Kathleen Peterson, Michael Peterson: ‘Dateline’ NBC Revisits Staircase Murder Of Durham Book Wife

Michael Peterson, the best-selling novelist who was found guilty of killing his wife Kathleen in 2001, will be the next story on Dateline NBC. Dateline covered the Durham, North Carolina story back in 2013 under the title “Reversal of Fortune.” Saturday night’s mystery will be a repeat, but will provide the latest update in the Peterson murder case.

Michael Peterson and Kathleen Peterson seemed to be a nice loving couple who had decided to share their lives together, along with the children they each had from previous relationships. The children, who were already childhood playmates, bonded together even tighter, and the Peterson family were considered a staple in North Durham society.

But, their world came crashing down when Kathleen was found in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase inside their posh mansion. Michael Peterson contacted police and told them that his wife must have had too much to drink, causing her to fall. And that explanation might have been acceptable had the forensic evidence backed up his statements. According to court documents found at Caselaw, detectives found the following at the scene.

“When paramedics arrived at Kathleen’s body, Todd tried to pull defendant away, stating, ‘Dad, she’s dead, the paramedics are here.’ Paramedics Rose and Paige quickly determined that Kathleen had no pulse and was not breathing. Defendant stated that he had gone outside to turn off the lights, came back in, and found her at the bottom of the steps. Paramedic Rose testified that there was an ‘enormous amount of blood involved.’ He saw dried blood on the steps, and also on the wall. And it also looked like it had been wiped away or wiped on. It had been smeared, instead of just blood droplets just soaking down the wall.”

Secrets Worth Killing For

Instead, an autopsy report concluded that Kathleen Peterson was most likely dead hours before he made that call to 911 based on a study of her brain. They also found that her injuries were not consistent with a fall down the stairs, judging by the deep blows to her head. The victim also had blood under the bottom of her feet, showing that she had actually stood up for a moment, before she was struck in the head again.

Michael Peterson had the reputation of being an upstanding man in the community, a respected book writer who had also been a decorated soldier. But, after police ran forensics on his home computer, they found a number of disturbing details, which included thousands of pornographic images of a gay males, and some shocking emails between Michael Peterson and a gay man that he was planning to meet for sex. There were also some emails that indicated that Michael Peterson had already been engaging in homosexual sex with men outside of his married.

It Happened Twice

Police began thinking that somehow Kathleen must have found these emails when she was using the computer that night. It was unusual for her to use his computer because she normally used her own laptop, which had been left at work over the weekend. During their investigation, law enforcement detectives found one more disturbing piece of information. Elizabeth “Liz” Ratliff, a friend, died in Germany in the exact same manner—a tragic fall down the stairs. It was at first ruled an accident, but a later exhumation indicated that the woman had trauma to the head, just like Kathleen.

Michael Peterson was arrested and later convicted of murder for Kathleen Peterson’s death. He was originally sentenced to life in prison, but that conviction was overturned in 2011. Today, Michael Peterson is free while waiting on a new trial. After his release, he made the following statement, according to ABC News.

“I have waited over eight years, 2,988 days as a matter of fact, and I counted for an opportunity to have a retrial. I want to thank Judge Hudson for giving me that opportunity so that I can vindicate myself and prove my innocence in a fair trial this time. I want to thank all the people who’ve supported me from all over the world. It’s impossible for me to express my gratitude. What I want to do now though is to spend some time with, you know, my family and with my children. And certainly at a later time, I’d be happy to talk with everybody and share more. Thank you very, very much.”

Is this talented book author a serial killer or an innocent man that has been unjustly accused? State your opinion after you view Dateline tonight on NBC. For times, please check you local listings.

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