How Many Stairs?

Home | E-Mail | Comments


de Lestrade's

Michael Peterson
Murder Trial

Michael Peterson


No Accident

State's Evidence

A Very
Unusual Fall

Mystery Murder

How Many Stairs?


Red Neurons

Too Much Blood

Financial Fire


Total Denial

The 1985
Elizabeth Ratliff

How Many

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Judge and Jury

North Carolina

Reports & Files

Photo Gallery

Message Board


the Website



BBC Storyville

CBC Newsworld


Than Fiction:
Trial Commentary

Peterson Case


"Michael said 'I came up the stairs -- I think -- to get towels.' And then he looks back down and said 'she fell down the whole staircase.'"
-- Candace Zamperini

"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

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade says Kathleen Peterson's death on the staircase is a mystery, yet the autopsy supplies solid proof of murder.

Nobody involved with Michael's trial believes the novelist's staircase story, not even his defense lawyer and his well-paid expert witnesses. Why Jean-Xavier would still buy into it is the only "staircase" mystery left.

In order to hold on to Michael's fiction about an accidental fall down the stairs, Jean-Xavier would have to believe that -- according to Michael's own defense team -- Kathleen Peterson repeatedly fell UP the same one or two steps, sometimes tripping forward, sometimes slipping backward. Jean-Xavier would also have to accept as true that all of this mad tumbling happened in a matter of moments, since Michael told paramedics he had only briefly been separated from his wife prior to her "accident."

"I went out to turn off the pool lights," Michael reported, "I came back and there she was."

The EMT unit arrived on the scene less than ten minutes after Peterson had dialed 9-1-1 emergency and told the operator, "My wife had an accident. She fell down the stairs!"

Asked specifically how many steps his wife had fallen down, Michael answers,
"Oh, 15 or 20, I don't know."

Along with the alcohol and the killer sandals, Peterson indicated his wife had flip-flopped forward down the entire staircase, and that she died about ten minutes after careening to the bottom. That was the story he first told authorities, and that was the story newspapers initially reported to the public.

December 12, 2001
The News & Observer
By Aisling Swift, staff writer

Police were called to Peterson's Forest Hills estate at 2:43 a.m. Monday by her husband, who frantically reported that she'd fallen down 15 or 20 steps and was still breathing.

Kathleen Peterson, 48, who was director of information services at Nortel Networks and was active in a number of Durham arts organizations, died minutes later.

Before disconnecting from the 9-1-1 operator, Peterson volunteered that his wife was "still breathing." A minute later he called back to report, "She's NOT breathing."

He wanted authorities to think Kathleen Peterson had died at that moment, but paramedics said Mrs. Peterson was "very dead" when they got to her. They immediately knew she hadn't been breathing for quite some time.

Years after the crime, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade maintains it's all a mystery. He's quite alone in his assessment. Paramedics saw nothing mysterious about the sight of a dead woman surrounded by enormous amounts of dried blood. Not even Michael saw a mystery that night. He immediately determined his wife had accidentally fallen down the staircase.

It's possible Durham's EMT workers are all close-minded, intolerant people as Lestrade has claimed, but the paramedics -- like the police officers, doctors and scientists that followed them into the case -- had nothing to do with the violent horror of Kathleen Peterson's death.

Peterson's 9-1-1 Call