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Cold as Ice
By Carlton Smith
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Carlton Smith
All rights reserved.
"Did You Murder Your Wife?"
So there they were, phalanxes of camera wielders, light techs, earphoned sound mavens, harried producers and their teenage sandwich holders, along with their fronts, the beautiful people perfectly coifed and clad, with makeup and microphones and pre-scripted nosy questions usually compiled by their cigarette-smoking behind-the-scenes producers who thought they knew what sold, but whose own visages were too real or too old to make the photographic cut. The rolling carnival came from broadcasters, cable networks, radio stations, bloggers, and even a few newspapers.
The media gaggle overran the short cul-de-sac and choked it off from normal suburban life. There were no tricycles or skateboards on this particular day — the neighborhood kids were outside the media perimeter, ogling in the background as the event unfolded.
Sometime in the afternoon, while the light was still good, the man of the hour finally emerged from his two-story house, looked around, and grinned. He held up a video camera and panned the scene, recording the media mob recording him. The crowd of so-called "content providers" went wild with hilarity.
The amateur reeled off a few quips, grinning. The reporters were gratified. It didn't much matter to them what the man with the camera actually said, only that they had the image of him taking pictures of them, the picture itself telling the whole story. "Did you get it?" a producer would demand of the cameraperson. The amateur with the video camera smiled and went back inside his house. He had what he wanted: visual proof positive that the electronic media marauders had invaded his privacy, had invaded his life, had destroyed his suburban neighborhood, which made it almost impossible for him to get a fair trial, if it ever came to that. It was the dark side of being under the spotlight, of being In the News.
As it happened, a little before Halloween in 2007, a report came to the attention of someone who was likely a twenty-something producer for a cable network headquartered in New York, Washington or Atlanta, scanning local news feeds from around the country. He or she probably recognized the "elements," as they're called in the news racket: a young mother, very attractive, vanished mysteriously. Cue the spider webs, the jack-o-lanterns, the costumes, the candy, the kids. Is this a story for the mythical national village, or what?
The vanisher was twenty-three-year-old Stacy Peterson, mother of Anthony, then four, and daughter Lacy, then almost three, as well as stepmother to two older children of her husband, Drew Peterson, a small-town cop in the suburb of Bolingbrook, a former bean field some miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois. Stacy was cute, white, easy on the eyes: definitely a qualifier, as far as the national media calculated its ratings demographics. And of course there were the little kids — where's Mommy?
Once the first cable network's researchers understood that Drew Peterson had been the husband of another woman who had been found dead in a bathtub more than three years earlier, in which the circumstances of death were in dispute, the starting gun fired.
By the time the entire saga had saturated the nation over the next two years, as many as six hundred people had become potential, if peripheral, witnesses, and the responsible authorities were left to separate the grains of truth from the chaff of media-driven gossip. It was a classic example of how a small story, without many facts, becomes a big story almost overnight, driven by modern media speculation.
Welcome to the unhappy new world of Drew Peterson, retired small-town cop, suspect in two, maybe even three or four murders.CHAPTER 2
By most accounts, the trouble began in September 2001. That was when Drew Peterson, the supervising night patrol sergeant of the Bolingbrook Police Department, the watch commander, first began flirting with Stacy Peterson, a seventeen-year-old clerk at the SpringHill Hotel in that small town, perhaps forty miles west-southwest of Chicago, Illinois. He was forty-seven, already thrice married, the father of four boys, and pretty well known as The Festering Problem of the local police.
Peterson had once been a member of the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad, also known as MANS, a dope-buying, door-kicking, multijurisdictional police contingent operating around Chicago's periphery, supervised by the Illinois State Police. MANS was the ultimate rush for a small-town cop, adrenaline well beyond writing traffic tickets and busting teenage neckers.
Then one day in 1985, he'd gone too far and was bounced from MANS, and almost fired from the Bolingbrook department. In fact, he'd actually been indicted for allegedly selling out to a big-time dope dealer. He'd been able to claw his way back, though, successfully refuting the corruption allegations. But his ceiling from then on was limited — he was just a uniformed patrol sergeant in a small town who worked the night shift, and he would never go anywhere else, professionally speaking. He was tainted.
Still, Peterson liked working the night shift — the Bolingbrook departmental suits rarely bothered him. The town was his realm once the sun set. He knew who was who, what was up, and what was going down.
At seventeen, Stacy Cales was an attractive girl about to become a woman, in some ways much older than her years. By many accounts she was a flirt — she enjoyed being the center of attention of the slightly older boys who gathered around her. Peterson admittedly began trying to get her into the sack almost as soon as he met her, despite their thirty-year age difference. The fact that he was married, a father of four boys, meant nothing.
Stacy was petite — a little over five feet, and weighing just over a hundred pounds. Peterson was almost six feet in height, and pushing 180 pounds by the summer of 2001. Perhaps more impressive, he had the power that the callow youths buzzing around Stacy could never have, and he had command of the town's night-patrol force to make it stick. As a man among boys, someone with a gun and a badge, Peterson could be scary. The youths around Stacy slunk off, and left the field clear for the man with the authority.
Stacy had grown up a child of turmoil. Her mother, Christine Marie Toutges, had at seventeen become pregnant by a man named Ron Kokas, and in November of 1975, had given birth to a near namesake, Christina, also known as Tina. A little over three years later, Christine "Christie" Toutges married Anthony Cales in Las Vegas, Nevada. Three months after that, Christie again gave birth, this time to a son, Yelton. Another daughter, Jessica, followed two years later.
Based on published accounts, the Cales-Toutges marriage was filled with difficulties. At one point in 1983, while living in Downers Grove, Illinois, Christie Cales accused Anthony of threatening her with a gun, and asked for an order of protection. Then in December of that same year, a house fire in Downers Grove claimed the life of baby Jessica. Stacy was born a month later, on January 20, 1984. Another sister, Cassandra, followed the next year, and a fourth sister, Lacy, came the year after that. Then baby Lacy died, apparently of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At various times during this period, Christie was reportedly hospitalized for alcoholism and depression and arrested on several occasions, charged with shoplifting liquor.
In 1990, Anthony Cales filed for divorce from Christie, and was soon awarded custody of all three surviving Cales children, Yelton, Stacy, and Cassandra, while stepdaughter Tina Kokas was placed in foster care. Four years later, Anthony moved to Fort Myers, Florida, there marrying a woman named Linda Olson. Over the next few years, the family moved to various places in the South before returning to Illinois in 1997. By then, according to one account, Anthony and Linda Cales had separated. And according to another account Stacy later provided to a neighbor, Anthony Cales at this point left the three surviving Cales children to fend, at least temporarily, for themselves.
At some point around the same time, he provided Tina — now twenty-two, and living with her fiancé, Todd Ernest — with a handwritten document giving Tina guardianship over Stacy:
Due to financial and housing complications at this time, I, Anthony Cales, give my step-daughter, Christina Kokas, temporary guardianship of my daughter Stacy Ann Cales.
This guardianship to enable Christina Kokas to enroll Stacy Cales in school, and sign for medical attention, should it become necessary.
This agreement to cease at such a time as I, Anthony Cales, see fit to end it and return Stacy Cales to my sole custody.
Cassandra was eventually lodged with another family, while Yelton was on his own, being over eighteen.
Then, three months later, in March of 1998, the Cales children's natural mother, Christie Toutges Cales, vanished. The story, as reported much later by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, was that Christie, living then in Blue Island, Illinois, a suburb just south of Chicago, took her Bible and her purse and began walking to church, or possibly a friend's house. She never got there, and remains a missing person to this day, and, all factors considered, is most likely the victim of a random murderer, still unidentified.
The following August, in 1998, Tina and her fiancé Todd formally agreed to a guardianship order approved by the Will County Circuit Court, appending the handwritten declaration of Anthony to the application for formal legal guardianship. Then, a little over a year after that, something happened. It wasn't clear what, though — juvenile court records in Illinois are not publicly accessible. But the outcome emerged in June 2000, when Todd Ernest filed a legal motion with the same court "to have my name removed from the guardianship of Stacy A. Cales, since she no longer resides in my home." It appears that Todd and Tina were separating, and that Stacy had gotten into some sort of trouble at about the same time. Stacy was placed in a group home, but there is also evidence that she had been placed on juvenile probation, because three months later, in September 2000, a Will County probation officer, one Clarence Westbrook, served her with legal papers transferring her guardianship to another young man, James Maves, who identified himself as a "family friend." The fact that a probation officer had to sign the custody papers, rather than Tina (who had not legally abandoned custody, as her apparently estranged bridegroom Todd had) suggests that Stacy had been made a ward of the court.
Stacy's background, at least as related to this murky episode, would later suggest different possible interpretations as to the cause or causes of her disappearance in 2007 — as would the opaque nature of the later Peterson family finances, which were associated with several possible money-laundering machines, including a rather notorious bar.
Peterson's lawyer Joel Brodsky would later say he had been unaware of Stacy's seeming juvenile trouble in 2000, and suggested that Peterson also had never known of it. Given Peterson's access to official police records at the time he first began wooing the teenaged girl, this assertion seems hard to credit. Later, there would be suggestions that Peterson had met Stacy even before her job at the SpringHill Hotel — that after leaving the household of her half-sister, Tina Kokas, Stacy had lived on the street, at least for a while, perhaps before entering the group home. The possible nexus between Stacy on the street and Peterson as the supervising night sergeant raises the possibility that Peterson's first encounter with the then-teenage Stacy might have occurred before Peterson later admitted. This might well have been a crime; in the spring of 2000, when Stacy was "no longer living" in the home of Todd Ernest and Tina Kokas, she would have been, at sixteen, underage in terms of legal sexual relations.
In any event, a year after getting a new guardian in September of 2000 — James Maves — Stacy Cales supposedly met Drew Peterson for the first time at the SpringHill Hotel.
Within a matter of weeks, Peterson had Stacy in the basement of his family home in Bolingbrook, former farmland turned into a bedroom suburb southwest of Chicago, in the early morning hours, while his wife Kathleen and two young sons slept blissfully unaware, upstairs. Within a few months, Peterson had used his influence to obtain a job for Stacy with the Bolingbrook village clerk.
Well, Peterson had always been a randy dog — he admitted that, years later, when the mess came to full boil.
Whatever was going on with Peterson and his third wife, Kathleen Savio Peterson, at the time of Peterson's claimed first encounter with Stacy Cales wasn't clear, although once the thirty-six-year-old Kathleen realized what was going on in the basement while she and her boys slept above, it soon became a blood feud, and it was money that was eventually at stake.
She'd been tipped off by an anonymous note, which may have been penned by another Bolingbrook cop with an incentive to get Peterson in trouble. The Petersons had around a million dollars in community property. This was a rather large estate for a small-town cop with two previous ex-wives and two adult as well as two dependent children, but as Peterson later explained, he'd always had outside jobs and income — among them, a printing business in DuPage County, part-time work as a cable-television installer, a wedding photography business, and — rather oddly — a chimney-sweeping business.
"I've always had five or six jobs," Peterson later told reporters, in addition to his police work. He later claimed to at one time have had more than a hundred people working for him in his various outside-the-police-department businesses.
The anonymous letter to Peterson's third wife Kathleen — Kitty to her family — surfaced years later, after Peterson became the villain du jour of the cable mavens in 2007–08:
This letter is being sent to you for your benefit. At this point and time you are probably well aware that your husband is having an affair. The girl's name (and she is just that, a girl) is Stacy Yelton, born [birth date provided, but was in error], resides at [and then an address in Bolingbrook].
You may already have all of this information but if not, you will need it to prevent any further embarrassment and disgrace to you and your family. This affair has been going on for several months and several people have been aware of this situation. Because of her age (17) and the fact that she is an employee of the Village and because of Drew's age and his occupation, he holds a position of authority over her. Drew could be charged criminally for his intimate involvement with this minor.
Village officials (mayor, trustees and everyone at the police department) have complete knowledge of this situation. It has been an ongoing joke within the department. The issue has been discussed and has been decided to conceal his behavior to protect the village and Drew. Because of his political alliance with [Bolingbrook politicians], they are protecting themselves from the embarrassment and the liability. The real victims (being you and your family) should be the ones being protected from the embarrassment.
This is not the first time in the past year that Drew's immoral and unethical behavior has been concealed. This past summer Drew allowed the beating of an arrestee who was handcuffed and defenseless. The past fall Drew was suspected to have planted narcotics (cocaine) on two separate drug raids to obtain a substantial arrest to overshadow his recent behavior, and now his illegal intimate relationship with a minor.
Drew has been willing to sacrifice his integrity for his personal gain, with total disregard that his actions will embarrass and disrespect his wife and children. BEWARE whom you talk to within the village administration, and within the police department ...
If there was more to this letter, it seems to have been lost. But its errors (the wrong birth date for Stacy, the wrong last name, "Yelton," which was Stacy's brother's first name, not Cales), seem to suggest that the writer wasn't all that familiar with Stacy, but knew her only through her connection to her older brother Yelton. On the other hand, the letter writer seemed to have some familiarity with the law regarding authority figures such as police officers and sexual relationships with dependent minors, as well as to an event that the general public wouldn't have known about, the alleged beating of a handcuffed suspect in connection with an arrest. All in all, it seems very likely that the letter to Kitty had come from a disgruntled Bolingbrook cop intent on causing trouble for Peterson and his allies in the Village government, supposedly including the mayor of the Village of Bolingbrook. According to some reports, this was the first time that Kitty realized that her husband had been sleeping with a seventeen-year-old girl.
Excerpted from Cold as Ice by Carlton Smith. Copyright © 2010 Carlton Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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