The Staircase: What really happened to Michael Peterson's first wife?

The Staircase: What really happened to Michael Peterson's first wife?

Find out what happened when the couple lived in Germany here...

Are you watching The Staircase? Starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, the HBO/Sky Atlantic drama tells the story of the suspicious circumstances that crime writer Michael Peterson's wife Kathleen was killed and the trial against Michael that followed.

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Naturally, because the show is based on a real-life murder, fans have been intrigued by every aspect of the case. In fact, many have been delving into Michael's life before Kathleen's death. So what is there to know about Michael Peterson's first wife and what happened when the pair lived in Germany?

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WATCH: Watch the trailer for new true-crime drama The Staircase

Before Michael and Kathleen married in 1997, he was married to another woman named Patricia. Although it's not known when the pair tied the knot, the pair welcomed two children together - sons Clayton and Todd.

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When both sons were young, Michael landed a job in the US Department of Defence which took them to Gräfenhausen, West Germany. While there, their lives became very intertwined with other ex-pats also living on Rhein-Main Air Base, with Patricia taking up a job teaching at an elementary school on site.


Michael was married once before he tied the knot with Kathleen

However, it was during their time abroad that Michael became linked to another staircase-related death. In 1985, a close friend of the couple's named Elizabeth Ratliff was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home. She was last seen alive by Michael, who had brought her home just before the incident.


Elizabeth Ratliff with Patricia Peterson and their daughters

As Elizabeth's husband George had died a few years prior, Michael and Patricia took it upon themselves to raise the couple's two daughters, Margaret and Martha. They became their girls' legal guardians, and when Michael and Patricia decided to divorce in 1987, Clayton and Todd chose to live with Patricia while Margaret and Martha stayed with Michael, who then moved to Durham, North Carolina.

While German authorities ruled Elizabeth's death as an accident (at the time, they theorised that she had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage before falling down the stairs), after Kathleen's death in suspiciously similar circumstances, her death was thrown into a different light.


Michael and Patricia adopted Elizabeth's daughters following her death

American authorities investigating Kathleen's death had Elizabeth's body exhumed and reexamined. However, Patricia has remained firmly by Michael's side throughout it all. Despite the breakdown of their marriage, up until her death in 2021, she firmly defended Michael's innocence in both cases.

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She told The Charlotte News & Observer back in 2014: "He is innocent of any involvement in Kathleen's death... I've always believed he did not do this, and I always will."

Their eldest son Clayton later told the publication that Patricia and Michael lived together for the last few years of her life before she sadly died at the age of 78 of a heart attack.

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