BOLINGBROOK, Ill. – Jobless and with no prospects, Drew Peterson spends his days taking care of his four children: cooking meals, washing clothes, helping with homework. All the while, he does so knowing that most of the world believes he killed his last two wives.
Nearly five months have passed since Stacy Peterson vanished from the couple's home in this Chicago suburb. Peterson is a suspect in her disappearance, and authorities are also trying to determine if he had any role in the 2004 death of his ex-wife.
The 54-year-old former police officer knows that he could be locked up anytime, and that is part of why he allowed The Associated Press into his home for an exclusive interview.
"I am now dealing with the court of public opinion, which is filled with my jury pool," explained Peterson, who conducted the interview last week with his attorney's blessing.
Peterson's image has taken a beating. He has repeatedly come off as boorish and callous, after making wisecracks about his wife's menstrual cycles and enthusiastically agreeing on a radio show to take part in a "Win a Date With Drew" contest.
Peterson acknowledges that his behavior might be seen as peculiar and his jokes inappropriate, although he blames the news media for portraying him as a "sinister character lurking around underneath rocks."
"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, said Drew Peterson changes his demeanor whenever it will help his case.
"They keep trying to change the look that fits," she said. "Drew is a chameleon."
For two hours at his home, Peterson was subdued. He's 30 pounds lighter than when his wife disappeared. There are bags under his eyes, and he appears pale. When he speaks, there are still some jokes, but he is careful.
Peterson's home life is centered on raising his children from the two marriages: two teenage boys, ages 13 and 15, plus a 3-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.
Stacy, who was 23 when she vanished, is everywhere in photographs displayed throughout the family's house. Many of them are in frames with phrases like "Home Sweet Home" and "Live, Laugh, Love."
"I can't even bring myself to put her clothes away," Peterson said. "They're hung up like they were the day she left."
Much of the home remains as she decorated it, with silk flowers filling the living room and artificial vines hanging from lattice on the kitchen walls, an effort by Stacy to give the room an Italian feel.
Among the couple's knickknacks is a figurine of a police officer holding a little girl's hand. Peterson joked that it shows him and his wife in 1988, referring to their 30-year age difference.
"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, he said, and 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."
His theory of his wife's disappearance has never changed. He says she left him for another man and is still alive.
"I'm very angry," he said. He said he's hired private investigators to look for her, but he won't elaborate.
Peterson would not discuss details of the police investigation into his wife's disappearance, nor would he talk about the grand jury looking into both her disappearance and the death of his ex-wife, Kathleen Savio. The panel just this month heard testimony from his mother and stepfather.
He did talk about reports 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, he has not heard from a single member of the Bolingbrook Police Department, where he worked for 32 years. He said he cannot think of anyone there he calls a friend.
He's a celebrity now, he said, in 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. Camera crews sometimes follow him when he's out in public.
"I'll walk into a restaurant and you'll hear this hum go through this restaurant, 'There's Drew Peterson. There's Drew Peterson,"' he said.
The displays of hostility don't happen as much when he's with his children. But, he said, the children have been confronted with the rumors and speculation swirling around their father, such as the time someone told his 13-year-old son that Peterson tossed his wife out of a helicopter.
One neighbor has taped "Where is Stacy?" posters in the windows that face Peterson's house. Another 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 the signs "are in support of Stacy Peterson," not about her husband.
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. To sell it, he needs his wife's signature or a court order.
So he stays, talking about possibly moving to a warmer climate and starting his own business. In the meantime, he's arranged for relatives to take care of the children if he is arrested.
"I'm sure when all this clears up," he said, "I'll get some apologies from some people."