October 2003, and unlike his previous wives, Stacy Peterson never worried about her husband cheating because he seemed so focused on her.

Cales said her sister told her she feared for her life the Friday before she disappeared. In a whisper, Stacy Peterson told her sister that if she disappeared, her husband had killed her. She whispered because she was afraid he had bugged the house.

The night she disappeared, Cales said, Drew Peterson told Cales: "I will not let her divorce me."