The Owl Theory and the Michael Peterson Case
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2001 when Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of her Durham, North Carolina property. She had bled terribly from deep slices in her scalp. Her husband, Michael Peterson, claimed that she must have fallen down the stairs. But authorities soon zeroed in on Michael. He was charged with her murder and found guilty after a lengthy trial in 2003.
It has become one of the world's best known true crime mysteries, popularised by two series, both called The Staircase, released more than a decade apart.
The two major theories about how Kathleen died are difficult to square with Kathleen's injuries. And the sheer amount of blood found at the crime scene was equally difficult to explain.
It was in 2003 that a neighbour of the Petersons, Larry Pollard, put forward the incredible theory that Kathleen was attacked by an owl late at night, along the front path of her house. He proposed that Kathleen may have run inside and fainted in the stairwell, bleeding to death.
Larry's theory has been the object of much ridicule, but it has much more to recommend it than most people are aware of. Moreover, there is evidence that suggests that Larry was only half right. A bird of prey was inside the house with Kathleen when she died.
The evidence for the bird of prey theory includes the following strange facts:
Kathleen's head injuries were arranged in the shape of two identical trident-shaped wounds, side by side. Suspiciously, this arrangement strongly resembles an attack by a bird of prey.
- The Elbows
Each of Kathleen's elbows were punctured with three needlepoint incisions. This suggests that she may have been covering her face with her forearms when an owl lunged with its talons at her head.
On the bottom step of the staircase, directly under where Kathleen's head had rested, white splats were found over the blood. They resemble bird droppings or "mutes" to use an ornithologist's term. This suggests that a bird was under Kathleen's head inside the stairwell.
The Chipped Talon
Stamped into one of the steps of the staircase was an object which the lead forensic technician, Dan George, described as like a "mini-talon". The object was found deposited under a clot of blood and it mysteriously vanished from its evidence container during Michael's trial.
The Feather Fragments
Kathleen had pulled over 50 hairs from her head. In her dead hands, she was still clutching the clumps of hair when her body was discovered. A microscopic analysis of one of these hairs uncovered the existence of two feather fragments, caked in blood. The existence of these feathers was denied by the District Attorney before Larry discovered their existence in the years following the trial.
Even though it seems fantastical to imagine that Kathleen was killed by a bird of prey, the evidence is strong enough to make this a live possibility. And even though it seems a wild idea that a bird may have been inside the house with Kathleen when she died, there is much to suggest that this was how her attack unfolded.
In my new book, DEATH BY TALONS: Did An Owl 'Murder' Kathleen Peterson, I explore the evidence available for this theory. Included in the book are exclusive photographs to support the evidence. Pre-order your copy today and discover the strange and troubling facts of this case that even the jury was denied the opportunity to hear.