Stranger Than Fiction

 Michael Peterson Murder Trial - 3  



the Defense rests,
the Jury can't sleep

Week 13

At 2:35 PM on September 24, 2003, a self-satisfied David Rudolf stood up at his table, grinned and announced:
"On behalf of Mr. Peterson, the defense rests."


Finders, Keepers - Losers, Weepers

David Rudolf had been waiting for days to spring his "Perry Mason" moment on State prosecutors. Calling lead investigator Art Holland to the stand on Tuesday, 9/23, Rudolf asked a few questions and then nonchalantly reached behind the defense table and produced a brass blowpoke -- apparently the very blowpoke that prosecutors maintained Michael Peterson used to murder his wife.
A Perry Mason Moment Covered in cobwebs and dead bugs, the defendant's duel-use fireplace blower/poker was reportedly located in Michael Peterson's duel-use garage/basement.

Rudolf failed to explain who actually found the poker or when.

The miraculous re-appearance of the blowpoke supposedly happened just as the Defense was wrapping up its case.

Unbeknownst to Jim Hardin, Judge Hudson had signed an order on the previous Sunday allowing the defense to collect the long-missing blowpoke. The order stated in part: "In the event the defendant wishes to introduce the blowpoker into evidence or conduct any forensic testing of the blowpoker, the defendant shall inform the State of the existence of the blowpoker."

But with no objection coming from the prosecution table, Holland continued testifying about the plastic-wrapped blowpoke, telling the jury that the lost and found item was not bent or even dented.

What's Missing?

The blowpoke Peterson located in his mansion is strangely missing its sharply pointed, hooked end-piece.

"There's lots of choices to be made at any trial, and obviously the more the prosecution committed itself to this particular theory and this particular weapon, the more important it became over the course of the last four months . . . But ultimately what you do is try to pick a witness that's going to maximize the impact it's going to have on the jury, and you try to pick a moment that's going to maximize the impact."
-- David Rudolf on September 24

"There is absolutely no reason for us to be sandbagged by this type of behavior!"
-- David Rudolf on July 8, complaining in the first week of trial that prosecutors failed to turn over the defendant's bank-account information

"There was a considerable amount of thought and a considerable amount of discussion as to exactly how -- and when, to present this particular piece of evidence."
-- Bill Peterson

Send in the Clowns
Isn't it rich?

Just in time for Michael's murder-mystery magic show, busloads of Bozos arrived in Durham for a clown convention. The South East Clown Association says they're holding the convention to "improve the level of clowning in the region."

Don't bother... they're here.          


"You know that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, right?"
-- David Rudolf to Agent Deaver

The State Calls Orlando Hudson

Although Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson traveled with jurors to the murder suspect's mansion on September 11, Hudson did not actually enter Peterson's house during the jury view. Most likely, the judge didn't want his body language to be interpreted by the jury as favoring or dis-favoring the defendant.

Ten days later, Hudson received a Sunday phone call from David Rudolf which brought him back to Michael's mansion, but this time, the judge made different choices about the appearance of impartiality. With no jurors, witnesses, reporters or members of the prosecution team present, Orlando Hudson went inside.

"I went down into the garage and saw it lying against the wall. I looked at the blowpoke and told them they could move it and not destroy it," Hudson would later say, protesting, "The law requires the defense to alert the state if they intended to introduce it as evidence. They may have decided not to introduce it. ... But that's a decision they had to make."

What was the likelihood that Michael Peterson and his million dollar spin-cyclists were not going to introduce the very missing, very bloody, very mangled murder weapon -- miraculously recovered, but in very good condition?

Intellectual honesty demands that Judge Hudson's flimsy excuse be seen as a legal fig-leaf masking the shameful reality of a set-up. Attorney-client privilege is one thing. Secret meetings, concealed documents and sandbagging the prosecutor is quite another.

The only person in that courtroom who knew what was about to happen in front of the jury -- other than Hizzoner and Hizz entourage -- was His Honor Judge Hudson, who remained shamelessly silent as, first Rudolf and Maher, and then he himself were used as secretly hidden weapons, suddenly unleashed in a surprise attack from behind.

Ridiculously, Hudson asserted, "I don't think they had an ethical duty to alert the state, but they had a duty to preserve the evidence for an expert." If that's true, then Judge Hudson had an ethical duty to be fair and invite us all down into Peterson's garage/basement to view this "evidence" just as he did -- first hand and undisturbed.

Is suddenly finding this blowpoke just... an accident? Or something else?

Staged photos bought and paid for by Peterson will not suffice. Before any more contamination -- let's all go back to Mike's, turn on the cellar lights and have a good look around -- cause this could well be another trick. The defendant's sister-in-law has acknowledged purchasing several blowpokes for family members, identical to the one missing. The item is not unique.

Like the two 9-1-1 calls, the pair of wine bottles and the two pairs of socks -- this double fireplace blower/poker could be falsified evidence purchased on "ebay" a few desperate months ago.

Admitting the trick photography into evidence was actually worse than Hudson's smiling nod to the introduction of the trick blowpoke. Those are doctored photos of manufactured evidence with no foundation.

Judge Orlando Hudson is the single, impartial eye witness to the condition of that blowpoke prior to it being disturbed and prepared for the Perry Mason show.

This judge is the only reliable link in a chain of circumstantial evidence tying Peterson to any blowpoke at all, since Peterson himself did not testify.

In order for prosecutors to establish that Peterson's old blowpoke is actually a new trick -- they'd have to call Judge Hudson to the stand to rebut photographer, cobweb expert and dead bug specialist, John Rosenthal.

While Hudson may be able to smirk and hide behind the letter of the law -- there's nothing funny about his sandbagging violation to the spirit of fairness and justice.

"And sir, do you have any earthly idea how long it takes a bug to die?"
-- Freda Black to photographer, John Rosenthal

"Our position is that he had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was an accident
and it happened while he was not in the house. They were soulmates."

-- David Rudolf

Till Death Do Us Part


"America's Sweethearts"

"For much of the time there was plenty of money and the potential of greater wealth at Nortel was always on the horizon. Then like an ominous storm cloud, the picture began to change. This changing situation was something that Mike Peterson couldn't tolerate, primarily because he couldn't control it. Like a storm cloud, many pressurized conditions in the Peterson house began to converge, and on December the 9th of 2001, they erupted. The evidence is going to show that prior to her death, Kathleen -- not Michael, but Kathleen -- was the primary financial support for the Peterson - Atwater - Ratliff family. They all depended on her for virtually everything."

-- Jim Hardin

Despite fiction-writer Mike Peterson's story that on December 9, 2001, he was lounging at the pool for an hour while his wife, Kathleen, was bleeding to death -- Kathleen's sister, Candace Zamperini testified that on December 10,

"There was no furniture around the pool. That just seemed very odd to me that there was no furniture around the pool that I could see."

A newsman phoned David Rudolf just before Hurricane Isabel blew in and asked the defense lawyer how he was preparing. Reportedly, Rudolf said, "I'm just pulling in my lawn furniture right now."

Hurricane Freda

Hurricane Freda

Faris Bandak's Off Day

As Hurricane Isabel steadily rolled toward the North Carolina coast on Wednesday September 17, Michael Peterson and his defense team were blown away by prosecutor Freda Black who all but destroyed their witness, bio-mechanical engineer, Faris Bandak.

Bandak's Fall

After showing the Durham jury a series of cartoon-like computer graphic stills, Dr. Bandak quietly, nervously offered a convoluted theory of how Kathleen Peterson died from a head bump during a backward fall down and a second glancing head blow when trying to get back up. The witness prattled on and on so softly, the court reporter -- who had been late to court due to hurricane Isabel preparations -- was repeatedly forced to interrupt the soft-spoken witness, "I can't hear you, sir."

"Yes, the most likely scenario is a two-fall fall from ground level," Bandak meekly asserted. "It could be three or four impacts, it's um, you know, hard to tell exactly."

That was the calm before the storm.

Caught off-guard by attorney Black's cyclone of questions about Kathleen Peterson's autopsy, Faris Bandak couldn't engineer a single convincing response. The long-winded witness went on and on about orange juice, balloons, ball-bearings, "Jell-O" and wrinkled carpeting to explain away the victim's horrendous series of wounds, but Dr. Bandak simply could not blow enough hot air to combat the tempestuous onslaught of Freda Black's cross-examination.

Defense attorney David Rudolf tried his best to clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Freda, but the damage had been done. As jurors hurried out of the courtroom to begin preparing for the awful storm possibly headed their way, Michael Peterson was surely contemplating doing the one thing that could re-build his defenses after the awful storm he had just been through.

To testify or not to testify?

That is the question Peterson must be pondering -- that, and the bio-mechanics of Jell-O brand gelatin.

Faris Bandak, Ph. D.
bio-mechanical failure       

"A scalp laceration, it sounds complicated… but, I think if you think of Jell-O -- you make Jell-O and you rock it a little bit, and because it's what's called incompressible, it just cracks. The scalp is not Jell-O, it just gives you an idea of how, when you shake Jell-O, one part of the Jell-O wants to go this way, another part wants to go this way -- it's not strong enough to hold and it splits, and it's really, actually the laceration is a fracture in the scalp."
-- Dr. Faris Bandak, bio-mechanical research scientist and dessert lover



Weeks before deliberations are to begin, the jury sends a note to Judge Orlando Hudson requesting four photos: a group photo of themselves, the defense attorneys at their table, the prosecutors at their table, and a picture of Judge Hudson on the bench.

Although unusual, the Durham jury's appeal for a keepsake photo is not unheard of. The jurors from the Dr. Dirk Greineder trial made a similar request. In that case, however, the request came after a unanimous verdict of guilt.

CasualGuy 2000

Black Like Me

Clyde Andrson, a young Black man presented by Michael Peterson's defense team as "the housekeeper," testified that he did not see a blow poke around Christmas of 2001. However, the witness later admitted he was confusing events from Christmas of 2001 with events from 2002.

Clyde Andrson

Andrson, who is apparently the only "housekeeper" at the mammoth Michael mansion, could hardly wait until the questions were asked to give his answer.

Sir, thinking back to -- "I've never seen it!" Do you ever recall -- "I've never seen it!"

He was either very coached or very late to his second job at Shoney's Restaurant, another location where I presume he hasn't taken note of every item that's come and gone in the last three years.

David Rudolf hasn't won his reputation by calling witnesses to the stand to testify about what they didn't see and do not know. But, if pursued further, that line of questioning could get interesting.

What else didn't "the housekeeper" see? And why? What other trees obscured his view of Michael's Forest Hills hide-a-way? What other things didn't Clyde notice? The Porno magazines? The condoms? The Bats? The creepy cat poster in the -- "I've never seen it!"

It isn't at all clear why the defense team wanted Clyde Andrson to appear in this rocky, horror, picture show, but it was most likely politician Peterson's idea.

He's been reading the O.J. Playbook again.

Since "the housekeeper" served no legal purpose, I have to conclude that Mike Peterson thought having a Black person on his side would play well with the jury -- even if that person was only there to clean up after his murders a few days a week.

Hizzoner just goes back to that same well, over and over and over, and comes back empty-handed every time. Well, Michael I knew O.J., O.J. was a friend of mine, but Michael -- you're no O.J.

Veronica Hunt

"She was a very good tennis player. She jogged. Even if she'd been drinking some, she wasn't likely to fall down any steps. My daughter was very, very agile."

"Putting aside all the diversions. I think it still comes down to four key issues. The tremendous blood spatter, the number of lacerations, the lack of coughing and the blood inside Michael's shorts. I hope jurors will focus on those."

"They say time heals everything. Not for me. I'm re-living the loss of Kathleen every day now. I miss her morning, noon and night."

"I don't understand. His wife died a brutal death, somehow. What's so amusing? It's hurt time and time again when I see it."


Purposeful Levity

"There's quite a bit of levity, and I think it's purposeful levity on the part of the defense team. It's really more or less a coping mechanism for us. You have to try and appreciate the extreme amount of pressure and tension inflicted on the family here. The girls are particularly terrified about what might happen. And the best way really to diffuse that, and I'm probably more guilty than anybody on the defense team, I think, of that, is to diffuse it, you know, with some jokes -- some gallows humor, if you will -- I know it looks inappropriate. It may actually be inappropriate, but it's something that we just can't help. . ."

-- Bill Peterson

O, How the Mighty Have Fallen

In a disturbing hour of cross-examination by Jim Hardin, world renown criminalist and jury charmer, Dr. Henry Lee, self-destructed in a spatter pattern of lame excuses and loud nervous laughter.

"I don't know ... I have so many other things to do ... I see you've read my book ... Can I look at my report?"

The towering giant from the infamous O.J. Simpson dream team showed up at the never-ending nightmare in Durham looking evasive, arrogant and ill-prepared.

Guided by defense attorney David Rudolf, Dr. Lee told jurors over and over that the totality of the scene must be considered, but when Hardin asked him about specific elements of the blood stain patterns in Peterson's stairwell, the famous sleuth admitted he had no clue.

Did you conduct any experiments?
Did you test any physical evidence that was collected?

Evidently, Henry Lee's hourly rate of $500 buys a quick opinion and little else.

After having declared during his direct testimony that Kathleen coughed and created blood spatter all over the walls, Dr. Lee was forced on cross-examination to tell the jurors he had no idea if the blood spatters in question contained saliva. "Nobody asked me!" joked Lee, "It's not my job! Otherwise I should move to North Carolina."

Contrary to his stellar reputation as a meticulous crime scene technician, Dr. Lee repeatedly laughed and shrugged off Hardin's direct questions, several times insisting he was "just a consultant" and simply did not know much about the case.

Asked about defense witness, Dr. Leetsma's previous assertion that Kathleen Peterson suffered four impacts from two falls, Henry Lee smiled and distanced himself from Leetsma's testimony: "With due respect, I cannot give you the sequence."

Finally, the man who insisted on the importance of examining the totality of the evidence, acknowledged he was simply too busy to read the various reports in the Peterson case. Dr. Lee confessed that his own two-page report was merely preliminary and "that's why I never signed it" he said.

By the end of the day, Dr. Henry Lee, the world's pre-eminent master criminalist, once considered to be at the top of his field, had hit rock bottom:

"It's not my job! ... You offer me a job. I'll come work for you!"

"In a two-page report, what can you render an opinion on?"

"Nobody asked me!"

"I did not have the pleasure to look at the hair ... I don't have the hair report."

"You cannot blame me!"

"I wasn't there so how do I know?"

"Every day I'm some place. So I really don't know which day. Is that really important? May or March or..? I don't have my notes here."

"How many times do I have to repeat it? That's not my job! If we were in Connecticut I guarantee you I would do it!"

But in one way, Dr. Lee was helpful to his client -- he established right before the jury's very eyes that it's quite possible for a person to suffer multiple and severe wounds from a single, unanticipated fall.

HARDIN: And have you looked at Agent Deaver's notes?
LEE: I did not.
HARDIN: You never looked at his handwritten notes?
LEE: I did not have that.

Something's Wrong

When EMS workers arrived on the scene they found a barefoot Michael Peterson sitting next to his wife's body which was face up. Investigators later found peterson's size 8 1/2 shoeprint on the back of Kathleen's sweatpants.

"At one point in time somebody had to have stepped on her leg. We see a partial, bloody shoeprint. That's a stationary shoeprint, which means stamping. It's not a kicking type of an action."
--Dr. Henry Lee

the willing suspension of disbelief


A Second Story Fall

On December 9, 2001, a seemingly stunned Michael Peterson told paramedic James Rose that he had left the house for a minute -- just to go to the pool area and turn off the pool lights -- and that when he returned he found his wife had fallen down at the foot of the stairs.

That explains the urgent 9-1-1 call for help.

"My wife had an accident! She's still breathing!" What else could have happened? There was no time for a murdering burglar or a poker-wielding maniac to have been there. "She fell down the stairs! She's still breathing!" Of course Peterson immediately went to his wife and when he saw she was still breathing, raced for the telephone. "Get somebody here, right away! Please Hurry!"

Later, when it became clear Kathleen Peterson had actually lay bleeding for a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes before she died, the novelist changed his story. Peterson's second scenario has him lounging poolside for the better part of an hour. Problem is -- the new plotline doesn't match the old dialogue.

A re-write of the 9-1-1 call is in order, because when Michael finds his wife in the new version -- Kathleen is not still breathing. The distraught husband's lines should've been something like, "My wife's dead. I don't know what happened. I wasn't here." True, people react differently to life-or-death situations, but she was dead. In fact, according to James Rose, Kathleen Peterson was "very dead."

Maybe Michael Peterson didn't viciously turn on his wife and soulmate of 14 years and brutally murder her, but he certainly lied about whoever did. For whatever reason, he invented an elaborate scenario in an attempt to deceive authorities. If Peterson has chosen to lie and protect the real killer (or killerzzzz) -- then he has sentenced himself to a life in prison.

All in all, it's a happier ending than the one written for Kathleen.


"I, Michael, do take thee Kathleen, to be my lawfully wedded wife. To live together in marriage. I promise to love you, comfort you, honor you, keep you -- for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health -- and forsaking all others, be faithful only to you, so long as we both shall live."

"Most of the men who would see me would have their time with me and then go back to their happy-hubby lives."
-- prostitute, Brent "BRAD" Walgamott

Isn't it rich? Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air?
Send in the clowns.

-- Stephen Sondeim

A Good Look at Evil

On 9-11, the Durham jury traveled to the defendant's mansion to view the scene for themselves and were led in and out of the narrow back stairwell where Kathleen Peterson bled to death. Judge Hudson did not actually enter the house. The Forest Hills field trip seemingly ended without incident, but after the jury was whisked away in white vans, David Rudolf -- who insisted on the O.J. Simpson-like outing -- appeared before reporters looking pale, shaken and distracted.

"We wanted jurors to see the house," Rudolf explained, "We felt it was important for them to see the space ... We were pretty confident this was the right thing to do."

With none of his usual bravado, Peterson's defense lawyer managed to get through a few questions -- but clearly, David Rudolf sensed or saw something weird during the hour-long jury view.

What finally spooked him?

Step 16

"This is very real for them. It's going to make it very real. Hopefully, they'll see that this is where my mother died. This is a crime scene ... What hurts me is that they are seeing her death scene. The way I remember that house is her spirit ...

I've walked up that staircase thousands of times. So has Michael. No one else has fallen down it."

-- Caitlin Atwater

"Kathleen was so capable. She died so young, with so many promising times ahead. I still can't believe it."
-- Veronica Hunt, 82, mother of Kathleen Peterson

"I had a funny feeling. I don't know why."
-- Elizabeth M. McKee, 88, mother of Liz Ratliff

"When I first heard how my second mom died -- Kathleen died -- it came in my mind almost instantly: Wow, they both fell down the stairs, which was very odd. But at the same time, total coincidence really. It's just terrible. Also... old homes, steep staircases."
-- Margaret Ratliff

"My love and grief for Kathleen is personal, profound and overpowering. It is no less now than when she died a year ago. It will never be any less. My children and I lost not just a mother and wife, but the most important person in our lives. She will always be that for me."
-- Michael Peterson, December 9, 2002

"My wife had an accident! She's still breathing!"

-- Michael Peterson December 9, 2001

"Excuse me while I throw up at the hypocrisy and cowardice of our civic leaders and local newspaper. Their behavior is enough to make anyone sick."
-- Michael Peterson, December 1, 2000

Jim Hardin

"Your honor, the State of North Carolina does not intend to call additional witnesses, and with that the State of North Carolina would rest its case in chief at this time."
-- Jim Hardin, September 5, 2003

"What you need to realize about falling down stairs is that you have one fall from a height. You do not fall, get up, fall, get up, fall, get up -- that doesn't happen."
-- Dr. Deborah Radisch

A Mountain of Evident

Dr. Deborah Radisch -- final witness for the prosecution -- was right to be dismissive of defense attorney Rudolf's endless string of irrelevant questions about bio-mechanics and killer door molding.

No reasonable person could read the violent and bloody story detailed in Kathleen Peterson's autopsy and conclude that the woman just clumsily fell down the steps. A fall -- even a careening crash, could never have produced that horrifying combination of neck fracture, facial wounds and bone-deep lacerations to the head.

David Rudolph's "Matrix II" style flip off the stairs -- followed by a slip-drop and a third klutzy flop isn't even enough, because it doesn't account for the absence of wounds and bruising anywhere else on Kathleen's body.

Why go on and on about bio-mechanics and accidental death statistics? One look at the crime scene photos and it's painfully obvious that a hideous homicide took place. Blood is swiped and smeared up and down the hallway like the set for a bad horror film.

The defense can hire Dr. Henry Lee and the rest of O.J.'s team to dream up alternative theories but it won't change the horror of what was done to Kathleen Peterson in that stairwell. Dr. Radisch concluded, "These are blunt trauma injuries to the head, subsequent to an assault -- that would be a homicide."

Michael Peterson battered his wife during a sustained and brutal beating and then stood by as she bled to death. It's evident, and despite his obscuring of the scene and hiding of the weapon, Peterson left prosecutors with a mountain of evident.

"The details and facts became so overwhelming, and it was suddenly all obvious. One day, this crack opened and I said 'Gosh, yeah.' It was clear."

Ann Christensen -- Peterson's sister

"I'm not keeping it a secret that I think he killed both Kathleen and Liz. When people ask me about it, I just tell them."
Ann Christensen

Research Love Triangle

The defense indicated to reporters that there was solid evidence indicating Peterson sought out gay men because he was researching a book about gays in the military.

One part of Peterson's research involved a $150.00 and hour male prostitute who calls himself, "Brad".

"I did absolutely nothing to harm my wife."
-- Michael Peterson

"To this day I'm still wondering why the judge let it into evidence. I remember listening to his 'legal' reasoning regarding the matter; I sat there thinking, 'Could they not afford a real judge?' There's nothing like having your reputation dragged through the mud based on the whim of a star-struck jurist."
-- prostitute Brent Wolgamott, AKA "Brad" and "SoldierTop"

"If some lover comes up and says, 'Gee, Mike's my lover,' I'll deal with it... Uh, right. Ain't going to happen."
-- Michael Peterson, March 13, 2002

"When you find the first person who tells you, 'I've had a sexual relationship with Mike' -- male or female, adult or child -- we'll be happy to address it."
-- David Rudolf

"As a matter of fact you'll probably hear, if Caitlin testifies, that the one thing Kathleen and Michael argued about, frequently was, he spent too much time at the gym and he was often late getting back. That was the big conflict in that house."
-- David Rudolf's opening statement

"If I fuck you until after midnight, and you have to get up at 5, you may not be at your best for California."
-- "MPwriter"

"This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten."
-- D.H. Lawrence

Michael's Mansion has Many Rooms

Critics of the prosecutors all agree -- the state's case lacked focus. Detractors complain that the evidence against Michael Peterson was a muddled mix of motives and that the State haphazardly flung everything against the wall hoping something would stick.

And truly, it has been a bizarre ten-week odyssey -- blood spatter, black cats, credit reports, insurance policies, patio furniture, ants, bats, booze, happy hookers, sad sisters and gay porn. Considering the testimony that Peterson's drain smelled strongly of alcohol -- it seems the prosecution has thrown in everything including the kitchen sink.

But the multi-faceted trial of Michael Peterson isn't due to an indiscriminant D.A. over-trying his case. The shattered focus of the evidence, resulting in several trials-within-the-trial, is a reflection of the multiple personalities of the defendant and the fractured fairytale world he created and maintained.

In a September 2, 2001 e-mail, Peterson proudly informs his young pen pal, Brad, that he's "very bi." Bi? Polymorphous is closer to the mark.

Michael's mansion has many rooms -- Marine, fiction-writer, activist, bureaucrat, politician, reporter, father, gym-rat, legal guardian, soulmate… and porn aficionado. Naturally, any tour through Michael's house is going to be confusing, time consuming -- and quite depressing -- as there are so many hidden hallways, locked closets, steep staircases and dead ends.

Peterson has been directly involved in peculiar and fatal "accidents" in Vietnam, Germany and Japan, as well as in Durham, North Carolina. No wonder Jim Hardin is holding trials-within-trials. Michael the muck-raker, money manager and mayoral misfit has been the cause of several tribulations-within-tribulations.

This trial is not a search for the best strategy to convict Michael Peterson, it's a search for the truth behind the brutal murder of his loving soulmate and wife, Kathleen.

Durham investigators found more motives than they had murders to match. They found, not one truth, but a myriad of partial truths, misleading facts and wholesale fiction, all impossibly co-existing under the same roof. Prosecutors discovered a series of contradictory realities that could only have remained in tact through the defendant's willful deception, forceful manipulation and treachery.

The D.A., faced with serial motives for Michael Peterson's murder, rightly threw everything against the wall, hoping to finally reveal to everybody, every angle of the novelist's evil plot.


9-2 Emile Goudeau, described the fumisme culture as:
"a kind of internal madness visible on the outside by imperturbable antics."


After the long, Labor Day vacation, defense attorney David Rudolf objected fiercely when Dr. Aaron Gleckman told the Durham jury that the young woman friends called Liz Ratliff, died from blunt force trauma to the head. She was murdered the same way Kathleen Peterson was, and that's not a hazy recollection from another era -- that's the stunning truth from the witness stand right here and now.

Sitting next to the defense attorney was Michael Peterson wearing a stunning, giant red carnation.

He insists on telling so I guess we gotta ask: Why the red flower, Mike? A symbol of your courage? A loving memorial to your soulmate? Did you just wear it by accident? Or is that red carnation another one of your gruesome practical jokes? A contemptuous taunt to mock all us morons, like the frantic "talking hands" gesture you did for the court cameras?

Jim hardin:
"Do you have an opinion as to the cause of death as it relates to Elizabeth Ratliff?"

Dr. Gleckman:
"Miss Ratliff died from blunt trauma to the head ... from a homicidal assault."

We're searching for the truth.

We start with blunt force trauma. We find used condoms and un-used wine glasses and soulmates and hookers and socks, and a lot of blood. We find a series of lies and a pattern of antic behavior. And then we find more headaches, more blunt force trauma, more Black Cats, more blood. While searching for the truth, we connect the little, tiny dots of blood ten feet off the floor, from two walls, an ocean apart -- and find Michael Peterson, sitting there with those same tiny dots of blood spattered up inside the leg of his shorts.

Yes, it's all suspicious and spooky circumstantial evidence, but consider the source. This trial's irony, coincidence, intrigue, symbolism and poetic symmetry -- are the techniques of a fiction-writer.

If we're searching for the truth, but find an epic tale of love, lies, mystery and murder, we'll know whodunit -- he'll be wearing a red corsage.

Red Neurons

"She fell down the stairs. She's still breathing!"
-- Michael Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

"I had absolutely nothing to do with the death of Kathleen. I have read the medical examiner's report and did not see anywhere in there and it is not true absolutely that Kathleen lay at the bottom of the stairs for hours."
-- Michael Peterson

"...the finding of these small numbers of red neurons, both within the gray matter or cerebral cortex and within the cerebellum, another part of the brain, indicated to us that this brain had experienced a period of decreased bloodflow, a couple of hours -- approximately a few hours before death."
-- neuropathologist, Thomas Bouldin

Red Neurons
red neurons

The Reality of Monsters

We tell our children that monsters don't exist. We don't want them to be afraid, so we lie, and tell them monsters aren't real.

Margaret Ratliff commented: "One of our aunts told us last year that when we were really little, we used to run around saying, 'My mommy's dead, my daddy's dead -- when are you going to die, too?' We were so little we had no clue."

Actually, they did have clues -- plenty of them. They had the kind of clues that monsters leave behind in the wake of their destruction. Clues about death and desire, tragic loss and petty gain. Those are clues to a dark mystery little children should not have to look at and decipher.

Steve Lyons

Steve Lyons had clues too. He was all grown up, but the military investigator apparently couldn't look. He claims he saw no blood on Elizabeth Ratliff's staircase -- none. It's bizarre that the investigator recalls minor details, but cannot remember the most striking thing about the "accident" -- all the blood. Cheryl Appel-Schumacher testified to enormous amounts of smears and spatters saying, "The blood went all the way up the staircase."

There are monsters. Monsters are real, and the savage things they do are so evil, we'd rather turn a blind eye. When directly asked, Mr. Lyons said he never actually lifted the coat hiding Elizabeth Ratliff's dead body from view. He didn't see the blood on the walls, he didn't see the victim, he didn't see the murder -- because he didn't wish to look at reality.


"Part of the reality that people don't understand," David Rudolf advised, "is that accidental falls in the house are the leading cause of death, other than motor vehicle accidents."

Well, reality has very little to do with Michael Peterson -- and what people do understand is that he is a notorious liar, quite capable of using that statistic to hide his theatrical murder in plain sight. In reality, blunt force trauma is the leading cause of death here. People understand that accidental falls do not result in blood smeared up and down the hallway. Household accidents don't leave seven head gashes, defensive hand wounds and a neck fracture.

These are the clues -- the big, obvious, horrible evidence of a monster. He was in that foyer in Graefenhausen, Germany and left his mark for all to see, and he was hiding in Kathleen Peterson's back stairwell. He left the same marks.

Michael Peterson's supporters view the astonishing amounts of blood in swooshes, splats and sprays across the walls -- they look at the autopsy which details repeated, bone-deep lacerations wildly clawed into the back of the victim's head -- they inspect the bizarre circumstances in the home near the time Kathleen died and the outrageous behavior of the only other person who was there -- but they don't see a hideous murder.

Though faced with monstrous deeds, they don't see a monster.

Steve Lyons, and anybody else who refused to look at the reality of Elizabeth Ratliff's crime scene, selfishly chose denial and fantasy over responsibility and truth. They did not, in fact, avoid the horror -- they pardoned it and prolonged it, and condemned themselves to see a site far worse: another gifted and giving woman in the prime of her life, butchered at the bottom of another blood-drenched staircase -- and another instantaneous analysis from Mike Peterson, standing over his soulmate's corpse, informing everyone of his absence during what he's nonetheless certain was an accident.

Those in 1985 who wouldn't look, so they could lie and say monsters weren't real, are now tormented by nightmare visions and flashbacks to their own monstrous acts of disregard, denial and dishonesty. Their haunted lives are a forewarning from the past -- a gift to those in the present who have chosen to avert their eyes and make-believe a monster is a mishap.

Warning: the legacy of willful ignorance in the face of evil is littered with regret, grim information and guilty answers to innocent questions like, "When are you going to die, too?"

From "The Uses of Monsters"

TIME Magazine -- August 19, 1991

Aghast, we cover our faces, confused and unable to choose between expressions of disgust and nervous laughter. What a surprise... who could have imagined... such horror?

There is a moment of black epiphany at the revelation of a particularly heinous crime -- a moment that is both oracular and inexpressible. Statistics and forensic minutiae will eventually move in to cloud our vision. And the incessant patter of news updates will inevitably numb us, pushing onward the boundaries of our tolerance for atrocity.

But in the beginning, as we make out the shape of the crime, as we see it unfolding word sputters to our lips: "monster."

... The choice of the word is instructive. Etymologically, it is related to DEMONSTRATE and to REMONSTRATE and ultimately, comes from the Latin MONSTRUM, an omen portending the will of the gods, which itself is linked to the verb MONERE, to warn.... Monsters, therefore, were created to teach lessons.

"It is beyond words. It's dreadful beyond belief."
-- Todd Peterson's reaction when a judge denied bond for Michael Peterson

"We are horrified by your choice of action and utter disregard for the deceased."
-- Margaret and Martha Ratliff's exhumation letter to Jim Hardin

"My mother made a great impact on people's lives. Now, I think I'm one of her greatest accomplishments. She was an amazing mother from the beginning. Then, as I grew older, we transformed into friends. She made me a strong person. One of my comforts is what she gave to me: her knowledge, her life values, her morals. I feel very proud that I had someone like that to create someone like me."
-- Caitlin Atwater

The Glass Ceiling

Kathleen Peterson didn't climb the ranks at NORTEL by being a push-over in the presence of greedy and back-stabbing men. The evidence reveals she was a strong, bright, resourceful woman more than capable of handling herself in a confrontation -- even a nasty one. And yet the savvy, international business executive, once in charge of hundreds of people, couldn't manage to get out of that stairwell on December 9, 2001.

Whoever was in that house in the middle of the night must have known Kathleen Peterson very well, and must have fully rehearsed his murder. He was standing within a few feet of Kathleen before launching into his surprise attack and stood in exactly the same place when the job was done. She never had a chance.

There's no bloody trail from a scramble through the house. No furniture has been knocked over, and there are no gashes or tool marks left on the walls from wild swings of a weapon that missed its target. Apparently then, Kathleen was cornered. Like the endgame in a chess match, she was completely boxed in by one unforeseen move, unable to run up the steps or escape down the hall... (and unable to scream out and alert her nearby husband.)

Kathleen Peterson wasn't some clumsy, stupid old addict who'd finally succeeded in killing herself with her own flip-flops. The dedicated arts patron, celebrated hostess, loving wife and amazing mother didn't climb to the top of the social ladder only to get "shit-faced" and fall down in a pathetic heap.

Who's telling that lie?

Kathleen was ambushed -- and then she was skillfully attacked using a 40-inch brass blow-poke fireplace tool. With business-like efficiency, the first female to enter Duke's engineering program was completely eliminated -- or as they say at NORTEL, "optimized."

The injuries were brutal -- not fatal -- but once the high-powered executive was brought down, she was left on the floor to bleed to death, and as suddenly as he materialized, Kathleen's killer disappeared.

RUDOLF: Good afternoon Miss Radisch.

RADISCH: Dr. Radisch.

RUDOLF: Dr. Radisch, I'm sorry.

"Even good doctors can engage in junk science. A good example of that is Dr. Radisch. ... With all due respect to Dr. Radisch, her study was the epitome of junk science."
-- David Rudolf's closing

"My sister is still in an anonymous plot, which is heartbreaking to me. She is in a potter's field because he didn't mark it. We assumed that since this was his supposedly beloved wife, he would have done something. He did nothing."
-- Candace Zamperini


"I go to the cemetery at least twice a week to visit Kathleen, to talk to her and to feel her loss. That has been my emotional focus, not the design or placement of a marker. That Candace Zamperini would order a marker that was totally out of character to who Kathleen was, and attempt to have it installed without even informing us, would have appalled Kathleen as much as it did my children and me."
-- Michael Peterson

Sisters United for Justice

Four women began calling themselves the Sisters United for Justice. They include Margaret Blair and Rosemary Kelloway, sisters of Elizabeth Ratliff, and Candace Zamperini and Lori Campell, sisters of Kathleen Peterson.

"I'm innocent of these charges and we will prove it in court."
-- Hizzoner, Michael Peterson

Martha, Kathleen and Mike - 1999 elections
Martha, Kathleen and Mike Peterson
watch vote tally during 1999 elections

Time to Sing the Die Song

Michael Peterson was living in a mansion of deceit -- with a pool of lies in the backyard. Digging into Peterson's background for motive, prosecutors unearthed an embarrassment of riches. The question isn't so much why did he murder his wife, but why did he murder her on that particular night?

It's clear from the viciously efficient yet horribly bloody kill -- and the striking crime scene which duplicates the 1985 murder -- that Kathleen Peterson's death was not the unfortunate result of an argument over dirty e-mails.

Many serial killers report that the impulse to kill is irresistible. They say it's a like a hunger that appears every so often -- a horrible craving that cannot be ignored. The urge to kill is so strong that for some, it becomes a separate entity -- a person, a dog, a group of voices -- that encourages and demands murder. When asked what prompted him to strike when he did, serial killer Herbert Mullin said he heard voices that told him when it was time to "sing the die song."

from "The Psychology of Serial and Mass Killers"
By Sam Vaknin

... Yet, the sexuality of the serial, psychopathic, killer is self-directed. His victims are props, extensions, aides, objects, and symbols. He interacts with them ritually and, either before or after the act, transforms his diseased inner dialog into a catechism with internal logic and self-consistency.

In some cases, the murder ritual recreates earlier conflicts with meaningful objects, such as parents, authority figures, or peers. The outcome of the replay is different, though. The killer dominates the situation. He is the one to inflict abuse and trauma on others. He outwits and taunts figures of authority - the police, for instance. It is a form of poetic justice, a balancing of the books, and, therefore, a "good" thing. The murder is cathartic and allows the killer to release hitherto repressed anxiety and depression and pathologically transform his aggression of hate, rage, and envy.

Choosing to remain silent about his father's grim situation
and rarely seen at trial is oldest son, Clayton Peterson

Clayton, Mike and Todd Peterson
Clayton, Michael and Todd Peterson  

Empty Nest Egg

Although none of the Peterson children were still living at home, Todd was scheduled to sleep at the Cedar Street mansion on the night of the murder. Still, Michael Peterson and his wife were home alone most of the evening.

Todd left for a party at 10:20 PM and apparently had a very good time. He stayed there well past 2 AM. An hour earlier, Todd would have been the one to discover Kathleen's dead body, phone 9-1-1, and -- as in the Ratliff murder -- summon Michael to the scene for assistance.

Had Todd not stayed out to party so late, Michael's props wouldn't have been set, blood wouldn't have dried, red neurons wouldn't have developed in Kathleen's brain, and Todd would have come home to a million dollar accident.

"I've got no guidance to tell me how to go through this. There are no magic 10 or 12 steps."
-- Michael Peterson, Feb. 8, 2002

"I had nothing to do with Kathleen's death. I loved her."
-- Peterson
"I'm profoundly sorry that Kathleen has to be involved in this, but some good is going to come of this other than my innocence."
-- Peterson

"It's so overwhelming, the loss. I can't really think about anything else."
-- Peterson
"I'm not worried about what's going to happen because I know what happened and I know what did not happen. I know it'll all work out."
-- Peterson

"The book is the bible of modern corporate America and has sold millions of copies; it is supposed to be a parable for our times. Basically, the book says that smart mice know that when their pile of cheese disappears, they have to search for cheese somewhere else. The moral is that we need to be flexible in our own human lives, that when a situation changes, we should change with it. Drastic times require drastic measures."

-- Peterson, March 23, 2001,
about the book "Who Moved My Cheese?"

Control Freak Accident

Lie and say you lost control,
do ten years for killing your wife;
Lie and claim she lost control,
sit in prison for the rest of your life.