Michael Peterson Trial




Prosecutor Jim Hardin said in his opening statement that the Michael Peterson case is about "pretense and appearances." Hardin contended, "It's about things not being as they seem. You'll see the appearance of a storybook marriage ... From all the appearances, this was a perfect family. But as the old saying goes, appearances can be very deceiving."

In the defense's opening argument, attorney David Rudolf countered, saying friends described how Peterson would gaze at his wife. "Everywhere they went, people noticed Michael looking at Kathleen with the kind of pride that you just don't fake, with the kind of love that you just don't fake." Finally, Rudolf asked: "If the prosecution is correct, how do we go from soul mate and lover to cold-blooded killer?"

It's a good question, and the answer is contained in a bizarre story of greed, deception and murder, that is far stranger than fiction.

Pretense and

Kathleen Hunt-Atwater wed Michael Peterson in 1997

Text of Jim Hardin's opening statement

"All happy families resemble one another;
but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

-- Tolstoy

Accident or Murder?

Durham Police Investigate Death
of Former Mayoral Candidate's Wife

December 11, 2001 - WRAL.com

KATHLEEN PETERSON, (born Kathleen Hunt) wife of Michael Peterson, was found dead early Sunday morning (December 9, 2001) at the base of a staircase in their Forest Hills home. Police said Peterson told 911 operators his wife had been injured in a fall.

Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson

When rescue workers arrived at the home, Peterson's wife was lying dead on the floor.

A search of the property continued through Monday evening and details about what happened remain sketchy. Police will not say what kind of injuries Kathleen suffered. Her body was sent to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for an autopsy.

Durham police said that they would have a better idea of what happened if they could talk with Mike Peterson.

"We have not been able to interview Mr. Peterson. He has chosen not to answer any of our questions," said Lt. Ed Sarvis.

Police call the case suspicious and said that they will not rule it a homicide until they receive preliminary autopsy results.

Charlotte Observer

Fairy-tale descriptions abound. Michael and Kathleen Peterson's 14-room mansion in fashionable Forest Hills "sprawled." Neighbors called the two-parent, five-kid household "close-knit." Kathleen, "the Martha Stewart of Durham," was Michael's "soul mate," "they finished each other's sentences," on and on.

Peterson, a best-selling war novelist and former Durham * knuckle-rapping columnist, is either innocent, as he insists. Or he's guilty, and this is the weirdest love relationship on the books.

There are many reasons to believe Peterson is innocent. There seem to be no motive, no weapon, no witness.

"We saw the relationship between Michael and Kathleen as idyllic. We saw how they interacted; even when they disagreed, they laughed about it. We never saw the ugliness that one often sees in couples. Kathleen was full of energy and was very bright and was the perfect foil for Michael. They were a couple who would finish each other's sentences. In many ways Kathleen completed Michael and it is hard to imagine Michael going on without Kathleen. It is impossible to believe that Michael Peterson would commit the crime with which he is charged."
-- Bob Cappalletti

"I have no doubt that Michael and Kathleen had what I consider an ideal relationship. Just a few weeks before Kathleen's death we had lunch and both agreed that our husbands were perfect for each of us."
-- Mary P. Clayton

1810 Cedar St, Forest Hills


"The first sign that things were not as they appeared at the Peterson house was with the 9-1-1 call that he makes on December the 9th, 2001 at 2:40 in the morning. With that phone call he gambles a lot. With that phone call he gambles that the police are as dumb as he thinks they are. With that phone call he gambles that the police would see Kathleen's death as he wanted it to appear and as he wanted them to believe it to be."
-- Jim Hardin's opening

"When I called 9-1-1, I thought she'd fallen down the stairs. As far as I know, that's what happened."
-- Mike Peterson

December 9, 2001 -- 2:40 AM
Mary Allen -- operator

911: Durham 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?

PETERSON: 1810 Cedar Street. Please!

911: What's wrong?

PETERSON: My wife had an accident. She's still breathing!

911: What kind of accident?

PETERSON: She fell down the stairs. She's still breathing! Please come!

911: Is she conscious?


911: Is she conscious?

PETERSON: No, she's not conscious. Please!

911: How many stairs did she fall down?

PETERSON: What? Huh???

911: How many stairs did --

PETERSON: …Stairs!…

911: How many stairs?

PETERSON: … oh… ah… ah…

911: Calm down, sir. Calm down.

PETERSON: Oh 15, 20. I don't know. Please! Get somebody here, right away. Please!

911: Okay somebody's dispatching the ambulance while I'm asking you questions.

PETERSON: It's off of a… It's in Forest Hills! Okay? Please! Please!

911: Okay sir? Somebody else is dispatching the ambulance. Is she awake now?

PETERSON: … ah… ah…

911: Hello? …Hello?

PETERSON: … ah… ah… mmmm… aaaah… oh… aaaah...
(dial tone)

2:46 AM
Tonya Pierce -- operator

911: Durham 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?

PETERSON: Where are they?! This is 1810 Cedar -- wh --. She's not breathing! Please! Please would you hurry up!

911: Sir?

PETERSON: Can you hear me?

911: Sir? Sir, calm down. They're on their way. Can you tell me for sure she's not breathing? Sir...?
(dial tone) Hello…? Hello…?


What's Missing?

At no time, in either of his 9-1-1 calls, did Michael Peterson mention blood, or say his wife was bleeding.

Charlotte Observer,
Wed, Jul. 02, 2003

Jay Cohen

Michael Peterson, a novelist and former newspaper columnist, is accused of first-degree murder in the death of his wife Kathleen, a telecommunications executive.

He could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

In the defense's opening statement Tuesday, Rudolf said police used tunnel vision with Peterson because he had written several negative columns about the police. . .

"The chance of a criminal getting caught,
is only slightly better than getting hit by lightning."
-- Michael Peterson, July,1999

"The DA and cops can't do anything about those crimes. 
They can't catch any real criminals in City Hall,
so they go after underage voters and bingo players."
-- Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson

"Jim Hardin and his office indicted Michael Peterson in 11 days. If anyone is in a rush here it's the DA's office. Michael Peterson has this hanging over his head and we'd like to do everything we can to make it a speedy trial and resolve all this."
-- David Rudolf

"The truth is Kathleen Peterson, after drinking some wine and some champagne and taking some valium, tried to walk up a narrow, poorly lit stairway in flip-flops. She fell and bled to death."
-- David Rudolf

State records show that a death from a fall in a stairwell is extremely rare and usually comes from a broken neck or intercranial bleeding. In more than 25 years, there is no report in North Carolina of a fall down stairs causing scalp lacerations that led to a fatal loss of blood.

Caitlin Atwater
born April 27, 1982 in Maryland

"I'm what's left of her so people are dependent on me."
-- Caitlin Atwater

"My mother wasn't the person I knew she was. You don't end up dead at the bottom of the staircase if your life was really what everyone thought it was."
-- Caitlin Atwater

"The law suit speaks for itself."
-- Caitlin Atwater

Caitlin Atwater

"She has been poisoned ... by a one-sided presentation of selective facts by police and prosecutors. If she was interested in the truth, she would have waited until all the facts come out at trial before making her mind up about what happened to our mother. Her failure to do so, and her transparent attempt to prejudice our father's trial, is inexcusable."
-- Todd Peterson

"I’m just filled with this emptiness really. I couldn't have gotten through it without the kids."
-- Michael Peterson

Hizzoner's Offspring

born March 14, 1976 in Germany

"If you want my opinion, they were probably shit-faced and she fell."

-- Todd Peterson, December 9, 2001

"I don't know a single person more likely to die in this manner. I don't know a single person more likely to die, falling down a set of stairs, drunk -- than Kathleen. I hate to say it. I hate to tarnish her memory like that, but there's not a single one of her children that would not tell you the same thing."

-- Todd Peterson, editor of futazi.com

PARAMEDIC PAIGE: Like I said, I heard him say you know, "Dad, step aside, move, the paramedics are here" -- something like that I guess.

MAHER: And, uh, but what he said in your report, I think was step aside -- "mom" is dead.

PAIGE: Yeah, something like that's what I remember.

MAHER: He referred to her as "mom" -- didn't he?

PAIGE: I think so, yes -- and I wrote that in my report, that's probably what I heard that night.

RUBIN: And at that point you all hadn't attempted any CPR, had you?

MAHER: No, we hadn't. At the time he said it -- I hadn't -- I hadn't even made patient contact when he made that statement.


born December 13, 1974 in Germany

Clayton Bombs Out at School

In April of 1994, Clayton Peterson broke into Duke University's main administration building and planted a 2-inch pipe bomb in a bottle of gasoline, along with a threatening note.

The bomb was set to explode in the registrar's office but never went off. Nonetheless, Clayton stole University photo I.D. equipment and blank student ID cards.

Needless to say, the writing on Clayton's note was vintage Peterson. It was filled with complaints about University policies -- particularly Duke's rules about drinking.

Although Michael Peterson tried to pass the incident off as a childish prank, his son was facing a maximum of 30 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

News & Observer
January 28, 2002

At age 19, his Clayton Peterson was in the newspapers and on television when he was arrested for planting a small bomb in a Duke University office. He said it was a hoax, but he was sent to prison for four years.

After his release, Clayton enrolled at N.C. State University, where he became an honors student and was valedictorian of his class last year. Now, at age 27, Clayton is a post-graduate student there in computer engineering.

Yet Clayton has continued to struggle with alcohol.

Last year he sought counseling after he shoved his longtime girlfriend and she pressed an assault charge, for which he will not be prosecuted. He is receiving counseling.

August 5, 1994

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Glaser said Clayton Peterson, was "dangerous" and "out of control," and that he blew up a telephone booth in Germany and had 6 pipebombs in his house.

Clayton was convicted in 1993 for drunken driving and resisting arrest when, after being handcuffed, he tried to escape. Later that same year, Clayton was arrested for speeding and driving while impaired.

Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Jaime Colley testified that 2 of the 6 bombs were rigged to arrows for use with a crossbow.

Clayton Peterson also attempted to send stolen chemicals but the package was discovered because it was leaking acid and injured postal workers.

George and Elizabeth Ratliff's daughters

"My dad was awesome, he really was. He's been the only constant in their life."
-- Todd Peterson

born December 10, 1981 in Germany

born January 3, 1983 in Germany

"We just looked at Dad and said 'we know you didn't do it.' He said, 'of course I didn't do it,' and I have never had a doubt. They just loved each other so much."
-- Margaret Ratliff

Jordon High School newspaper
September, 1999

The political cartoon in the August 31 issue of the Herald-Sun made fun of mayoral candidate Mike Peterson and likened him to a clown. But neither Margaret nor Martha Ratliff was laughing. "It ruined my morning," said Margaret Ratliff, a senior. "It's hitting me now that my dad is sort of in the spotlight." Peterson, Margaret and Martha's father, is just one of three candidates in next Tuesday's mayoral primary election who has children who attend Jordan.

"I know Dad is innocent. He didn't kill either one of my mothers. It's just ridiculous. "
-- Margaret Ratliff

from Margaret and Martha Ratliff's letter to Jim Hardin

"We are horrified by your choice of action and utter disregard for the deceased. We want to convey our feelings of distress in this matter. We merely ask for your respect .... However, seeing that you have no compassion for the memory of our mother, we reluctantly agree to consent in regards to your request to exhume our mother's body. The pain and anguish that you are causing our father and us is beyond comprehension, because even you know it is a futile cause .... Even so, you may proceed in the desecration of our mother's grave."

"How will you be able to sleep at night knowing that you are the cause of our family's grief and pain ...?"

"We only hope that you treat our mother's remains with more respect than you have for her memory."

"I know my father. I know he is innocent in both cases. Obviously, I wasn't in Durham at the time, but I've lived with my father all my life. There's no motive. There's no weapon. They don't have anything."
-- Margaret Ratliff


In June of 2003, Margaret Ratliff sent a letter to Jim Hardin demanding the D.A.'s office pay an overdue BlockBuster Video bill for a rented copy of "America's Sweethearts." Lead investigator, Art Holland was trying to find out if Ratliff, who was raised by Peterson, was his biological daughter, so he sent the letter to LABCORP to check Margaret Ratliff's DNA. Holland's written notes reveal: "Michael Peterson was excluded as being the biological father of Margaret Ratliff."

It remains unclear whether the BlockBuster bill was ever paid, who paid it or exactly how large the bill was. The movie was rented on December 9, 2001.

A nationwide study conducted at John Hopkins University's School of Nursing found that the most common relationship factors that independently increase the risk of a woman being murdered include -- a home with a stepchild of the abuser, an abuser's highly controlling behavior, and a woman separating from the abuser.

"Kathleen was my life. I've whispered her name in my heart a thousand times. She is there.  And I can't stop crying. ...I would never have done anything to hurt her."

-- Michael Peterson


Colleen Corah Hitchcock

And if I go,
while you're still here...
Know that I live on,
vibrating to a different measure
--behind a thin veil you cannot see through.
You will not see me,
so you must have faith.
I wait for the time when we can soar together again,
--both aware of each other.
Until then, live your life to its fullest.
And when you need me,
Just whisper my name in your heart,
...I will be there.

Ascension poem used with
the author's gracious permission:
@1987 Colleen Corah Hitchcock

P. O. Box 390082, Edina, MN 55439

At times, prosecutor Jim Hardin speaks so softly, he can barely be heard. He's not a small or timid man, so his consistently delicate, hushed tone is a fascinating contrast. It's as though he's following the advice of the Colleen Corah Hitchcock poem, ASCENSION:

"Just whisper my name in your heart,
...I will be there."

Peterson speaks
Peterson's March 18, 2002 televised,
"Trenchcoat and Pipe" interview --


In 1993, mayor wannabe Mike Peterson was charged with DWI. His mayoral hopes were dashed when he was forced to admit that he had lied about earning two Purple Hearts. He admitted his war injuries were not from the Viet nam war but from a vehicle accident that happened in Japan.

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

Durham Police Officer A.D. McCallop testified that he guarded Michael Peterson and son Todd in the den for 15 to 20 minutes between 4:15 and 5 a.m. on Dec. 9. Todd apparently refused to cooperate with police and would not follow orders.

McCallop said Peterson went to his computer, mumbled something about his wife's email and began "surfing the Internet, checking e-mail or something."

"The court does agree with the state, Mr. Saacks, that evidence of Mrs. Ratliff's death is admissible."

Peterson shook his head, exchanged looks with attorney Rudolf and exhaled loudly.


Elizabeth McKee Ratliff  /  Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson

Reared with two sisters on a farm in Rhode Island, Elizabeth McKee was a serious, artistic child. She sang and played an acoustic guitar, and spoke French and German during her 17 years teaching the children of military families.

In Graefenhausen, Germany, she and Mike Peterson's first wife, Patricia, became close friends and taught elementary school at Rhein-Main Air Force Base. The Petersons had moved there in the early 1970s, after Mike Peterson left the Marine Corps and began writing novels about his experiences in Vietnam.

Capt. George Ratliff, an Air Force navigator, married McKee in 1981. Their daughter Margaret was born that same year, and two years later, their second daughter, Martha, was born.

George Ratliff died under mysterious and unknown circumstances in 1983.

Mrs. Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson, was born February 21, 1953, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and died of a tragic accident in her beloved home in Durham, North Carolina, Sunday, December 9, 2001.

Kathleen was always an accomplished student, engineer, volunteer and leader. She spent her school years in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she was voted "Girl of The Year" and "Lancaster Lass" in the early 60s. During her high school years, at Lancaster McCaskey High School, she was President of the Debating Club, Editor of the "Gen- eration" school magazine, and was selected as the first high school student allowed to take advanced Latin classes at Franklin and Marshall College.

Kathleen graduated from McCaskey as the number one student in her class of 473 students. She was selected to be published in the Who's Who Book of American High School Students.

Kathleen's scholastic achievements excelled at Duke University where she was selected as the first female student accepted into the school of engineering in 1971. She received a BS in Civil engineering and a Masters in Mechanical engineering from Duke.

Her career was exceptionally successful. She achieved executive level positions at Baltimore Air-Coil-Pritchard, Merck and finally Nortel. Kathleen received countless awards for her leadership skills and successes from Nortel Networks. In her work she traveled extensively to Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Malaysia, Europe, Hong Kong, and Canada.

Kathleen was a prominent and active citizen in Durham.

She served on the Board of the Durham Arts Council, opened her home frequently to help the American Dance Festival and the Carolina Ballet. She gave willingly of her time and creative talents in cooking, decorating, and entertaining to her community and neighbors.

Kathleen's greatest accomplishment and pride was in the wonderful family that she raised. She is survived by her best friend and husband, Michael Iver Peterson; sons, Todd and Clayton Peterson; and daughters, Caitlin Atwater, Martha and Margaret Ratliff. She is also survived by her mother, Veronica Hunt, of Florida; sisters, Candace Zamperini and Lori Campell, of Virginia; and her brother, Steven Hunt, of Tennessee.

A funeral service will be held 11:00 a.m. Thursday, December 13, 2001, at Duke University Chapel. The Rev. Joseph Harvard will officiate. A private interment at Maplewood Cemetery will follow the service - immediate family only. A viewing will take place Wednesday, December 12, 2001.

"We are horrified to see again how much my sister suffered."
-- Candace Zamperini


48-years old
5' 2"
120 pounds

Found dead at the bottom of a staircase on December 9, 2001.

Peterson staircase

The number, severity, locations and orientation of these injuries are inconsistent with a fall down the stairs; instead they are indicative of multiple impacts received as a result of beating.


Blunt force trauma of the head

Multiple (at least 7) deep, complex lacerations and avulsions to the posterior scalp

Multiple contusions consistent with lacerations

Multiple small abrasions and contusions on the face

Early acute ischemic neuronal necrosis

No abnormalities of the brain


One fracture with associated hemorrhage of the left superior cornu of the thyroid cartilage in the neck

No other neck fractures.


No long bone or rib fractures


Contusions of back, posterior arms, wrists and hands

Hair in left hand -- hair in right hand


43-years old
5' 6"
115 pounds

Found dead at the bottom of a staircase on November 25, 1985.

Ratliff staircase


Blunt force trauma of the head

Seven distinct lacerations:

Laceration, top of head

Laceration, left forehead

Laceration, left side of head

Four lacerations on the back of head

Subgaleal hemorrhage

Linear fracture left base of skull

Contusion, left eye lid

Shallow short laceration lateral left eyebrow

Contusions, right inner upper and lower lips


Contusions, posterior left hand and posterior left forearm

Linear abrasion skin of posterior chest (back)

Elizabeth Ratliff Autopsy

"Michael Peterson wouldn't need a lawyer if it was truly an accident. But he certainly needed a lawyer if it was a homicide."
-- Freda Black

Do I need a lawyer?

Durham police Sgt. Terry Wilkins' report says that Michael Peterson was wearing a blue shirt and light-colored shorts and was covered in blood when Wilkins saw him. Wilkins noted, "Mr. Peterson appeared to be confused and was walking in small circles, and back and forth." According to the report, when witnesses were being separated, Peterson said, "What is this? Do I need a lawyer?"

February 22, 2002
Defense Letter
Dear Ms. Zamperini:

There are two separate questions that need to be addressed in this case. The first is "what happened?" Was there an accident, or was there a homicide? The answer to that question I cannot address until my experts have a chance to look at the reports of the state's experts. Even if we assume that the conclusion that Kathleen was beaten is correct, however, that only gets us to the second question: "who did this?" That question I can address. Michael is innocent of these charges. If Kathleen was beaten, it was certainly not by Michael. He loved and continues to love Kathleen.

"What we are contending is that she fell backward on a step at the lower portion of the stairwell and split her scalp open. She tried to get up, slipped on the bloody floor, hit her head again and died of blood loss."
-- David Rudolf

"I know my client is innocent. My client has discussed this with me at length."
-- David Rudolf

"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

A Time of War

From Peterson's biography...

"The United States had begun sending ground troops to Vietnam the previous year. Peterson's firm sent him to Vietnam to conduct a study to determine whether two more mechanized divisions would win the war. He soon developed a deep cynicism about the war and its conduct. It was apparent he was expected to make convincing arguments to send the divisions in - whether the evidence truly supported the action or not."

"He also witnessed illegal currency dealings and realized the daily reports of young men his age being killed in action countered the stories being fed to the media for favorable play back home."

"Peterson then enlisted in the Marines."

"He received an honorable discharge with a permanent medical disability and retired with the rank of captain in 1971."

Peterson has said he won a Silver Star, a Bronze Star With Valor and two Purple Hearts. He has all the medals, but said he does not have the documentation for them.

The News & Observer reported that Michael Peterson admitted to his two Purple Heart lies. The fiction writer had claimed that on one occasion he was hit by shrapnel when another soldier stepped on a land mine, and on another he was shot. The N & O also said records did not contain any mention of two Purple Heart medals Peterson has said he received.

Peterson admitted his war injury was not the result of a shrapnel wound in Vietnam, but was the result of a vehicle accident in Japan, where he was stationed after the war as a military policeman.

Autopsy Report
Decedent: Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson

There is dried blood on the bottoms of the feet bilaterally with dried blood noted over the face. The nail beds are intact with crusted blood noted beneath them.

In this case, rare red neurons, consistent with acute ischemic neuronal necrosis, are present in cerebrum and cerebellum. These findings are consistent with the decedent having a significant episode of widespread brain ischemia
at least a few hours prior to death.

Neuropathologist, Dr. Thomas Bouldin told jurors one particular item stood out when he examined Kathleen Peterson.

"This brain had experienced a period of decreased blood flow approximately a few hours before death."

"Help Me"

In 1999, Peterson told a reporter that he and another man he referred to as "Sergeant Beverly" were driving around when a truck at a railroad crossing hit their jeep head on.

"So we were pinned in there and I was in the truck listening to Sergeant Beverly die, which took about 30 minutes, and he kept saying, 'Help me lieutenant, help me lieutenant,' but I couldn't help him."
-- Michael Peterson

How do we go from accident
to Murder One?

Chante Mallard

If It Walks Like a Mallard...

Chante Mallard, a 25-year-old from Fort Worth, TX, hit homeless man, Gregory Biggs with her Chevrolet while driving home from a party. She did not stop and get help. Chante Mallard drove home with Biggs hanging out of her front car window. Instead of then getting help, she left her car in the garage and waited for her victim to die. It was later reported that "Mallard apologized profusely to Biggs as he laid across the hood of her car with broken legs and severe internal injuries."

An examination of Kathleen Peterson's corpse suggested that she did not die swiftly, saying that some of her brain cells had been starved of oxygen for as long as "a few hours prior to death."

Assuming that Kathleen Peterson actually did have a horrible, accidental double backward flip off her back stairs, the question remains: Why did Michael Peterson wait to notify authorities?

Just as in the CHANTE MALLARD "windshield death" case, an accident is one thing, but waiting to get help while another human being bleeds to death -- is murder one.

June 28, 2003 -- (CNN)

Jurors Friday evening sentenced Chante Mallard to 50 years for the murder of a homeless man she hit with her car and then left to die embedded in the windshield.Mallard was sentenced to 10 years for tampering with evidence. Her sentences will be served concurrently. She was not fined for either conviction.

"She could have saved him," said Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Christy Jack. "Doesn't that speak volumes about her character? Doesn't that speak volumes about the atrocity of this crime?"

How do we go from soul mate and lover
to cold-blooded killer?




Durham defense Spin-Masters (and the people who love them), have taken to claiming that, Michael Peterson's 9-1-1 call may be dramatic, but no matter how a person behaves during a 9-1-1 call it will seem "phony" to suspicious listeners, and that there is no correct way to act in a life and death situation.

The argument has been heard repeatedly and goes something like this: "If the defendant is calm and collected, the prosecution will say he's too cold and must be lying. If the defendant is emotional, detractors will say he's faking it. You can't have it both ways!"

While it's true that each human being is unique -- in an emergency, we become amazingly the same. Faced with trouble, our gut instinct takes over and the choice is Fight or Flight. It's a hard-coded, chemical reaction.

A reasonable person can appreciate the different personalities and circumstances surrounding different situations and still perceive whether or not a 9-1-1 caller is exhibiting truthful behavior. Is he fighting or running away? If it's something in-between -- he's lying.

Michael Peterson is not Rabbi Fred Neulander or Dr. Dirk Greineder. The men are, of course, very different in very many ways, but there are similarities: All three in the mid-fifties with seemingly ideal marriages in up-scale neighborhoods -- and all three found themselves dialing 9-1-1 to report that they had suddenly come upon their spouse, lying unconscious in a pool of blood.

The tone and content of the 9-1-1 calls of Messrs. Peterson, Neulander and Greineder are also strikingly similar, and a brief review of the transcripts reveals the theme that runs through each call -- confusion.

When called upon, the Silver Starred Vietnam veteran and mayoral candidate, the gracious community leader and Rabbi, and the world renown physician -- all became quivering, shivering Jell-o molds -- barely able to think straight.

Well, you can't have it both ways.

Instead of acting to save their wives, they choose to act confused and hysterical, and are unwilling or unable to be of any real assistance. The image is not of the globe-trotting author of "A Time of War", the senior Rabbi or the professional medic -- the image is of Hattie McDaniel in the film, Gone With the Wind, yapping, "I don't know nothin' bout birthin' no babies!"

As the men are acting out their script, they're thrown off, confused and even angered by the operator's questions. They well know their big scene is being recorded and they are annoyed by interruptions. They plead and beg for help, but refuse to listen. You can't have it both ways -- it's fight or flight -- and though they demand answers, when directly asked questions, all three men switch impulses and begin to evade, elude and avoid.

November 1, 1994 --
Rabbi Neulander sounds anguished and distraught...


911: 9-1-1. State the emergency.
NEULANDER: I, I ah -- I just came home and my wife is on the floor and there's blood all over. I, I, I don't know what to do.
911: OK. Is there any weapon around her, sir?
NEULANDER: I can't. I don't know.
911: Does she appear to be breathing?
NEULANDER: No, no, there's blood all over.
911: OK, we'll send somebody down.
NEULANDER: No, wait a minute. I've got another problem. My son is an EMT. I can't, I just....
911: We'll send somebody down. Calm down sir.
NEULANDER: Wait a minute. Now, he's gonna hear. He's gonna hear this call, call. He's an assigned E.M.T.!
911: I have to send somebody down, sir.
NEULANDER: Ah, ah, oh, God.
911: Calm down. Hold on a second. OK. Sir? Where, where have you been?
911: Do you see any weapons around her, sir?
NEULANDER: No, I don't see anything. I don't see a thing.

October 31, 1999 --
Doctor Greineder sounds anguished and distraught...


911: Wellesley Police. This call's recorded.
GREINEDER: Help. I'm at the pond. I need some, someone attacked my wife, trying to get [inaudible].
911: Sir, where are you?
GREINEDER: I'm at, at the pond, at Morses Pond. Walking ...
911: At Morses Pond?
GREINEDER: Walking the dog, someone attacked, I left her cause she hurt her back.
911: OK. You just need to relax cause I can't understand what you're saying.
GREINEDER: Please, please, send a car.
911: OK, You're at Morses Pond.
GREINEDER: Pond, yeah.
911: Whereabouts at Morses Pond? Whereabouts at Morses Pond?
GREINEDER: I'm, I'm outside my, my car's outside by the gate.
911: OK. Hold on one second, OK?
GREINEDER: Please send someone.
911: Wellesley Control to fourteen zero five.
911: What, what happened?
GREINEDER: I, I, I, we were walking the dog. She hurt her back.
911: Is she injured?
GREINEDER: I think she's dead I'm not sure. I'm a doctor. I went back, I ...
911: Can you start over to Morses Pond ...
GREINEDER: She looks terrible. The dog heard something. She went back.

December 9, 2001 --
Michael Peterson sounds anguished and distraught...


911: Durham 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?
PETERSON: 1810 Cedar Street. Please!
911: What's wrong?
PETERSON: My wife had an accident. She's still breathing!
911: What kind of accident?
PETERSON: She fell down the stairs. She's still breathing! Please come!
911: Is she conscious?
911: Is she conscious?
PETERSON: No, she's not conscious. Please!
911: How many stairs did she fall down?
PETERSON: What? Huh???
911: How many stairs did --
PETERSON: …Stairs!…
911: How many stairs?
PETERSON: … oh… ah… ah…
911: Calm down, sir. Calm down.
PETERSON: Ah… ah… Oh 15, 20. I don't know. Please! Get somebody here, right away. Please!

Link to February 17, 1970,
a cold, rainy early morning at
544 Castle Drive, off base at Fort Bragg
-- the home of Jeffrey MacDonald.

Link to Oregon in December of 2000,
and the good-looking, clean-cut young man
experts in criminal psychology said "fits a profile
of one of the most imperceptible types of killers:
those who derive power from petty crime and
then, as the law and desperation close in,
graduate to murder" and for whom,
"shedding a family can be seen as a way to start over"
-- Christian Longo.

Ken Fitzhugh Link to the bottom of a blood spattered staircase
in a plush mansion on Escobita Avenue in Palo Alto,
2000, and an unlikely story of the death of the wife of
Kenneth Fitzhugh who told jurors, "...What I saw was
an accident. Even today, I don't have total acceptance.
It doesn't feel right. Homicides are not within my
realm of reality. Accidents are."

News & Observer
February, 2002

"I absolutely had nothing to do with Kathleen's death. I did absolutely nothing to harm my wife."

He pointed to a souvenir that they had acquired on a trip to Bangkok. He glanced toward a sofa on which he said that he, his wife and the family dogs once gathered to watch a favorite television program, "Law and Order."

Murder Time Line

Filthy, Dirty E-mails

A Killer Chronology