Police step up the search for Drew Peterson's fourth wife

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Investigators picked their way across a muddy stretch of remote central Illinois Saturday as they followed a lead into the disappearance and possible homicide of the fourth wife of former suburban Chicago police officer Drew Peterson.

Peterson already faces a murder charge in the 2004 killing of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. No one has been charged in the 2007 disappearance of his subsequent spouse, Stacy Peterson, and her body has not been found.

State police and other law enforcement agencies were searching rural land "thick with timber" near Peoria for signs of Stacy Peterson, said state police Master Sgt. Tom Burek. Rains have reduced the land to a "muddy mess" meaning that parts are inaccessible by vehicle and investigators have had to comb the area on foot, Burek said. He wouldn't say when the search began or how large the search area is. He also wouldn't confirm where the lead came from or how credible police thought it might be.

"We follow up on every lead," he said. Stacy Peterson's disappearance drew national attention after Drew Peterson was named a suspect in both her disappearance and Savio's death.

Stacy Peterson was 23 when she disappeared. Drew Peterson, 56, is scheduled to go on trial next month, charged in Savio's killing. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and is being held in isolation at the Will County Jail.

Investigators have followed several leads into Stacy Peterson's disappearance over the years, including sending divers into murky Chicago-area waters.

Drew Peterson's attorney, Joel Brodsky, called the most recent search "patently ridiculous."

"Drew's position from day one has always been that she ran off with another man, because that's what she told him," Brodsky said.

"This is just another in a long line of unsubstantiated rumors about Drew Peterson, all of which have proved to be false."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)