Saturday, November 17, 2007

Forensics Casebook II: Kathleen Savio, Stacy Peterson, Dr. Baden, & the Chicago Cop

The questions are falling faster than stacked dominoes now that noted expert pathologist Dr. Michael Baden says that Drew Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, died as a result of a homicide. Baden, who donated his post-exhumation services to the Savio family, described his autopsy findings in a thorough interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren.

Let's look at some key questions that didn't get answered--or in some cases, even asked--during the original investigation. To do that, we first re-visit the crime scene.

The physical background: Savio was found to be free of drugs or alcohol. She had no prior history of seizures or fainting spells. Yet she wound up drowned in a dry, blood-splotched bathtub with bruises all over her body, and a bloodied head from blunt force trauma.

Original reports said that her fingers were wrinkled from being in water. Here are some things worth questioning:

1. How long does it take for someone's fingers to get wrinkled in a bathtub?
2. Is there a difference in that time for someone who's alive and someone who's deceased?
3. The most important question of all about those fingers: why were the fingers on both hands reportedly wrinkled? Think about it--when someone takes a bath, or shower, they rarely have both hands equally submerged all the time. The dominant hand is used for bathing, washing hair, etc. Why were all the fingers on both of Savio's hands wrinkled?
4. The bathtub was dry of water when Savio's body was found. But her hair was wet. The blood, in some areas, was reportedly wet. There was blood splotched around the tub. If the tub had drained on its own, why were there splotches?
5. How long would it take that tub to drain on its own,if that happened?
6. How long do fingers stay wrinkled, ante and postmortem? There's a time correlation there that never got looked at.
7. Why was Drew Peterson allowed to clean blood out of that tub?

How did this death get classified as an accidental drowning? Even more compelling, how did Kathleen Savio's plight as an abused and terrified woman get ignored by the Bolingbrook Police Department and other authorities? And how did a cop who knew Peterson, and spoke up for him, almost as a "character reference," wind up on the coroner's jury?

Now-retired former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson threatened more than one wife, according to reports, taunting them that he could kill them and get away with it. Disturbing patterns continue to emerge about Peterson's treatment of his four wives, one of whom died mysteriously, and the fourth, Stacy Peterson, who is missing.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Dave Brown, husband of Peterson's first wife Carol, says that Peterson cheated on Carol during their brief marriage. This pattern repeated in his marriages to Vicki Connolly, and Savio.

Connolly, the second wife, said that Peterson hit her as well as spying on her, controlling her, and emotionally abusing her. The missing Stacy Peterson and her family said that Peterson was also controlled and her activities tracked by Peterson. Stacy told her family the same thing that Savio did: if something happens to me, it won't be an accident.

Savio filed 18 abuse reports on Peterson. In an ominous foreshadowing, one of Savio's ER visits was for a blow to the head, according to documents obtained by America's Most Wanted.

Dr. Baden detailed bruises on her hands, chest, abdomen, and thighs. In his interview with Van Susteren, Baden described the hand injuries as "defensive" wounds.

""There were indications then of multiple blunt force traumas, of being beaten up," Baden said. "One of the things we were able to look at today, those bruises were still there. And we could see from the naked eye they were fresh."

Even in death, Kathleen Savio is serving as witness to her own tragedy. Her family, having gone through the anguish of her death and a botched investigation and ruling, made sure that this time, they had their own expert, Dr. Baden, to perform a post-exhumation autopsy.

In one of the most poignant documents related to this case, Kathleen Savio pleaded for help. In a letter to Assistant State Attorney Elizabeth Fragales on Nov. 14, 2002 Savio said that police didn't file reports when she'd called for help.

Another foreshadowing: she detailed how Peterson secretly programmed a way to open her garage door and get into her house. She told how Peterson ambushed her, threw around his authority as a police officer, and held a knife to her throat.

This incident is significant because when Savio's body was found, Peterson made sure he told Steve Carcerano that he couldn't get into the house. Carcerano, who found the body, has been called to testify before the grand jury. One question: why did a trained, and reportedly aggressive, cop, send an unarmed civilian into a home where the cop thought something might be wrong?

I've covered crime before. I've covered multiple murders. Savio's suffering as a terrified and abused woman who saw her doom closing in on her is one of the most gut-wrenching storiers I've ever researched.

In the first article in this series, Forensics Casebook I: Kathleen Savio, Stacy Peterson, the Chicago Cop & Fox's Greta Van Susteren, I said that both the Savio and Stacy Peterson cases revolved around water. Officials have repeatedly searched for Stacy in bodies of water near the Peterson home. In Drew's Clues: Wife #2 Said Peterson Bragged He Could Safely Kill Her, Vicki Connolly speaks out and Dr. Phil weighs in.

In the next article, I'll reveal how easy it is to kill someone and make it look like a drowning.

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