Kathleen Peterson

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Kathleen Peterson
Born Kathleen M. Hunt
(1953-02-21)February 21, 1953
Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.
Died (aged 48)
Durham, North Carolina
Education J. P. McCaskey High School
Alma mater Duke University
Occupation Businesswoman, philanthropist, engineer
Spouse(s) Fred Atwater (1977–1985; divorced)
Michael Peterson (1997–2001; her death)
Children Caitlin Atwater

Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson (February 21, 1953 – December 9, 2001) was an American business executive, engineer, and philanthropist. She is well known as the subject of the documentary series The Staircase, which addresses the circumstances surrounding her death.

She was married twice—to Fred Atwater in 1977 and to Michael Peterson in 1997.

Life and achievements[edit]

Kathleen Hunt was the daughter of Veronica Hunt. She attended J. P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and graduated first in a class of 473 students. She matriculated at Duke University, where in 1971 she was the first female student accepted into the school of engineering. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master's in Mechanical Engineering in 1975.

Hunt later achieved executive positions at Baltimore Air-Coil-Pritchard, Merck, and Nortel Networks, where she became Director of Information Services. Locally, she served on the Board of the Durham Arts Council and aided the American Dance Festival and the Carolina Ballet.

Her first marriage was to a physicist, Fred Atwater. The marriage ended in divorce in 1985. She had one child with him, Caitlin Atwater.[1]

Michael Peterson[edit]

In 1996 she married writer Michael Peterson. On Sunday, December 9, 2001, she was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Durham mansion.[1][2][3] Michael had called 9-1-1, stating that she had fallen down the stairs. He was convicted of her murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison,[1][4] but on December 15, 2011, was granted a new trial following the discrediting of a prosecution witness.[5][6]


A funeral service was held for Peterson on December 13, 2001 at Duke Chapel. She was buried at Maplewood Cemetery.[7]

See also[edit]

  • Soupçons, also known as The Staircase, French tv mini-series on the Peterson trial


  1. ^ a b c William L. Holmes, Associated Press, "Novelist convicted of beating wife to death", The Item, October 11, 2003, p. 3A.
  2. ^ Emery P. Dalesio, Associated Press, "N.C. novelist's murder trial starts today", Spartanburg Herald-Journal, July 1, 2003, p. B8.
  3. ^ Brooke Cain, "Finished 'Making a Murderer'? 'Staircase' tells Mike Peterson’s story", Happiness is a Warm TV blog, The News & Observer, January 15, 2016.
  4. ^ "Peterson speaks to WRAL News", WRAL-TV, July 24, 2009 (video).
  5. ^ Dennis Murphy, "'Reversal of Fortune', Part 1", Dateline NBC, NBC News, June 3, 2013 (video).
  6. ^ Maureen Ryan, Variety Media, "'The Staircase' should be your next 'Making A Murderer' obsession", Philadelphia Inquirer, January 30, 2016.
  7. ^ "Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson", at Behind The Staircase: Exposing Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's Film, retrieved July 19, 2016.

TV documantation Medical Detective