On Dec. 9, 2001, police were called to a home in Durham, North Carolina, where a woman named Kathleen Peterson was found dead. Her body was splayed at the bottom of a staircase, covered in copious amounts of blood. Her husband, Michael Peterson (a former Marine, little-known novelist, and failed mayoral candidate), claimed she had a few too many drinks and fell down the stairs while he was outside by the pool. Authorities (and anyone else in their right mind, don’t at us) said he killed her.
The ensuing investigation and trial brought to light many secrets about the unusually blended Peterson family, including Michael Peterson’s closeted bisexuality and affairs with men as well as a peculiar incident from almost 20 years prior in which he was the last person to see a female friend named Elizabeth Ratliff alive…before she was discovered dead at the bottom of the stairs. (Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.)
The stranger-than-fiction story was the perfect source material for some kind of media venture, and indeed, a group of French filmmakers swooped in to capture the trial for a documentary titled The Staircase, which was released on July 22, 2004, and is now streaming on Netflix. But HBO Max took the narrative a step further, fleshing out this bizarre tragedy in a mini-series starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette that recently wrapped up on the streamer.
Only one version of The Staircase is truly worth watching. We’ve saved you the agony of watching both by pitting them against one another and declaring a winner. Read on and discover which true-crime tale deserves your full attention.
Erica Rivera is the Editorial Development Manager at Evolve Media, where she curates content for ComingSoon, DogTime, Mandatory, and Momtastic. Her freelance writing has appeared in New York magazine, USA Today, the Star Tribune, City Pages, and many other publications and anthologies. She has interviewed hundreds of artists, authors, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and changemakers over the course of her career. She is also the author of Insatiable (Penguin Group, 2009) and Come Again (Thought Catalog Books, 2015). For more, visit: www.ericarivera.net.