Stranger Than Fiction

 Michael Peterson Trial  



What's Missing?

3-acre Search for Murder
December 10, 2001 grid search
of Peterson's 3-acre property by 40 officers.
The weapon used to murder Kathleen Peterson
was never found, and remains hidden to this day.

Financial Fireplace Tool

Despite a thorough grid search for a fairly long, thin, light-weight weapon with a distinct sharp edge at one end -- no such murder weapon was ever found in or around Michael Peterson's home. Also not found was the long, thin, hollow, hook-ended, metal fireplace "blowpoke" given as a gift to Kathleen Peterson by her sister, Candace Zamperini, in 1984.

What's Missing?

Mysteriously, no one can recall exactly when or how the once omnipresent poker vanished, but it had been missing for two years or more when suddenly, on December 9, 2001, the night of the Peterson's tragedy, the blowpoke -- or a tool of identical size, weight and design -- resurfaced in Michael's Forest Hills mansion. It was used to administer bayonetting blows and punishing pokes, then once again, the weapon went away.

Most likely, the fire-stoker is stashed in Peterson's home, hidden in plain sight near the fireplace, where it's been secreted for years. It's also quite possible that the blowpoke Peterson used is not actually the original, but a duplicate.

Candace Zamperini had given the identical gift to several family members so it's significance to family dynamics is apparent, and of course as a symbolic personal power tool, the unusual bi-curiosity -- useful for both poke and blow jobs -- is a Freudian fingerprint lifted directly from the defendant's computer keyboard.

Even more peculiar than the blowpoke's brief return, is the fact that a similar weapon was used in a very similar way to commit an extremely similar crime in a completely different setting and era -- Elizabeth Ratliff's murder in Germany, 1985.

Prosecutors often find themselves trying murder cases with a weapon that is suspiciously missing, but the blowpoke likely used in this killing keeps suspiciously piping up.

"This is my blow poke. I purchased it in 1982."

Candace Zamperini
Candace Zamperini

"I saw it in every home she lived in whenever I visited."

"I did use it on Thanksgiving in 1999. It was right next to the fireplace."

"It was always in the kitchen. I used it. I observed Kathleen use it."

Candace Zamperini

Swings Both Ways

A blowpoke is a blower and a poker in one tool. The 40" long brass fireplace poker is hollow, which allows the user to fan the flames and put out the fire, with one instrument.


Both horizontal and vertical lacerations were found on Kathleen Peterson's Head.    
Peterson Diagram      Peterson Diagram 

"It's incomprehensible. Kathleen and my father had the most loving relationship. They never fought."

-- Todd Peterson

The number,
and orientation
of these events
are inconsistent
with a rage killing;
instead they are
indicative of
a serial murderer.

"Kathleen was my soul mate for fourteen years."
-- Michael Peterson

Serial SoulMate Killer

Elizabeth Ratliff and Kathleen Peterson were independent, free spirits. Prior to Michael Peterson's entrance, they were bright, fun-loving, popular, happy people.

Certainly then, they were overjoyed when Michael entered their lives. Not, Michael the boyfriend, or Michael the lover, but Michael the soulmate. A rare co-spirit that can always be trusted and depended on as a gauge and a guide on the otherwise solitary trip through the mystery of life and beyond.

Michael and Elizabeth became closer friends than the friend who introduced them -- Michael's first wife, Patricia. No witnesses recall anything romantic or sexual, in fact most remember an extraordinary spiritual bond. And once George Ratliff died, Peterson became the closest companion and advisor to Elizabeth -- handling everything from her finances to her kids and her emotional health.

Similarly, Kathleen had known Michael as a dear friend for years. She had lived, worked and played with him for almost a decade prior to marrying him. They mirrored each other, and once they got married, those who knew the couple agreed, they were not just husband and wife -- they were soulmates.

Elizabeth Mckee     /     Kathleen Hunt

A few years go by, when each woman -- in the months prior to their unexpected deaths -- began to tell friends they were feeling anxious, nervous and very stressed. Both women were apparently even experiencing severe, head-grabbing headaches. They had transformed into depressed and somewhat paranoid women who were sickly, worried and obsessed with dark foreboding.

Soon after, both women -- Elizabeth, near Thanksgiving of 1985, and Kathleen near Christmas of 2001 -- were found dead of injuries to the head, in pools of their own blood by their spiritual partner, Michael Peterson. Michael immediately asserted the gruesome deaths of his soulmates were merely accidents of fate... both of them.

That's something a soulmate could never conclude.

David Rudolf:

"I think the Ratliff evidence was a non-issue in the state's case I mean basically they were able to establish that Mike Peterson had been with her the night before and she was dead with blood around."

Cheryl Appel-Schumacher:

"The highest point on the wall that I had to clean was above that light switch at the top of the stairs when I was standing. And that was a different kind of cleaning because those were very little, tiny dots, almost like if you took a paint brush, a child's paint brush, pre-school paint brush -- and you flicked it. That was the kind of spray of blood, spotted blood that was at the top. And that was the only place that it seemed to be like that. The rest, as you came down the side of the wall was more circular, or like a tear-drop... about like this kind of shape... and as you came down, the spots were bigger."

Cheryl Appel-Schumacher  /  Agent Deaver

Coincidence Spatter Analysis

One suspicious death, does not a pattern make;
It's impossible, from a single fall, to say it's real or fake;
But a second fatal event is a wholly different matter,
it allows for an inspection of the coincidental spatter.

Some large and obvious similarities, may reveal a single source,
and the smaller the coincidences -- the greater was the force.
Look for tiny dual details, dots in odd and angled degrees,
and the cast off stains of haunted lives that appear in twos and threes.

From guilty smears and transfer stains of similar shape and size,
two homicides will converge, in a string of deadly lies --
tying together twin details from remote and distant times,
to a point of common origin, the perpetrator of both crimes.

"There's been an accident. Liz fell down the stairs and died."
-- Michael Peterson's phone call to Margaret Blair -- Nov. 25, 1985
"My wife had an accident. She's still breathing... She fell down the stairs."
-- Michael Peterson's 9-1-1 call on December 9, 2001

Creative Drama

"The court does agree with the state..." said Judge Orlando Hudson, and in a single moment -- what was past became present -- what was once known history, suddenly became as unknown as the future.

Judge Hudson had barely finished citing the legal reasons for his ruling to allow Elizabeth Ratliff's unsolved murder to be put into evidence against Michael Peterson when the vague haunting memories from a death nearly two decades ago turned into hard evidence of murder.

The courtroom is a powerful theater, a living looking-glass, where distant situations and complex historical human events can be re-constructed and re-presented.

Act One -- the defendant stands at the bottom of a staircase where Kathleen Peterson sits, her lifeless body propped up against the wall of a hallway covered with blood. The defendant speaks with great passion: "My wife had an accident. She's still breathing... She fell down the stairs."

Lights fade as Judge Hudson softly announces the 404(b) evidence is admissible "to show the defendant's motive for the commission of the crime the defendant is charged with in this case -- that the defendant had the intent, the knowledge -- that he had a common scheme or plan involved in the alleged murder in this case, and of course -- absence of accident."

And with that, the lights come up on Act Two and reveal Michael standing over Elizabeth Ratliff's dead body lying at the bottom of a staircase in a hallway covered with blood. Michael turns and gives his speech, "There's been an accident. Liz fell down the stairs and died."

The curtain falls.

A legal proceeding, like a play, is an expression of character. The story-lines stay pretty much the same, but it is the specific acts of the people involved that make every trial -- and every tragedy -- unique.

The deeper meanings of this absurd, courtroom drama are elusive, but one chilling aspect of the nature of evil can clearly be discerned from the trial of Michael Peterson -- duplication. Evil stands in opposition to the laws of nature, and duplication is a dead give-away because it speaks, not only to an absence of accident, but also to an absence of creativity.

The dedication found in the front of Michael Peterson's book, "A Time of War" is stunning in light of his murder trial.

"To Patty, who suffered all my wounds. To Clayton and Todd, whose suffering, I pray, is only in my nightmares. To the dead. And to those whose suffering cannot be relieved."

Elizabeth Ratliff with Margaret
Baby Margaret held by Elizabeth Ratliff

Patricia Peterson told police that after dinner, Michael walked Elizabeth Ratliff home.

Oddly enough, evidence in Kathleen Peterson's death suggests that she also had her last supper while with Michael. There was undigested food in Kathleen's stomach.


Like set dressing for a horror film, the large Black Cat poster sitting ominously on the wall inside the Peterson's back steps, is in many ways as dramatic as the swipes, smears and spatters of dried blood beneath it.

There has been much talk about the hinky feeling the picture gives off, and speculation about its spooky significance.

Who owned the poster? Why was it placed in that particular spot? How long had it been there? Was it spattered with blood?

Graphic Testimony

Tournee du Chat Noir

Just as he must have stared at Kathleen Peterson's violent death on December 9, 2001, T. A. Steinlen's famous Chat Noir now stares knowingly, menacingly out at us from crime scene photos -- a silent witness whose malevolent presence nonetheless speaks a thousand words about the evil nature of Michael Peterson's bloody stairwell.

The haunting Black Cat peers out even from the wall of the miniature staircase model used by the prosecution.

Finally -- in testimony from Elizabeth Ratliff's sister, Margaret Blair -- the mystery of the Black Cat's significance was solved.

Elizabeth Ratliff owned a "Tournee du Chat Noir" and for whatever reasons, Michael Peterson ended up hanging a copy of the same poster at the bottom of the staircase where Kathleen Peterson suffered her brutal death.

The cat came back.

I recognized some things that were described, in writing, that were my sister's and now Margaret and Martha's.

MAHER: And what items were those?

BLAIR: Various trunks, rug, artwork... just various things.

MAHER: What type of artwork?

BLAIR: The cat, at the foot of the stairs -- was recognized as my sister's -- the place where Kathleen died.

"This cat picture was hanging in my room when I was living in Graefenhausen."

-- Barbara Malagnino


DAVID RUDOLF: By the way, Miss Malagnino testified earlier that this particular picture was hanging in her room in 1983. Can you see right down there, there's a little copyright date that's printed on the picture? What's the copyright date?

DUANE DEAVER: It says 1997, I believe.


Michael Peterson married Kathleen in 1997.

Fall? Or Something Else?

On December 9, 2001 -- just after 2:30 in the morning -- a frantic-sounding Michael Peterson told a 9-1-1 operator that his wife had an accident. "She fell down the stairs," he wailed. "She's still breathing! Please come!"

Before the operator could determine if the emergency was just a bad fall or something else -- Peterson hung up the phone.

Eight minutes later, paramedics -- who had made a wrong turn -- raced up to 1810 Cedar Street and rushed inside, only to find a barefoot Michael Peterson in a back hallway, sobbing, rocking and clutching onto his wife's obviously dead body.

This was no emergency -- this was the tragic aftermath of a slaughter.

Kathleen Peterson's lifeless body was completely limp and before even approaching the stairs -- EMTs could tell from the grotesque amounts of blood that, wrong turn or not, they had been summoned far too late to have been any assistance to the dead woman.

One paramedic described Kathleen as "very dead" and thought she had been that way for 30 to 45 minutes. The medics all noticed that much of the bloody swipes, smears and spatter on the walls had already dried.

The EMTs were confused. They rushed to the mansion, expecting to help somebody who had fallen down some stairs. But was this a fall? Or something else?

Once Michael Peterson was forcibly separated from the corpse, paramedics did indeed pronounce Kathleen dead -- but of course, they immediately asked Peterson what had happened. Seemingly too distraught or too overcome with grief, Peterson would say nothing. The celebrated columnist and novelist offered no words to explain the gruesome sight, except to indicate that his wife had fallen down the stairs.

Mike Peterson, the decorated Vietnam vet, made no demands of the EMTs to try and revive his wife -- he didn't insist they do CPR on his "soulmate." Kathleen had fallen. She was dead and it was over.

Shortly thereafter, as police and investigators arrived, Mike Peterson, the out-spoken critic and mayoral candidate, made no demands that police come up with answers. He didn't need answers because he had no questions. When questions were put to him -- he asked for a lawyer. And though Peterson refused to say anything to authorities, he did explain to a neighbor that while he was out at the pool, Kathleen must have fallen down the stairs.

On December 9, 2001, just after 2:30 in the morning, Michael Peterson was convinced he knew the answer to the question people all over the nation are still trying to determine years later:

Fall? Or Something Else?

It's true, you can't judge a book by its cover --
but judging the cover is fairly easy once you know the book.

Connecting the Missing Dots

Brent "BRAD" Wolgamott
told prosecutor Freda Black that he was supposed to meet Michael Peterson in Durham on the night of Sept. 5, 2001, to have sex for a fee, but that the meeting never actually took place because he was too tired. The professional escort said he vaguely recalls sending an apology to Peterson 25 days later, but says he never got a response.

While possibly true, the notion that BRAD -- after exchanging at least twenty e-mails and three phone calls -- was just "too tired" to actually meet Peterson and make money, rings false.

"Male4Male Escorts" provides a webpage where "clients" may send in reviews of the various prostitutes they've hired. In nearly every review of BRAD, customers mention his reliability, dependability and willingness to stay in "prompt, courteous" contact.

A sampling:

"First class escort. Period. All of the reviews are quite accurate. what is unique is his honesty and flexibility. We had logistical problems at first.. he apparently makes use of a friend's house for outcalls for a pre-set fee... the friend screwed up the arrangements and we were without a place to play...brad quickly offered to pay for a hotel room and cover the cost above the preset fee..." (Professional married man, 55)

"I contacted Brad via his e-mail address and heard back from him promptly that same day. He was agreeable to a daytime meeting, which is what I requested." (48-year-old)

"When I e-mailed him, his responses were prompt, courteous and to-the-point. We arranged a session and Brad was also kind enough to provide information on a good place to stay." (Professional male - mid 30's)

"After a number of phone calls we connected on New Years Eve. Brad came to my home...he called several times to keep me informed of his arrival time - he was traveling about 100 miles to get here." (Late 40's professional)

Wolgamott's failure to show up for Peterson's appointment or to even contact him, is odd -- but oddly consistent with the other strange evidence in the Peterson trial.

Over and over in this case, the question arises, "What's Missing?"

Plenty of photos and conversations about gay sex -- but no gay sex. Glasses and empty wine bottles at the crime scene to confirm Peterson's story of a night of drinking with his wife -- but his wife's fingerprints are missing. An important e-mail from a co-worker that was sent as requested -- but never accessed. A frantic 9-1-1 call -- but no request for help. A fatal fall down the stairs that, despite severe injuries to the head, face and forearms -- produced virtually no fractures or wounds to the rest of the body.

Again and again, concrete evidence is presented, not of murder, but of fraud and deception, and inexplicable anomaly.

It's been said that, at the end of the trial, the prosecution will face the monumental task of "connecting the dots" for the jury, and will have to put dozens of odd pieces of circumstantial evidence together into a cohesive picture of murder. Of course, the contrary is true. All the prosecution has to do is remind the jury of the many oddities, coincidences, omissions, missing items and self-serving lies. They will simply point to Michael Peterson's purposeful campaign of deception in the weeks and months before his wife's gruesome death, and after.

It will finally be Michael Peterson's defense team who'll have to connect the dots and re-arrange the circumstances of a pre-meditated murder to fit the situation of an innocent bystander near an unexpected accident.

Locard's Principle of Exchange dictates that anyone who enters the scene both takes something of the scene with them and leaves something of themselves behind.

For example, Michael Peterson entered Kathleen's life, took many, many things from her and when he left, Kathleen had multiple deep, complex lacerations and avulsions to the scalp, multiple small abrasions and contusions on the face, early acute ischemic neuronal necrosis, and a fracture with associated hemorrhage of the left superior cornu of the thyroid cartilage in the neck.

Jim Hardin said Peterson doctored the scene but was given away by the blood spatters. He hinted at a possible murder weapon, saying a "blowpoke" - a combination of fireplace blower and poker - disappeared from the home...

Murder He Wrote

Kathleen Peterson's killer did not bludgeon his victim to death. He repeatedly jabbed and whacked at Kathleen's head -- and then he waited for her to bleed to death.

1. The lacerations match the contusions (bruises). So the object, unlike a knife or razor, was blunt and, although small, had some weight.

2. "No fractures of the skull" means the object was not bashing and slamming erratically into the back of the victim's head. It was doing damage but with a consistent and controlled, bayoneting.

3. Each of the lacerations are very deep and each have the same complex pattern, but are found in both horizontal and vertical slashes. Whatever was contacting Kathleen Peterson's head did so repeatedly, seven or eight times -- hard enough to bruise but not fracture, and each time tearing sharply across or down a small area. This was no random, bouncing contact with wooden steps, it was an attack using a thin blunt rod with a sharp edge that cut and cracked the skin as it poked and whacked.

4. Kathleen Peterson died with eleven of her hairs in her right hand - some strands were forcibly removed, some were broken, but some hairs were actually cut. In her left hand were also numerous hairs, several were forcibly pulled out, several were broken off and the rest of the hairs were cut off. Kathleen was protecting her head from being whacked with something that had at least one sharp edge. Wooden steps and door molding can be ruled out since forcible contact with such items, though they might somehow leave identical gashes, would certainly not cut hairs.

5. Other than the odd "clothes-line" type fracture to the neck and the defensive type wounds on the face, hands and forearms, no other physical injuries were found. It's not reasonable to conclude that Kathleen Peterson fell violently down the stairs and, despite a dozen severe head injuries, sustained virtually no other fractures or contusions on her back, or the rest of her body.

Fiction writer and politician, Michael Peterson never talked to paramedics, never talked to police, never talked to investigators, never took a police polygraph, never met with authorities and never helped in the investigation of his wife's death in any way. Never. He didn't ask for answers about his wife, Kathleen's death, instead -- he asked for a lawyer.

Except a few maudlin words to the press, Peterson the prodigious penman, has had nothing to say about the horrible events that took place in his home on December 9, 2001. He has a right to remain silent, but he also has a right to be hand-cuffed, shackled, and kept in a small cage until he dies.

Michael Peterson: "As anyone who knows will tell you, I have a volatile temper. I get pissed very quickly. And then it's over."

Caitlin Atwater: "It was usually a very kind of brief temper that would just, you know, come and go. I think we took it to heart a little more seriously than he meant it, which always made it easier to brush off and kind of think it wasn't there. He'd yell and scream and we'd be upset, but then 20 minutes later, he'd be ready to laugh about it. He's incredibly controlling and manipulative ..."



The weather was quite unremarkable
in Forest Hills, December 9 - 0 - 1;
At midnight in the mid to high 50's --
by two, a falling pressure had begun.

Though relative humidity was high,
It stayed in Durham's normal comfort zone;
Dark scattered clouds pushed through the nighttime sky,
With winter winds that cut right to the bone.

The average weather pattern you'd expect,
Low visibility, which was the norm;
Completely dry all morning long, except --
One brief and harsh, North Carolina storm.


Bill Peterson: "I also grew up with my brother and lived in the same room with him until I was about 16. I probably observed what she's talking about. Now my brother is a very vocal guy, and that's probably one of the reasons he's in the kind of trouble he's in now. He's very outspoken, he does speak with a very loud voice, and he does get angry like anybody else gets angry but that's a totally different thing from physical violence.

Now if you were to ask Caitlin and I don't know why you haven't asked her, if you haven't asked her, you should ask her about any physical violence. I'm sure she would verify for you there has never been a single episode. He was married to another woman for 30 years, went through a very bitter divorce. She's here in the courtroom. She may talk to you, I don't know. There's never been any indication of any physical violence with respect to her, with respect to her children, with respect to me or with respect to anybody else.

So, yeah he has a temper, he flares out, he talks, but as Caitlin pointed out in that exchange you had, a couple minutes later he calms down, and he feels bad about it and he starts laughing."

Ann Christensen (Peterson's sister): "It's not just anger -- it cuts you to the bone."

Sobbing, shaking and walking in circles like a lost puppy, Michael Peterson at first appeared to paramedics and police as a man who was deeply shocked by the sudden and horrific loss of his wife and soulmate of 13 years.

The fiction writer knows that, despite what defense lawyers may spin on talk shows, there is only one appropriate reaction to tragedy: devastation. Your dearly beloved spouse met with an unexpected, untimely and gruesome fate, and regardless of whether it was an accidental fall or a violent intruder's bashing -- you are devastated.

There is no other reaction to such an event.

You want answers and will do anything and everything you can to find out exactly what happened and why, since, in many ways, you know you are to blame.

You took a marriage vow before man and GOD, so if your spouse dies from a fall down steep and narrow stairs -- you should have lit them, carpeted them or roped them off entirely. If your soulmate is killed at the hands of an intruder -- you should have better secured windows, doors and house alarms, and you should have heard the deadly struggle and come to the rescue. You didn't. You weren't there for your mate and now you need answers to account for the tragedy.

Michael Peterson refused to speak with paramedics on the night of his wife's strange demise. He declined to speak with police officers about what had transpired in his home that evening. He asked for a lawyer, but never asked investigators for information.

Instead of offering possibly critical details about the situation, clarifying circumstances or assisting investigators with background information, Michael Peterson was content to dismiss the bloody event, that night, as a freak accident and sit at his computer checking e-mails.

It might have been an accident, but since Michael claims he heard and saw nothing, it might not have been. And considering that his home had been recently burglarized, it would have been just as reasonable to conclude that Kathleen Peterson had been attacked.

The demanding 60-year-old Mr. Peterson is a decorated war veteran, author, mayoral candidate and columnist. Critical of police and law enforcement agencies for years, the bright, articulate millionaire fell oddly silent in his demands of police on the night his soulmate most needed his expertise.

Declining to take a "lie-detector test" or to be grilled by police in a lengthy interview is one thing -- but when a husband and soulmate refuses to help, cooperate or even speak with authorities at the scene, then that's all the evidence a jury needs. Michael Peterson was not interested in discovering the truth about his wife's tragic death.

That's devastating.

a study of killing


"Violence is mesmerizing."

"How is it possible for a man to kill another man; to do it without malice, without reason, without remorse? The truth in understanding this is one worth knowing, for in understanding this, all other respects of war, and life really, become clear."

-- Peterson's notes describing his novel, "A Time of War" as a study of killing.


A murder trial is not a battle of the experts or a contest where the loudest lawyer wins -- it is the shocking and horrifying presentation of evidence that details an act of pure evil. Evil tells on itself, and not even Dr. Henry Lee can stop it from talking.

Durham prosecutors don't need a weapon or a motive as proof of murder in the Cedar Street mansion, and are not required to produce witnesses to the killing. All they need is the death. The strongest evidence is the bloody corpse of a 48-year-old Nortel executive.

Kathleen Peterson has rights too, and the more defense-minded a juror is -- the more they will focus on the nature and irrevocability of the violation done to the defenseless victim. After all, Kathleen is innocent until proven otherwise. What great wrong had she done to deserve such a penalty?

Community Theatre

At the end of the third week of trial, Kathleen Peterson -- in the form of a "Resusci - Annie" doll -- was once again propped up against a wall and posed for everyone to view.

No doubt, the defendant was disturbed by the appearance in court that day of the prosecutor's life-sized representation of the victim -- but it must have been an extremely brutal morning for his son, Todd Peterson.

I'm sure Todd never realized just how vulgar his stepmother's bizarre final pose would seem to the rest of the world.

For the first time in court, it was Todd who looked pale, spent and drained -- not from heated arguments about fourth amendment rights or incompetent cops, but out of sheer exhaustion when faced with the reality of what had been done to another human being -- and what it looked like.

There is nothing "reasonable" about the sight of a vibrant and perfectly healthy wife, mother and business woman propped up, spread-legged like a life-sized doll, in pools of her own blood for the world to view. Not only was a human life taken, but afterwards, all human dignity was taken and mocked by a profane act of theater.

Evil itself took the witness stand that day. It didn't testify to an accident or a beating, but to a person who, after the violent undertaking, positioned Kathleen Peterson's lifeless body at the base of a staircase and invited the world to view the horror.

"The thing that stayed with me the most is the pictures of the back of her head and her at the bottom of the stairs. I can't forget it. I wish I could."
-- Juror, Keith Hall

Kathleen Peterson was indeed a great patron, advocate and supporter of the arts -- and her biggest funding project was her husband, Michael Peterson.

The State prosecutors are right to begin their case against this fiction writer with financial records. This case is a battle of the experts -- well, the battle had been going on for quite some time -- the battle between the expert fund-raiser and the expert artist who conned Kathleen out of her money year after year, eventually marrying her.

Regardless of whether the Petersons were worth one million dollars or two million or three -- all of that money was Kathleen's.

The records are fuzzy about futures and dividends, but they are extremely clear about Michael's worth: zero. Beyond a few petty pension plans, Peterson wasn't worth the paper his poor-selling, pulp fiction was printed on. MAYOR MIKE had made no MONEY in three years and without his wife, Peterson was penniless.

Why bite the hand that has fed you for a decade?

Well, who can know? Motive can be established but never fully pinned down because evil crimes have no reason or logic. It must be left at saying -- we always hurt the ones we love. Familiarity breeds contempt. Resentment, especially for a care-giver one is dependent on, can grow to become hatred and rage.

Maybe Kathleen was about to be fired and pressed Michael for changes. Maybe Mike's gay research project was discovered by Kathleen digging for an e-mail from work. Maybe Mr. Peterson thought his new, big movie deal had released him from his wife's purse strings and Kathleen was not needed in the picture anymore. Who can know? But it is certain and beyond any reasonable doubt that Kathleen was this artist's sole supporter, and if Michael Peterson performed an evil act in that dark stairway -- money is surely at the root.

Judge Orlando Hudson


(Theme from the Judge Orlando Hudson Show)

Who can turn the state off with a smile?
Who can take a winning day,
and suddenly make it not seem worthwhile?

It's Orlando and you should know it  --
With each glance,
And every little ruling you show it:

Chaos all around the el-e-va-tors
Hudson, for the T.V. camera, caters…
You're just like Ito after all.

Abandoned Refrigerators

"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. I want everyone to see what goes on in Durham."

-- Peterson

Michael Peterson wants everyone to see what goes on in Durham, and yet he never saw what was going on in his own home.

Peterson's friends all saw that the back stairway of Michael's mansion was a dangerous place. The narrow, wooden steps were steep -- they now report -- steep and scary and very poorly lit. Family and friends agree, it was "an accident waiting to happen."

Many of MIKE'S FRIENDS even say they knew who the accident was waiting to happen to -- charging that Kathleen Peterson liked to drink alcohol in great amounts and then do crazy things like dive head-first into the pool. They say they're not the least bit surprised that Kathleen fell to her death, because she had passed out or blacked out and fallen on prior occasions.

"If you want my opinion," Todd Peterson quickly offered up, "they were probably shit-faced and she fell." That may well be true, but temperamental Todd and his furious father should know that "an accident waiting to happen" is not an accident -- it's negligence.

NEGLIGENCE is a legal term and concept that has been on the books for centuries. It is the failure to use reasonable care.

Negligence is defined by the Legal Lexicon Law Library as "a legal cause of damage if it directly and in natural and continuous sequence produces or contributes substantially to producing such damage, so it can reasonably be said that if not for the negligence, the loss, injury or damage would not have occurred." Every state in America, including North Carolina, recognizes that, " Negligence may be a legal cause of damage even though it operates in combination with the act of another, a natural cause, or some other cause if the other cause occurs at the same time as the negligence and if the negligence contributes substantially to producing such damage."

Michael Peterson has been blaming the Durham police force and other legal authorities his entire adult life. He has made a big stink -- and big money -- from accusing the D.A.'s office and other authorities of being incompetent. But the police were not responsible for the steep, narrow and poorly lit back stairway in Peterson's million dollar mansion. The 9-1-1 operators in Durham were not responsible for removing an un-used metal chairlift, and the District Attorney did not take an oath to marry Kathleen and take care of her in sickness or in health. Michael Peterson did.

Michael Peterson loved to travel and bring back exotic souvenirs from China and Egypt -- why didn't he ever think to stop at the corner hardware store and bring back a light bulb?

Mr. Peterson's high-priced attorney, David Rudolf, makes a big fuss about exactly when the Durham police put up barriers to seal off Peterson's back stairs on December 9th, 2001. Well, Michael Peterson had been living at 1810 Cedar Street since 1992, and he never cordoned off the area!

The Petersons apparently loved to have lavish parties in their beautiful home. If a party guest had too much to drink and flip-flopped down those steep, narrow, dark stairs and died, Michael Peterson -- not the Durham Police Department -- would be legally responsible for the negligent homicide.

If Michael Peterson truly wanted everyone to see what goes on in Durham -- he could have started by turning on a light in the stairwell of his own fabulous Forest Hills home.

Thanks to forensic chemist James Gregory, we now know that whatever Kathleen was protecting her head from must have had sharp edges. Kathleen Peterson died with her own hair clutched in her hands. Many of those strands of hair were cleanly cut -- not ripped or torn.

It's reasonable to believe that, during a mad tumble, Kathleen grabbed her head for protection. It is inconceivable however, that the victim was falling and grabbing at her own head while at the same time giving herself a hair-cut.

Danielle's Hands

Dorie Savage, a forensic specialist with the San Diego Police Department, testified that she was present to collect evidence from Danielle Van Dam's body during the autopsy performed by the medical examiner. Among the items she removed from the body were hairs.

"There was some tangled in Danielle's hand," she said

Book Ends

Exactly four-hundred years ago in 1603, Shakespeare's HAMLET was first published, and in that play the tragic Prince declares: "A man's life is no more than to say one." It's curious then, that much about Michael Peterson's life is associated with the number -- TWO.

In 1985, Michael Peterson was celebrating the publishing of his own first novel when he suffered through tragedy -- twice. A dear friend of his named George Ratliff suddenly died. A few months later, George Ratliff's wife, Elizabeth McKee-Ratliff, also a very close friend, also died. Elizabeth was discovered at the bottom of a blood- spattered staircase, an apparent victim of her own clumsiness.

By the early 1990's, Michael Peterson had divorced his first wife, Patricia Sue Peterson, and became a single father to his two sons and the Ratliff's two daughters.

After having some success with his novel, "A Time of War" Peterson tried to see if lightning would strike twice and in 1995 he authored the book's sequel, "A Bitter Peace."

In 1999, the Vietnam veteran was forced to admit to his duplicity when it was discovered that he had made up fictions about his war record and war injuries. For years, Michael Peterson had claimed to have been awarded the Purple Heart -- twice.

It's been said that a two-faced man deserves a second look, and after an unsuccessful bid for mayor, Peterson mounted a second campaign and ran for city council. He again, lost his election.

Then, in the wee hours of December 9, 2001, an hysterical-sounding Michael Peterson phoned 9-1-1 to report the death of his second wife, Kathleen Peterson. Needless to say, he called 9-1-1 a second time.

Paramedics discovered Kathleen at the bottom of a blood-spattered staircase, an apparent victim of her own clumsiness.

When Durham investigators found pornography on Peterson's home computer, and men he'd had sex with between his two marriages, they discovered that he was bi- sexual. These and other revelations led police to believe that Michael Peterson's wife's accident was in fact a vicious murder, forcing Peterson's lawyer, David Rudolf to remark: "If the prosecution is correct, how do we go from soul mate and lover to cold-blooded killer?"

Shakespeare's HAMLET may well have explained:

"With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, In equal scale weighing delight and dole."

Truth or Consequences?

If his wife fell down the stairs and died before he ever entered the mansion, why did Michael Peterson twice tell the 9-1-1 operator that his wife was still breathing?

Even David Rudolf has admitted that apparently Kathleen lay dead for a while and bled out. When paramedics arrived, there was no scramble to revive the victim -- no rush to do CPR. Kathleen was well beyond the point where medics could breathe for her, and that tells even the defense lawyers -- she was, as one EMT put it, "very dead."

And yet, Michael Peterson had doubts, and eight minutes prior to the EMT's arrival had desperately pointed out, "She's still breathing!" As though to say -- She seems like she'll stop breathing sometime soon, but for now she's hanging on and... she's still breathing!

Michael Peterson's wife was not breathing and she hadn't been breathing for quite some time prior to his call.

It doesn't mean he murdered Kathleen.

After all -- the corpse may have simply expanded, but being hysterical, Peterson imagined his wife was breathing. He guessed she was still alive in a moment of say, wishful dementia.

But the inexplicable statement in his subsequent 9-1-1 call advising the operator that "She's not breathing," is one wish too many. Why the second, updated report that his soulmate was now dead?

The second call turns what might have been an innocent mistake into a premeditated murder, because it exposes a set-up and a fiction -- one of many in a pattern of lies, contrivances and omissions, designed to make the circumstances surrounding Kathleen Peterson's death seem to be other than what they are.

Killers often arrogantly think that by falsifying or destroying circumstantial evidence, they'll thwart a jury's ability to solve the murder. Always forgotten is the evidence that the defendant falsified or destroyed circumstantial evidence -- which is actually better proof of guilt, since the defendant had no reason to do so, other than attempting to cover up his own -- or someone else's -- crime.

Paramedics, police, detectives, criminalists and state medical examiners all looked inside Michael Peterson's stairwell and reasonably doubted that Kathleen Peterson died from just a simple, accidental fall. They then looked to Michael Peterson. This jury will be no different.

So the question becomes, not "accident or murder?" but, "Truth or Consequences?"

"I am profoundly saddened that the loving family Kathleen Peterson dedicated 13 years to creating has now been ripped apart. In these terrible family circumstances, the police apparently chose to provide only part of the evidence to Caitlin, who is understandably distraught at losing her mother; the results are entirely predictable. I am sorry for Caitlin's pain and for her precipitous action."

-- Michael Peterson about Caitlin Atwater's civil suit

Start Seeing Murder Cycles

Statistics are often misleading and confusing, but the shocking numbers associated with domestic violence are hard evidence of America's hidden crime epidemic. The American Medical Association estimates that more than 4 million females in the US experience some form of violence each year, and as many as 1 in 3 women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime.

The defenders of fiction-writer Michael Peterson like to quote statistics about how many thousands of people fall down the steps and die every year. One sure thing about statistics -- they provide a base-line that helps to determine probabilities. It turns out that virtually none of those who fell and died, bled to death as Kathleen Peterson did. So it's safe to use your stairs.

But what is the probability that a husband would have beaten his wife to death in the hallway?

Well, considering that in the United States, a woman is beaten every 7.4 seconds, and that a woman is killed by domestic violence every 21 days -- the odds are quite good. When the Medical Examiner reports that the otherwise healthy wife died from "blunt force head trauma" and "multiple impacts received as a result of beating," the odds are overwhelming.

No couple is "perfect," and many are perfectly awful. We know very well what goes on behind closed doors, but we choose not to look. Of course, refusing to acknowledge something doesn't mean it ceases to exist.

Despite the fiction about "soul mates" and "Camelot" at the Peterson mansion -- reality dictates that Michael Peterson did not have a perfect family. Illusions are useful for mayoral campaigns but not for murder trials, and this family, particularly the men, were having some very real problems with substance abuse and violence. Statistically speaking -- that's no surprise.

Co-dependency, abuse and domestic violence are cyclical. Most often, abusive sons had abusive fathers. We don't want to look -- but the facts are there. Children who witness domestic violence are four times more likely to be arrested in the future, and six times more likely to commit suicide. And one more startling statistic: Of women who reported being raped and/or physically assaulted since the age of 18, three quarters (76 percent) were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabitating partner, date or boyfriend.

Start seeing murder cycles.

Hebrews 11:1

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."

Stopped and Dropped

When most men kill their wives, they launch an attack and quickly finish the job. They don't leave her to bleed to death for half an hour. Not only is it brutal to stand around while she moans and drains, coming in and out of consciousness -- it's stupid and dangerous since someone may come to her aid and then she'd live to tell of her loving husband's evil flip flop.

The autopsy reveals that Michael Peterson, or whatever monster killed Kathleen on her back stairs that awful night, struck her repeatedly and precisely, but only at medium force -- and then they waited as her heart continued pumping out the blood. The weapon did minor damage -- only enough to lacerate the scalp, but not enough to crack Kathleen's skull.

It's as if the killer was using a velvet hammer that, after seven or eight blows, did exactly enough damage to stop her and drop her. Well, that sounds like a defensive technique -- not a murder -- and certainly not a careening fall onto hard wooden steps and an iron chairlift.

Similarly, Elizabeth Ratliff, it turns out, was not bludgeoned to death, but merely hit seven or eight times so that she would be disabled and left with non-fatal injuries that would bleed out.

I have no way of knowing what techniques Michael Peterson was taught officially or unofficially during his time in the service, but the autopsy on both Kathleen Peterson and Elizabeth Ratliff reveal a quick and dirty pattern of homicide that would only be useful in a battle situation, where the victim is stopped and dropped and left to die on their own.

Defensive Wounds

The defense is never required to present a theory of the alleged crime or supply the jury with proof of an alternate scenario to the State's version of events. Anything said in defense -- other than the requisite objections for the appellate court record -- are denials, and to deny nonsense only legitimizes it.

So when you see a good legal defense team offering up clever, alternative theories -- you know there's a bucket load of bad facts.

When David Rudolf stands before the jurors and insists that the victim tripped going UP the stairs and tumbled BACKWARD DOWN, you know his experts told him the victim's wounds were too severe for a typical slip. When a smart defense attorney, at the top of the trial, tries to convince twelve grown adults that Kathleen Peterson recovered from her horrific fall only to start back up the stairs and fall a second time -- it signals that the evidence against his client is devastating.

The best defense is living well. Why contribute your own convoluted theories to disprove the State's convoluted theories, when a wink and a nod would suffice? If the D.A.'s office is maliciously prosecuting an innocent citizen, trumping up fake testimony from phony experts, and misusing the power of the state to unfairly railroad a man into prison -- the jury will see right through it.

Based on the facts of this case, David Rudolf could win the trial without calling a single witness -- then during a brief closing statement, remind jurors that Michael Peterson's lavish home was broken into on various occasions prior to Kathleen's murder and that while it may be strange that Michael heard and saw nothing, he was simply not in the house at the time.

After mentioning that his client is presumed innocent, and that no witness has testified that Peterson was anything but a loving father and husband -- Rudolf could calmly submit to the jury that obviously poor Kathleen was yet another victim of a senseless, random killing -- one of hundreds that unfortunately occur every year in North Carolina. He could -- except...

Michael Peterson insists his wife had an accident...

So Mr. Rudolf is forced to face the jury and tell them Kathleen did a backward flip, landing with a bounce down the steps, stood up and then did a repeat, double back-flop followed by 45 minutes of silent misery as she bled out.

"What does Mr. Peterson say when the EMS folks get there? He says -- after they try to question him, he doesn't give an answer or any information because he's so distraught -- but he does say, 'I went out to turn off the pool lights -- I came back and there she was.' That's all he said."

-- Jim Hardin's opening

A Damning Opening Paige

In this novelist's murder trial (which isn't very novel), the defendant's storyline is painfully weak right from the opening page. A 17-year veteran of Durham's emergency response team, paramedic Ron Paige told twelve jurors a compelling tale of arriving at the corner of Cedar and Sycamore at three in the morning to find Michael Peterson covered in blood and crouching oddly over his wife's motionless body.

Mr. Peterson wasn't hugging his wife or administering aid -- he was just posed near her bloodied body at the bottom of a deep flight of stairs.

Although a professional wordsmith, Mr. Peterson was unable to answer Mr. Paige's main question: "What happened?" Apparently overcome with grief -- the hysterical husband, simply could not find the words to respond to the First Responder. "Mr. Peterson was standing over his wife crying ... I don't know if he was trying to help her or what," Paige said, and then offered the jury another curious detail: "He was covered in blood ... From what I could see the blood appeared to be dried."

It soon became obvious to Ron Paige and his partner, James Rose, that something was terribly wrong with this gruesome opening scene. Not only were Michael and Kathleen Peterson covered in blood -- everything was covered in blood -- blood smears and blood splatters all over the floor and walls. "It was very unusual for us to see that amount of blood for a fall," Mr. Rose testified.

When something strikes a paramedic as "unusual" -- it is unusual indeed, and yet, the creative writer could think of nothing to say that could explain the shocking scenario to the medics. "He didn't say anything," Paige testified -- and that's most peculiar for a man who has done little else in his life but tell stories.


Inspired by one woman's visit to Kathleen Peterson's grave.

the giving tree
still sings of comfort
and deliverance;
A giggling wind, despite
old sorrows,
forever celebrates
new joys,
and eternal life.


Murder Time Line

Filthy, Dirty E-mails

A Killer Chronology