Conspiracy Theories About The Death Of Kathleen Peterson

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
    Video: YouTube

    A Barred Owl Attacked Kathleen And Tore Off Bits Of Her Scalp

    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 After She Discovered He Was In Contact With A Male Escort
    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 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 Kathleen, And Michael Decided To Finish Her Off Himself
    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.

  • The Murder Weapon Was A Tree Branch
    Photo: The Staircase / Courtesy: Netflix

    The Murder Weapon Was A Tree Branch

    In response to the far-fetched Owl Theory, some suggested the feathers and pine needles made their way into Kathleen Peterson's hair via a more natural murder weapon: a stick or branch. People who support this idea believe a branch would be a relatively easy murder weapon to dump. Redditor /u/needs_more_sprinkles says:

    I'm not sure if science bears this out, but I've always wondered (given the evidence) if the murder weapon was some sort of tree branch or other object from an outdoors area where bits of owl feather would have had the chance to accumulate. If it were a tree branch, for instance, it would make sense that it had traces of bird feathers in it, AND it would explain why the murder weapon vanished so easily.

  • Michael Murdered Kathleen To Cash In On Her Life Insurance
    Photo: The Staircase / Courtesy: Netflix

    Michael Murdered Kathleen To Cash In On Her Life Insurance

    A point raised repeatedly by prosecution during the trial was the fact the Petersons were in financial trouble, even though Kathleen Peterson was a powerful executive and Michael Peterson a successful novelist. However, they lived in a 12,000 square foot mansion, and upkeep and maintenance took its toll.

    When it came to light Kathleen had a $1.8 million life insurance policy, many true crime enthusiasts (not the mention the prosecution) saw that as a perfectly good motive for murder. A CNN article noted, "Prosecutors contend that Michael Peterson was in debt and killed his wife of five years for her $1.8 million life insurance policy."

    At the time of Kathleen's death, the Petersons were carrying a hefty $142,000 in credit card and credit line debt.