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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drew Peterson and His Dead and Missing Women

     Last year the wife of a Utah man went missing one night in the middle of a blizzard. Her husband has come under suspicion, but until the woman's body is found, that's probably all he'll be--a suspect. It seems the country is littered with the bodies of wives whose murdering husbands have successfully disposed of their remains.

     A few days ago my wife and I watched, on the Lifetime Network, a TV docudrama about the Drew Peterson murder case. Peterson is the former Bolingbrook, Illinois police sergeant currently awaiting trial for the 2004 killing of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. The film, starring Rob Lowe and called "Drew Peterson: Untouchable," is principally about Peterson's volatile relationship with his fourth wife Stacy who disappeared in October 2007. As told from Stacy's point of view, the TV drama portrays Peterson as an insecure, clownish, homicidal psychopath masquarading as a cheesey lady's man. He is also played, I believe accurately, as a star-struck media whore.

     After watching the movie, I can't imagine any of the 5.8 million people who saw it believing that Peterson didn't kill his last two wives. Probably most people who didn't see the film feel the same way. While the case has been out of the news for a couple of years, the film brought it back into the limelight.

     Having paid good money to see a lot of really bad movies in our local theaters, I found this one fairly interesting and entertaining. However, the critics, as well as Stacy Peterson's relatives, hated it. Stacy's sister called it "far-fetched and off-the-mark."  Peterson himself watched it from the Will County Jail in Joliet. According to reports, Peterson thought the flick was "hysterical." (I find it hard to believe that Peterson found a movie portraying him as a cold-blooded, double-murderer, funny. If he really did, this is one strange guy.) His attorney, Joel Brodsky, didn't find it so amusing. In his view, the film will make it even more difficult to find an impartial jury. Brodsky has asked a judge to move his client's trial to another venue. But since Peterson, much to his own media antics, is a nationally known and reviled person, where can he go to get a fair trial?

     Drew Peterson and Kathleen Savio, after eleven years of marriage, were divorced in October 2003. Before that, in response to domestic disturbance calls, the police had been to their house eighteen times. On March 1, 2004, Savio's nude body was found in her bath tub. A forensic pathologist determined the manner of death to be accidental, and the cause, death by drowning.

     Shortly after divorcing Savio, Peterson, then 50, married 19-year-old Stacy Ann Coles. In October 2007, after four years of marriage to his fourth wife, Stacy went missing. Investigators believe that after Peterson killed Stacy in the house, he stuffed her body into a blue, 55-gallon drum which he and his stepbrother disposed of. Her body has not been recovered. Shortly after the disappearance, Peterson retired from the police department with a $6,000 a month pension. (His record as a police officer features allegations of bribery and brutality.)

     Following Stacy Peterson's disappearance, the authorities exhumed Kathleen Savio's body. The famed forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, performed the second autopsy. Based on Dr. Baden's findings (which have not been made public), the medical examiner changed the manner of Savio's death to homicide. In May 2009, police arrested Peterson for the murder of his third wife. Although Stacy Peterson is presumed dead, Peterson has not been charged with her murder.

     Unless Dr. Baden discovered something that physically links Drew Peterson to Savio's corpse, this will be one of those cases with a good suspect but with no forensic evidence. Motive, means, and opportunity, without more, is not enough to sustain a murder conviction. (I hope the most incriminating evidence against Peterson isn't the TV movie.) The Savio trial is on hold pending the decision of an appellate court regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence pertaining to threats Peterson made on his wife's life.

     Drew Peterson may end up joining the ranks of Lizzie Borden, O.J. Simpson, and Casey Anthony, people presumed innocent by the law, but not by the public.

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