‘The Staircase’ is the latest true crime obsession to hit Netflix. The series revolves around Michael Peterson, a novelist accused of murdering his wife. Did he do it? Here’s what you need to know about Michael and the case.
1. Michael was convicted of killing his second wife, Kathleen. Kathleen was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her and Michael’s mansion in Durham, North Carolina, on Dec. 9, 2001. Michael immediately became the prime suspect, since he was the last person to see her alive. Michael was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2003. He served 8 years in jail before he was granted a new trial. He was released for 6 years on house arrest. In Feb. 2017, Michael pleaded guilty to manslaughter using an Alford plea, which meant that he still proclaims his innocence but recognizes that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove he’s guilty. He was sentenced to time served and freed.
2. The circumstances surrounding Kathleen’s death have been debated for years. Michael maintains that Kathleen fell to her death down the stairs, while the prosecution believes Michael killed her. Upon looking at Kathleen’s body at the bottom of the staircase, police immediately questioned the cause of her death, especially because of the lacerations on Kathleen’s head. “I squatted in the stairwell and looked up the stairs, trying to visualize every possible scenario how this woman could have come down those stairs, landed in the position where she landed, and where did all that blood come from,” witness Fran Borden testified during the 2003 trial, according to CNN. There’s one wild theory about Kathleen’s death. Attorney T. Lawrence Pollard suggested that an owl caused Kathleen to fall down the stairs because of a feather found in a clump of Kathleen’s hair that she was clutching when her body was found. The theory states that an owl, possibly a Barred Owl, attacked Kathleen, got entangled in her hair and caused her to fall to her death.
3. Another woman connected to Michael died after a fall down a staircase. While Michael and his first wife were living in Germany in 1985, a family friend named Elizabeth Ratliff also died on a staircase. Michael eventually adopted Elizabeth’s kids, Margaret and Martha.
4. Michael is a famous novelist. He wrote three novels over the course of his writing career — The Immortal Dragon, A Time of War, and A Bitter Peace. He also co-wrote the biographical book Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company with journalist David Perlmutt and Operation Broken Reed with Lt. Col. Arthur L. Boyd.
5. Michael is bisexual. That’s one of the many things revealed in The Staircase. On an episode of the series, Michael admits when he realized he was bisexual: “It was part of who… who I was trying not to reveal. Well, you get to a certain points… and let’s be honest here. It was the shortstop on my baseball team… I was really confused. What’s this all about? I had never before that time ever had… male thoughts, and then suddenly, he was there. In that fantasy. And I was very confused by that, but it didn’t go away from my fantasies. And I realized at that time, I felt a great attraction for females, but for guys also.”