Break in Stacy Peterson Case? Police Search Rural Illinois for Remains

Cops cope with soggy conditions in wooded area of Peoria County, Ill.

June 5, 2010 — -- Illinois State Police spent today digging at a remote site in central Illinois, searching for the remains of Stacy Peterson, the fourth wife of former police Sgt. Drew Peterson, who is a suspect in her disappearance.

At least two dozen law enforcement officers, led by a forensic anthropologist, spent the day on a muddy and wooded area outside of Peoria, Ill. They focused on a 10-foot-square site that they dug by hand, but ended the search just before 6 p.m., apparently without finding any remains.

"We are pursuing some other avenues in reference to this lead and we will be back in this area," said State Police Master Sgt. Tom Burek. He did not say when police might return.

Stacy Peterson vanished from the Chicago suburbs in October 2007, shortly after consulting with a divorce attorney. Her husband, formerly a police officer in Bolingbrook, Ill., has been the only suspect named by the authorities.

The case took a sensational turn when detectives searching for Peterson's fourth wife ordered an autopsy on the body of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose drowning death in a bathtub in 2004 initially had been considered an accident.

When the autopsy determined Savino had been killed, Drew Peterson was charged in her death. He is scheduled to go on trial on a first degree murder charge July 8 and is being held in isolation at the Will County Jail.

Officials would not immediately reveal what led them to search the wooded location today in Peoria County, about 140 miles southwest of Chicago.

But investigators had arrived on the property Friday with a very specific location in mind, said Dave Khazzam, a friend of the property owner, businessman Dave Alwan, who did not know Drew Peterson, is not a suspect and is cooperating with police.

Drew Peterson Lawyer Calls New Search for Stacy Peterson 'Patently Ridiculous'

Countless searches have been conducted through the years for Stacy Peterson. Police have even sent divers into murky Chicago-area waters, all to no avail. Burek called the latest lead promising, but tried to tamp down speculation that a big break might be imminent.

"We've been down different paths before, and there have been disappointments before," he said just as investigators ended their digging Saturday. "I don't want to stand here and tell you this is a magical lead."

He described the search Saturday as "very difficult," saying the terrain was thick with trees and grass and soaked by a recent rain, which turned sections into a muddy morass that was difficult to traverse, even with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Drew Peterson, 56, has long denied any involvement in his fourth wife's disappearance. He still believes Stacy Peterson ran off with another man, his lawyer, Joel Brodsky, said Saturday.

The defense lawyer called Saturday's search "patently ridiculous."

"Ever since Stacy disappeared there have been numerous rumors, gossip and reports about Drew Peterson," Brodsky said. "The one thing all of these stories have in common is that they always proved to be false and there are never any facts or evidence to back them up.

"There has never been on single, factual piece of evidence regarding either Stacy's disappearance, or in the death of Kathy Savio, that shows that Drew is guilty of any wrongdoing whatsoever," Brodsky added.

Relatives and friends say Stacy Peterson's disappearance was the culmination of a stormy seven-year relationship that started off sweetly but turned sinister as her husband -- 30 years her senior -- grew increasingly controlling and suspicious. He reportedly forbade her from seeing family and friends, and accused her of infidelity.

By the time Stacy disappeared, she had grown fearful of her husband and had decided it was time to end the marriage, relatives and friends said.

Stacy Peterson Friend: 'She Would Always Look Over Her Shoulder'

"She would always look over her shoulder," a family friend, Bruce Zidarich, told ABC News three years ago. "She said, 'I'm gonna tell him I want a divorce.' ... It came up more and more often."

People who knew Stacy Peterson called the latest twist in the case emotional, and said today they are just looking for closure.

"Her family and friends really need that," said family friend Jaime Holt.

The Associated Press and freelance producer Tim Sotter in Illinois contributed to this report.