by John W. Taylor
After a drawn-out battle over money and custody, Drew Peterson finally divorced his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in October of 2003. He married Stacy Cales (“Peterson”) days after he finalized his divorce. On March 1, 2004, a neighbor found Kathleen’s lifeless body curled up in her bathtub. Though several of Kathleen’s family members thought Kathleen may have been a victim of foul play, the autopsy report identified the cause of death as an accidental drowning and the police concurred. That was the end of it until Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, went missing.
In the months leading up to her disappearance, Stacy told several people of her desire to divorce Peterson. Tensions were rising in the marriage, and Stacy was concerned. Days before her disappearance, she told family and friends that she feared for her life. Stacy’s friend Pam Bosco claimed Stacy told her, “…If anything happens to me, he [Drew Peterson] killed me. It wasn’t an accident.”
On October 28, 2007, Stacy planned to meet her sister, Cassandra Cales. After a brief morning call where Stacy postponed their meeting, Cassandra received no additional contact from Stacy during the afternoon or evening. Cassandra drove to the Peterson house around 11:00 p.m. that night. According to one of the Peterson children, Drew and Stacy had a fight. Stacy left and Drew went looking for her. After later talking to Drew Peterson on the phone, Cassandra filed a missing person’s report with the police.
According to Peterson, Stacy called him around 9:00 p.m. stating that she was leaving him for another man. No one other than Peterson received a phone call or visit prior to Stacy’s sudden and unexpected departure. She did not contact her friends, family, or children to tell them she was leaving. Further, no one knew of this other man. They only had Peterson’s word.
Two days later, Peterson’s stepbrother, Thomas Morphey, attempted suicide after he believed that he inadvertently helped Peterson dispose of Stacy’s body. He claimed he helped Peterson carry a large, blue plastic container from Drew’s bedroom to his vehicle around the time Stacy went missing. He described the container as warm to the touch and heavy. Morphey feared Stacy’s remains were in the container. After moving the blue container, Peterson allegedly stated to Morphey, “This never happened.” Several neighbors also saw Peterson and an unidentified man carry a 55-gallon container out of the house around this time.
According to Morphey, on the day before Stacy went missing Peterson told him Stacy was a problem that needed to be taken care of. Peterson then asked Morphey if he would kill for him. Though his story was quite incriminating for Drew Peterson, Morphey had credibility issues associated with a long history of substance abuse and emotional instability.
Peterson refuted the entire blue container story. However, Peterson’s statements about these events lacked an actual denial. On CBS2 Chicago, Mike Puccinelli interviewed Drew Peterson on February 6, 2009.
Puccinelli: How can you explain Thomas Morphey and his involvement [in the disappearance of Stacy]?
Peterson: Thomas Morphey is a drug and alcohol addict. There’s plenty of explanations for Thomas Morphey… why he is saying what he is saying, I don’t know. I can’t even explain what’s going on through his mind.
In his response, Peterson never said Morphey lied. He never addressed the actual issue at hand, the assertions Morphey made regarding Peterson’s actions. He made derogatory statements about Morphey, but he failed to dispute his statements.
With suspicion swirling around the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, the authorities reexamined the death of Kathleen Savio. A forensic pathologist, Dr. Larry Blum, stated that the positioning of the body, combined with several bruises to the front and back of her body, were not consistent with an accidental fall. Dr. Blum also did not believe a slip in the bath tub could have caused the deep, inch-long wound to the back of her head. After reviewing dozens of bathtub-related fatalities, Dr. Blum indicated that Savio’s death fell far outside the pattern for an accident. The revised autopsy concluded that the cause of death was homicide. With the new autopsy findings, the prosecutors now had a murder case.
The newly drafted autopsy report provided renewed focus on Kathleen’s death. Stacy Peterson had provided Peterson with an alibi for the time when Kathleen died. However, with her absence, Peterson lacked corroboration on his whereabouts during the crucial time.
In the two years prior to Kathleen’s death, it was reported that the police responded to the Peterson house for domestic-related issues over a dozen times. Kathleen also wrote an Illinois assistant state attorney expressing fear that Drew Peterson might kill her. A man by the name of Jeff Pachter came forward and claimed that Drew Peterson offered him $25,000 to find someone to kill Kathleen Savio. Further, prior to Stacy vanishing into thin air, she allegedly confided to several people that Peterson told her he had killed Kathleen. Most notably, she told her pastor, Neil Schori.
According to Reverend Neil Schori, Stacy told him that Peterson killed Kathleen Savio and made it look like an accident. Stacy told him Peterson left the house about the time Kathleen died and returned with women’s clothes, which he put into the washing machine. According to Schori, Stacy also indicated that Peterson coached her for hours on how to lie to the police in order to secure his alibi.
With these circumstances coming to light, the police suspected Peterson had a role in Kathleen’s death. However, the evidence linking Peterson to the murder was weak. Not all forensic pathologists viewed Kathleen’s death as a clear murder. When police thought the death was accidental, the attending forensic pathologist agreed the attending death was an accident. Yet, when the police thought the death was suspicious, the assigned forensic pathologist determined the cause of death as homicide.
The domestic issues between Drew Peterson and Kathleen Savio were troubling, but circumstantial to her death. And unfortunately, Stacy’s statements to others were hearsay and not were admissible in court. Though her statements may have led a reasonable person to conclude Peterson killed Kathleen, within the criminal justice system the information amounted to nothing. Though the police and prosecutors suspected Peterson, they were stymied. There was minimal useable evidence.
Drew Peterson felt compelled to engage the media, but his explanations and rationales came across as overly confident and taunting. He called into a radio station on April Fools’ Day with the prompt, “I have a confession to make.” Apparently, it was Peterson’s attempt at humor as he was not confessing to any crime. Further, he seemed to relish in the spotlight, forgetting that his fame was actually infamy.
Peterson was articulate and well-spoken during most of his interviews. He answered questions with ease, as he enjoyed talking about himself. During most interviews, Peterson tried to set the parameters and control the interview, but reporters still managed to ask him questions about Kathleen’s death and Stacy’s disappearance. During the same interview with Mike Puccinelli, the following exchange took place:
Puccinelli: They’re saying that she [Stacy] didn’t abandon. That you killed her.
Peterson: No, that’s totally false. None of that’s true.
Peterson’s response conveyed a direct denial though it was not clear where his denial was directed, since the interviewer made the mistake of asking two questions. He may be responding to the statement “didn’t abandon,” rather than whether or not he killed Stacy. Abandon means to leave completely and finally, thus enabling Peterson to assert such. The interview continued.
Puccinelli: How do you explain what happened to…Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson then? It seems like an unbelievable vortex of coincidence.
Peterson: Without a doubt it’s unbelievable and it’s suspicious by nature. If I was looking at it from the outside, I’d agree with that, but that’s just not what happened.
Puccinelli questioned Peterson’s account of events surrounding Kathleen’s death and Stacy’s disappearance. Peterson responded, “Without a doubt it’s unbelievable…” Peterson acknowledged the lack of believability in what he claimed. He did not believe his own story; as a result, neither should we. Following up on Peterson’s answer.
Puccinelli: What did happen?
Peterson: I believe Kathleen had an accident, a household accident. People say that’s impossible but it’s not… So I believe she slipped, she fell and she drowned and the bathtub drained out and I really believe that happened…
If Peterson is innocent, then he should not know what happened. Instead, he attempted to explain what he thought happened. Peterson stated, “I really believe that happened…” The use of really was unnecessary. Unnecessary words can convey deception. Really changed the meaning of the statement from “I believe that happened” to “I actually or truly believe that happened.” When one utilizes really or actually, the person indicates that their statement is different than one would expect.
With regard to Stacy’s disappearance, there were many inconsistencies and logical flaws in Peterson’s claims that Stacy left him, her small children, and family without notification. During a February 5, 2009 interview on InSession, commentator Lisa Bloom asked Drew Peterson several poignant questions on this topic.
Bloom: And you’ve said, Drew, right after Stacy’s disappearance, that she called you about nine PM on that Sunday night and said that she’s going off with another man. If that’s so, why isn’t there a missing man?
Peterson: Don’t know. Is there a man missing? The thing is if there’s a man who may be keeping in touch with his family and they’re aware of it, why would he be called in as missing?
Peterson answered the question with a question. Answering a question with a question is a stall technique. It provides the person time to think by placing the burden back on the interviewer. Though Peterson successfully avoided answering this question, Bloom continued the line of questioning.
Bloom: Why wouldn’t she tell anybody else but you that she was leaving with another man so that they wouldn’t worry?
Peterson: Ma’am! Ma’am, it’s my understanding this conversation was to focus on my relationship with Chrissy [Peterson’s then fiancé].
As the questioning continued, Peterson put a stop to it. Bloom’s line of questioning made him very uncomfortable. Peterson not answering the questions demonstrated his sensitivity to this topic. By withholding answers, there were things Peterson did not want people to know.
During the interview with Puccinelli, he also asked about Stacy Peterson.
Puccinelli: Do you expect to see Stacy alive ever again?
Peterson: I kind of do. I really do…
Rather than providing a direct answer, Peterson filled his short answer with unnecessary words. Yes or I do would have been sufficient, yet he added kind of to the first part of his response and really to the second portion. If Stacy left him for another man then Peterson should have no reason to not believe Stacy will resurface. Instead, Peterson had no confidence in seeing Stacy alive again. What would keep her from contacting her family ever again? If she was alive, she would eventually contact someone, and his response demonstrated what he already knew: Stacy will never be seen again.
On the show, Verdict with Dan Abrams, Peterson was asked a series of questions.
Abrams: Did you try to convince her [Stacy] not to leave [during the last call]?
Peterson: I much [sic] said, you know, ‘What am I supposed to do with me and the kids and what are we supposed to do now?’ And she seemed kind of snotty in the phone conversation, so it was a pretty quick conversation. And then I was abruptly – she terminated it.
Though Peterson was quite articulate during most of his interviews, this question clearly flustered him. His initial response did not make sense and he finished it with the filler phrase, you know. You know can be a common phrase, but Peterson rarely utilized this phrase during interviews. The use of the phrase here provided him time. It also conveyed the idea that the person asking the question already knew the answer; therefore, there was no need to respond. ‘You already know what she said’ is what Peterson insinuated. Compared to his normally well-delivered responses, he delivered several disjointed and misspoken lines. His response did not flow, and it appeared Peterson created the information in his head rather than remembering what was said. Peterson was not expecting this question or prepared to answer it. Abrams followed with another question that elicited stress from Peterson.
Abrams: And what have you done to try to find her?
Peterson: Oh, we have private investigators working right now. And basically, they‘re kind of limited to computer activity, or you know, monitoring charge cards and that type of thing. But I just don‘t have the resources to go traipsing the globe to, you know, find her at the beaches or, you know, other parts of the world where I think she possibly is.
Peterson utilized the phrase you know three times during his response, which significantly differed from his normal verbiage. Peterson needed to think about his answer and the unnecessary words provided him time to formulate his response.
If Drew Peterson was telling the truth, then Stacy was alive, and he should have been doing everything possible to find her. Finding Stacy would indicate that no murder occurred and would restore his alibi in Kathleen’s death. It would have likely ended all criminal investigations and potentially kept him out of prison. Yet to the contrary, Peterson’s answer conveyed a minimal effort directed toward finding Stacy. Peterson never asked Stacy to come forward, which was the obvious thing he should have done if he believed she was alive. His statements conveyed otherwise.
In an interview on Fox News, Shepard Smith asked Drew Peterson how he and his family were handling the fact that he was a suspect in Stacy’s disappearance. Peterson compared it to having cancer. He continued by stating, “You’re just looking for that miracle cure to make it all go away.” Peterson realized that there was a tremendous amount of suspicion around him and the only way out was a miracle. However, it only required a miracle if Peterson killed Stacy. If Stacy were still alive, no miracle was needed. Stacy just needed to reappear. Peterson’s need of a miracle revealed his knowledge that Stacy was already dead.
Though many police investigators thought Peterson had killed Kathleen Savio, there was little actual evidence. Through his numerous television and radio interviews, he flaunted his freedom. During a media interview, Peterson was asked about the attention he received. He responded, “…It’s kind of comical. I have fun with it. I’ll go out somewhere and I’ll be recognized…” Peterson’s cockiness and cavalier attitude garnered extra unwanted attention from law makers.
In a very rare maneuver, the Illinois legislature passed a law that allowed courts to consider statements from “unavailable witnesses,” if prosecutors could prove to a standard of more likely than not that the defendant murdered a witness. The legislature specifically passed this law for Drew Peterson. It is commonly referred to as “Drew’s Law,” though he is likely not a strong proponent of it.
As a result of “Drew’s Law,” in May of 2009, Peterson was indicted for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. In September of 2012, a jury convicted Peterson of murder, and he received 38 years in prison. During Peterson’s murder trial, the prosecution successfully argued that he intentionally prevented Stacy from testifying, which enabled them to introduce statements made by Stacy to third parties. Several of the jurors acknowledged that the hearsay evidence played a decisive role in Peterson’s murder conviction. One juror, Ron Supalo, indicated that he believed the recently-enacted hearsay law was unconstitutional, but ultimately decided his role was to assess the evidence rather than the law. Supalo stated, “If there was no hearsay in his case — Drew Peterson goes free.”
The prosecution of Drew Peterson was driven primarily by what the authorities knew rather than what they could prove. The new law allowed them to circumvent the justice system. When using hearsay evidence, the accused is unable to confront their accuser. No one knows what the person meant, the tone utilized, or if the statements were truthful. The legal maneuvers utilized in this case were ripe for error and misadministration of justice.
Trials are about demonstrating what one can prove, not determining the truth. However, the truth was too much for many to bear in this case. Justice had to be served, even if it meant circumventing it. The removal of a killer from society was a significant victory, but it came at a cost. The State utilized a potentially unethical and dangerous maneuver; however, no one will lose sleep over the murder conviction of Drew Peterson.
Barrett, Kate, “’Love Me… Enough to Kill for Me?’ Stepbrother Says Peterson Asked,” ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/LegalCenter/story?id=7082749&page=1, March 15, 2009
Chatzky, Paul, “Illinois Hearsay Law and the Drew Peterson Case,” Law Offices of Paul Chatzky, http://www.chatzkylaw.com/blog/illinois-hearsay-law-and-the-drew-peterson-case/, April 23, 2013.
Hosey, Joseph, “The Horror of What Kathleen Savio Went Through Before She Died,” Bolingbrook Patch, http://patch.com/illinois/bolingbrook/the-horror-of-what-kathleen-savio-went-through-before-she-died, August 16, 2012.
McClish, Mark, “I Know You Are Lying,” The Marpa Group, 2001.
Miller, Colin, “The Purpose-Driven Rule: Drew Peterson, Giles v. California, and the Transferred Intent Doctrine of Forfeiture by Wrongdoing,” Columbia Law Review, http://columbialawreview.org/the-purpose-driven-rule-drew-peterson-giles-v-california-and-the-transferred-intent-doctrine-of-forfeiture-by-wrongdoing/, December 2012.
Tarm, Michael, “Drew Peterson Trial: Pathologist Testifies That Kathleen Savio Was Murdered,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/drew-peterson-trial-patho_1_n_1790847.html, August 16, 2012.
Associated Press, “Hearsay Rule Vexed Jurors in Illinois Murder Case,” New York Times, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/us/hearsay-rule-vexed-illinois-jurors-in-drew-peterson-murder-case.html?_r=0, September 8, 2012.
“The Drew Peterson Case: An Illustration of Hearsay Evidence in Illinois,” Ralph E. Mecyk & Associates, http://www.meczyklaw.com/Articles/The-Drew-Peterson-Case-An-Illustration-of-Hearsay-Evidence-in-Illinois.shtml.
Fox News, Drew Peterson interview with Shepard Smith, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OmhMcKCIuA, date unknown.
Justice Café, News and discussion about the cases of Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson, wives of Drew Peterson, https://petersonstory.wordpress.com/, accessed September 2015.
Click below to view John W. Taylor’s intriguing post on the Darlie Routier case:
John W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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