Unspeakable Times

Conspiracy Theories About The Death Of Kathleen Peterson 

Colleen Conroy
Updated June 14, 2019 18.4k views 12 items

Ever since she was discovered in a pool of blood at the foot of her North Carolina mansion's staircase on December 9, 2001, the world has been spinning Kathleen Peterson murder conspiracies. Her husband, best-selling novelist Michael Peterson, was charged with first-degree murder in 2003, but the conviction did little to dampen the imaginations of true crime fans and those involved in the case. 

The case was fraught with inconsistencies and dramatic twists, with an ousted key witness and patterns that materialized and disappeared just as quickly. Did Michael Peterson kill his wife? And if so, why? As with any controversial murder case, the colorful conspiracies run the gamut. Theories about Kathleen Peterson's murder range from an extramarital affair gone awry to a bloodthirsty bird attacking in the wee hours of the night. From pine needles to feathers, these are some of the crazier conspiracy theories speculating on the death of Kathleen Peterson.

A Barred Owl Attacked Kathleen And Tore Off Bits Of Her Scalp
Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

In 2009, attorney Larry Pollard, friend and neighbor to the Petersons, took it upon himself to re-examine the evidence in the case. He found that Kathleen Peterson had tiny owl feathers and pine needles gripped in her fists when her body was discovered.

Pollard introduced the wild idea that a Barred Owl had attacked Kathleen, causing the series of events that ended with her racing into the house, tripping, and hitting her head on the first steps of the stairs. 

Pollard suggested the lacerations were consistent with the talons of a large Barred Owl, and that when she desperately tried to pull the bird off of her head, the talons ripped off strips of her scalp, resulting in the lacerations. 

Several ornithological experts examined the evidence and agreed it was possible. Today, the Owl Theory still ranks as one of the most bizarre murder defenses ever proposed. 

Michael Killed His Wife ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Conspiracy Theories About The Death Of Kathleen Peterson
Photo:  The Staircase/Courtesy: Netflix
Michael Killed His Wife After She Discovered He Was In Contact With A Male Escort

During the initial murder investigation, authorities discovered a considerable amount of gay adult material on Michael Peterson's computer, as well as a history of visits to escort sites. One of these escorts, Brent Wolgamott, had been in touch with Michael and the two were in the process of negotiating potential sexual services. 

Some people claim this is proof of a same-sex affair and believe Kathleen Peterson threatened to leave Michael after discovering his infidelity. As Redditor /u/cb43569 noted: 

He claims that Kathleen knew and was fine with it, but other sources disagree, stating that her previous marriage [to Fred Atwater] ended because of infidelity, so her sudden heel-turn would have been out of character.

While Atwater's alleged disloyalty is not corroborated by news sources, it is still easy to see how an extramarital affair could start a fight between Michael and his wife.

The Mothman Killed Peter... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Conspiracy Theories About The Death Of Kathleen Peterson
Photo:  Katherine Bowman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
The Mothman Killed Peterson

The internet always has a way of throwing in the supernatural when it comes to conspiracy theories. Some Redditors discussing the Owl Theory found the bird attack unlikely, and instead suggested it was the owl's larger, more vicious distant cousin: the elusive and feared Mothman. Redditor /u/thebestvirginia commented:

I do live in the state [West Virginia] that spawned Mothman, and at least in that area by the river (not way up in the mountains), I don't think there are any owls nearly that big. But maybe one did end up there and that's what they saw. I still drive through there often, and other than some regular old hawks, there aren't any frighteningly large flying beasts. It can be a bit eerie sometimes, though.

Okay, so maybe nobody is entirely convinced of the Mothman theory, but it stands to be mentioned it was thrown out there.

The Owl Attacked Kathlee... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Conspiracy Theories About The Death Of Kathleen Peterson
Photo:  The Staircase/Courtesy: Netflix
The Owl Attacked Kathleen, And Michael Decided To Finish Her Off Himself

Some folks who don't want to give up on the Owl Theory, but simultaneously believe Michael Peterson is guilty in some capacity, have combined two hypotheses: Kathleen Peterson was attacked by an owl, but Michael was the one who finished the job. 

There are entire forums and blogs dedicated to this debate around the Owl Theory. Redditor /u/sk4p noted: 

On the owl theory, I'm in the 'I think the owl did attack her, but then he saw it was a chance to kill her/finish her off and think he'd get away with it' category.