Patricia Peterson, the first wife of Michael Peterson, the subject of the Netflix crime documentary ”The Staircase,” has died.
Patricia “Patty” Peterson, 78, died Thursday evening at Duke University Hospital after having a massive heart attack the previous night, said her son Clayton Peterson, 46, of Baltimore.
“She was a very kind person,” Clayton Peterson said. “She touched so many lives.”
Michael Peterson and the death of his second wife, Kathleen, is the subject of the Netflix documentary series “The Staircase,” one of many television programs, podcasts and books that have chronicled the couple’s relationship, Michael Peterson’s murder trial and all the drama that followed.
An HBO series staring Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth as Michael Peterson is in the works.
Patty Peterson attended the murder trial and related hearings and said she believed her ex-husband’s claim of innocence.
For the last two years, Patty Peterson lived in a southwest Durham apartment with Michael Peterson, Clayton Peterson said.
“They were companions,” Clayton Peterson said. “They took care of each other.”
Patty Peterson was in generally good health, but started feeling poorly late Wednesday night, Clayton Peterson said.
Michael Peterson called their son Todd Peterson, who lives nearby, who came over and called 911, Clayton said.
Patty Peterson died at the hospital Thursday night surrounded by her ex-husband and their sons, Clayton said.
She leaves behind her two sons, as well as daughters, Martha and Margaret Ratliff, and two grandchildren.
Loved arts, Durham
Clayton Peterson said most would describe his mother “as a lovely person.” She touched many lives and loved and supported the local arts, he said.
“She loved the arts,” he said. “She loved Durham.”
Patty Peterson, who was born into a military family in Paris, Arkansas, married Michael Peterson, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, at Fort Belvoir in Virginia in 1966.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas in Austin. She then attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where she received a master’s degree in either education or English, Clayton Peterson said.
The couple moved to Germany around 1980. There Patty Peterson taught elementary school for children of U.S. military families for about 20 years, her son said.
Patty and Michael Peterson divorced around 1994 after Michael Peterson moved back to Durham, where he met and later married Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel Networks executive.
In 2001 Kathleen Peterson, 48, was found dead at the bottom of a bloody stairway in the couple’s home.
Death in Germany
While in Germany, Michael and Patty Peterson became guardians of Martha and Margaret Ratliff after both their parents died. Their father died in 1983 on an Air Force mission.
The girls’ mother, Elizabeth Ratliff, a good friend of Patty’s, died in 1985, which became a significant part of Michael Peterson’s murder trial.
Elizabeth Ratliff, 43, was found dead the day after she had dined with the Petersons, and Michael Peterson had taken her home. Her body was found the next morning by her housekeeper sprawled near the bottom of the stairs, The News & Observer reported.
Initially Germany officials ruled Ratliff’s death an accident.
After Kathleen Peterson’s death, Ratliff’s body was exhumed from a Texas grave. A new autopsy found that she died as a result of a homicidal assault.
After one of the state’s longest and most expensive trials, Michael Peterson was sentenced to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murdering Kathleen in 2003. His conviction was vacated in 2011 due to problems with the work done by a State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst.
In 2017, Peterson entered an Alford plea, which acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him of voluntary manslaughter but he didn’t admit guilt.
All the while, Patty Peterson stood by him.
“He is innocent of any involvement in Kathleen’s death,” she told The N&O in 2014.
She said she suffered from losing both Elizabeth Ratliff and Kathleen Peterson but that she was certain Michael Peterson was not involved.
“I’ve always believed he did not do this,” she said, “and I always will.”
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