Meet Wife No. 5?
04/06/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT
04/06/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Drew Peterson stands at the kitchen counter, making PB&J sandwiches for the kids. "I'm Mr. Mom," he jokes. Standing a few feet away is his fiancée, 24-year-old Christina Raines, with his 4-year-old daughter Lacy in her arms. "Chrissy and I are going to get our hair colored later," Lacy says as Raines smiles. "I told her we'd buy hair color and paint each other's hair pink or purple," says Raines. Adds Drew, 55: "It's nice having a mom in the house."
It's what happened to the last two moms in Drew's life—Peterson's third wife, Kathleen Savio, was murdered five years ago, and his fourth wife, Stacy, has been missing since Oct. 28, 2007—that makes this seemingly normal suburban tableau so strange. Despite the fact he is a suspect in Stacy's "potential homicide" and a person of interest in Savio's death (authorities say an arrest is imminent in one of the cases), not to mention that he is still legally married to Stacy, the retired Bolingbrook, Ill., cop has found himself another young partner. Christina has moved into the house he shared with Stacy, and now her two children, ages 4 and 5, share bunk beds with Stacy and Drew's kids Lacy and Anthony, 5. Drew, whose first two marriages ended in divorce, and Christina are even considering a summer wedding. And that doesn't sit well with some of his neighbors—or her father. "To love a guy like that is loving the devil," says Ernie Raines, 52, a Chicago parking garage manager. "I hope he burns in hell."
Peterson, who says he's innocent of any crimes, shrugs off the vitriol. He is living off his pension and takes care of the younger kids while the older ones are at school. He says he tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy. But that's not so easy, not when his next-door neighbor has a shrine on her lawn for Stacy with a "Where is Stacy?" sign in the middle. The kids—Lacy in particular—have asked him about the sign. "I tell her they just really like Mommy," says Peterson, who has also told his children that Stacy is "on vacation." Raines says she has never seen a hint of violence in him and doesn't believe he had anything to do with what happened to Stacy and Kathleen. "I don't see him hurting anyone," she says.
Despite the cloud of suspicion that hovers over Peterson—and a brief breakup that included a Feb. 2 Early Show appearance in which Chrissy claimed the engagement was a publicity stunt—the couple appear very affectionate with each other. Drew does most of the talking during PEOPLE's two-hour interview and admits he had to ask her to cooperate. He wants to tell their story so people can see who he really is, he says, not "the sinister character the media created." They met when Chrissy was 15 and got into a couple of minor scrapes doing "stupid kid stuff," as Peterson says, and he was a cop. They ran into each other over the years and then again last August when she was out with her friends at a local nightclub celebrating her 24th birthday. He gave her his phone number and she called him that night. "I just thought we'd be friends," says Christina, a full-time waitress at a local TGIFriday's who has never been married. But over long talks and a lot of laughs together, they say they gradually fell in love. They even joke about how people say Drew likes young women (Stacy was 17 when she began dating Drew). "I'm not targeting younger women," he says. "It's just what happened."
Drew, who keeps a rigid schedule as Mr. Mom, glances up and sees that it's 12:30 p.m., time to take his youngest son, Anthony, to afternoon kindergarten. Raines, who starts work at 4 p.m. that day, stays behind to watch her son and Lacy. "Everyone keeps telling me I'm blind, I'm stupid," she says. "But I really do love him."