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Michael Peterson (criminal).

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[1] which was scheduled to begin on May 8, 2017.[2] On February 24, 2017, he submitted an “Alford” plea to the reduced charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to time already served, and freed. His case is the subject of the documentary miniseries The Staircase, which started filming soon after his arrest in 2001.


  • 1 Personal and professional life
  • 2 Murder trial
    • 2.1 Kathleen’s death
    • 2.2 Suspicion surrounding Elizabeth Ratliff’s death
    • 2.3 Verdict
    • 2.4 Appeal
    • 2.5 Owl theory
    • 2.6 Retrial hearing
    • 2.7 Plea
  • 3 Media
    • 3.1 Documentary series
    • 3.2 Television series and broadcasts
    • 3.3 Books
    • 3.4 Radio
  • 4 References
  • 5 Further reading
  • 6 External links

Personal and professional life[edit]

Michael “Mike” Peterson was born near Nashville, Tennessee, the son of Australian immigrants Eugen “Big Thunder From Down Under”[citation needed] Iver Peterson and Eleanor (Bartolino) Peterson. He graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. While there he was president of Sigma Nu fraternity and was editor of The Chronicle, the daily student newspaper, from 1964–1965.[3] He attended classes at the law school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After graduating, Peterson took a civilian job with the U.S. Department of Defense, where he was assigned to research arguments supporting increased military involvement in Vietnam. That year he also married Patricia Sue, who taught at an elementary school on the Rhein-Main Air Base in Grafenhausen, West Germany. They had two children, Clayton and Todd.

In 1968, Peterson joined the Marines and served in Vietnam. In 1971, he received an honorable discharge with the rank of captain after a car accident left him with a permanent disability. Years later, during a mayoral campaign, Peterson claimed he had won a Silver Star, a Bronze Star With Valor, and two Purple Hearts. He had all the medals, but said he did not have the documentation for them. He claimed he had received one Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel when another soldier stepped on a land mine, and the other when he was shot. Peterson later admitted his war injury was not the result of the 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.[4] The News & Observer said records did not contain any mention of the second Purple Heart that Peterson said he had received.

While living in Germany, Michael and Patricia befriended Elizabeth and George Ratliff and their two children, Margaret and Martha. After George’s death, the Peterson and Ratliff families became very close. When Elizabeth Ratliff died in 1985, Michael became the guardian of her two children. After Michael and Patricia divorced in 1987, Clayton and Todd lived with Patricia, and Margaret and Martha stayed with Michael, who then moved to Durham, North Carolina. Clayton and Todd later also joined their father.

Peterson wrote three novels based “around his experiences during the Vietnamese conflict”[3]—The Immortal Dragon, A Time of War, and A Bitter Peace. He co-wrote the biographical novel Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company with journalist David Perlmutt, and co-wrote Operation Broken Reed with Lt. Col. Arthur L. Boyd. He also worked as a newspaper columnist for the Durham Herald-Sun, where his columns became known for their criticism of police and Durham County District Attorney James Hardin Jr.

In 1989, Peterson moved in with Kathleen Atwater, a business executive. They married in 1997, and Kathleen’s daughter Caitlin joined the extended family that now consisted of Clayton, Todd, Martha, and Margaret.[5]

Murder trial[edit]

Kathleen’s death[edit]

On December 9, 2001, Peterson called an emergency line to report that he had just found Kathleen unconscious and suspected she had fallen down “15, 20, I don’t know” stairs. He later claimed that he had been outside by the pool and had come in at 2:40 am to find Kathleen at the foot of the stairs. He said she must have fallen down the stairs after consuming alcohol and valium.

Toxicology results showed that his wife’s blood-alcohol content was 0.07 percent. The autopsy report concluded that the 48-year-old woman sustained a matrix of severe injuries, including a fracture of the thyroid neck cartilage and seven lacerations to the top and back of her head, and had died from blood loss 90 minutes to two hours after sustaining the injuries.[citation needed] Kathleen’s daughter, Caitlin, and Kathleen’s sister, Candace Zamperini, both initially proclaimed Michael’s innocence and publicly supported him alongside his children, but Zamperini reconsidered after learning of Peterson’s bisexuality, as did Caitlin after reading her mother’s autopsy report. Both subsequently broke off from the rest of the family.

Although forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee, hired by the defense, testified that the blood-spatter evidence was consistent with an accidental fall down the stairs, police investigators alleged that the injuries were inconsistent with such an accident. As Michael Peterson was the only person at the residence at the time of Kathleen’s death, he was the prime suspect and was soon charged with her murder. He pleaded not guilty.

The medical examiner, Dr. Deborah Radisch, concluded that Kathleen had died from lacerations of the scalp caused by a homicidal assault. According to Dr. Radisch, the total of seven lacerations to the top and back of Kathleen’s head were the result of repeated blows with a light, yet rigid, weapon. The defense disputed this theory. According to their analysis, Kathleen’s skull had not been fractured by the blows, nor was her brain damaged, which was inconsistent with injuries sustained in a beating death.

The trial drew increasing media attention as details of Michael’s private life emerged. Durham County District Attorney James Hardin, Jr. and the prosecutors (among them former District Attorney Mike Nifong) attacked Peterson’s credibility, focusing on his alleged misreporting of his military service and what they described as a “gay life” he led and kept secret. The prosecution contended that the Petersons’ marriage was far from happy, suggesting that Kathleen had discovered Michael’s alleged secret “gay life” and wanted to end their marriage. It was the main motive that the prosecution offered at trial for Kathleen’s alleged murder (the other being a $1.5 million life insurance policy). According to Assistant District Attorney, Freda Black:

“[Kathleen] would have been infuriated by learning that her husband, who she truly loved, was bi-sexual and having an extramarital relationship—not with another woman—but a man, which would have been humiliating and embarrassing to her. We believe that once she learned this information that an argument ensued and a homicide occurred.”

The defense argued that Kathleen accepted Michael’s bisexuality and that the marriage was very happy, a position supported by Michael and Kathleen’s children and other friends and associates.[5] The prosecution said that the murder was most likely committed with a custom-made fireplace poker called a blow poke. It had been a gift to the Petersons from Kathleen’s sister but was missing from the house at the time of the murder investigation. Late in the trial the defense team produced the missing blow poke, which they said had been overlooked in the garage by police investigators. Forensic tests revealed that it had been untouched and unmoved for too long to have been used in the murder.[6] A juror contacted after the trial noted that the jury dismissed the idea of the blow poke as the murder weapon.[7]

Suspicion surrounding Elizabeth Ratliff’s death[edit]

Elizabeth Ratliff, the friend of the Petersons who died in Germany in 1985 (and mother to Martha and Margaret, Michael Peterson’s adopted daughters), had also been found dead at the foot of her staircase with injuries to the head. Her death had been investigated by both the German police and U.S. military police. An autopsy at the time of her death concluded she died from an intra-cerebral haemorrhage secondary to the blood coagulation disorder Von Willebrand’s disease, based on blood in her cerebrospinal fluid and reports that she had been suffering severe, persistent headaches in the weeks leading up to her death. The coroner determined that the hemorrhage resulted in immediate death followed by Ratliff falling down the stairs after collapsing. The Petersons had dinner with Ratliff and her daughters, and Peterson had stayed and helped Ratliff put the children to bed before going home. The children’s nanny, Barbara, discovered the body when she arrived the next morning. Peterson was the last known person to see her alive.

Before Peterson’s trial, the Durham, N.C. court ordered the exhumation of Ratliff’s embalmed body, buried in Texas, for a second autopsy in April, 2003.[8] Arrangements were made for the Durham medical examiner/pathologist who had initially performed Kathleen Peterson’s autopsy, to perform this reevaluation, over the objections of defense counsel who argued that the autopsy should be performed by Texas medical examiners. The body was then transported from Texas to Durham. The Durham M.E. found sufficient evidence drawn from the results of the second autopsy, along with new witness statements describing the scene,[8] to overturn the earlier findings and list Ratliff’s cause of death as “homicide”.

The prosecution declined to accuse Peterson of Ratliff’s death, but introduced the death into the trial as an incident giving Peterson the idea of how to “fake” Kathleen’s accident. Despite police reports that there was very little blood at the scene of Ratliff’s death, the nanny, who was the first to discover Ratliff’s body in 1985, took the stand at Peterson’s trial and testified that there was a large amount of blood at the scene. Another witness testified to spending much of the day cleaning blood stains off the wall. The admissibility of the Ratliff evidence in court was one of the grounds for the subsequent appeal against his conviction, lodged by Peterson’s lawyers in 2005.


On October 10, 2003, after one of the longest trials in North Carolina history, a Durham County jury found Michael Peterson guilty of the murder of Kathleen Peterson,[9] and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[10] Denial of parole requires premeditation. Despite the jury accepting the murder was a “spur-of-the-moment” crime, they also found it was premeditated. As one juror explained it, premeditated meant not only planning hours or days ahead, but could also mean planning in the seconds before committing a spur-of-the-moment crime. In addition, jurors also stated afterward that their verdict was based purely on the physical evidence at the crime scene, including the autopsy report and the blood spatter analysis.[11] Peterson was housed at the Nash Correctional Institution near Rocky Mount, until he was released on December 16, 2011.


Peterson’s appeal was filed by his defense counsel, Thomas Maher, now serving as his court-appointed attorney, and was argued before the North Carolina Court of Appeals on April 18, 2006. On September 19, 2006, the Court of Appeals rejected Peterson’s arguments that he did not get a fair trial because of repeated judicial mistakes.[12] The Appeals’ ruling said the evidence was fairly admitted. The judges did find defects in a search warrant, but said they had no ill effect on the defense.[13][14] Because the Court of Appeals’ ruling was not unanimous, under North Carolina law, Peterson had right to appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which accepted the case. Oral argument was heard on September 10, 2007. On November 9, 2007, the Court announced that it affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. Absent a reconsideration of the ruling or the raising of a federal issue, Peterson had exhausted his appeal of the verdict.

On November 12, 2008, J. Burkhardt Beale and Jason Anthony, Richmond, Va. attorneys, who were now representing Peterson, filed a motion for a new trial in Durham County court on three grounds: that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence about a blow poke, that the prosecution used an expert witness whose qualifications are disputed, and that one juror based his judgment on racial factors. On March 10, 2009, Peterson’s motion was denied by the Durham County Superior Court.

Owl theory[edit]

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.[15][16] A re-examination of the hair in September 2008 had found two more microscopic owl feathers.[17]

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.[18]

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.”[19] 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.”[19]

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.[19] Davis further noted that owls can kill species much larger than themselves and that it is not uncommon for them to attack people.[19] Despite interest in this theory among some outside advocates, no motion for a new trial was filed on this point in 2009.[20][21]

Retrial hearing[edit]

In August 2010, following a series of newspaper articles critical of the investigative tactics of State Bureau of Investigation agents, Attorney General Roy Cooper led an investigation, which resulted in the suspension of SBI analyst Duane Deaver, one of the principal witnesses against Peterson, after the report found his work among the worst done on scores of flawed criminal cases. T. Lawrence Pollard subsequently filed affidavits[22] to support a motion that Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson order the state Medical Examiner’s Office to turn over all documentation related to Kathleen Peterson’s autopsy to Peterson’s attorneys. However, Judge Hudson barred Pollard from filing further motions on behalf of Peterson because Pollard did not represent him. A new motion was filed in August 2010 by David Rudolf, one of Peterson’s original attorneys who acted pro bono in proceedings challenging the SBI testimony.[16][23][24]

Deaver was fired from the SBI in January 2011, after an independent audit of the agency found he had falsely represented evidence in 34 cases, including withholding negative results in the case of Greg Taylor, a North Carolina man who spent 17 years in prison on a murder conviction based on Deaver’s testimony.[25] A bloodstain-analysis team that Deaver had trained was suspended and disbanded. In the 2003 Peterson trial, Deaver testified that he had been mentored by SBI bloodstain specialist David Spittle, had worked 500 bloodstain cases, written 200 reports, and testified in 60 cases. During the retrial hearing, SBI Assistant Director Eric Hooks testified that Deaver had written only 47 reports. SBI agent David Spittle testified that he could not recall mentoring Deaver who, since completing a two-day training course in the 1980s, had testified in only four cases, the Peterson case being the third. The SBI cited the bloodstain analysis given in the fourth case as the reason for firing Deaver.[26]

On December 16, 2011, Peterson was released from the Durham County jail on $300,000 bail and placed under house arrest with a tracking anklet. His release on bond followed a judicial order for a new trial after Judge Hudson found that SBI blood analyst Duane Deaver had given “materially misleading” and “deliberately false” testimony about bloodstain evidence, and had exaggerated his training, experience, and expertise.[27][28][29] Former North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edmisten said that any evidence gathered after Deaver arrived at the scene might be deemed inadmissible in a new trial.[30]

In July 2014, Peterson’s bond restrictions were eased.[31] In October 2014, the court appointed Mike Klinkosum to represent Peterson, replacing David Rudolf, who had been working pro bono on the case since Peterson’s conviction was overturned. Rudolf had stated that he could no longer afford to represent Peterson without being paid.[32] On November 14, 2016, Peterson’s request for the second trial to be dismissed was refused, and a new trial was scheduled to begin on May 8, 2017.[2] However, a news report on February 7, 2017, indicated that a resolution had been negotiated by Rudolf (once again representing Peterson) and the Durham County DA.


On February 24, 2017, Peterson entered an “Alford” plea—a guilty plea whereby a defendant asserts his innocence but admits that sufficient evidence exists to convict him of the offense—to the voluntary manslaughter of Kathleen Peterson.[33] The judge sentenced him to a maximum of 86 months in prison, with credit for time previously served. Because Peterson had already served more time than the sentence, he did not face additional prison time.

In October 2002, acting as administrator of Kathleen’s estate, Caitlin filed a wrongful-death claim against Michael. In June 2006, he voluntarily filed for bankruptcy. Two weeks later, Caitlin filed an objection to the bankruptcy. On February 1, 2007, Caitlin and Michael settled the wrongful death claim for $25 million, pending acceptance by the courts involved; finalization of the settlement by the court was announced on February 1, 2008. In the settlement, Michael did not admit to murdering Kathleen. Caitlin is unlikely to ever collect a significant amount of the judgment.[citation needed]


Documentary series[edit]

Main article: The Staircase

The court case generated widespread interest in part because of a televised documentary series variously named Soupçons (Suspicions), Death on the Staircase, and The Staircase, which detailed Peterson’s legal and personal troubles. Eight 45-minute episodes of the documentary were assembled from more than 600 hours of footage. It was directed by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and released by Maha Productions in October 2004. The documentary offers an intimate depiction of defense preparations for the trial. It also examines the role and behavior of the popular press as it covered aspects of the case. The filmmakers started their project within weeks of the December 2001 death and Peterson’s murder indictment; jury selection took place in May 2003 with the case itself going to trial in July 2003.

Following the guilty verdict, de Lestrade interviewed the jurors to find out why they reached this verdict.[34] By and large, the jurors were swayed by the amount of blood Kathleen lost and the number of lacerations, which indicated to them it could not have been an accident. Dr. Henry Chang-Yu Lee, however, had testified at the trial that the amount of blood was irrelevant, as the blood spatter indicated most of it was coughed up rather than from the wounds themselves. He also suggested some of the blood could have been diluted with urine. Lee had also duplicated blood spatter from coughing for the jury by drinking ketchup and spitting it out.[4][35][36]

In November 2012, de Lestrade released a sequel, The Staircase 2: The Last Chance, which premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.[37][38] The film documents the Peterson family and its legal team’s arguments in seeking a retrial, in which they succeed.[39]

Television series and broadcasts[edit]

  • The Staircase, a documentary miniseries directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
  • “A Novel Idea” Forensic Files
  • “Debut” Cold Case
  • “Written in Blood” The New Detectives
  • “Blood on the Staircase” American Justice
  • “Murder, He Wrote” Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice
  • “Staircase Killer” True Crime with Aphrodite Jones
  • “Stairway to Hell” The Devil You Know
  • “Reversal of Fortune” Dateline NBC
  • “Death on the Staircase” Storyville
  • “The Staircase II: The Last Chance” Storyville
  • “Down the Back Staircase” Dateline NBC


  • The Immortal Dragon (New American Library, 1983) – historical fiction LCCN 2009-665719
  • A Time of War (Pocket Books, 1990) – Vietnam War fiction LCCN 89-49197
  • A Bitter Peace (Pocket Books, 1995) – Vietnam War fiction LCCN 94-37559
  • Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company, Peterson and David Perlmutt (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998) – biography LCCN 98-30090
  • A Perfect Husband (Pinnacle Books, 2004), Aphrodite Jones – true crime [LCCN|2005295495]
  • Operation Broken Reed, with Lt. Col. Arthur L. Boyd (Da Capo Press, 2007) – Korean War autobiography


  • Criminal podcast: “Animal Instincts”
  • The Generation Why Podcast: “The Staircase”
  • BBC Radio 5 Live: “Beyond Reasonable Doubt?”
  • My Favorite Murder podcast: “The 100th Episode”


  • ^ “Novelist Michael Peterson, Convicted of Wife’s Murder, Is Released From Prison and Will Get New Trial”. ABC. 2011. Archived from the original on December 16, 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  • ^ a b “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on November 15, 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2016. 
  • ^ a b “Guide to the Michael Peterson papers, 1961–2001 and undated, bulk 1972” Archived October 20, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University (duke.edu/rubenstein). Retrieved 2014-10-19.
  • ^ a b Death at the bottom of the stairs Archived January 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. NBC Dateline November 25, 2006
  • ^ a b “Wife’s staircase death at center of novelist’s murder trial”. Court TV. 2001. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved March 11, 2009. 
  • ^ “Peterson Trial: Defense drops a bomb – a blow poke turns up in Peterson garage”. newsobserver. Retrieved 2018-06-19. 
  • ^ “court TV becomes truTV”. Courttv.com. Archived from the original on April 6, 2009. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  • ^ a b Herald-Journal – Aug 28, 2003 Prosecutors Try to Link Two Deaths Retrieved February 2015
  • ^ The Dispatch – Oct 9, 2003 Novelist Peterson Convicted Retrieved February 2015
  • ^ The Item – Oct 10, 2003 Novelist Convicted of Beating Wife to Death Retrieved February 2015
  • ^ WRAL.com – Oct 13, 2005 [1] Retrieved June 2018
  • ^ “Defendant–Appellants Brief”. Vanceholmes.com. Archived from the original on March 16, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  • ^ “State v. Peterson”. Aoc.state.nc.us. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  • ^ The Times-News – Sep 20, 2006 Appeals Court won’t overturn decision Retrieved February 2015
  • ^ Feathers flying in Michael Peterson case Archived April 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. le Monde September 5, 2008
  • ^ a b Three affidavits support Peterson’s murderous owl theory Archived December 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Durham County News Observer August 19, 2010
  • ^ “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on January 10, 2015. Retrieved January 8, 2015. 
  • ^ [2]
  • ^ a b c d “Three experts back owl theory”. Archived from the original on August 31, 2010. Retrieved 2011-06-10. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) Stanley B. Chambers, Jr. The Durham News (thedurhamnews.com). August 25, 2010.
  • ^ Attorney wants owl theory reconsidered in Peterson murder case Archived March 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. WRAL-TV August 11, 2009
  • ^ Evidence points to owl in Peterson case Archived January 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Le Monde September 4, 2008
  • ^ Neurosurgeon and owl expert Dr. Alan van Norman, Dr. Patrick T. Redig, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota, and Kate P. Davis, the director of Raptors of the Rockies, signed affidavits claiming that the evidence and injuries are consistent with an attack by an owl, possibly a barred owl.
  • ^ Michael Peterson impacted by SBI report? Archived June 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. ABC News August 20, 2010
  • ^ James, Jesse (August 27, 2010). “DURHAM: Attorney forbidden from filing Michael Peterson motions | Crime”. NewsObserver.com. Archived from the original on December 7, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  • ^ Troubled SBI agent Duane Deaver fired. “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  • ^ SBI says Deaver exaggerated expertise Archived January 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. The News & Observer December 08, 2011
  • ^ Judge says Peterson must keep wearing ankle bracelet Archived August 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. News Observer August 10, 2012
  • ^ Durham novelist Peterson walks out of jail; awaits new murder trial. http://www.news-record.com/content/2011/12/16/article/durham_novelist_peterson_walks_out_of_jail_awaits_new_murder_trial[permanent dead link]
  • ^ Peterson defense dissects Deaver’s methods[permanent dead link] The News & Observer December 09, 2011
  • ^ Former NC AG says it will be harder for the State to convict Peterson in retrial Archived January 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. NBC December 17, 2011
  • ^ “DA: Peterson’s new trial months away”. Archived from the original on May 8, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2015. 
  • ^ “Mike Peterson gets new attorney for second murder trial”. Archived from the original on October 25, 2014. 
  • ^ “Mike Peterson walks free after 15-year murder case ends with plea deal”. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 
  • ^ The murder weapon was never identified. While his clothes were bloody from cradling his wife, Peterson had insufficient blood spattering on his clothes to support an attack. Media reports explained this by suggesting he probably changed his clothes, but investigators determined very early that he had not.
  • ^ Court TV News Archived March 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. CNN
  • ^ Forensic neuropathologist Jan Leestma testified Kathleen Peterson had likely sustained four blows to the head, not seven as the medical examiner testified.”Archived copy”. Archived from the original on February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 11, 2009.  The prosecution counted avulsion wounds as multiple injuries and the Medical Examiner also initially counted four wounds following the autopsy.”Archived copy”. Archived from the original on February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 11, 2009. 
  • ^ 10 Docs to Watch at IDFA 2012 Archived February 9, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.. Indiewire: November 19, 2012
  • ^ Exclusive: de Lestrade making sequel to Death on the Staircase Archived February 9, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. RealScreen: April 3, 2012
  • ^ North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Forensics Scandal Grows With New Evidence of Fraud Archived January 30, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.. Huffington: Post May 14, 2012
  • Further reading[edit]

    • “State Supreme Court to Hear Peterson Appeal” at WRAL.com
    • “Attorney wants Mike Peterson murder case reopened” at WRAL.com
    • “Peterson attorney seeks new trial” at WRAL.com
    • “Judge denies Mike Peterson’s request for new trial” at WRAL.com
    • Larry Pollard “owl” interview an attorney explains why he thinks an owl killed Kathleen Peterson

    External links[edit]

    • Michael Peterson at Library of Congress Authorities, with 5 catalog records
    • The Staircase on IMDb

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    Private investigator

    “Private investigation” redirects here. For the 1982 song by Dire Straits, see Private Investigations.

    A 1904 illustration of Sherlock Holmes, arguably the world’s most famous fictional private detective.

    A private investigator (often abbreviated to PI and informally called a private eye), a private detective, or inquiry agent, is a person who can be hired by individuals or groups to undertake investigatory law services. Private detectives/investigators often work for attorneys in civil and criminal cases.


    • 1 History
    • 2 Employment
    • 3 Responsibilities
    • 4 Undercover investigator
    • 5 Across the world
      • 5.1 Australia
      • 5.2 UK
      • 5.3 United States
      • 5.4 Canada
    • 6 Fiction
    • 7 Notable private investigators
      • 7.1 In reality
      • 7.2 In fiction
    • 8 See also
    • 9 References
    • 10 External links


    In 1833, Eugène François Vidocq, a French soldier, criminal, and privateer, founded the first known private detective agency, “Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l’Industrie”[1] (“The Office of Universal Information For Commerce and Industry”) and hired ex-convicts. Official law enforcement tried many times to shut it down. In 1842, police arrested him in suspicion of unlawful imprisonment and taking money on false pretences after he had solved an embezzlement case. Vidocq later suspected that it had been a set-up. He was sentenced to five years and fined 3,000-francs, but the Court of Appeals released him. Vidocq is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to criminal investigation. He made the first plaster casts of shoe impressions. He created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. His form of anthropometrics is still partially used by French police. He is also credited for philanthropic pursuits – he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.[2]

    After Vidocq, the industry was born.[citation needed] Much of what private investigators did in the early days was to act as the police in matters for which their clients felt the police were not equipped or willing to do. A larger role for this new private investigative industry was to assist companies in labor disputes. Some early private investigators provided armed guards to act as a private militia.[2]

    In the United Kingdom, Charles Frederick Field set up an enquiry office upon his retirement from the Metropolitan Police in 1852. Field became a friend of Charles Dickens, and the latter wrote articles about him. In 1862, one of his employees, the Hungarian Ignatius Paul Pollaky, left him and set up a rival agency. Although little-remembered today, Pollaky’s fame at the time was such that he was mentioned in various books of the 1870s and immortalized as “Paddington” Pollaky for his “keen penetration” in the 1881 comic opera, Patience.

    In the United States, Allan Pinkerton established the Pinkerton National Detective Agency – a private detective agency – in 1850. Pinkerton became famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate then President-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Pinkerton’s agents performed services which ranged from undercover investigations and detection of crimes, to plant protection and armed security. It is sometimes claimed,[by whom?] probably with exaggeration, that at the height of its existence, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more agents than the United States Army.[2] Allan Pinkerton hired Kate Warne in 1856 as a private detective, making her the first female private detective in America.[3]

    During the union unrest in the US in the late 19th century, companies sometimes hired operatives and armed guards from the Pinkertons. In the aftermath of the Homestead Riot of 1892, several states passed so-called “anti-Pinkerton” laws restricting the importation of private security guards during union strikes. The federal Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 continues to prohibit an “individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization” from being employed by “the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia.”[2][4]

    Pinkerton agents were also hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno brothers, and the Wild Bunch, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


    Many private detectives/investigators with special academic and practical experience also work with defense attorneys on capital punishment and other criminal defense cases. Many others are insurance investigators who investigate suspicious claims. Before the advent of no-fault divorce, many private investigators sought evidence of adultery or other conduct within marriage to establish grounds for a divorce. Despite the lack of legal necessity for such evidence in many jurisdictions, according to press reports, collecting evidence of spouses’ and partners’ adultery or other “bad behaviour” is still one of their most profitable undertakings, as the stakes being fought over now are child custody, alimony, or marital property disputes.[2]

    Private investigators can also perform due diligence for an investor considering investing with an investment group, fund manager, or other high-risk business or investment venture. This could help the prospective investor avoid being the victim of a fraud or Ponzi scheme. A licensed and experienced investigator could reveal the investment is risky and/or the investor has a suspicious background. This is called investigative due diligence, and is becoming more prevalent in the 21st century with the public reports of large-scale Ponzi schemes and fraudulent investment vehicles such as Madoff, Stanford, Petters, Rothstein, and the hundreds of others reported by the SEC and other law enforcement agencies.


    Private investigators also engage in a variety of work not often associated with the industry in the mind of the public. For example, many are involved in process serving, the personal delivery of summons, subpoenas, and other legal documents to parties in a legal case. The tracing of absconding debtors can also form a large part of a PI’s work load. Many agencies specialize in a particular field of expertise. For example, some PI agencies deal only in tracing. A handful of firms specialize in technical surveillance counter-measures, sometimes called electronic counter measures, which is the locating and dealing with unwanted forms of electronic surveillance (for example, a bugged boardroom for industrial espionage purposes). This niche service is typically conducted by those with backgrounds in intelligence/counterintelligence, executive protection, and a small number from law enforcement entities whose duties included the covert installation of eavesdropping devices as a tool in organized crime, terrorism and narco-trafficking investigations. Other PIs, also known as corporate investigators, specialize in corporate matters, including antifraud work, loss prevention, internal investigations of employee misconduct (such as EEO violations and sexual harassment), the protection of intellectual property and trade secrets, antipiracy, copyright infringement investigations, due diligence investigations, malware and cyber criminal activity, and computer forensics work. Some PIs act as professional witnesses where they observe situations with a view to reporting the actions or lack of them to a court or to gather evidence in antisocial behavior.[2]

    Undercover investigator[edit]

    An undercover investigator, undercover detective, or undercover agent is a person who conducts investigations of suspected or confirmed criminal activity while impersonating a disinterested third party. Undercover investigators often infiltrate a suspected insurgent group, posing as a person interested in purchasing illegal goods or services with the ultimate aim of obtaining information about their assigned target.[5]

    Many undercover investigators carry hidden cameras and recorders strapped to their bodies to help them document their investigations. The period of the investigation could last for several months, or in some extreme cases, years. Due to the dangerous nature of the job, their real identities are kept secret throughout their active careers.[6] Economic investigations, business intelligence and information on competitors, security advice, special security services information, criminal investigation, investigations background, and profile polygraph tests are all typical examples of such a role.

    Undercover investigators are often misinterpreted as being similar to a police officer or deputy, however, they are quite the opposite. As opposed to a police officer, a private or undercover detective is trained in keeping a low profile, and are under no requirement to wear a uniform or a badge. Police are trained to be direct in their approach unless using a disguised vehicle.

    Certain types of undercover investigators, depending on their employer, will investigate allegations of abuse of workman’s compensation. Those claiming to be injured are often investigated and recorded with a hidden camera/recorder. This is then presented in court or to the client who paid for the investigation.

    Across the world[edit]

    Many jurisdictions require PIs to be licensed. Depending on local laws, they may or may not carry a firearm, some are former law enforcement agents (including former police officers), some are former spies, some are former military, some used to work for a private military company, and some are former bodyguards and security guards. While PIs may investigate criminal matters, most do not have police authority, and as such, they are only limited to the powers of citizen’s arrest and detention that any other citizen has. They are expected to keep detailed notes and to be prepared to testify in court regarding any of their observations on behalf of their clients. Great care is required to remain within the scope of the law, otherwise the investigator may face criminal charges. Irregular hours may also be required when performing surveillance work.[2]


    Private investigators in Australia must be licensed by the licensing authority relevant to the state where they are located. This applies to all states except the Australian Capital Territory. Companies offering investigation services must also hold a business licence and all their operatives must hold individual licences. Generally, the licences are administered and regulated by the state police; however, in some states, this can also be managed by other government agencies.

    To become registered in New South Wales requires a CAPI licence, which can be applied for through the NSW Police Force website. The Australian Capital Territory does not require PIs to be licensed, although they are still bound by legislation. PIs working in the ACT cannot enter the NSW area without a CAPI license, else they will be in breach of the law.


    In 2001, the government passed the licensing of private investigators and private investigation firms in the UK over to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), which acted as the regulatory body from then on. However, due to the cutbacks of this agency, licensing of private investigators in the UK was halted indefinitely. At present, no government-backed authorities in the UK license private investigators.

    The SIA have announced that PIs in the UK were to become licensed for the first time from May 2015, but this is only the scheduled date for the issue to be discussed in parliament. In December 2014, Corporate Livewire produced an article written by a UK private investigator at BAR Investigations, addressing the issues surrounding private investigation in the UK.[7][8]

    United States[edit]

    Private investigators in the United States may or may not be licensed or registered by a government licensing authority or state police of the state where they are located. Licensing varies from state to state and can range from: a) no state license required; b) city or state business license required (such as in five states (Idaho, Alaska, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming); c) to needing several years of experience and licensing-related training classes and testing (as is the case with Virginia and California).[9] In many states, companies offering investigation services must hold an agency license, and all of their investigators or detectives must hold individual licenses or registrations;[citation needed] furthermore, certain states such as Washington have separate classes of licensing for roles such as trainers of private investigators.[10] A few reciprocity agreements allow a detective working in one state to continue work in another for a limited time without getting a separate license, but not all states participate in these agreements.[11]


    Private investigators in Canada are licensed at the provincial level by the appropriate body. For instance, in the province of Ontario, private investigators are licensed and regulated by the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services (MCSCS).[12] In the province of Alberta, private investigators are licensed and regulated by the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General.[13] Similar licensing requirements apply in other provinces and territories of Canada. As per the Ontario text of the Private Security and Investigative Services Act of 2005, private investigators are forbidden from referring to themselves as detective or private detective. In order to become a licensed private investigator, you must be 18 years of age or older in Ontario (in other Provinces and territories of Canada the eligible age to work may be higher); have a clean criminal record or obtain a waiver; and submit a correctly completed application for a license. You are required to complete 50-hours of basic training with an accredited source such as a university, college, or through private agencies licensed to administer the course. Upon completion of basic training, individuals are required to write and pass the basic test to obtain a private investigator’s license.


    Main article: Detective fiction § The private eye, or “hardboiled”, novel

    The PI genre in fiction dates to Edgar Allan Poe, who created the character C. Auguste Dupin in the 1840s. Dupin, an amateur crime-solver residing in Paris, appeared in three Poe stories.

    Notable private investigators[edit]

    In reality[edit]

    • Rick Crouch
    • Charles Frederick Field
    • Dashiell Hammett (also a notable author of detective fiction)
    • Anthony Pellicano
    • Allan Pinkerton
    • Justin Hopson
    • Daniel Ribacoff

    In fiction[edit]

    Where the characters below do not meet the strict criteria of a private investigator (i.e. available for hire) it is noted in brackets.

    • Sherlock Holmes
    • L. Lawliet
    • Feluda
    • Byomkesh Bakshi
    • Bhaduri Moshai
    • Three Investigators (Amateur juvenile detectives)
    • Miss Marple (Amateur detective)
    • Mitin Masi
    • Harry Dresden
    • Auguste Dupin (Amateur Gentleman detective)
    • Nancy Drew (Amateur juvenile detective)
    • Mike Hammer
    • The Hardy Boys (Amateur juvenile detectives)
    • Laura Holt
    • Parashor Barma
    • Jessica Jones
    • Thomas Magnum
    • Joe Mannix
    • Philip Marlowe
    • Veronica Mars
    • Kinsey Millhone
    • Adrian Monk
    • Hercule Poirot
    • Jim Rockford
    • Mma Precious Ramotswe
    • Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins
    • Simon & Simon
    • Sam & Max
    • Sam Spade
    • Kiriti Roy
    • Shawn Spencer
    • Spenser
    • Cormoran Strike
    • Varg Veum
    • V. I. Warshawski
    • Nero Wolfe
    • Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
    • The Bloodhound Gang (Amateur juvenile detectives)

    See also[edit]

    • law portal
    • Bounty hunter
    • Detective
      • Hotel detective
    • Insurance investigator
    • Mystery film
    • Private police


  • ^ Historique des détectives et enquêteurs privés et grandes dates de la profession Archived 2008-03-15 at the Wayback Machine. – “Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l’Industrie”
  • ^ a b c d e f g “Private Detectives and Investigators”. United States Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. 2010. Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. 
  • ^ “Kate Warne America’s First female Private-Eye”. Pimall.com. Archived from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2013-02-14. 
  • ^ 5 U.S. Code 3108; Public Law 89-554, 80 Stat. 416 (1966); ch. 208 (5th par. under “Public Buildings”), 27 Stat. 591 (1893). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in U.S. ex rel. Weinberger v. Equifax, 557 F.2d 456 (5th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1035 (1978), held that “The purpose of the Act and the legislative history reveal that an organization was ‘similar’ to the Pinkerton Detective Agency only if it offered for hire mercenary, quasi-military forces as strikebreakers and armed guards. It had the secondary effect of deterring any other organization from providing such services lest it be branded a ‘similar organization.'” 557 F.2d at 462; see also “GAO Decision B-298370; B-298490, Brian X. Scott (Aug. 18, 2006)”. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. 
  • ^ “What does an Undercover Detective do? (with pictures)”. Wisegeekedu.com. 2015-06-26. Archived from the original on 2015-07-09. Retrieved 2015-07-27. 
  • ^ “Gun Show : Undercover : Report on Illegal Sales at Gun Shows” (PDF). Nyc.gov. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-10-15. Retrieved 2015-07-28. 
  • ^ “Regulation of Private Investigations”. Sia.homeoffice.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 2015-07-28. Retrieved 2015-07-27. 
  • ^ “Top Stories”. Corporate LiveWire. 2014-12-17. Archived from the original on 2015-09-21. Retrieved 2015-07-27. 
  • ^ “Private Investigator Licensing Requirements”. pursuitmag.com. Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2018. 
  • ^ “Private Investigators: Licensing and Legal Issues in the US”. Nationwide Investigations Group. Archived from the original on 27 November 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2016. 
  • ^ “Private Investigator License Requirements”. privateinvestigatoredu.org. Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-12-11. 
  • ^ “Apply for a Licence”. Government of Ontario. 2016-09-07. Archived from the original on 2016-11-24. Retrieved 2016-12-12. 
  • ^ “Private Investigator”. Government of Alberta. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-12. 
  • External links[edit]

    Media related to Private investigators at Wikimedia Commons

    • Bureau of Labor Statistics information