Alex Tresniowski
December 17, 2007 12:00 PM

First they searched in the freezing cold, not stopping until sleet and snow drove them from the woods. Then they held a vigil outside Stacy Peterson’s home to show that even the bitterest winter wouldn’t stop them for long. More than 200 people gathered in Bolingbrook, Ill., on Dec. 1, the most ever to search for Stacy, and for the first time their ranks included many supporters of Lisa Stebic—another mother of two, who had vanished from the neighboring town of Plainfield, just nine miles away. “Any area they search for Stacy would be an area we’d want to search for Lisa as well,” says Stebic’s cousin Melanie Greenberg. “Neither of our families will rest until we get to the bottom of the mystery of what happened to these two women.”

It has now been seven months since Stebic, 37, disappeared (see box) and six weeks since Peterson, 23, was last reported seen. In Stacy’s case the investigation continues to focus on—and tighten around—her husband, ex-cop Drew Peterson, 53. Police are trying to piece together Peterson’s whereabouts on Oct. 28, the day he says his wife left home and simply never came back. Now two truck drivers have told police they were approached by two men at a Bolingbrook truck stop around 3:30 a.m. on Oct. 29 and asked to transport a package. “One of the two men is believed to be Drew Peterson,” reads a police advisory asking other truckers who might have seen anything that night to come forward.

Did Peterson and a cohort try to get rid of a “package” in the hours after Stacy vanished? “The police are pursuing any and all leads no matter how unlikely or ridiculous,” says Peterson’s attorney Joel Brodsky, who likens the spotting of Peterson at a truck stop to “Elvis sightings.” Peterson himself told ABC News, “It wasn’t me … I think it’s a couple of more crazies coming out of the woodwork.”

What about Peterson’s stepbrother Thomas Morphey, 40, who according to the Chicago Tribune allegedly confessed to a friend that he helped Peterson carry a large blue plastic container out of Stacy’s bedroom Oct. 28? “‘You can’t tell no one [but] I know she was in there,'” his friend Walter Martineck claims Morphey told him. The next day Morphey—who has a history of alcohol abuse—tried to commit suicide (he is recovering). Did Peterson get Morphey to help him move a mysterious container? “It didn’t happen, period, end of story,” says Brodsky. “Morphey is a troubled man and not credible at all.”

Peterson has other worries, including an investigation into possible misconduct while he was an officer with the Bolingbrook Police Department (he retired last month after 29 years on the force). The department turned their findings over to the district attorney, but “at this point we’ve determined that charges aren’t warranted,” says Will County state attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie. Still, that case remains open.

Peterson is also awaiting the results of an autopsy on his third wife, Kathleen Savio, who was exhumed on Nov. 13 so that her 2004 drowning death, originally ruled an accident, could be reinvestigated (those results are due shortly). Such intense scrutiny of her son “is just so sad,” says Peterson’s mother, Betty Morphey, who like Drew believes that Stacy is alive and living with another man. “I always thought she liked me,” says Morphey, “and then she walked out and put us through this.”

For Stacy’s loved ones, and for those of Lisa Stebic, believing the young women might still be alive becomes more difficult with each fruitless search. “After seven months it’s very hard to hold on to a thread of hope that Lisa is wandering around on some island sipping margaritas,” says her cousin Don Zimmerman, 53, who helped organize the Dec. 1 search and vigil. Still, joining forces to keep looking was an important, even vital, step to take. “It may not bring answers, but it brings comfort,” he says. “It helps Stacy’s family know that they are not alone.”

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