Scan Reddit threads focused on solving the murder at the centre of The Staircase, and you'll find an unusual term: "the owl theory." Though Michael Peterson was convicted in 2003 for killing his wife Kathleen — who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in 2001 — plenty of true crime fans believe that something else entirely was to blame for the death. Did an owl attack cause Kathleen to plummet down the stairs to her death, resulting in her husband's imprisonment?
It's a theory first cooked up by T. Lawrence "Larry" Pollard, a former neighbour of Peterson's and an attorney. In 2009, Pollard filed a "motion for appropriate relief" on the grounds that it was possible an owl, and not Peterson, killed Kathleen.
Though Peterson maintains his innocence, in 2017 he entered an Alford plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter and been released from prison. Now, Peterson's own lawyer, David Rudolf, is admitting in a new blog that he wishes he had initially gave the owl theory more credit.
"Exsanguination was the cause of [Kathleen's] death – not blunt force trauma to her brain, not a fractured skull, not strangulation. Loss of blood. So, what caused those wounds?", wrote Rudolf on his blog last month.
"We thought in 2003 they were due to the scalp 'splitting' when her head hit a flat surface, such as a wall or a floor, as explained by Werner Spitz in episode 1 [of The Staircase.] Our experts did not believe there were [seven] separate impacts to her head, as the prosecution argued, but rather only three impacts – which caused 'splits' on her scalp, as shown in the autopsy photos. But in 2003, none of us considered whether any of those scalp wounds might have been inflicted by a bird of prey. It just never crossed my mind. I wish it had."
The blog goes on to list the "aggressive" behaviour of barred owls, a bird commonly found in the Peterson's hometown of Durham, North Carolina. They were, in fact, living in the woods by the family's home at the time of Kathleen's death.
Rudolf stated in the blog that this evidence was "circumstantial," but also "pretty persuasive and credible." Director of The Staircase, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, agrees: He told Rolling Stone in a new interview that the owl theory was "the most plausible explanation for what happened" to Kathleen.
Still, talk of Pollard's owl theory seems to live mostly on the pages of Reddit and attached to hashtags on Twitter — it has not had screen time in Netflix's new episodes of The Staircase. Peterson may be out of prison, but for the owl truthers out there, until this particular solution is confirmed as fact, justice has not been served in Kathleen's case.