Netflix’s latest true-crime series, The Staircase, began filming after novelist Michael Peterson’s arrest in 2001 and continued until 2017.
The series follows the trial of Michael Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2003. In 2017, he was granted a new trial, and just last year, Peterson took an Alford plea to the reduced charge of manslaughter. His time already served allowed him to walk away a free man.
Heavily featured in the miniseries are his daughters, Margaret and Martha. His sons, Clayton and Todd, also appear in the show.
Read on to learn more about Michael Peterson’s children.
1. Michael & Kathleen Had No Biological Children Together
Michael and Kathleen’s marriage was the second for both of them. Although they did not share any biological children, their children from previous marriages and even a completely separate marriage allowed them to come together to form a family.
During his first marriage, Michael lived in Germany. There, he and his first wife became good friends with George and Elizabeth Ratliff.
It was Elizabeth Ratliff’s death, which occurred not long after George Ratliff’s death, that became a turning point in Michael’s case. Like Kathleen, Ratliff was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. Autopsy reports determined that she died from an intra-cerebral hemorrhage as well as the blood disorder Von Willebrand’s disease. In the weeks leading up to her death, Elizabeth reported suffering from severe headaches.
In 2007, according to the AP, Atwater reached a $25 million wrongful death settlement, though he did not acknowledge any guilt in the case.
2. Margaret and Martha Were Adopted & Clayton and Todd Are from His First Marriage to Patricia Sue Peterson
Margaret and Martha, who were in full support of their father throughout his trial, were adopted. At one point in Netflix’s documentary, Martha says of her father, “Sometimes it gets to us all, and that’s when everybody starts worrying about everyone else. But I wouldn’t say I worry about my dad. He is probably the strongest person that I’ve ever met.”
Clayton and Todd, meanwhile, are Michael’s biological children from his first marriage to Patricia Sue Peterson.
Todd, Clayton, Martha, and Margaret have stood by Michael and believe that Kathleen’s death was an accident.
3. Kathleen’s Step-Daughter Caitlin Does Not Believe in Michael’s Innocence
From her first marriage to Fred Atwater, Kathleen had a daughter named Caitlin. Growing up, Caitlin was close with Martha and Margaret. And first, Caitlin also believed in Michael’s innocence.
In 2003, however, information related to Elizabeth Ratliff that was brought up in court persuaded her to think otherwise about her stepfather’s role in her mother’s death.
Today, Atwater is married with two children.
Bustle quotes her as saying about the trials she experienced, “The only thing that I have to say about the trial and all the subsequent fallout is that, if there was any closure to possibly come from all of this, it came after sitting through the entire trial and listening day after day to all the evidence — on both sides,” she said. “And after the closing arguments, when all was said and done, I felt confident that I knew what happened. I knew what happened to my mom. While there’s no true closure that can ever come for an event like this, for a loss this deep, I was ready to walk away and start moving forward with my life.”
4. He Has Two Biological Sons
Peterson’s son Clay lives in Maryland with his two children. According to News & Observer, he has come to terms with his father’s multiple hearings over the past few years.
The outlet also reports Clay as saying it has been ‘surreal’ to still be dealing with the question of whether his father is guilty or innocent.
Today, Martha lives in Colorado and Margaret lives in California. Todd is in Tennessee, according to Romper.
5. Kathleen’s Sisters Have Not Supported Peterson in Court
Candace Zamperini, Kathleen’s sister, does not believe that Michael is innocent. In trial, according to the AP News, Zamperini described Peterson’s account of Kathleen’s death as a “fictionalized story”. She said that the Alford plea he eventually submitted was “meaningless”.
In July 2018, Michael’s lawyer throughout the trial, David Rudolf, sat down with Digital Spy for a candid interview about the case. Speaking about Candace’s “diatribe” which fans can see in the last episode of the series, Rudolph said, “What was that like? I sat there and I was sort of waiting for my turn [laughs]. I sort of knew at some point she was going to turn her ire on me! All I could do was sit there and tell myself that it’s really sad that she is so consumed by anger and hatred. So it really wasn’t hard for me to just sit there and not react, because the truth is, I felt sorry for her. That’s mostly what I felt.”
Describing Candace’s demeanor in the series, Refinery 29 states, “Candace lacks Peterson’s sense of gallows humor and Rudolf’s laid back contemplation. She seethes with rage – her body held tight, lips a straight line, hair mercilessly sprayed into shape… As an angry, older woman, Candace is made an easy foil to the complexities of the men in the film.”