Missing Mom's Early Romance Hid Dark Future Ahead

Drew Peterson a 'gentleman' at first, sister says, but marriage turned sour.

February 19, 2009, 3:20 AM

Nov. 18, 2007 — -- By all accounts, Stacy Peterson once loved her husband, 53-year-old police sergeant Drew Peterson.

But by the time she vanished from her home in Bolingbrook, Ill., three weeks ago, friends say she had grown fearful of the man they say mentally abused her, and had decided to end the marriage.

"She would always look over her shoulder," said family friend Bruce Zidarich of meeting Stacy in the weeks before she went missing. "She said, 'I'm gonna tell him that I want a divorce.' ... It came up more and more often."

It wasn't always that way. Stacy Peterson's disappearance, say her relatives and friends, capped an explosive seven-year relationship that started with a teenage girl swept off her feet with attention and gifts from a man 30 years her senior, then turned progressively sinister as her once-loving husband grew increasingly controlling and suspicious, forbidding her to see family and friends, and accusing her of infidelity.

Since his wife's disappearance, Drew Peterson has said Stacy left voluntarily, and told him she "found someone else."

But authorities have named Peterson a suspect in his wife's disappearance, and friends and family have scoured the Bolingbrook area looking for any trace of the missing mother of two.

So far, the search has turned up nothing.

Stacy Cales was just 16 years old when she met Drew Peterson, according to her sister, Cassandra Cales. She had recently graduated high school a year early and was working the night shift as a receptionist at a local hotel.

"He was a night commander," Cales said of Drew Peterson, who was in his late 40s at the time and a two-decade veteran of the Bolingbrook Police Department. "He used to go in there and check on her -- you know, sweep the hotel and make sure that everything was okay."

The pair started dating. But Stacy, still underage, didn't immediately tell her family about the new man in her life. Drew Peterson was married at the time to Kathleen Savio, his third wife.

Savio would later be found dead in her bathtub, in what the coroner at the time ruled an accidental drowning.

When Stacy finally did introduce her new boyfriend to her family and circle of friends, Cassandra Cales said, she was 17 and Peterson was 47 or 48.

Cales said the 30-year age gap made her and other relatives "uncomfortable," but that she wanted to support her sister.

"I said, 'I don't mind just as long as you're happy,'" Cales told ABC News. "Age doesn't matter as long as you're in love and happy with that person."

"And," Cales added, "she was."

Friends and family describe Stacy's early relationship with Drew Peterson as that of a young girl impressed by a man who could provide everything. Living with her older, married sister at the time, Tina, who died from colon cancer in 2006, Stacy saw life with Peterson as a "way out," Cales told ABC News.

"He was a gentleman, I guess," said Cales of Stacy's early relationship with Drew. "He bought her an apartment, furnished it, paid for everything -- TVs, VCRs, Kirby vacuum. You name it, she had it."

The pair married in 2003, about a year after their first child, Anthony, was born. Pictures show a smiling Drew Peterson, holding his young son, and Stacy wearing a flowing white gown.

But the romance soon ended. Drew Peterson became controlling, say Stacy's closest relatives and friends, growing suspicious of Stacy's relationships outside of her marriage and accusing her of being unfaithful.

Bruce Zidarich said he tried to avoid being alone with Stacy so as not to antagonize Drew.

"She couldn't have any friends, no other friends besides family or Sharon the neighbor," Zidarich said. "She couldn't have friends that were guys, for sure. He would keep tabs on her every move."

Cassandra Cales told ABC News she told her sister to stand up to her husband.

"It wasn't right," Cales said. "I told her, 'You need your friends, you know, different personalities and smiles. You have to be able to get out and have fun. Just because you're out doesn't mean you're cheating, you know, and he's gotta learn.'"

When Kathleen Savio died in March of 2004, friends said they grew increasingly alarmed.

"We never really talked about that with [Stacy]," Zidarich told ABC News. "Between the other relatives, you know, we all figured he did it."

Drew Peterson has denied any involvement with Savio's death or Stacy's disappearance. In an interview on NBC's "Today" earlier this week, Peterson said both women were mentally unstable.

Savio "came from an abusive life," Peterson said. "After she had children, hormones kicked in -- and again, [it was] an emotional roller coaster with her."

Numerous calls to Drew Peterson and his relatives seeking comment for this article were not returned.

As Stacy's marriage with Peterson progressed, according to friends and family, Stacy became increasingly isolated and unhappy. She would have left Drew Peterson long ago, said Cassandra Cales, if it wasn't for her children -- Anthony, 4, and Lacy, 2.

She also cared for two children Peterson had with Kathleen Savio.

"They were the whole reason she stayed in that relationship," Cales said of the children, all four of whom are currently staying with Drew Peterson, according to news reports. "All she cared about was those kids."

On Oct. 17, 11 days before she disappeared, Stacy e-mailed a friend, Steve Cesare, with concerns about her marriage, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

"i have been arguing quite a bit w/my husband," Stacy wrote in the message, which Cesare gave to the Naperville Sun. "as i mature with age i am finding that the relationship i am in is controlling, manipulative, and some what abusive."

She continued, "if you could keep me in your prayers i could use some wisdom, protection, and strength."

It was just before she went missing, friends say, that Stacy decided she was going to tell Peterson of her intention to leave.

"She called me on Thursday," Pamela Bosco told ABC News, "and my advice to her was get a lawyer, do it properly, you have children involved. Make sure you don't jeopardize that.

Cales said she spoke to her sister on Friday night, just two days before she disappeared.

"She told me Friday night, 'If anything happens to me, I fear for my life,'" Cales said.

Stacy Peterson hasn't been heard from since she went missing on Sunday, Oct. 28.

Since that day, police have searched forests, fields and waters in the Bolingbrook area for clues in the case. On Saturday, friends, family members and other sympathizers staged a vigil for her, walking from Kathleen Savio's former home to the house Stacy and Drew Peterson shared, some carrying candles and signs.

On NBC's "Today" earlier this week, Drew Peterson, who was suspended without pay from the Bolingbrook Police Department this month, said his wife had asked him to end the marriage many times before she vanished.

"Stacy would ask me for a divorce after her sister [Tina] died on a regular basis," he said. "I'm not trying to be funny here, [it was] based on her menstrual cycle."

Zidarich expressed regret at the way Stacy Peterson decided to end her relationship with Drew.

"I just wish she would have planned it a little better," he told ABC News, "that she would've gotten out of the house before she told him."

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