It may seem strange that I’m choosing to open my discussion of psychopaths as lovers and, more generally, of the process of psychopathic seduction itself, by revisiting the case of Drew Peterson. By now we’ve seen and heard enough about—and from—Drew Peterson to strongly suspect that he murdered two of his wives. Despite his reputation as a contemporary Bluebeard—or perhaps because of it—he’s engaged to be married to yet another much younger woman.
Drew Peterson offers a case in point in how psychopaths manage to seduce numerous desirable women in spite of their dubious reputations. Although the evidence suggests that he mistreated his partners, Peterson obviously has great ease in reeling them in to begin with. Psychopaths tend to be very seductive—and extraordinarily dangerous—lovers. I’ll rely upon Hoda Kotb’s interview with Drew Peterson to use his case as a point of departure for describing how psychopaths use charm, deceit, money, gifts, emotional blackmail and eventually intimidation and abuse to ensnare women into their sometimes fatal nets. I’ll also make use of Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s insights elaborated in Snakes in Suits to outline the process of psychopathic seduction, from the initial idealization, to the inevitable devaluation, to the (sometimes literal) discarding of the women they target.
Many of us followed on the news the story of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance on October 28, 2007. Stacy was Drew’s fourth wife. His third wife had died under mysterious circumstances a few years earlier. The more investigators probed into the details of Drew Peterson’s personal life–particularly his turbulent relationships with women–the more they suspected that Stacy met with foul play at the hands of her husband. In fact, Drew was recently arrested and charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathy Savio. During the past few years, he welcomed the news coverage. He basked in the public attention, even though it was negative. He also enjoyed playing cat and mouse games with the police. In his interview with Kotb, Drew stated that he believed that Stacy, who was starting to express dissatisfaction with their marriage, had run off with another man. He placed his hand to his chest and declared, “I’m still in love with Stacy and I miss her so.”
Yet his subsequent actions belied this statement. His so-called grieving period for the disappearance of his fourth wife was rather brief. Only a short while later, he became involved with and eventually got engaged to another young woman. Although Stacy’s family, the police and the media believed that Drew Peterson murdered his wife, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. In fact, Drew described himself as a victim of the media. “I’m really being portrayed as a monster here. Nobody’s defending me. Nobody’s stepping up to say, ‘No, he’s a decent guy. He helps people. He does this. He does that.’ So somebody’s got to say something.” That somebody was none other than Peterson himself, who tooted his own horn. During the interview with Kotb, he not only proclaimed his innocence but also waxed poetic about the honeymoon period with his fourth wife. He claimed that the seduction was mutual: in fact, that Stacy pursued him. “But I–she was beautiful. And it was exciting having a young, beautiful woman interested in me. And I pursued the relationship… Every time I tried to get out of the relationship, she would pursue me. Leaving little roses and notes on my car and stuff. So it was like it was exciting.” According to Drew, they met while he was still married to his third wife. In his own words, their affair moved “Pretty quick. Pretty quick.”
Tellingly, Drew focused on his wife’s difficult upbringing. He told the journalist that Stacy was one of five children, two of whom had died young. Stacy’s mother was, as he puts it, “in and out of trouble with the law.” He emphasized that as an older, seasoned man with a good career and decent income, he appeared to the young woman like a knight in shinning armor. Stacy hoped that he would rescue her from a troubled life and poverty. Drew also stated that he was attracted not only to Stacy’s youthful vulnerability, but also to her kind, trusting and loving nature. Stacy’s friend, Pam Bosco, also describes her as “a darling. Bubbly, warm caretaker, you know. Just very, very, very sweet. Very much a family girl. Someone who wanted a family and wanted to be part of a family.”
Drew Peterson’s buddy, Steve Carcerano, offers an equally glowing description of Peterson himself. “Drew’s a nice guy. He’s a happy guy. Happy go lucky. A jokester type of guy.” Drew’s charm, sense of humor and superficially happy disposition impressed not only his buddies, but also Stacy herself. Initially, they also inspired her trust. Members of her family stated that the nice policeman who showered her with attention and promised her security seemed like a dream come true to her. Drew had a good job and a house in the suburbs. By Stacy’s standards, he was wealthy. In the beginning of their affair, he didn’t hesitate to share some of that wealth with her. Kerry Simmons, Stacy’s stepsister, stated in an interview that Drew bought Stacy a car, furnished her apartment and bought her jewelry and other gifts that a young woman would appreciate. “And she’s 17 years old so–it looked good to her. It looked good. It felt good. It was good. She was head over heels over him. She really did like him,” Simmons added. By all accounts, Drew seemed to reciprocate Stacy’s feelings. Steve Carcerano stated, “When he met Stacy, it seemed like he had a glow in his eye. You know, she’s young. She’s attractive. He seemed very happy with her.”
Yet in the eyes of many, this May-December romance fell short of the ideal. First of all, Drew was already married, which, to Stacy’s family, wasn’t exactly a detail. Not only did he already have a wife, but also she was his third wife. They didn’t find this pattern particularly reassuring. He also had four children, including two young sons who lived with him. Stacy’s family believed that she was much too young to marry Drew Peterson. Yet Stacy felt too much in love, or too attracted to what she perceived as a golden opportunity, to heed her family’s warnings. She stayed with Drew. In 2003, he divorced his third wife–who, incidentally, had also been his mistress–to marry her. Drew admitted during his interview with Kotb that he was very persistent with Stacy. He stated, “I proposed to her on several occasions. Just asked her to marry me. First couple times she said no. Third time she said yes.” When they married in a Bolingbrook Field on October 2003, Stacy was only nineteen. She had already given birth to their first child. The second child, a girl, followed shortly thereafter. The couple also lived with Drew’s younger sons from his previous marriage.
According to her family and friends, Stacy enjoyed motherhood. Kerry Simmons stated that she “Never saw her upset with those kids. I mean she loved those kids so much. Those were like–they were her life. And I think she really wanted to give those kids the life that she felt she didn’t have, or the opportunities that she didn’t have growing up. She did birthday parties, marshmallow roasts, and backyard barbeques.” Before her disappearance, Stacy told her friend that she was looking forward to her daughter’s first trick-or-treating outing. She never got that opportunity, however. Three days before Halloween, Drew reported his wife missing. Stacy’s family, friends and volunteer groups formed search parties to look for her. Drew, however, refused to participate. He speculated that his young wife had run away with another man.
But Stacy’s family didn’t buy his story. They knew enough about their marriage and about Drew’s behavior from what Stacy herself had told them to suspect that her husband had murdered her. Stacy had confided in her stepsister, Kerry Simmons, in particular. During her interview, Simmons stated that initially the couple “seemed to be doing well. They looked happy, they acted happy and they looked, you know they looked fine.” But after awhile, slowly but surely, their marriage started to deteriorate. Family and friends told investigators that the couple was fighting frequently. Furthermore, whereas in the beginning of their relationship Drew had been very polite and flattering towards Stacy, after they got married he began to criticize her. As a result, they claimed, Stacy became insecure about her appearance. She had several plastic surgeries. Kerry Simmons also alleges that Drew’s abusive behavior escalated to physical violence. “He threw her down the stairs. There was an instance where he had knocked her into the TV. I think one time he actually picked her up and threw her across the room. I mean she’s small. She’s 100 pounds.” At that point, Stacy’s family and friends urged her to leave her husband. She confessed that she was too afraid of him. She feared that he’d kill her.
Given Drew’s behavior, Stacy had sound basis for her fears. During the course of their four-year marriage, he became increasingly controlling, to the point of stalking her. Their neighbor, Sharon Bychowskyi, stated during her interview that Drew “would check in at home like clockwork throughout his shift. So he would go in at five, he would do his roll call, he’d come back. He would eat here in uniform, then he’d go back out on the beat. He’d stay an hour or so. Come back.” Stacy’s family told investigators that Drew followed his wife around in his car even when she went out to meet her sisters. He grew increasingly jealous and wanted to make sure that Stacy wasn’t seeing another man. Not that he had been above that kind of behavior himself. In fact, each time he divorced it was because of infidelity. Each time he married his newest girlfriend. Moreover, in each marriage, Drew had numerous affairs. But this time he had married a much younger and attractive woman. The tables were turned. He was the one worried about Stacy’s infidelity rather than the other way around.
In his interview, Peterson put an entirely different spin on the facts presented by Stacy’s family, friends and neighbors. He denied that their marriage was going as badly as they maintained. He also denied engaging in any kind of domestic abuse, be it verbal or physical. As for the claim that he fostered Stacy’s insecurity through criticism, thus leading her to get several plastic surgeries, he turned that statement around. He maintained that if his wife sought to improve her appearance, it’s because he indulged her vanity and catered to her every whim: “Stacy was spoiled. I pampered her. It’s–a lot of that’s my fault. Stacy wanted it, she got it. High-end jewelry. Name it. She got it.” Peterson asserted that it’s because he pampered his wife, giving her everything she asked for, that she had so many cosmetic surgeries. “Stacy wanted it she got it. I mean she wanted a boob job, I got her a boob job. She wanted a tummy tuck, she got that. She wanted braces, Lasik surgery, hair removal, anything. Stacy loved male attention.”
Stacy’s family, neighbors and friends, however, offer a different interpretation of Drew’s so-called generosity. They believe his gifts to Stacy functioned as bribes, to persuade her to stay with him despite the abuse. They see Drew as alternating between the carrot and the stick. The physical violence, intimidation, stalking and threats were obviously the stick. The gifts represented the carrot. Sharon Bychowski observed: “Most recently he bought her a motorcycle to ask her if it would buy him three more months with her.” Apparently, however, neither the carrot nor the stick worked anymore. Stacy’s family and friends told investigators that by the time she disappeared, the young woman was determined to leave her husband. Stacy had told them that she didn’t want to end up like Kathy Savio, the previous Mrs. Peterson.
Drew had also wooed Kathy very romantically at first, when she had also been his mistress. Initially, their marriage also appeared to be the very picture of happiness. Steve Carcerano stated, “My first impression of Drew and Kathy was a happy couple when they first moved there. Drew says he met Kathy Savio on a blind date in 1992.” Moreover, Kathy was also significantly younger than Drew, in her late twenties, when they became involved. He swept her off her feet, seducing her with his charm, sense of humor, flattery, gifts and promises of a happy future together. Even Kathy’s sister, Sue Doman, felt initially impressed with the jovial policeman. In an interview she stated, “He was funny. He talked–you know, he would joke around, got along with everybody. Went out of his way to meet people.” Not only was Drew outgoing, but also he came on strong. He acted extremely affectionate with his girlfriend, even in public. Doman recalled that he told her, “‘Hey, you know, I love your sister.’ Would hug her and kiss her in front of us. Just a very happy person, joking around.” Shortly thereafter, Peterson proposed to her. Unlike Stacy, Kathy said “yes” on the first try.
The couple married in 1992 and had two sons together. The pattern that would emerge in Drew’s fourth marriage was already present in his third. Although he had been highly flattering at first, once they married Drew began criticizing Kathy’s looks. The constant put-downs led her to feel increasingly insecure about her physical appearance. He started cheating on her as well, as he had on his previous two wives. As a result, the couple fought. Characteristically, Peterson blamed their altercations solely on his wife’s hot temper. He told Koeb, “Our relationship started deteriorating. She was more–she was easy–easily agitated and more demanding. She would snap quickly.”
Sue Doman, however, remembers it differently. She asserted in her interview that Peterson was the one abusing his wife, not the other way around. “He would call her names… Horrible, swearing names. ‘Bitch,’ ‘whore.’ ‘You look like a dog.’ She needed to go to Jenny Craig. She needed to do anything to make herself look better because she was looking horrible.” She also stated that Peterson beat his wife. Hospital records confirm that Kathy went to the emergency room, following one of their fights. Sue Doman elaborated on this incident: “He took her head and took her hair, she had long hair, and he beat her against a wooden table. He was angry with her… She had a laceration on her head. She became dazed. She had black and blue marks all over her.” But even physical violence didn’t persuade Kathy to divorce her husband. An anonymous letter that informed her about his affair with Stacy did, however. Although Drew denied the romantic relationship, and even attacked his wife for voicing such suspicions, there was overwhelming evidence that he was being unfaithful to her.
Kathy finally filed for divorce. At the same time, however, she felt apprehensive. She feared that her husband would kill her. She expressed her anxiety to family members and friends. As their relationship deteriorated further while his relationship with Stacy progressed, Drew launched a smear campaign against his ex-wife. Sue Doman described it as follows: “He convinced everyone and anyone that she was absolutely crazy, mentally ill.” Shortly after their 2004 divorce, Drew found Kathy dead in the bathtub. Her death was officially declared an “accidental drowning.” But following Stacy’s disappearance, investigators reopened Kathy Savio’s case. Certain facts didn’t fit this description. For one thing, the bathtub had been empty. Also, Kathy had bruises and a gash on her body, which suggested physical assault. In addition, Stacy’s own mysterious disappearance established an unsettling pattern.
How does Drew Peterson explain the fact that out of four wives one ended up dead and another missing without a trace? “I guess this is bad luck,” he told Hoda Koeb. Not bad enough, apparently, since shortly thereafter he ended up courting another attractive young woman. She agreed to marry him despite the fact that her family, along with the general public, saw a disturbing pattern in Drew Peterson’s pursuit and treatment of women.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness
Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction