Stacy Peterson requested a meeting in late August with a member of the Westbrook Christian Church pastoral staff when the church made a routine call to see why she and Drew Peterson had not attended recent services, Rob Daniels, the church's pastor of spiritual formation, told The Associated Press.
At the meeting, Peterson said "she feared for herself because of her husband," Daniels said.
He would not say whether Peterson was afraid her husband would kill her, only that she feared "bodily harm."
Authorities say Drew Peterson is a suspect in his fourth wife's disappearance and have called her case a possible homicide. Investigators are also re-examining the 2004 death of Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, saying it may have been a homicide staged to look like an accidental bathtub drowning.
In a roughly two-year period beginning in 2002, police responded to 18 domestic disturbance calls at Peterson's house. Savio accused Peterson of beating her and threatening to kill her, but no charges were ever brought against him.
Instead, Peterson twice persuaded prosecutors to charge Savio with domestic battery. She was acquitted both times.
"We do know there was never an order of protection taken out. There was never a complaint of domestic battery made," Drew Peterson's attorney, Joel Brodsky, told CBS' The Early Show.
Vicki Connolly, Peterson's second wife, has said that during their marriage, an increasingly controlling Peterson hit her and told her he could kill her and make it look like an accident.
Stacy Peterson was last seen by her relatives on Oct. 28. Days later, her sister, Cassandra Cales, said Peterson was afraid of her husband and was making plans to divorce him. "She told me ... she feared for her life," Cales said.
The investigation is now focused on a large blue barrel that Peterson and his stepbrother allegedly carried out of Peterson's home. His stepbrother later told a friend that the barrel was warm to the touch.
The next day, the stepbrother reportedly tried to commit suicide.
Brodsky told The Early Show that Peterson's stepbrother was a "very troubled man" with psychiatric problems who had attempted suicide before.
Peterson, 53, has denied wrongdoing, saying he believes 23-year-old Stacy Peterson left him for another man and is alive. Peterson has since resigned from the Bolingbrook police force.
Daniels did not address a report Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times that Peterson told a clergyman in August that her husband had confessed to her that he killed Savio and made it look like an accident. The newspaper cited an anonymous source close to the investigation and did not identify the clergyman or the church.
The Westbrook Christian official made a "judgment call" not to alert authorities and did not consult with other church staff, Daniels said. The church's clergy are legally required to alert authorities only about allegations of child abuse or if someone threatens to harm themselves or others, he said.
"What they're asking us to believe is that Drew told Stacy he killed his third wife and then she continued to live with him and have two children with him after that confession," Brodsky told The Early Show. "That doesn't make logical sense."
It wasn't clear whether investigators have questioned church members or staff about the Petersons. Messages left late Thursday for the Illinois State Police were not immediately returned.
Daniels would not identify the clergy member who met with Stacy Peterson or say where the meeting took place, other than it was not at the church. Daniels also would not reveal specific details of the conversation, but he said church leaders only learned of it Thursday.
Stacy and Drew Peterson and their children occasionally attended services at the church from 2004 to January 2007 but then stopped coming, Daniels said. The church, less than a mile from the Peterson home, has served as a headquarters for several volunteer searches for Peterson.
Kim Camplin, who works in the clothing business, said Bolingbrook police should have taken the domestic disturbance calls more seriously.
"It doesn't matter if it's a fireman, a policeman or a clergyman - all it should take is one call and it should be taken seriously," she said. "What faith can we have in the system?"