By Chloe Morrison
When news reports about missing women flash across Hilda Wilson's television screen, she said she can't help thinking about her missing sister, Walker County 911 dispatcher Theresa Parker.
Mrs. Wilson said the case of missing Illinois woman Stacy Peterson has many similarities to that of her sister, who was last seen March 21.
"It was almost like instant replay," she said. "I had the same feeling immediately that I had when we could not find Theresa."
According to news reports, Stacy Peterson was reported missing on Oct. 28 near Chicago. Her husband Drew Peterson, a police officer, was named a suspect. Investigators searched his house, and seized his car. He resigned before his chief could fire him.
Mrs. Parker's husband, Sam Parker, was a police officer with the LaFayette Police Department, was named a "person of interest" by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials who took the case.
His home was repeatedly searched. His car was seized. He was fired from his job.
The Theresa Parker case attracted national attention, like the Stacy Peterson case. Both prompted intensive searches and attracted scores of volunteers. Divers have searched bodies of water, ponds have been searched or drained, cadaver dogs used.
In both cases, police officer husbands in troubled marriages are the focus of scrutiny.
Mrs. Wilson said she sees Mr. Peterson and Mr. Parker with the same mannerisms and egotistical attitude.
"The stuff (Drew Peterson) said is just like Sam Parker," Mrs. Wilson said. " 'She left me for another man. I think I know where she is.' "
DO POLICE PROTECT THEIR OWN?
Elaine Lunsford Weeks, the director of criminal justice studies at the University of Georgia, said that when police officers become the focus of criminal investigations, it is more unique because the investigation is about a co-worker.
"Officers do get formal training that would allow them to do the task at hand objectively," she said. "But the reality of it is that there is a well-documented police culture, law enforcement culture."
Dr. Weeks said law enforcement officials can develop an "us versus them" mentality. She said a career in law enforcement can be isolating, and bonds between officers are formed.
"(The police culture) is informal, so there is a tension between formal training and objectiveness, and that culture that develops as sort of a protective mechanism," she said.
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said the investigation into Mrs. Parker's disappearance is "still very active and ongoing," and it is natural to think about similarities between cases involving missing women and police officers.
Retired investigator Lamar Weaver, who has been active in trying to keep Theresa Parker's case from going cold, said he is familiar with the police culture Ms. Weeks referred to.
"Policeman do protect their own," he said.
Dr. Weeks said that's what Theresa Parker's case was turned over to the GBI -- as a safeguard against police who know each other protecting their own.
"(The GBI) is always automatically called in," she said. "They are a little more protected from that law enforcement culture, and are one layer removed as far as personal relationships go."
Similarly, District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin's office took itself off the case, and Rome Circuit District Attorney Leigh Patterson was appointed.
Ms. Wilson agrees the GBI or FBI aren't likely wrapped up in policemen politics, but she's not sure about local law enforcement.
"I really didn't want to believe that there would be a cover up," she said. "(I thought maybe) people just want some sort of excitement ... but we know that people will do whatever they want to as long as they can hide behind a badge."
Dr. Weeks also said when an officer is involved in a crime, it complicates the case.
"An officer is well-trained in the protocol of investigation," she said. "But sometimes I think those people tend to be overconfident, which could lead to them making a little slip."
SAM SPEAKS OUT
Mr. Parker briefly talked to a couple media outlets early on, but said his side of the story has not been told. He has refused questions for months, but on Thursday he spoke to the Times Free Press.
He said police investigators have been tough on him -- not protective -- looking past other possible explanations to his estranged wife's disappearance.
"They came after me like a guided missile from the start," he said.
"They will never say they were wrong. If they found her tomorrow, they will charge me with it. It terrifies me. I've told them the truth about everything."
Mr. Parker said from repeated searches to tapped phone calls, confiscation of his property to and long interrogations, the situation has been hard on him. He said he has thought of suicide many times.
He said times are tough for his family, just like they are for Mrs. Parker's.
"This is still hurting everybody that's involved," he said. "I was prepared to be divorced, but I wasn't prepared for this."
E-mail Chloe Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org