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What Really Happened To Michael Peterson's First Wife

What Really Happened To Michael Peterson's First Wife

Michael was married before Kathleen.

Ever since the new true crime series The Staircase dropped on Sky Atlantic and HBO, viewers have been talking non-stop about the real life case of Michael Peterson and his wife Kathleen.

The eight-part series tells the story of Michael (played by Colin Firth), a crime novelist who was convicted of murdering Kathleen (Toni Collette) after she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their family home in 2001.

Throughout his murder trial, Michael's number one supporter was his first wife Patty, who maintained his innocence throughout. But who was Patty?

Patricia Sue Peterson married Michael Peterson when she was just 23 years old.

After he served in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam, Michael moved with Patty to Durham, North Carolina, where she got her master's degree, and they welcomed their sons Clayton and Todd.

A little while later, the Peterson family moved to Germany when Patty got a job for the US Department of Defence.

During their time in Germany, Patricia and Michael were linked to another staircase-related death.

In 1985, Elizabeth Ratliff, a friend of Patricia's, was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home. She was last seen alive by Michael, who had brought her home just before the incident.

Patricia (right) appeared in the original The Staircase documentary.

While it was ruled as an accident at the time - with German authorities suggesting Elizabeth had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage before falling down the stairs - authorities investigating Kathleen's murder had Ms Ratliff's body exhumed and examined, arguing that she was murdered, according to the The Charlotte News & Observer.

Following Ratliff’s death, Michael and Patricia became the legal guardians of her daughters Martha and Margaret.

Eventually Michael and Patty separated in the mid 1980s and later divorced.

Despite the breakdown of their marriage, Patty was firmly by Michael's side throughout his trial for Kathleen's murder, and even loaned him money to cover legal bills.

Kathleen Peterson was found dead in her home.

Much like Michael's children, Patty was convinced that he had no involvement in Kathleen's death.

Speaking to The Charlotte News & Observer back in 2014, she insisted: “He is innocent of any involvement in Kathleen’s death... I’ve always believed he did not do this, and I always will.”

The former couple's first son Clayton later told the publication that Patty and Michael lived together for the last few years of her life, before she died of a heart attack in July 2021 at age 78.

He recalled: They were companions. They took care of each other".

Michael was convicted of Kathleen's murder.

As detailed in the Sky series, Michael Peterson claimed that on the night of Kathleen's death, the couple had enjoyed drinks by their pool after dinner.

Kathleen went inside first and he followed after some time had passed and found her lying by the foot of the staircase covered in blood.

Despite his first wife's argument, Peterson was eventually convicted of murdering Kathleen.

In 2017, after a decade behind bars, Peterson entered an Alford Plea and his life in prison sentence was overturned to time served. An Alford Plea is when someone admits technical guilt while maintaining innocence in exchange for freedom.

The Staircase is available to stream on Sky Atlantic in the UK and HBO Max in the US now.

Featured Image Credit: Netflix/Sky

Topics: TV And Film, Sky, True Crime