Crime novelist Simon Toyne investigates some of the darkest real-life crime stories which have inspired pieces of crime fiction.
Runtime: 60 minutes
Written in Blood - Michael Peterson (criminal) - Netflix
Michael Iver Peterson (born October 23, 1943) is an American novelist who was convicted in 2003 of murdering his second wife, Kathleen Peterson. On December 9, 2011, Peterson was granted a new trial which was scheduled to begin on May 8, 2017. On February 24, 2017, Peterson submitted an Alford plea to the reduced charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to time already served and freed. Peterson's case is the subject of the documentary miniseries The Staircase, which started filming soon after his arrest in 2001 and followed events until his eventual Alford plea in 2017.
Written in Blood - Owl theory - Netflix
In late 2009, a new theory of Kathleen Peterson's death was raised: that she had been attacked by an owl outside, fallen after rushing inside, and been knocked unconscious after hitting her head on the first tread of the stairs. The owl theory was raised by Durham attorney T. Lawrence Pollard, a neighbor of the Petersons who was not involved in the case, but had been following the public details. He approached the police suggesting an owl might have been responsible after reading the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) evidence list and finding a “feather” listed. Peterson's attorneys had determined that the SBI crime lab report listed a microscopic owl feather and a wooden sliver from a tree limb entangled in a clump of hair that had been pulled out by the roots found clutched in Kathleen's left hand. A re-examination of the hair in September 2008 had found two more microscopic owl feathers. Although Pollard did not speak of the theory to anyone else, the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper published an article ridiculing him, and discrediting his theory. Other media picked it up, propagating the Herald-Sun story, which was later criticized as inaccurate. Advocates of this theory assert that other evidence supports it, namely: the scalp wounds were tri-lobed and paired, consistent with marks left by talons, the feathers are similar to those on owl feet, cedar needles were found on her hands and body indicating Kathleen had fallen over outside shortly before entering the house, that her blood had spattered up the staircase rather than down, that her footprints in her own blood indicated that she was already bleeding before she reached the foot of the stairs, and that two drops of her blood were found outside the house on the front walkway along with a finger smear on the front door consistent with her pushing the door shut. Advocates also note that owl attacks on people are common in the area, with one victim stating that the impact was similar to being hit in the head with a baseball bat. According to Pollard, had a jury been presented with this evidence it would have “materially affected their deliberation and therefore would have materially affected their ultimate verdict”. Prosecutors have ridiculed the claim, and Dr. Deborah Radisch, who conducted Kathleen Peterson's autopsy, says it is unlikely that an owl or any other bird could have made wounds as deep as those on her scalp. However, Dr. Radisch's opinion was challenged by other experts in three separate affidavits filed in 2010. Dr. Alan van Norman wrote: “The multiple wounds present suggest to me that an owl and Ms. Peterson somehow became entangled. Perhaps the owl got tangled in her hair or perhaps she grabbed the owl's foot.” Dr. Patrick T. Redig, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota wrote: “In my professional opinion, the hypothesized attack to the face and back of the head resulting in the various punctures and lacerations visible in the autopsy photographs is entirely within the behavioral repertoire of large owls.” Kate P. Davis, executive director of Raptors of the Rockies, a western Montana education and wildlife rehabilitation project, wrote: The lacerations on Mrs. Peterson's scalp look very much like those made by a raptor's talons, especially if she had forcibly torn the bird from the back of her head. That would explain the feathers found in her hand and the many hairs pulled out by the root ball, broken or cut. The size and configuration of the lacerations could certainly indicate the feet of a Barred Owl. Davis further noted that owls can kill species much larger than themselves and that it is not uncommon for them to attack people. Despite interest in this theory among some outside advocates, no motion for a new trial was filed on this point in 2009.
Written in Blood - References - Netflix