What Happened To Michael Peterson's First Wife?

In the wee hours of the morning of December 9, 2001, the body of Kathleen Peterson was found battered and bloody at the foot of a staircase in her home near Durham, North Carolina. She had bled out. Her husband, novelist Michael Peterson claimed his wife had fallen down the stairs. The police did not believe him and he was arrested, per the News and Observer.

In October 2003, Peterson was found guilty of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Eight years later, Peterson was granted a new trial after the judge found that a witness for the prosecution gave testimony that was misleading, per ABC News. In 2017, Peterson submitted an Alford plea on a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to time already served. Today, he is a free man.

Before he caught national attention surrounding the death of Kathleen, Peterson was married to a woman named Patricia. The couple lived in Germany for a while where they met and befriended a couple. It turns out Kathleen Peterson wasn't the first person close to Michael who ended up dead at the bottom of a staircase. Here's the scoop.

Patricia suffered the loss of two dear friends

Michael Peterson and his first wife Patricia lived in Germany with their two sons Clayton and Todd for several years. She was an elementary school teacher, per Pop Sugar. She and Michael befriended Elizabeth and George Ratliff and their two daughters, Margaret and Martha. George Ratliff died of a heart attack, and in the following years, she and Michael grew closer.

The night Elizabeth died in 1985, Michael and Patricia had dinner at her house. Michael stayed behind to help her clean up and put the kids to bed. The next morning Elizabeth was found dead at the bottom of a staircase, just like Kathleen Peterson would be 16 years later, per Oxygen. Since Michael was the last person to see her alive, suspicion followed him but he was never charged with a crime.

Michael and Patricia Peterson divorced in 1987, and he went on to marry Kathleen in 1997. Patricia counted both Elizabeth and Kathleen among her dear friends. Despite this, she's always maintained that Michael is innocent. "He is innocent of any involvement in Kathleen's death. He just couldn't do it and wouldn't do it," she told News and Observer in 2014. "I knew and loved Kathleen... They would have been together forever, had she not died," Patricia said. "I suffered from losing both Liz and Kathleen."

Michael Peterson and his first wife lived together after he was free

Michael Peterson and Patricia Peterson became Martha Ratliff and Margaret Ratliff's legal guardians following their mom's death, raising the little girls as their own. Per Greenboro News & Reporter, Michael, Martha, and Margaret moved to the US after he and Patty split. Todd and Clayton Peterson chose to stay with their mom in Germany. Michael and Patty remained close friends, and she was there for him throughout the trial. CNN reported she even loaned Michael $168,000 for legal fees.

Michael also moved in with Patty after his romance with Sophie Brunet, "The Staircase" docu-series editor, crumbled. Instead of running off with Brunet to Paris, Michael found a two-bedroom Durham condo to rent (ground floor and without a staircase!), so he could make up for lost time with his kids and grandchildren, as he explained to The News & Observer. Interestingly enough, Patty decided to relocate to Durham, moving in with Michael. The former couple lived together, platonically, for two years. "They were companions," Clayton told The News & Observer. "They took care of each other."

Not only did Patty look after Michael, but she also publicly defended him against salacious rumors, including gossip that he had an affair during their marriage with Elizabeth Ratliff. "It was a platonic relationship," she told filmmakers, per Cosmopolitan UK. "Because I know all aspects of his personality. Under no circumstances would they have had a sexual relationship."

Michael Peterson's first wife died of a heart attack

Michael Peterson and his first wife Patricia Peterson lived together until her death in July 2021. Patricia suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital the following day, age 78. "She was a kind person," her son Clayton Peterson told Greensboro News & Reporter. "She touched so many lives." Her obituary in The Herald Sun, via Legacy, said Patty had taught for 35 years. She'd clearly made a lasting impression on her students and her friends. "She was my favorite elementary school teacher (1st and 3rd grade). She was a light to so many children and will always live in my heart and memories," one former pupil wrote in Patty's book of condolences.

"She was truly one of the most kind and wonderful people I've ever known," wrote another. The student shared that Patty had been her teacher in Germany, and later attended her wedding and sent congratulatory gifts after her ex-pupil gave birth. "She was amazing," they concluded.

"I was so honored to know Patty as a friend and a sister in spirit," a friend wrote on Patricia's Legacy memorial page. "Her soul was deep, sharing love and kindness, plus her strength of character was deep ... Most of all, she celebrated the goodness of others, that somehow she always found."