ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — It’s safe to say that when Frontenac native Lucy Peterson got married, it wasn’t the wedding her mother Kathy dreamed of for her daughter.
Teena Kilo, Lucy’s great aunt, remembers her reaction when she found out. “Married? What are you talking about, married? She's 17. How, how is this possible? Who can allow this?” she said.
It was the latest twist in a bitter multiyear custody battle between Lucy’s parents, Kathy Kilo Peterson and Steven Peterson.
Kathy had sole legal custody of Lucy in August 2020 when Steven took Lucy to Wyoming. There, Lucy married a 30-year-old man as a minor. Now, Steven has been arrested and Lucy is considered missing. It’s been a dramatic year for members of Lucy’s family, who are asking for the public’s help in finding her.
“Somebody has to do something here,” Kathy told the I-Team.
A fraudulent marriage
The man Lucy married in Wyoming is the son of one of Steven’s friends, a musician from Tennessee who Lucy admitted to the court she barely knows.
In January 2021, the judge in the Petersons’ family court case wrote, “In her deposition, Lucy was unable to recall when she first met [her husband] or how many times throughout the years she actually saw him in person … Lucy was unable to provide her husband’s cellphone number, email address, mailing address, or the name of the band he plays in…did not have any future plans with [him], does not live with him (or have any plans to live with him), and does not plan to have a family with him.”
The judge added, “[Steven] has shown he is willing to move his daughter out of state, pawn her off to marry a man she barely knows, and withdraw her from school, all in an effort to self-medicate his old wounds from his divorce to [Kathy].”
“I was shocked, but somehow not surprised that he would pull something like this,” said Teena Kilo. “To emancipate her from the Missouri court. I mean, this is so awful. How can you get any worse than that?”
“I don't know how to even express what that was like,” said Kathy. “Lucy married a 30-year-old man in Wyoming. And that she's now magically an adult. So mom has no parental rights.”
That was the case until the court in Wyoming annulled the marriage, in February 2021.
The limits of family court's reach
Despite having sole legal custody and being awarded sole physical custody in January, Kathy hasn’t seen her daughter for almost a year.
Kathy said this all began with a violent incident in 2005 that ended the Petersons’ marriage.
“Steve tried to kill me and held us hostage in our home in Winghaven,” she said. Lucy was just 2 years old.
Steven was convicted and sentenced to probation in 2008. The case was eventually expunged.
The custody agreement they entered when they divorced fell apart in 2017. Court records show Steven Peterson has been judged in contempt of court orders at least twice. They also show that Steven Peterson “had booked 42 trips for Lucy in a two-year span” without informing the court, eventually taking her out of school at Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School and refusing to return Lucy to Kathy’s custody when the court required it.
“There were no consequences. Threat of jail time, threat of this, threat of that, but not even a slap on the wrist. She's completely isolated. She missed her entire junior year here,” said Kathy.
In January, a court-appointed therapist testified Lucy was the victim of “psychological abuse” by her father. The judge ordered Steven to get counseling and stay away from Lucy for at least 90 days. The family court couldn’t do anything to enforce their own rulings or bring Lucy back to court.
“I have a worthless piece of paper that says ‘Kathy has sole legal and physical custody’ of my daughter, who's missing,” Kathy said.
Eventually, it became a matter for criminal courts to enforce.
“The family court is uniquely situated, that they can order some of these things. But in terms of actually enforcing that, their hands are somewhat tied,” said St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar.
"The worst of the worst"
In April, a felony warrant was issued for Steven Peterson’s arrest.
“In a case like this that gets filed, it's the worst of the worst in terms of parental alienation or in some cases brainwashing, manipulation,” said Lohmar.
Steven Peterson is charged with interfering with custody. Lucy’s whereabouts are still unknown. Lohmar said the investigators haven’t been able to locate her yet.
“We asked the court to impose a condition on his bond, that he produce the whereabouts of the victim, the child in this case. The court denied that,” said Lohmar. “Forcing him to do something like this would be a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.”
Essentially, the court said that if Steven Peterson identified Lucy’s location, that would be proof that he committed the crime he’s charged with. For now, he’s out on bond with a GPS monitor.
The I-Team repeatedly attempted to contact Steven Peterson, his family members, his legal representatives, the man who married Lucy, that man’s relatives and even Lucy herself by phone, in person and by email. They have not responded to 5 On Your Side’s request for interview or comment.
Lucy’s 18th birthday is just weeks away. At that point, the court can no longer tell her what to do. Kathy and her family hope they can find Lucy before she’s legally lost to them forever. Kathy has been literally counting the days.
“[In] three and a half years, out of 1,322 days, I've seen her 28 times,” said Kathy. “I'll never give up. I'll never give up.”
“Maybe one day, Lucy will just walk back in and say, ‘Here I am. Will you take me back?’” Teena Kilo said. “Of course we will.”
Anyone who has information about Lucy's whereabouts is encouraged to contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or Frontenac Police Department at 314-737-4600