A mysterious blue barrel. Divers searching the murky, frigid waters of an industrial canal. A woman's body exhumed for clues three years after her death.
Nearly two months after Stacy Peterson was last seen, the investigation into her disappearance and suspicions surrounding her husband, former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson, have produced many intriguing questions. But few answers.
All the story lines, though, have led back to one house on a quiet street, and to Sunday, Oct. 28, the day the 23-year-old mother of two small children vanished.
The last time anyone outside the Peterson home talked to her was around 10:15 a.m., when she spoke briefly with a friend, Bruce Ziderich, about helping to paint an apartment he owned in nearby Yorkville.
Ziderich told her to wait until she heard from her sister, Cassandra Cales, before going to the apartment, according to Pamela Bosco, a longtime family friend.
After that, the trail goes cold.
Drew Peterson, 53, who resigned from the police department after being named a suspect in his wife's disappearance, has told reporters that when he awoke around 11 a.m., his wife already had left.
About noon, Sharon Bychowski, a neighbor and friend of Stacy's, phoned Drew and told him she'd been to the market and had some candy for the kids.
Drew Peterson stopped by about 1:15 p.m., saying he had to run a brief errand, and returned about 15 minutes later, Bychowski said.
By mid-afternoon, around 2:30 or 3 p.m., Bosco said, Cales tried to call her sister.
Cales said Stacy had told her two days earlier that she feared Peterson might harm her and that she planned to talk to a divorce attorney on Monday.
Stacy Peterson had told family and friends that her husband - whom she'd met six years earlier, when she was 17 and he was married to his third wife - had become increasingly controlling, following her, tracking her with GPS and calling her incessantly on her cell phone.
Two weeks before she disappeared, she had gotten a new cell number after she found her phone bill in her husband's briefcase, some of the some numbers highlighted, Bosco said.
But one thing didn't change: her insistence on always keeping her phone turned on, Bosco said.
So when Cales couldn't get through that afternoon, she began to worry.
At 2:30 p.m. that day, Peterson - a 29-year Bolingbrook Police veteran - called work, saying he could not work his 5 p.m.-to-5 a.m. shift because his wife was gone and he needed to stay home with his children, Lt. Ken Teppel said.
But other stories have emerged to contradict Peterson's account.
Around 10 p.m. that night, a friend of Drew Peterson's stepbrother Thomas Morphey said he was home watching the World Series when Morphey called in a panic, saying he needed to talk.
Walter Martineck said Morphey told him that just hours earlier he'd helped Peterson move a large blue container from an upstairs bedroom into Peterson's SUV. Morphey said he never looked inside the container, but it was warm to the touch and he had a terrible feeling, Martineck said.
"He took me by my shoulders, told me I can't say anything, and he just told me that he thinks he helped dispose of Stacy's body," Martineck said on NBC's "Today" program.
Peterson has denied that Morphey helped him move anything.
He has told reporters that his wife called him around 9 that night, telling him that she was leaving him. Later, in one of several television interviews, Peterson said his wife told him, "She found somebody else."
Investigators have never confirmed reports of a container, but volunteers from the Texas-based group EquuSearch who helped look for her have said police asked them to watch for a large blue plastic barrel.
For weeks, police divers searched a canal south of Chicago looking for evidence.
Cales went to Peterson's house around 11 p.m. on Oct. 28 looking for her sister, Bosco said. Drew was not home, but his kids were.
"They said their parents had a fight and that Stacy had gone to Grandpa's house," Bosco said.
At 11:26, Cales said she reached Peterson on his cell phone.
"He said, 'Your sister left me,"' Cales recounted on the Web site, findstacypeterson.com. She recounted what he told her next: "She called me at 9 p.m. and said she was leaving me and going on a lil vacation ... and she left the car somewhere in Bolingbrook."
Bosco said Peterson told Cales even more.
"He said, 'She took $25,000 from the safe, her bikini is missing and her passport is missing, she's disappeared just like your mom,"' said Bosco, the last comment referring to Cales' and Stacy Peterson's mother, who vanished when Stacy was a teenager.
Cales said she didn't believe any of it - starting with Peterson's contention that he was home. She knew that wasn't true, she wrote, because she had just been there and was sitting around the corner.
At 1:36 a.m. on Oct. 29, Cales went to the Bolingbrook Police Department to report her sister missing, then filed another missing person's report around with the Illinois State Police, Teppel said.
By Nov. 9, police were calling Drew Peterson a suspect in his wife's disappearance and said it was a possible homicide. They also said that they would exhume the body of Peterson's ex-wife, Kathleen Savio, saying a 2004 death that was originally ruled an accidental bathtub drowning likely was a homicide. They have not called Peterson a suspect in that case and have not released results of a new autopsy.
But a parade of people have been called to testify before a grand jury.
And the case has become a media sensation, with news outlets reporting even the smallest development and staking out the once-quiet Bolingbrook neighborhood where Peterson still lives with four of his children, including two from his marriage to Savio.
But for all the searches by police and volunteers, all the tidbits of information and speculation, there still have been no charges - and no indication that they're imminent.
Drew Peterson's attorney, Joel Brodsky, even raised the possibility that Stacy Peterson's disappearance might never be solved.
"Not every mystery gets solved," Brodsky said. "This is not TV, it's real life."
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