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One October afternoon in 2001, Kathy Savio Peterson walked out to the mailbox in front of her house on the west side of Bolingbrook and found an envelope containing a single sheet of paper, an anonymous letter. The writer claimed that Kathy’s husband, Drew Peterson, a Bolingbrook police sergeant, was having an affair with a 17-year-old village employee. “Village officials (Mayor, trustee’s,) [sic] and everyone at the police department have complete knowledge of this situation,” the letter said. “It has been an ongoing joke within the department.” The letter went on to warn her: “Protect yourself and your family.”
By then, Kathy had been married to Drew Peterson for almost ten years, and their marriage—it was his third, her first—had always been volatile. But this affair was more than Kathy could handle.
Soon after she got the letter, Kathy and Drew separated, and Drew filed for divorce. As the proceedings moved slowly toward settlement, their relationship continued to be rocky, and the Bolingbrook Police Department was repeatedly called on to intervene. All the while, according to Kathy’s sister Sue Doman, Kathy predicted: “He’s gonna kill me and it’s gonna look like an accident.”
With increasing desperation, Kathy sought the protection she thought she needed, including, her lawyer says, reaching out to the Bolingbrook police and the Will County state’s attorney’s office. Little was done on her behalf.
On March 1, 2004, she was found face-down in her master bathtub. The tub was dry, but her hair was wet, and there was a gash on her head and blood in the bottom of the tub.
“Did he kill her?” Sue remembers asking when another sister, Anna Doman, called at 1:30 a.m. with the news.
“I don’t know,” said Anna.
Two months later, a Will County coroner’s jury ruled the death an accident.
As the world has learned by now, authorities reopened the case late last year after Drew Peterson’s fourth wife—Stacy, the young village worker with whom he had had the affair—disappeared, setting off a frenzy of media coverage. This past February, a new autopsy led to a different finding: that Kathy had been murdered—the victim of a “homicide staged to look like an accident,” according to state’s attorney Jim Glasgow. No one has been charged, and Drew Peterson has denied any involvement in the death.
As the state’s attorney’s office and a grand jury continue to investigate the case, one question that keeps coming up is why no official responded aggressively to Kathy’s alarms. Her family says she came to believe her husband’s connections in the tight network of officials in Bolingbrook and Will County predisposed the authorities not to take her pleas seriously.
Several local officials deny that they ignored her. Bolingbrook mayor Roger C. Claar, for one, says that he knew Kathy but that she never contacted him with her concerns. Bolingbrook’s former police chief, Mike Calcagno, says he gave her his cell phone number.
Still, her widely shared and repeated predictions that she would be killed came true. The story of her futile efforts to get help bears further examination.
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