Former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant Drew Peterson arrives at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill., Friday, May 8, 2009, for his arraignment on charges of first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his former wife Kathleen Savio, who was found in an empty bathtub at home. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Drew Peterson may face yet another legal battle: a custody fight.
Accused of killing his third wife and suspected in the disappearance of his fourth, Peterson was caring for four children from those two wives when he was arrested last week for murder. They're currently in the care of his Peterson's adult son, Stephen, but relatives of Kathleen Savio and Stacy Peterson looking into how to change that.
"This is bizarre on top of bizarre," said Jennifer Smetters, a family law attorney in Chicago who is not involved with the case. "Two missing wives, children from both families and then you've got another child from another wife who Drew wants to have custody of the kids?"
Peterson, 55, awaits a hearing next week on first-degree murder charges in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found drowned in a dry bathtub, a gash to the back of her head.
He has two boys, ages 16 and 14, with Savio and a 5-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl with Stacy Peterson, who has been missing since October 2007. A fixture on the talk show circuit, Peterson has long maintained his innocence in both cases.
"We'd seen a lawyer a ways back and were told we'd have to wait until he was charged," said Pamela Bosco, a friend of Stacy Peterson who's acted as a spokeswoman for her family. "We have to go back to a lawyer and see what's available to us."
It's a similar story from an attorney representing Savio's father and sister, who shortly before the murder charges had filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that Peterson drowned Savio in 2004.
"It's an issue that's moved to the front burner," said Martin Glink, who acknowledged that he hasn't talked about the issue with his clients or anyone else in the Savio family.
After the Savio family filed the wrongful death lawsuit, Peterson appeared beside his teenage sons on CBS' "Early Show," during which the older boy defended his father and characterized his grandfather and aunt as virtual strangers.
"I don't remember meeting him," 16-year-old Thomas Peterson said of Henry Savio. "If he was walking down the street I wouldn't recognize him. And my aunt, I haven't seen in six years."
Chicago attorney Matthew Kirsh said the current custody arrangement may be hard to challenge because Peterson has certain rights as a parent.
"A parent whose rights have not been terminated has the right to designate a guardian in writing," Kirsh said.
Even so, Smetters said if she represented a relative of either mother, she would tell her client to seek guardianship of all four children.
"The court needs to place the children in the home that would serve their best interests," Smetters said. "I would advise them to prepare their home to take all of the children. It's very important that these children don't go through any more upheaval."
On Thursday, after Peterson was arrested, Bolingbrook Police came to the house to take the children past a growing crowd of news crews.
"Both sets of kids (were taken) with tarps or blankets over their heads," said Sharon Bychowski, a neighbor who watched the scene and was struck especially by the transfer of the two younger children. "All you could see was their little gym shoes."
From the police department they were transferred to the state's Department of Children and Family Services, which turned them over to "relatives" but would not identify them. The child welfare agency also investigated Stephen Peterson's home, Odeh said.
"They had to make sure he was fit. ... They couldn't just hand the kids over," she said.