Two years ago today, 23-year-old Stacy Ann Peterson vanished from the house in the Illinois suburb of Bolingbrook that she shared with her police-officer husband Drew Peterson, her two children and his two sons, whom she'd adopted.
After several months of being stalked and living under her husband's tight, controlling reins, Stacy Peterson told her husband the marriage was over. In October 2007, Stacy met and consulted with divorce attorney Harry Smith -- ironically, the same lawyer Kathleen Savio hired to represent her when she decided to divorce Peterson.
When Stacy failed to show up at her brother's house that late-October day, family members were concerned, especially her sister Cassandra Cales. Just two days earlier, after a cozy family night of movie and pizza, Stacy warned Cassandra that she planned to leave Peterson and said: "If something happens to me, I just want you to know it was Drew." When Cassandra couldn't reach her missing sister, she went to Stacy's house and found the four children home alone, with no sign of Peterson's car. At the Bolingbrook Police Department, Cassandra filed a missing-person report.
Within 48 hours, camera crews and journalists besieged the once quiet suburban cul-de-sac. Peterson, then a police sergeant, gave them a show -- a bizarre public display including personal attacks on his wife and her family in the wake of her disappearance. The national media covered Peterson's act like a low-life reality TV show. Each day as Peterson left his house, journalists shoved microphones in his face, hungry for a sound bite for evening crime or news broadcasts. If you were a resident of Illinois during the first three weeks after Stacy vanished, you saw Peterson served up on local, cable and radio programs like a charred chicken flapping its wings almost around the clock.
To me, it seemed Peterson treated Stacy's life like a dirty rag. In his attempts to discredit her, Peterson made comments such as "You know she came from a broken home," or, "Her mother went missing too, so this is not a surprise." Then I heard Peterson say, "Stacy is where she wants to be." My heart sank as I thought of the boys who'd now lost a mother twice.
Seventeen days after Cassandra reported Stacy's disappearance, the Will County State Attorney's Office obtained a court order and exhumed the body of Kathleen Savio. Savio, Peterson's previous wife, was discovered dead in a bathtub in the marital house in 2004. Suddenly, the media and police focus swung from Stacy's disappearance to a new autopsy into the cause of Kathleen's death. The effort to find Stacy lost its momentum. The ground began to freeze, making the search more difficult for family and teams of volunteers. And the media remained hooked on Drew's public displays and his love life, leaving no time to find answers or enlist the public's help in finding Stacy.
In the months that followed, I met with people who knew Stacy personally. From the moment she married Drew, Stacy worked to knit a loving family environment, integrating Drew's then-estranged family into the couple's new life. From all accounts, she had a kind, warm and giving heart. People's eyes sparkled when they spoke of her. She made friends and family feel welcome. When a guest didn't show up for a gathering, Stacy called urged, "Come on," one relative recalled. "We're holding dinner, where are you? We're not starting until you get here."
Another told me: "Stacy was the glue, and that's why her disappearance is so painful to those of us who knew her."
Stacy Peterson's dream was to be a loving wife and mother, an all-around nurturer. She enrolled in nursing classes at a local college. When Stacy could no longer live under Peterson's heavy-handed control and constant watch, she made plans to leave. But like many women in her position, she made a mistake. She told her husband what she planned before she moved to a place where she'd be safe from him.
Stacy was silenced in the prime of her life. But there can be no silencing of family and friends who will continue to search for her until she is found. A grand jury met for 18 months before handing down an indictment against Drew Peterson for the death of Kathleen Savio.
I believe when that trial begins, the long silence about how Kathleen Savio lost her life will be lifted and the truth about how Stacy died will also be revealed. During the trial, thanks to Illinois' new hearsay law, Stacy Peterson's words will finally be heard.