The Focus sat in the driveway of the Bolingbrook, Illinois home when I pulled onto the block and parked my car a few doors down. My car’s clock read 5:10 a.m.
It was Sunday, November 11, 2007, and I was on assignment for the Chicago Tribune. My job: keep an eye on the home of Drew Peterson and see what, if anything, happens.
Since his wife Stacy's disappearance less than two weeks earlier, Peterson had become a person of keen interest. An arrest might come at any time. If so, the paper wanted someone to be on hand to capture the details.
Nearly three hours later, a few minutes before 8 o’clock, a man emerged from the house, ducked into the car and drove off. After a brief chat with a Bolingbrook police officer parked about a block away, keeping an eye on the goings-on, the Focus left the area.
A few minutes later, I asked the officer if the man was Drew Peterson. The cop replied no and that the man was asking for directions to a Dunkin’ Donuts.
"Yeah, right," I thought. Skeptical, I thanked the officer and hunkered back down for the media surveillance on Peterson, a longtime Bolingbrook cop suspected of murdering not only Stacy, but his third wife several years earlier.
About 20 minutes later, the Focus returned. By that time, I had phoned in the car's license plate to a Tribune editor and learned that the motorist was likely Paul Peterson, presumably Drew’s brother. The driver got out, opened a rear door...and pulled out two large Dunkin’ donuts plastic bags.
Well, I'll be...
Overcoming the astonishment and amusement of the moment, I hollered to him from the edge of the driveway: "Paul!"
Instead of fleeing inside, as I suspected he might, he walked briskly, amiably toward me. “Keep it on the front page," he declared.
He was obviously trying to make a big show of being pleased with the media coverage, which was laying out the highly questionable background of his brother.
But by his tone, and in light of volunteers lingering in wait on organized search effort on this cold morning, it was clear that Paul was referring to the search for Stacy Peterson, Drew’s fourth, and current, wife.
Paul came within a foot of me, then thrust both bags my way as he boomed, “Left or right?” I hesitated, unprepared for this scenario. Wasn’t I the one who was asking questions here?
“Um…right,” I replied, playing along.
He handed over the bag, then asked that we “stay away from the kids,” an apparent reference to Drew’s four children. As Paul spoke with me for those brief moments, I noticed fingers moving aside blinds from inside a window to the right of the front door.
I suspect the fingers belonged to Drew Peterson, and I can only imagine what he was thinking as he spied his brother talking to me. One guess: “Hey, little bro, just hand over the doughnuts and get inside!”
I snuck in one last question: “How’s Drew doing?”
“Everyone’s upset,” Paul replied.
I strolled over to a group of five volunteers who were milling about in front of the house next door, and let them know of the doughnut donation. I set the bag on the ground. They eyed it as if it were poison.
“I don’t want any,” one replied, which prompted murmurs of agreement from the others.
Twenty minutes later, the two dozen doughnuts remained untouched. By then, another volunteer had grimaced at the thought of munching on the treat.
Along with Tribune reporter Alexa Aguilar, I decided this bag was our transition device to go up to the Peterson door. So off we went. I rang the bell, smiling as I waved off a volunteer who tried to tell me not to make the approach. But, forgive him, he had no inkling of the strong bond that Paul and I had forged during our “left or right?” moment.
Ten seconds passed, and then the door opened a crack. Paul peered cautiously at me. Feeling like a Girl Scout trying to hawk overpriced cookies, I summoned my best sales pitch.
“Hi, Paul. Nobody seems to want these and I thought I should bring them back to you,” I said. A moment’s pause, then my real mission: “Is Drew open to being interviewed?”
“No,” Paul said, retrieving the doughnuts. With more than a trace of annoyance, he added, “We’re trying to be nice, and you guys…”
He let his words trail off, then shut the door.