BOLINGBROKE, Ill. (AP) -- Jobless and with no prospects, Drew Peterson spends his days taking care of his children from two marriages, cooking their meals, washing their clothes, helping with their homework. And the former cop does it knowing that on the other side of his front door, it is widely believed that he killed his last two wives.
It has been nearly five months since Stacy Peterson vanished from their home in this Chicago suburb. In that time, Peterson has been named a suspect in her disappearance by authorities who also are now trying to determine if he had any role in the 2004 death of his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio.
The result is two separate worlds for the 54-year-old Peterson. One is inside his home, made up of the mundane and the challenge of raising teenage boys, ages 13 and 15, a 3-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. The other is out there, where he's recognized wherever he goes, where camera crews follow him, where people whisper his name and can't wait to talk about him on Internet message boards.
Those two worlds -- and what he knows is the very real possibility that police may lock him up at any time -- go a long way in explaining why Peterson, with his attorney's blessing, allowed The Associated Press into his home for a lengthy and revealing interview.
"I am now dealing with the court of public opinion, which is filled with my jury pool," explained Peterson, who has hired a publicist.
His image has taken a beating. From wisecracking about his wife's menstrual cycles to enthusiastically agreeing on a radio show to take part in a "Win a Date With Drew" contest, he has repeatedly come off as boorish and callous.
Peterson knows all this, though he blames the media for portraying him as a "sinister character lurking around underneath rocks." He does, however, acknowledge that from the outside his behavior might be seen as peculiar and his jokes inappropriate.
"Humor's kind of a defense mechanism for me, so I joke about everything," he said. "Even though I may be scared to death, I'm smiling and laughing."
Pamela Bosco, a friend of Stacy Peterson, doesn't believe any of it. If Peterson acted one way early on it was because he believed it would help him, she said. "They keep trying to change the look that fits," she said. "Drew is a chameleon."
For two hours at his home last week, Peterson was subdued. He's 30 pounds lighter than he was when his wife disappeared, there are bags under his eyes and he appears pale, certainly nowhere as robust as he was when reporters first started knocking on his door last fall. When he speaks, there still are some jokes - he compared the media attention to a colonoscopy - but he is careful.
What he wants to put on display is his life behind closed doors.
Stacy, who was 23 when she vanished, is everywhere in the house. There are photographs of her, alone, with her children and with her husband. The living room is crowded with bright silk flowers Peterson said she kept coming home with, and many of the pictures are in frames with phrases like "Home Sweet Home" and "Live, Laugh, Love." Other rooms are similarly crowded, including his home office with shelves holding Disney figurines in what Peterson said was kind of a shrine his wife had for her late sister.
"For some reason I just can't bring myself to take stuff down," he said. "I can't even bring myself to put her clothes away. They're hung up like they were the day she left."
The kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms and downstairs family room all remain as they were - decorated as she decorated them. Artificial vines hang from lattice on the walls of the kitchen, an effort by Stacy to give the room an Italian feel.
Upstairs, 3-year-old Laci's room is awash in pink, a frilly canopy over the bed, its headboard emblazoned with the words "The Princess Sleeps." There are stickers of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty on the wall.
There is a bedroom next door with a car theme and across the hall, plastic planets hang from the ceiling, a nod, Peterson said, to his 13-year-old son's one-time interest in planets.
The knickknacks elicit a story about Stacy: Holding a figurine of a police officer holding a little girl's hand, he said the joke was that it showed he and Stacy in 1988, referring to the 30-year age difference between him and his wife.
"I thought we had a lot of fun together when we just did everyday things," he said.
Throughout the tour, Peterson complimented his wife. She was a great mother, she said. A funny and caring wife.
"It's very lonely without her," he said. "She created a real nice environment, home environment for the kids and I."
At the same time, his account of what happened remains what it has always been: She left him for another man and still is alive. And his feelings toward her also are the same.
"I'm very angry, very angry," he said. He said he's hired private investigators to look for her, but he doesn't elaborate.
Peterson would not talk in detail about the investigation into his wife's disappearance. He and his attorneys say that is off limits, so there was no talk about the blue barrel that some have alleged Peterson moved from his house about the time his wife disappeared. There was no discussion of the grand jury investigating Stacy Peterson's disappearance and Savio's death, a grand jury that just this month heard from his mother and stepfather.
He did talk about claims that he asked truckers to carry a mysterious package for him, but only to make the point that subsequent reports debunking the claim did not get much attention.
Peterson has heard people hurl obscenities at him and he has received death threats. Since he retired shortly after his wife disappeared, Peterson said, he has heard from a single member of the Bolingbrook police department where he spent 32 years, and can think of no one there he can call a friend.
He's a celebrity now, he said - the same way Scott Peterson was before his arrest in the death of his pregnant wife, Laci, and the way people still wonder about O.J. Simpson.
"I'll walk into a restaurant and you'll hear this hum go through this restaurant, 'There's Drew Peterson, there's Drew Peterson, there's Drew Peterson,"' he said.
The displays of open hostility don't happen as much when he's in public with his children. But, he said, there have been a few incidents in which children have been confronted with the rumors and speculation swirling around their father, including the time someone told his 13-year-old son that Peterson tossed his wife out of a helicopter.
There is no escaping the allegations. One neighbor has taped "Where is Stacy?" posters in the windows that face Peterson's house and another has put an even larger one in the front yard.
"I want my kids to be kids and they can't," he said. "They drive by on their little tricycles and bicycles and they see that."
The neighbor, Sharon Bychowski, said she doesn't believe the signs hurt Peterson's children because they don't accuse him of anything.
"The signs are in support of Stacy Peterson, searching for Stacy Peterson," she said. "They are not about Drew Peterson."
Whatever they are about, Peterson said he wants to move.
"I've got to get away from this environment and the kids (have) got to get away from this environment," he said. The problem is that the house is in his wife's name and to sell it he needs his wife's signature or a court order.
So he stays, talking about the possibility of eventually moving his family to a warmer climate and starting his own business. In the meantime, he's set up what he calls contingencies for other family members to take care of his children if he is arrested.
And he waits.
"I'm sure when all this clears up I'll get some apologies from some people," he said.
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