As police re-examine the suspicious death of his third wife, Illinois police sergeant Drew Peterson tells TODAY his missing fourth wife told him she met someone and probably ran away with him.
Peterson, 53, appeared calm and determined Wednesday as he discussed reports that he is a suspect in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose body was exhumed Tuesday. He told host Matt Lauer that he is not concerned about the police investigation into both cases, but is angry that the media is camped out in front of his house and has all but convicted him.
“I can look you right in the eye and tell you I had nothing to do with either of those instances,” he said, adding, “I’m not afraid of law enforcement. I’m afraid of the media.”
Peterson was still married to Kathleen Savio when he began dating Stacy, when she was 17 and much younger than him. After Savio told him she wanted a divorce and complained to relatives of alleged abuse, she was found dead in a bathtub of the couple’s Bolingbrook, Ill., home. Her death, now being re-examined, was listed as accidental drowning.
Peterson married Stacy, and the couple have two young children. Peterson said his missing wife, now 23, told him she had met another man before she disappeared on Sunday, Oct. 28. She was supposed to help family members paint a home, but never showed up.
Peterson told Lauer he understands why Illinois State Police have reopened the investigation into the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, because police often suspect spouses in untimely deaths.
“It’s a shame that her rest-in-peace has to be disturbed for something like this,” Peterson said.
Impeccably groomed and completely calm, Peterson said that he has not told his two young children by Stacy Peterson, Anthony, 4, and Lacy, 2, that their mother is missing and may be dead. When news reports about her come on the television, he said, “We usher them to another room.” Asked what he has told them, he replied, “Basically, ‘Mom’s gone on vacation.’ ”
He said the scrutiny he’s been under has been much harder on his two teenage sons by Savio.
Lauer asked Peterson whether Stacy told him she was seeing another man before she disappeared.
“She never told me she was seeing another man,” he said, but then changed that to: “Maybe she did. ‘She found somebody else,’ ” he added. “Those were her exact words.”
He said that his relationships with both Stacy Peterson and Savio were roller-coaster rides and characterized both women as emotionally unstable.
Stacy Peterson, he said, was on drugs for mood swings and had been unpredictable since the death of her sister by cancer. Other than playfully trying to throw her in the swimming pool at a gathering, he said he never hit her or abused her, contrary to claims by her family and friends.
“One time she hit me in the head with a frozen steak. I never hit her, never raised a hand to her,” he told Lauer.
When confronted with an e-mail to a family member in which she said she was in an abusive relationship, Peterson said, “I don’t think those are her words. I think that’s a made-up e-mail.”
As a policeman, he understands why he is being investigated.
“I think they’ve always considered me a suspect,” he said. “The husband always is.”
Peterson’s statements contradicted almost everything Stacy Peterson’s family told TODAY one week ago. On Nov. 7, her half sister said that the 23-year-old housewife and mother wanted out of her marriage and said she would not have left her suburban Chicago home without her kids.
“I don’t believe she would ever leave her children,” Kerry Simmons told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira. “She loved those kids to death.”
Stacy Peterson disappeared just days after asking her husband for a divorce. Police initially treated it as a missing person’s case, not searching the couple’s home until last Thursday. Her family and friends, though, are convinced that the young woman is dead and that her husband is responsible.
“She told many [people] that if anything happened to her, it was not an accident,” one relative told NBC News.
'A frightening thing'
Lauer reminded Peterson, who appealed for help for the legal bills he’s facing, that he faces life in prison or the death penalty if indicted and convicted in either or both cases. Peterson said he’s very aware of that possibility.
“It’s a frightening thing,” he said “But my family’s provided for, my kids will be okay, and I can go in peace if that happens.
He then turned to the camera, as if to address the audience, and said:
“What they’re seeing is not me. I’ve been a jokester all my life. Now they’re seeing this serious person in deep trouble, this isn’t me. Me is a guy playing jokes on people and kidding around and trying to have fun with life and living.”