Video: Death of Peterson's ex-wife ruled a homicide

By Clint Van Zandt
msnbc.com
updated 2/22/2008 4:22:36 PM ET 2008-02-22T21:22:36
COMMENTARY

When former Bolingbrook, Ill. Police Sgt. Drew Peterson’s third wife, 40-year-old Kathleen Savio, was found dead on March 1, 2004 in her own bath tub, her husband was quick to accept the ruling of the local medical examiner that Savio’s death was an accident. Some have since suggested that authorities were too quick to rush to judgment in the death of an otherwise healthy, athletic woman.

Somehow, the authorities came to the belief that she had slipped in her own tub, struck her head, knocked herself out and drowned in her own bath water.  As Sgt. Peterson worked for a local police department, the Illinois State Police assigned an investigator to the death case, an investigator who did not respond to the death scene, who did not attend the initial autopsy, and who otherwise seemed to miss or disregard many critical aspects of the investigation. 

Savio had at least five life insurance policies on her life, the proceeds of which, combined with their joint home and business resources, left Drew Peterson to be the overseer of an estate totaling $3,000,000. Had the contentious divorce between Kathleen and Drew Peterson been adjudicated in the courts, she would likely have received at least one-half of their marital resources, plus a similar percent of his future retirement pension.  Motive enough for murder, many have said.

After the Oct. 28, 2007 disappearance and suggested murder of Drew Peterson’s current and fourth wife Stacy, who was just past her teenager years when Peterson began dating her, while he was still married to Savio, a hue and cry finally arose concerning the relationship he had with his four wives.  His first wife indicated he had cheated on her before their divorce.  His second wife reported he had threatened to kill her and make it look like an accident. We now know that his third wife was the victim of a homicide that someone may have made resemble an accident while his fourth wife may have had, perhaps, the same fate. 

Injuries on Savio noticeable four years later
Now Peterson indicates his disbelief at the finding of murder of his third wife, stating “I’m shocked,” “You’re kidding me,” “Unbelievable,” and “That’s hard to believe.” Interesting comments from someone who knew months ago that Dr. Michael Baden, a pathologist hired by Savio’s family, had come to a similar conclusion and had long ago announced his findings to the world.

Results of this third and latest autopsy, with the last two conducted after her body had been exhumed, verified the presence of multiple bruises on both the front and back of Savio’s body, injuries inconsistent with an accidental drowning but consistent with a beating, or at least a significant physical abuse by an unknown assailant. Her killer left evidence on her bruised arms with knuckles or fingers gripping her body so tightly that marks were left which are still apparent four years after her murder.

Can Drew Peterson become a suspect?
The significant bruise to the back of her head could be consistent with her hitting her head in a fall, or with her head being struck by someone with an unknown object.  No doubt about it, someone attacked, manhandled, struck, abused and then drowned Kathleen Savio in her own bath tub. This was obviously no accident, but a homicide committed by someone who knew enough to make her death initially resemble an accident, someone with enough of a working knowledge of murder investigations to be able to conceal the cause of her death, some like, for example, a police officer.

Should Drew Peterson be declared a suspect in Savio’s murder, investigators will face their next two challenges: probable cause, and then proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As Peterson had shared a common home with Savio, any evidence of his presence in the residence could be explained away, but, of course, no such investigation was even conducted at that time.  Savio’s death had been ruled to be accidental. Now investigators must play catch up; they must try to turn back the clock by almost four years to try to catch a killer, to identify the person who beat and murdered Savio.

Who had been seen at the house and who would have had the means, motive and opportunity to have committed such a crime?  If Peterson, some evidence will be needed to put him at the crime scene at a time when me might have denied being there, perhaps cell phone records or credit card receipts that place him near the scene of Savio’s murder, or, should he be the actual killer, perhaps he’ll prove to have been over confident in his ability to get away with this crime, perhaps he missed something; something that will put him in Savio’s home at the time she died.

At this point we have a murder without a named suspect, and a missing wife and mother who is presumed to be dead. Most remember the words of the father of Dutch teenager Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, who allegedly said “No body, no case.”  Should Peterson have anything to do with the disappearance of his fourth wife, he’s apparently safe unless a body is found, and concerning the murder of his third wife, ask him and he’ll probably tell you to prove it.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His Web site, www.LiveSecure.org, provides readers with security-related information.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,