It was not enough to suggest that Kathleen began to bleed outside. It was not enough to point to prior owl attacks on humans. Larry needed a smoking gun. And he would find it.
—from DEATH BY TALONS by Tiddy Smith
On December 9, 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Durham, NC home. Kathleen’s scalp was laced with deep incisions and her blood strewn from outside to inside the house. The sinister truth of that night turned her murder into North Carolina's most enigmatic criminal case, capturing media attention across the globe.
While police zeroed in on Michael Peterson, the husband, and charged him with murder, a neighbor, Larry Pollard, claimed an owl had attacked Kathleen outside her house. He said it sliced her scalp with its fierce talons and caused her to run inside, collapsing at the stairwell, bleeding to death.
It was an outrageous theory.
Larry was mocked and Michael imprisoned. Now, twenty years after the unusual death, questions remain.
Did an owl kill Kathleen? How much do North Carolina's authorities actually know?
From the Book
The taxi pulled up. O'Hara hopped and trod through a little snow to the door, only to see that all the lights inside the house were on. This immediately struck her as unusual. She opened the door to find everything laid out for breakfast in the kitchen. There wasn't a sound. No footsteps or clanging of pots or noisy children were heard. As she turned her head left, she saw a body in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. A spray of blood was over the wall beside the body. The face was so covered in blood as to be unidentifiable. Attached to the feet of the body was a pair of yellow snow boots. They were Elizabeth’s boots.
O’Hara began to hyperventilate. She launched over the body and up the stairs towards the telephone. She lifted the phone to her ear, but there was no dial tone. The line was inexplicably dead. She turned the numbers of the old-fashioned phone clockwise on their wheel. They whirred back in place. Still nothing. Racing out the front door, she found the taxi driver lingering outside. “Call an ambulance,” she cried, “and call the police!”
She ran past the idling car and fled to the Petersons’ house, which was only a few doors away. She thudded at the door for what felt like forever. It opened. “Hurry, quick, come with me!” she shouted at Patty, draped in a robe. “It’s Liz!” Michael emerged from the bedroom with tired eyes, woken by the sounds of panic downstairs. “What’s this about Liz?”
With the situation explained, the trio ran to the Ratliff house. “She’s still warm,” the nanny panted as she ran, “but bleeding”. As they came to the door, they found the body on its side, almost in a fetal position. Michael crouched down and placed a hand on Liz. He sighed. “She’s not warm Barb,” Michael said. “That was just the underfloor heating. She’s dead Barb.” Patty went to the kitchen and steadied herself on a stool, vacantly staring out at the snow. Everyone remained in silence, including the two children who remained asleep upstairs.
About the Author
Tiddy Smith is a philosopher of religion, who gained his PhD from the University of Otago in 2017. He has taught at various universities in New Zealand and Indonesia. He is the author of The Methods of Science and Religion (Lexington Books, 2019) and editor of Animism and Philosophy of Religion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023).