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Neighbor: Drew distraught upon discovery of ex-wife's body
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Drew Peterson

 

Drew Peterson arrives at the Will County courthouse May 8, 2009, for his arraignment on charges of first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found in her dry bathtub in Bolingbrook. Peterson is a suspect in the October 2007 disappearance of fourth wife, Stacy, but he has not been charged.

 

The Associated Press

Kathleen Savio

 

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Stacy Peterson

 

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Published: 2/1/2010 8:01 AM | Updated: 2/1/2010 10:37 PM

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Moments after his ex-wife's nude body was found in her bathtub, a "genuinely distraught" Drew Peterson knew suspicion would be cast his way, a neighbor testified Monday.

"'People are going to think I did it,'" Thomas Pontarelli quoted Peterson as saying March 1, 2004.

Peterson's reaction to third wife Kathleen Savio's drowning death was the focus Monday of the pretrial hearing to determine what hearsay statements will be allowed at his upcoming murder trial.

Nearly 40 witnesses have testified in the Will County hearing, now in its third week.

Peterson is charged with killing Savio weeks before they were to settle the finances in their volatile divorce as the former Bolingbrook police sergeant began a new life with fourth wife Stacy, 30 years his junior, with whom he had an affair.

Authorities initially thought Savio died after an accidental slip in her bathtub, but her body was exhumed, a new autopsy was performed and her death was ruled a homicide after Stacy vanished Oct. 28, 2007, as that marriage crumbled.

Peterson, 56, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing in Stacy's disappearance, denies harming either wife.

Pontarelli and his wife, Mary, lived next door to Savio in Bolingbrook. The couple and their 19-year-old son, Nick, who described Savio as "a second mom," said she was afraid of Peterson and accused him of bugging her phone, sneaking into her house, and prior physical abuse, including once attacking her with a knife.

The night her body was found, the Pontarellis said, Peterson appeared at their door to say he called a locksmith to his ex-wife's home because he couldn't reach her in two days to return their two sons after his weekend visitation.

The family searched Savio's home with another neighbor while they said a uniformed Peterson waited outside. Thomas Pontarelli said Peterson ran inside to investigate after hearing Mary scream. Peterson appeared "genuinely distraught" and teary-eyed after checking Savio's pulse and finding no signs of life, Pontarelli said.

"He said, 'What am I going to tell my children?'" the neighbor testified.

Pontarelli said he later overheard Peterson on his cellular phone tell who the neighbor presumed was a police dispatcher that the ex-husband knew he'd be a suspect.

Pontarelli and a paramedic, Louis Oleszkiewicz, said they were surprised by what was missing in Savio's bathroom.

"I said, 'Look around. Where's her clothes? Where's her towel?'" Pontarelli said.

His wife, Mary, said she also thought it odd that Savio's long raven hair was down rather than up in her usual clip. Mary Pontarelli said it appeared "like someone had placed her in there." But, the defense team noted, a towel and a robe are visible in police photos of the bathroom.

Defense attorney Andrew Abood shrugged off the prosecution's theory that Peterson later added the items.

"There would have been no time to set up a staged scene," said Abood, who also pointed out the Pontarellis didn't say anything negative against Peterson to authorities until years later. "The prosecution's theory doesn't fit the facts."

Thomas and Nick Pontarelli said they helped Savio before her death place deadbolt locks on both her front and bedroom doors, and she later accused Peterson of drilling a quarter-size circular hole in the latter lock. A hole large enough for a person to fit through also was found in the wall of Savio's attached garage abutting her front room.

Nick Pontarelli said he photographed the damage. Both photos were shown Monday in court.

He testified Savio said, "if anything ever happened to her it wasn't an accident." She believed Peterson had recorded her calls and showed him audiotapes and a black box connected to a telephone in a basement bedroom where her ex-husband slept before he moved out in 2002, the teen said.

Thomas Pontarelli said Peterson let him know he didn't appreciate the family's support of his ex-wife. Pontarelli said he spoke to Peterson after finding a .38-caliber bullet "standing straight up in my driveway."

"I have no proof that it was him," Thomas Pontarelli said. "He said, 'Any friend of hers is an enemy of mine.'"

Nick Pontarelli said he had lunch at Savio's house Feb. 28, 2004, and that she spoke with excitement about beginning a new chapter in her life. He didn't notice any of the bruises that were found on Savio's body some 48 hours later.

"She said she wanted to move away as far as she could," he said. But, he said, Savio "was getting really scared that the finalization of her divorce was coming up."