After discovering a bag full of bones in an abandoned car in June 2017, Forest Park police have identified the homicide victim as Janice Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy, according to a statement issued by police on Feb. 28.
Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy, of Joliet, whose maiden name was Peppers, was born in 1953. During her life, she was married at least three times and had an unspecified number of children.
She had lost custody of her children by the time she died around 2006, said Forest Park Police Chief Thomas Aftanas. He said at one time Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy had been incarcerated, although he did not know on what charges.
Forest Park detectives, along with members of the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, have named the victim’s ex-husband, Arthur Petersen, as a “strong suspect” in the homicide — but he died in March 2017.
Aftanas said “it must be” the same Petersen who died age 69 at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on March 4, 2017, according to an obituary submitted to the Forest Park Review.
Petersen, according to the obituary, was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, served during the Vietnam War and was a combat veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal. Later in life, he worked as a salesman for a mobile home company, the obituary said.
“Family and friends say he was a hero in every sense of the world,” the obituary stated.
But Aftanas said Petersen was well-known by Forest Park police, and that officers responded to Petersen’s residence more than a dozen times during a nine-year period he lived on Circle Avenue. The police calls were related to disturbances, criminal defacement of property and welfare checks, Aftanas said.
“There were some definite mental health concerns with Arthur,” Aftanas said, declining to elaborate.
Aftanas said police last responded to a call involving Petersen in 2015. After that, he said, Petersen moved to a nursing home in nearby Lyons, although he did not know who moved him.
Petersen had two children. Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy was not their mother. His funeral service was organized by his brother, Gregory Brauer, said Frank Nosek, owner of Kuratko-Nosek funeral home, which handled funeral arrangements.
Since he was a veteran, Petersen was buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood on March 10, 2017. Nosek said he does not believe Petersen’s children or other ex-wife attended the service.
Investigators believe Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy’s homicide occurred around 2006 and that her remains have been kept in a sealed plastic drum in the back seat of the vehicle since then.
Police said they “strongly believe” the homicide occurred in Forest Park while the couple was living together in the 300 block of Desplaines Avenue.
“It was reported the two were involved in a tumultuous relationship,” the police statement reads.
Aftanas said investigators interviewed neighbors who remembered hearing the two arguing.
“There’s definitely domestic violence that is suspected,” Aftanas said, although police have no record of Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy ever filing a complaint against her husband.
Family members told Forest Park investigators that Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy had been missing for more than a decade, although no official police report was ever filed.
“I don’t think there was a whole lot of contact with her family at times,” Aftanas said, “It is definitely stranger that Arthur did not report her missing.”
Police based the positive identification on a DNA test completed with the assistance of a relative of Petersen-Peppers-Norsworthy.
The woman’s remains were found in June 2017 in an abandoned car parked in the 1000 block of Lathrop Avenue, where Petersen had rented a parking space. Residents of the home said the car had been parked in the space since 2015. The resident had planned to clean out the car and have it towed off his property.
On June 29, 2017, he broke the car window to gain entry to the vehicle and noticed a sealed garbage can in the rear seat. The man removed the garbage can and discovered human remains inside.
“The whole case is unfortunate. You have someone who’s been dead and there’s a lot of questions that we’ll probably never be able to answer,” Aftanas said. “The [medical examiner’s] office was not able to determine a cause of death because of the advanced stages of decomposition.
“But based on the fact that her remains were concealed in a closed container inside a vehicle that appeared to have never been used for years, just kind of hidden and had a tarp over it, that’s why they based the conclusion [as] a homicide.”