The following contains disturbing descriptions of violence. Viewer discretion is advised.
When Kathleen Savio’s body was found in the bathtub of her Bolingbrook, Illinois home in 2004, police initially ruled her death a drowning. She was going through a bitter divorce from her husband, Bolingbrook police sergeant Drew Peterson, but an autopsy yielded little reason to suspect foul play.
But when Peterson’s next wife, Stacy Peterson (Cales), went missing three and a half years later, police became suspicious that it was all just a coincidence. They returned to the Savio case, and Peterson was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 38 years in prison. Later, Peterson would get an additional 40 years for attempting to put a hit out on the prosecutor who tried the Savio case.
As for the Stacy Peterson case: Her remains have not been found, and Peterson has never been charged in connection with her disappearance. But although Peterson has continually proclaimed his innocence, Cales’s family is convinced she suffered a similar fate to Savio’s. (Peterson’s former lawyer, Joel Brodsky, claims he knows exactly what happened to Stacy, but refuses to offer details, claiming attorney-client privilege.)
Intimate partner homicide is all too common: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of female homicide victims are killed by a partner. Serial murder, by comparison, is excessively rare.
A&E True Crime looks at some of the men who have been convicted of killing multiple wives.
Terre Haute, Indiana resident Earl Taylor spent 25 years in prison for the 1975 murder of his second wife, Mindy Svadeba Taylor. A few months after his release, he was arrested for the murder of his first wife, too.
In the case of Mindy, the couple went for a drive on October 4, 1987—with Mindy behind the wheel, Earl claimed—when she careened off the road into a pond and drowned in the car. But there were inconsistencies in the case, like the fact that although Mindy was in the driver’s seat, the seat was too far back for her feet to reach the pedals. It later emerged that Earl, an insurance salesman, had taken out a $600,000 life insurance policy on Mindy shortly before her death, unbeknownst to her. He was sent to prison in 1988 and released in 2014.
Earl’s first wife, Kathy Taylor, had died in a bathtub in 1975. As with Mindy, Earl had taken out a life insurance policy on his first bride. At the time, Earl claimed she had died when a clock radio fell into the tub, electrocuting her. At trial, a forensic pathologist for the prosecution said the evidence suggested she instead been drowned face-down in the bath. Earl was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole in 2016.
Joni Johnston, a clinical forensic psychologist who performs risk assessments of inmates for the California Board of Parole, tells A&E True Crime serial murderers like Taylor are often calculated with their criminality, and remorseless, which she says distinguishes them from most domestic abusers in prison. Those abusers show “poor anger control,” but appear regretful once the moment of explosive violence has passed.
Unlike men who might commit crimes in a burst of anger, with premeditated cases like Taylor’s Johnston says, “Certain perpetrators, when you look at their [crimes], it’s almost like they’ve adapted them as problem-solving strategies.”
Unlike the other killers on this list, Robert Spangler didn’t just kill multiple wives—he killed his children as well. He likely could have gotten away with it as well, but when the Grand Junction, Colorado native was terminally diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in 2000, detectives approached him and asked him for a confession. He delivered.
According to Spangler, he killed his first wife Nancy and his children, David and Susan, 17 and 15, in 1978 because he was unhappy with his suburban family life. He forged a murder-suicide note in Nancy’s name, initially fooling authorities. He remarried, divorced and then married third wife aerobics instructor Donna Sundling in 1990.
In 1993, he pushed Sundling to her death while the couple hiked in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Although he originally said she fell, the death was suspicious because relatives say Sundling was afraid of heights. Spangler also had her cremated before her family could arrive to say their goodbyes, fueling more speculation about his involvement in her death.
Spangler pleaded guilty to killing Sundling and was sentenced to life in prison in March 2001. As a condition of the plea deal, he was never tried for the murder of his first family.
“I’m different,” Spangler told investigators. “I think I’m interesting.”
He died in prison less than six months after his sentencing.
When Jack Reeves’s wife Sharon died, it looked at first like a tragic suicide. A few months after she had filed for divorce from the Texas resident in 1978, her body was found with a fatal shotgun wound to the chest. Investigators originally concluded that she used her toe to pull the trigger.
But Jack Reeves’s wives kept dying.
Myong Reeves, Jack’s next wife, drowned at Lake Whitney eight years later. No charges were filed. And eight years after Myong’s death, another wife died: Emelita Reeves, an 18-year-old Filipina woman whom Reeves had met through a mail-order bride service. Her body was found in a shallow grave near the same lake where Myong died.
According to Emelitia’s friends, the young woman had said that she been planning to leave Reeves before she was murdered.
Tommy LeNoir, a since-retired homicide detective for the Arlington Police Department who investigated the case, said he didn’t know about Reeves’s other wives until he went to interview Jack Reeves about Emelita’s death.
“That immediately shot up a red flag,” LeNoir tells A&E True Crime. After the police found Emelita’s body, LeNoir took a look at Sharon’s crime scene photographs from the 1978 death. From the placement of the gun to the blood spatter evidence, it suddenly appeared staged. Sharon’s body was exhumed so a new autopsy could be conducted.
Reeves was finally charged with the murders of both Sharon and Emelita. He was sentenced to 35 years for Sharon’s murder, and 99 years for Emelita’s. Myong’s case was never tried.
Most horrific of all? In the short time between Emelita’s murder and Jack Reeves’s arrest, he had already written a letter to the Philippines soliciting another mail-order bride.
Would he have killed again?
“Yes,” says LeNoir. “Yes, I feel very comfortable saying yes.”