April 26, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 98

Murder victim's daughter testifies about 'red flags'

BESSEMER — “Red flags” were raised from the beginning, according to Desiree Lacosse, of Oshkosh, Wis., when it came to her late mother’s relationship with Kenneth Peters, 50, of Bessemer.

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe
DESIREE LACOSSE, of Oshkosh, Wis., testifies Thursday at the murder trial of Kenneth Peters, 50, of Bessemer.

Lacosse testified for the prosecution Thursday against Peters.

Peters is on trial for murdering his wife, Lacosse’s mother, Ethel Grzena-Peters, last August.

“My mom told me in the winter of 2010 that she was going out with a guy who had similar interests as her, and that he was much younger,” Lacosse said. “But to her, age didn’t matter. She said that they loved each other.”

Grzena-Peters, 79, was “very enthusiastic” about her new boyfriend, Peters, according to Lacosse.

“It reminded me of being in love as a teenager,” Lacosse said.

According to Lacosse, soon her mother began “acting out of character,” including speaking ill of her children.

“I was talking to my mother on the phone, and she told me that she asked my sister for her wedding rings back and that she wanted my sister removed from the deed to my mom’s house,” Lacosse said. “This sent up red flags. She called my sister greedy and selfish, and that was very uncharacteristic of my mother.”

Gogebic County Prosecutor Richard Adams asked Lacosse if she addressed these issues to her mother.

“I kept asking her what was influencing this, but she just kept repeating the comments about my sister,” Lacosse said. “She wouldn’t listen to me.”

To help vent her frustrations, Lacosse wrote a letter to her mother, discussing all of the issues that she had with the relationship.

“I put down my observations that her new boyfriend was a con artist,” Lacosse said. “If he was a true boyfriend, he wouldn’t have put a wedge in our family, and that he was mooching off of her just so he could get the house for free and spend her Social Security checks.”

Adams asked if Grzena-Peters ever addressed the letter.

“I know that she got it, but she never mentioned it,” Lacosse said.

When asked what she felt about the relationship, Lacosse said it was full of “unknowns, secrecy and lies.”

Discovery of the body

Adams called Steve Oliver to the stand. He testified he was one of the people who found Grzena-Peters’ body on Aug. 13 in Watersmeet Township, about 10 days after she went missing.

Oliver and Peters had a mutual friend in Rebecca Risley, one of the owners of the cabin near where the body was found.

On Aug. 13, Oliver went to the cabin with Risley and her unnamed boyfriend.

“We were just hanging out, and Rebecca and her boyfriend got into a fight,” Oliver said. “She took off on the four-wheeler and then she came flying back claiming she saw something on the trail.”

Oliver testified Risley asked him to come with her to see what it was.

“When we got there, I knew that it was a dead body, and we went to the first house we could find and called 911.”

Oliver said he had met Peters after Grzena-Peters went missing.

“I was hanging out with Rebecca at a friend’s house and she got a call from Ken saying that Ethel was missing,” Oliver said. “She asked me to go over there with her. We started drinking gin and Ken asked me to pull up some pot plants he had in the garage, so I went and did that for him.”

According to Oliver, he and Risley continued to drink at Peters’ home throughout the rest of the day, and ended up staying the night. Before he “passed out,” Oliver testified he remembered a conversation that he and Peters had.

“He said that if a body needed to disappear, he would throw it in a ravine or quarry and it would never be found,” Oliver said. “I just met this guy and he was talking about this, when the reason I was dragged over here was because his wife was missing.”

However, when Oliver found Grzena-Peters’ body, his first thought was Risley.

“She is like a little sister to me, so I asked her seriously if she had anything to do with it,” Oliver said. “She and Ken had a relationship before and then we just stumbled across this body. It was too much coincidence. She denied it, though.”

In cross examination, Peters’ attorney, Rudy Perhalla, questioned Oliver’s memory the night that he, Risley and Peters drank gin, asking how much he drank and how he could remember the conversation with Peters.

“There were certain things that I keyed on,” Oliver said.

Garbage duty

Jorge Cruz, of the Gogebic County Sheriff’s Department, was called to the stand by Adams to discuss interviews with Peters on Aug. 10.

According to Cruz, Peters had supplied officers with hand-written notes that Grzena-Peters had left him in the past. The notes were left when she would go on walks or visit the neighbors to let him know where she was.

“Between Friday night (Aug. 2) and Saturday morning (Aug. 3), she hadn’t left any notes for him saying where she was,” Cruz said.

Cruz was also questioned about locations he had searched for Grzena-Peters in neighboring areas.

In cross-examination, Perhalla focused on Risley possibly being a suspect. According to Perhalla, the only DNA sample that was taken by officers was Peters’. Perhalla asked Cruz why he didn’t take Risley’s, and he responded that he “didn’t think she had anything to do with Ethel’s disappearance.”

Perhalla also questioned Cruz on the search for a mug and milk carton that Risley found at the cabin that supposedly belonged to Peters, and was left there during the time Grzena-Peters went missing.

According to Cruz, Risley’s boyfriend told officers that the garbage from the cabin was placed in a shopping bag and taken to a neighboring town to be disposed of.

“According to him, he does this with all of their garbage, and brings them with him whenever he goes to town, either in Land O’ Lakes (Wis.) or Watersmeet,” Cruz said. “He puts them in garbage cans at gas stations or wherever he can find one.”

Perhalla asked Cruz why the carton and mug weren’t searched for.

Cruz said the subject of the items wasn’t brought up until four days after they had been thrown away.

“I asked him if he knew where he threw it away, and he couldn’t remember if it was either Land O’ Lakes or Watersmeet,” Cruz said.

“And from my knowledge of the area, there are at least 20 garbage cans that are emptied regularly.”