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There is life after Drew Peterson

Things returning to normal on cul-de-sac, but some still seek closure, Stacy

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 9:10 a.m. CST

(MCT) BOLINGBROOK, Ill.  — Pheasant Chase Court in Bolingbrook looked like any other quiet suburban street last week.

A young girl built a snowman in a front yard. Cars pulled into driveways as people returned home from work.

More important, there wasn’t a single TV truck idling in front of the beige and brick house where Drew Peterson lived with his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, until she disappeared more than five years ago.

Now, with Drew Peterson likely to spend the rest of his life in custody after being sentenced last month to 38 years in prison for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, his neighbors and village officials say they hope to move on.

Bolingbrook’s mayor and others in the village insist that the saga hasn’t had much impact on the suburb’s reputation, despite the national media’s intense focus on the case.

But whether life in the neighborhood where Peterson’s children still live will ever return to normal is another question, Peterson’s neighbors say.

“It depends upon your definition of what is normal,” said Sharon Bychowski, who lives next door to the house Peterson shared with Stacy, just a few blocks from the house where Savio was found drowned in a bathtub in 2004.

“It really was upsetting to all of us in the neighborhood to have this happen,” said Bychowski, who was close friends with Stacy. “It really was such an awful experience.”

With Peterson’s sentencing over, so too are the days when TV trucks lined the street and dozens of reporters — including national figures such as Greta Van Susteren and Geraldo Rivera — gathered outside Peterson’s house, waiting to see if the former Bolingbrook police sergeant might come outside and address the media.

Now the occasional reporter will knock on doors in the neighborhood, or a curious motorist will cruise slowly around the cul-de-sac outside Peterson’s house, snapping photos, neighbors said. Other than that, the media spotlight has largely dimmed, they said.

Still, its effects remain.

Eric Lawhead, who moved into the other home next to Peterson’s just after Peterson was arrested in 2009, said he’s met people from out of state who mention Peterson as soon as they learn Lawhead lives in Bolingbrook.

“They know Bolingbrook because of this,” Lawhead said. “I think that’s too bad. Bolingbrook wants to be known as a good suburb outside of Chicago.”

Roger Claar, Bolingbrook’s mayor since 1986, said people occasionally have mentioned Peterson in conversations or emails over the past few years. But he said he doesn’t think the media attention has had a negative effect on the village.

“It certainly hasn’t been helpful to Bolingbrook, but I’m not sure how harmful it’s been,” Claar said. “Most people understand there are rogue employees everywhere. We just happened to have this one.”

The Peterson case hasn’t affected the economy in Bolingbrook, a sprawling southwest suburb that’s home to winding residential streets and big-box retailers such as Meijer and Ikea, said Tom Castagnoli, chairman of the Bolingbrook Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

“It hasn’t affected us in any way, shape or form,” Castagnoli said. “We’re unlucky he lived here, but other than that, no. I think every town’s got some black sheep.”

Irving Rein, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, said that even though some people might associate Bolingbrook with Peterson, that association most likely won’t color their opinion of the suburb. Most people understand that Savio’s murder and Stacy Peterson’s disappearance were incidents that could have happened anywhere, he said.

“Bolingbrook has had its 15 seconds of infamy as being the place where Drew Peterson worked and lived,” Rein said. “But then it’s going to fade from memory.”

The passage of time already has weakened the association between some Chicago suburbs and crimes that made national headlines, such as the murders of seven people inside a Palatine Brown’s Chicken restaurant in 1993.

The convictions of two people and the demolition of the restaurant have provided some closure for Palatine residents, Mayor Jim Schwantz said. The killings no longer define the town for most outsiders, he said.

“There’s no denying it happened,” Schwantz said. “It’s part of our past. It’s part of our history. Our hearts certainly go out to the families, of course, but we as a village have moved past it.”

But for some of Peterson’s neighbors, there will be no closure until Stacy’s fate is known. Her absence is felt in the neighborhood every day, Bychowski said.

Stacy’s two children still live in the family home with Peterson’s oldest son, Stephen, and are adored in the neighborhood, where they often play outside with other kids, Bychowski and other neighbors said. Peterson, 59, has not been charged in Stacy’s disappearance, although authorities have said he is the only suspect.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” Bychowski said. “I believe I know what happened to Stacy. I just don’t know where she is. There’s no closure for all of us who knew her and loved her. There’s no closure for anyone.”

©2013 the Chicago Tribune Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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