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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Drew's Peterson's "pals" wore wire

July 23, 2008

Sun-Times News Group

Drew Peterson likes to talk an awful lot — especially for a guy whose third wife was murdered and fourth wife is missing.

And now two of his closest friends say they caught it all, cooperating with State Police by wearing a wire and recording seven months of intimate conversations with the former Bolingbrook cop.“We got him,” said Len Wawczak.

Peterson mocked investigators as “idiots,” called his third wife “a bitch” whose body he should have had cremated and predicted he’d be tried and acquitted long before his fourth wife’s remains were found, Wawczak said.

Wawczak, 42, said he and his wife, Paula Stark, 38, have known Peterson for about 16 years, a friendship that began over drinks at a Bolingbrook watering hole , included talk of going into business together flipping homes and became so close that Peterson trusted the couple to watch his children.

But a few weeks after Stacy Peterson disappeared last year, the couple began to have suspicions about their longtime friend. Partly because of a tragedy in his own past, Wawczak said he had no reservations about turning informant for the police, but his wife was afraid.

“I talked her into it,” Wawczak said.

And the next seven months would have plenty of nerve-wracking moments, the couple said, including requests from Peterson that they prove their loyalty and worries that a hug could reveal their subterfuge.

‘A bunch of f------ idiots’

Early in their friendship, Wawczak says he heard Peterson complaining about his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

In 2004, about 12 years into Wawczak’s friendship with Peterson, Savio was found dead in a waterless bathtub, and State Police determined she was the victim of an accidental drowning.
Stark said at the time Peterson mocked the cops investigating the drowning, saying, “‘She was in a dry bathtub, what a bunch of f------ idiots.’”

Then, Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, vanished in October, sparking officials to exhume Savio’s body and declare her death a homicide.

Wawczak recalled Peterson telling them, “‘I should have had that bitch cremated. It would have cost me less and I wouldn’t be going through this trouble.’”

Peterson has been named a suspect in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, which police have labeled a “potential homicide.” Peterson has publicly said he had nothing to do with the fate of either of his wives.

And privately, he didn’t sound nervous, Wawczak said.

“He said he wasn’t worried about them finding Stacy’s remains down the road because he figured by that time he would have been tried and acquitted, and you can’t be tried for the same case twice because of double jeopardy or something,” Wawczak said.

Modeling Stacy’s bikinis

The couple contacted Peterson after Stacy Peterson disappeared.

“We figured we were being good Joes, that’s all, helping him out,” Wawczak said.

As the investigation escalated, Peterson took to spending more and more evenings at Wawczak and Stark’s Bolingbrook home, the couple said. He would sneak out his back door, crawl through the yard and jump into their waiting van.

“He didn’t know if they were coming for him, and he thought this would be a good place to hide,” Wawczak said.

In mid-November, the State Police met with Wawczak and eventually began talking about enlisting his help, asking him to take a polygraph in the process, Wawczak said.

Stark, who has two sons and a daughter with Wawczak, said she remained nervous throughout their clandestine work, which ceased in mid-June. The worst day was probably when Peterson took her up in his ultra-light airplane in early spring for its first flight since Stacy Peterson vanished. A GPS device was hidden inside the thermal vest she wore so police could track where he flew, Stark said.

“I swear to God, I don’t think I was more scared,” she said.

She said she was also worried when Peterson hugged her and asked her to model his missing wife’s bikinis and fur coats.

“Even hugging him goodbye, trying to kiss me, rubbing up against me, whispering in my ear, ‘I love you,’” Stark said, adding she was worried Peterson might discover the recording device she wore.

“I thought a few times he might have felt it and might say something,” she said.

‘Don’t make me shoot him’

Stark said Peterson asked her to run off with him.

“He wanted to move to Kentucky and put a business and a house in my name in case they came to get him,” she said. “I said, ‘You plan to take me to Kentucky? You think Lenny’s going to let me go without a fight? You know how he is.’ He said, ‘Don’t make me shoot him.’”

Wawczak said he had his own uncomfortable moments. He said he balked when Peterson asked him to prove his loyalty by torching a bunch of plants a neighbor assembled in memory of Stacy and sabotage a boat that was being used in searches.

What was Peterson’s motivation? “‘It would just be funny,’” Wawczak said Peterson told him.
‘He's done’

Wawczak and Stark said Peterson trusted them so much that he gave them a .22-caliber folding revolver for safe keeping. Police missed the gun when they searched his home, they said, and Peterson needed someone to take it when his firearm owner’s identification card was revoked. The couple said they surrendered the gun to police immediately, but told Peterson investigators seized it during a March search.

Stark and Wawczak said they grew close to Peterson’s children — the two teenage sons he had with Savio and the boy and girl he had with Stacy Peterson. The couple said they miss the children since they broke contact with Peterson when their work with police ended.

“It f------ kills me I’ll never get to see [them] again because I did the right thing,” Wawczak said.

“I would take those kids in a second,” Stark said. “I would take custody of those kids in a heartbeat.”

Wawczak said his own father was slain during a holdup of his gas station in 1975, when Len was 9. The killer was found thanks to a woman who reported the license number of the getaway car. Wawczak said that’s partly why he agreed to help police investigating Savio’s murder and Stacy Peterson’s disappearance.

“Look what that lady did for my dad,” Wawczak said. “Had she not, that guy would have got away. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.”

Wawczak and Stark declined to spell out all the conversations they helped record for State Police, but they expect the information to lead to their former friend’s arrest. “He’s done,” Wawczak said. “He’s going away.”

‘They’re wrong’

Peterson was nonplussed when he learned his friends were spying on him for the police. He said he felt no sense of betrayal, suggesting the couple had other motives.

“They stormed off mad one day when I wouldn’t lend them money,” Peterson said. “They wanted some big money from me.”

Peterson said he never voiced wishes Savio had been cremated, talked of shooting Wawczak or asked his friend to vandalize any flower memorial or boat.

“The only thing I talked about was him walking up and down and taking the ribbons off the trees” memorializing Stacy, Peterson said.

Peterson also disputed Wawczak’s claim that the words recorded by the wire would be his undoing. “No,” he said, “They’re wrong.”

Peterson even said whatever he uttered in the presence of Stark and Wawczak would help clear him.
“I’m almost glad,” he said. “Good.”

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