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The Staircase Murders (2007)

After calling 911 to report his wife's accident, successful novelist and aspiring politician, Michael Peterson, becomes the prime suspect in her alleged murder.



, (based on the book "A Perfect Husband")


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Cast overview, first billed only:
David Rudolf
Caitlin Atwater
Todd Peterson (as Brandon Olive)
Margaret Peterson
D. A. Jim Hardin
Detective Castell
Kate Donadio ...
Kathleen Peterson
Martha (as Stephanie Honore)
Bill Peterson
Clayton Peterson
Candace Zamperini
Melinda Walsh ...
Patty Peterson
Lisha Brock ...
Freda Black


When Michael Iver Peterson, a successful novelist and aspiring politician in Durham, North Carolina, finds his wife Kathleen's body on the staircase, bloody but still breathing, he calls 911 in panic. His son Todd confirms his parents were in true love, would never harm each-other. However the police, notably Detective Joe Castel, and D. A. Jim Hardin, holding a grudge for a column the author once wrote against the incompetent force, disbelieve their postulation she fell from the stairs, notably because her blood was found very high. Adoring step-daughter Caitlin, who privately shows suspicious pleasure in the jewelry inheritance and is named executor of Kathleen's estate, was all night at her Cornell sorority. The female coroner excludes her trainee's preliminary theory of a fall, bluntly stating multiple blows and at least two hours painful death-struggle. Wine - and blood traces suggest Michael may have staged her having drunk too much wine and tried to wipe her blood. The family ... Written by KGF Vissers

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15 April 2007 (USA)  »

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The Staircase  »

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User Reviews

A fairly good adaptation of a true murder case...
1 September 2011 | by (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

THE STAIRCASE MURDERS is based on the actual Michael Peterson case and is one that I watched as it unfolded on Court TV several years ago. I was intrigued by the case since it involved a very nondescript looking man suspected of a heinous crime, who happened to be a respected writer who had a good reputation in his neighborhood.

Here the man is played by TREAT WILLIAMS, who does a very effective job of playing the rather snobbish author who looked down on the justice system in his community, alienating the police force by his critical newspaper columns about their ineptness in solving cases.

Watching the case with all of its twists and turns as it actually unfolded in a courtroom was much more interesting than this reenactment, even though the made-for-TV movie has a number of good points. The script barely has enough time to touch on all the incidents (including financial and sexual problems) and has changed things around for dramatic purposes to make things more concise.

None of the subordinate characters are really fleshed out, so the film depends heavily on the central performance of Treat Williams and that of his step-daughter, Caitlin (SAMAIRE ARMSTRONG) who begins to doubt his innocence after viewing the autopsy photos of his dead wife, Kathleen Peterson. She has presumably been killed in an accidental fall down a staircase.

Wisely, the script mentions several times that there was "far too much blood splatter" to account for a mere fall down the stairs. It also shows him staging the scene after her death. And when it turns out that his previous wife had a met a similar fate overseas, the doubts about his innocence become more evident by the time he goes to trial.

He's now serving life in prison without parole. Frankly, I never had any doubts about his guilt in the crime, but I note from the other comments that several viewers are left wondering whether he was innocent or not--which means that the screenwriters did not present the incriminating evidence against him strongly enough and made his character appear too sympathetic.

Let me tell you, Michael Peterson was a far less charming person in real life than he is in this film--although Treat Williams does a creditable job of depicting the man's flawed character. But the man was so complex that the actor is unable to fully suggest the evil intent required to commit the crime.

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