Marianne's Meanderings: Maurer assists in closing missing person's case

Marianne Gillespie
Steve Maurer

Former police chief Steve Maurer is proving to be one handy guy to have around.

I greeted him recently with the question, "How did you do it again?"

"Just luck," he responded with a short chuckle. "Sometimes you just got to throw the books out the window."

Maurer played a pivotal role in finding Julie Peters and her car Oct. 7, about 10 days after she went missing. She left the American Legion in Chillicothe after a wedding reception Sept. 28.

The outcome was one that no one wanted: 22-year-old Peters appeared to have drowned after her car was found not far from the Walnut Street boat launch.

His other time of being at the right place at the right time had a favorable outcome. He was visiting with friends a few months ago when former Mayor Don White needed CPR, something Maurer learned at a young age as a lifeguard at the pool, but received continuing education as a police officer.

His resigning/retiring as a law enforcement officer after a driving under the influence arrest did not take away his knowledge of the area. Peoria County detectives called upon his expertise, Maurer said.

While some have been critical of the investigation, Maurer said they did a "good job."

"It takes time. It really does. It just got to the point where it didn't make sense," Maurer said after running through the what ifs.

And then it hit him as he sat at Bananas Beach Club with the "retirees club" Oct. 7.

He saw two guys putting a boat into the water. He greeted Southern Illinois University graduate students Wes Bouska and Justin Rosenquist, saying he was the ex-police chief and explained a little about Peters.

He didn't know for sure if they had sonar, but with the equipment on the boat, he figured it was worth a shot in asking. They did as they were researching Asian carp. He asked them if they would take a sweep from the north boat launch near Pine Street and move down river.

Sure enough, they found a large object, which upon closer inspection, tires could be seen. The county detectives were called and the dive team headed to town.

The rest is what residents saw on the news or headed to the riverfront to see for themselves.

Maurer theorizes that Peters was not familiar with Chillicothe and it was pouring down rain that night. Bananas had not reopened since the record-setting flood this spring until the following week, so the business didn't provide any additional lighting. If it would have been open, someone might have been outside and seen or heard something.

Walnut Street had recently been resurfaced and did not have any striping on it. Additionally, there is not a sign warning that the Illinois River looms straight ahead.

That particular point has residents and visitors, as well as Peters' friends and family, suggesting that it should be changed.

"Out of a bad thing there could be a good thing," Maurer said.

A yellow flashing light, stop sign or some kind of marker could make this tragedy not in vain, Maurer said.

On a personal note, Peters was friends with Maurer's new daughter-in-law, Abby, who just married his son, Jimmy, in late September. Not only was she at their wedding, but they were all at the wedding reception at which Peters was last seen.

"For me, it was closure," Maurer said. "It was my last case. I enjoyed working with the guys."

As far as how many people have ended up driving into the river, Maurer remembers a handful of cases, including a pizza delivery guy. An elderly woman, who was said later to have purposely driven into the river in 2008, and Peters were the only two cases Maurer knew of resulting in death.

The recent tragedy brought together friends and strangers alike to search for the young mother of two. Strangers are still showing their respects near the site of her death.

On Thursday, which would have been Peters' 23rd birthday, a woman drove by where the white cross remains with candles, ribbons and flowers around it. The woman looked for the rose she left earlier to mark Peters' birthday. She saw only the ribbons she used to tie the flower to the cross.

"I may just have to get another one and bring it back here," she said.

She didn't know Peters, but was drawn to the story of a life cut short.

And the question remains: should there be some sort of warning at the foot of Walnut and Pine streets and something around Elm Street?