Friday, June 29, 2018

"The Staircase": Michael Peterson's 911 Call

Netflix did  a series "The Staircase" in which they are viewing the evidence in the murder case where Michael Peterson was found guilty in the death of his wife, Katherine. This is a short analysis of the 911 call and of later statement made by Peterson, denying the murder. 
Peterson credits Netflix in getting his conviction over turned. The editor of the series, Sophie Bruenet, had a 15 year affair with Michael Peterson. As to its heavy editing, he said, "I wouldn't say that my relationship with Sophie, or its end, influenced any decisions as to what was included or excluded in any way positively or negatively." 
Did he kill his wife? 
Statement Analysis gets to the truth. 
Michael Peterson called 911,  2:40 am on 9 December, 2001
911: Durham 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?
Peterson:… Uuuuh, eighteen ten Cedar Street. Please!
It is interesting to note that the subject began with a pause, making the question of his address "sensitive" to him. 
Since he would require no pre-thought for his address, what might have caused the pause in needing to choose his words?
Consider that 911 calls are, in a sense, "excited utterance."  Being emotionally upset is presupposed. 
Was it that the subject was considering that he was going to answer "What is your emergency?" rather than the address?
This might have caught him unprepared for "going off script" as it becomes slightly unexpected for a subject. 
911: What’s wrong?
This is similar to "What happened?, What is your emergency?" and so on. We expect him to report what happened, to whom it happened and to ask for help for the victim. We sometimes find within "guilty caller status" the subject asking for help for himself. This is appropriate if he is asking for specific guidance for CPR or first aid. Otherwise, it is often noted as a form of leakage where the caller recognizes that he, himself, needs help. 
Peterson: My wife had an accident, she is still breathing!
The subject begins with a classification of what happened: she had an accident. This is his priority: not that the authorities/police/medical assistance knows what is wrong, or what happened, but that what happened to her was not intention. 
Hence, he begins with the suggestion of self protection or protection of someone who is not the victim. 
a. We do not know what happened to her
b. We do not know what injuries she has
c. We do not know how directives for first aid or CPR may be given because we do not what know is wrong. 
Next we note that he calls her "my wife." This is interesting. 
We do not always expect a complete social introduction in the opening response to "what happened?" or "what is wrong?" due to urgency. Therefore, we cannot conclude here that the absence of her name (ISI) is indicative of a poor relationship. It very well may be, but due to the urgency of an emergency call, we note it yet without putting too much emphasis upon it.
Please also note that if his wife is not to survive (dead or close to dead), the relationship can "improve" for the subject. This is not reality.  This is his verbalized perception of reality. If the relationship was very bad, it could, in his mind (as seen in his words) have a new status (positive) since he would thus be free from her. 
Lastly we note something most unusual in his priority. 
This is where he chose to begin the information: 
a. Alibi (what happened to her was not intentional)
b. Without telling us what happened or what need is present
c. "still"
The word "still" is a word from the element of time. It is found in a sentence where time is elapsing. 
He does not wait to be asked, "Is she breathing?" after saying, "my wife fell down the stairs" but wants police to know she is "still breathing,"
This indicates a monitoring of her breathing during the passage of time. Remember he began with intention ("accident" to make a conclusion) and here, the law of economy is reversed in order to give a single, small additional and unnecessary word:  "still" to tell us:
He had expectation that she would no longer be breathing. 
In an attempt to portray himself as in earnest for her care, he did not wait until he was asked but anticipated the question. Now consider this unnecessary piece of information and compare it to the pause of sensitivity needed to give his address. 
She is "still" breathing indicates that he has allowed time to elapse before calling 911 and he did not expect her to be breathing by the time he made this call .
When taken with the "conclusion of the matter"; that she died as a result of no one person's guilty, it is to affirm the guilty murder verdict found in court. In the status of guilty knowledge of a crime in an emergency call, he indicates guilt. 
He has, via Statement Analysis, admitted to delaying the seeking of help for his wife and that he personally expected her to be no longer breathing by now. 
His priority?
That police know it was not his intention. This is to show that he does not have a priority of getting her help. 
Let's see if he asks for help for her, or help for him to administer emergency first aid. 
911: What kind of accident?
Peterson: She fell down the stairs, she is still breathing! Please come!
This is where scripted language becomes evident. 
He now tells police that she fell down the stairs. This is more detail and it is significant. He does not, however, ask for help for her, nor does he report her status.  Her status would be about blood or how to help her via first aid. "Please come" using politeness (Ingratiation seeking to be "the good guy" such as on the side of police) and to "come" but not to assist the victim. 
911: Is she conscious?
Peterson: What?
911: Is she conscious?
Peterson: No, she is not conscious,  please!
Ingratiation factor repeated increases importance. 
"please" in repetition shows an acute need to be "on the side of good", that is, police. This is the "Ingratiation Factor" we find in various settings, including in guilty statements, missing children, as well as a technique used in interviewing.  
911: How many stairs did she fall down?
The subject has not given any indication of her condition for which the operator can direct first aid. Since nothing is offered, the operator is searching for information. This is to indicate:
Every 911 call, like every interview, will give the Interviewer (operator) one of two impressions:
Either the subject is working with me to facilitate the flow of information, or he is not. 
Peterson: What? What?
911: How many stairs did...
Peterson: Stairs?
911: How many stairs?
Peterson:… Um, um, uh, (etc)
911: Calm down, sir, calm down.
Peterson: No, damned, sixteen, twenty. I don’t know. Please! Get somebody here, right away. Please!
This was not a question he expected and he would need just a second or two to quickly count the number of steps. This would also focus him upon the victim which would then give information to the police on how to advise first aid. 
Did he not hear her? 
This is not likely as he is able to repeat her words. He is on hormonal "high alert"?
Or, is the repetition (sensitivity) due to stalling because he was not in close proximity to the victim?
This is something very concerning because it is expected that he would be right with his wife (describing the breathing) and able to follow directions. 
He shows scripted urgency. He does not ask for help for his wife, nor does he ask for help for himself to administer emergency aid to her. This is to make a "show" of concern, but linguistically: he is not concerned for the victim. 
911: Okay somebody’s dispatching the ambulance while I’m asking you questions.
Peterson: It’s, um… It’s Forest Hills! Okay? Please! Please!
It continues the same way. 
911: Okay, sir? Somebody else is dispatching the ambulance. Is she awake now?
Peterson:… Uummh… uuh…
911: Hello? Hello?
Peterson:… Um, uh, uh, (etc). 
It may have been that he went to the stairs to give an answer to the question. Seeing his wife may have startled him, but in any case, this question, easy for someone with the victim, caused him great difficulty. This suggests that he was not with the victim. 
2:46 am Second call:
911: Durham 9-1-1: Where is your emergency?
Peterson: Where are they?! It’s eighteen ten Cedar. She’s not breathing! Please! Please, would you hurry up!
Here is an important change: she is not "still breathing" but now "not breathing." 
We note that he did not use her name in the call, nor did he address her. We now look back to the initial incomplete social introduction. 
He does not ask for help for the victim, nor for himself in administering CPR. 
911: Sir?
Peterson: Can you hear me?
911: Sir?
Peterson: Yes!
911: Sir, calm down. They’re on their way. Can you tell me for sure she’s not breathing? Sir? Hello? Hello?
911 Call Analysis Conclusion:
The subject has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife, uses scripted language, and reveals that he delayed calling 911 so that his expectation of her breathing stopping, would be fulfilled. This speaks to premeditated murder. 
Here is from 2003 where Peterson spoke before the trial.  We look for him to guide us to the truth. Was he nervous about the trial?
"No. Absolutely not. I'm not worried about what's going to happen because I know what happened and what did not happen, and I know it'll all work out."
This news interview continued. 

"I don't know if it was murder. I don't know. When I called 911, I thought she had fallen down the stairs and as far as I know, that's what happened."
Here he refuses to commit in spite of "knowing" what happened and knowing what "did not" happen. The Rule of the Negative makes it the most important part of the sentence. 
He is deceptive. He maintains his deception by being technically truthful but concealing information. This is how more than 90% of deception is used. 
Michael Peterson's original conviction was correct.  
For training in deception detection, contact us at after reviewing: training opportunities 
and some videos at youtube regarding training opportunities and some sample analysis. 


Anonymous said...

I didn't read all the post because I had previously seen the Netflix show and felt he was guilty no matter how hard the producer tried to convince the viewer otherwise.

I thought he was a transexual that went into the military to be near men and used women only as a cover for his ability to dominate other men.

It was weird how he adopted the other woman's children who died while being a neighbor of his in Europe and raised them as his own.

If you like weird and lies, watch that Netflix show.

habundia said...

Could that have been another way to be seen as "good".....take in the children of a woman who died that will get people to believe one is a good person......this is exactly how those who have intent to harm get away with it....acting like they are caring and loving people.
They are great in deceiving and those around easily are being fooled.

habundia said...

Accident or....?

Unknown said...

Have you ever had a case where someone made a statement such as "my wife is dying" not to indicate expecting her to die but rather enhance urgency?

Anonymous said...

He gives himself away with one small word, “still”. SA is powerful.

John Mc Gowan said...


Casting further suspicion on Peterson was the case of Elizabeth Ratliff, an old close friend of his (he even adopted her children after she passed). She had been found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her house years before — and when her body was exhumed during his trial, a new autopsy marked her cause of death as a homicide too.

Andrea said...

I saw a 48 Hrs Show about this case & the guy seemed guilty but I will def watch the Netflix show! Great article!!!

Charlotte said...

The Petersons (Scott, Michael and Drew) are all guilty of killng their wives.

But.. My wfe has had an accident. Why is the use of "my wife" wrong here? If he said "Caroline has had an accident" , the dispatcher would be none the wiser.

When my six year old daughter, Cordelia, had an accident this spring, I said (or screamed, as I was crying so much that it was difficult to speak) my daughter has cut her forehead, she is bleeding, she needs an ambulance. Later, I used her name. I even corrected the dispatcher when she called her Cornelia. Thinking back, I dont know why I corrected her, because it was not relevant. But I did.

Luckily, Cordelia is fine now, with a small scar on her forehead.

ima.grandma said...

The YouTube link isn’t working for me.

MP said...

Here is the link to Peter's channel.

ima.grandma said...

Thank you, MP. I appreciate your help. I’m happy with your participation and I hope you continue.

MP said...

Thanks, Ima, I have learned a lot on here and find SA both challenging and fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Chi Pong said...

I am so happy to be seeing crime Staircase solve. I will be using Netflix to see docu-film.

ima.grandma said...

Ursula Franco, Italian Criminologist, offers her perspective of Peterson’s 911 call using statement analysis as a forensic science.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ima!

No charmed life for me said...

I know this is off topic, but I’m a southerner who loves Southern Charm. I have looked all over for a statement from Thomas Ravenel, denying he raped anyone, but apparently he hasn’t said a thing. The only thing I could find was this from his lawyer.
Still, Ravenel insisted through his lawyer that he did not do the acts he was accused of.

His attorney, Richard P. Terbrusch, said in a previous statement, “My client enjoys a certain degree of fame and unfortunately has become — unfairly — a target for an individual who has, in my opinion, dubious motivations.”

Would you have a go at it, pretty please?

No charmed life for me said...

I found more of the statement from his lawyer

“The person this woman describes is simply not the man that I know. My client is a loving father, successful businessman, and upright member of the community. He is appalled and hurt by these allegations — and is committed to defending his reputation in the appropriate legal forum.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like his lawyer is his lover.

Jo Ann said...

I just finished watching the series. In episode 12 when he is debating taking the Alford plea he says "Never would I admit to killing Katherine" He embedded his confession. You don't admit to something you didn't do.

ima.grandma said...

"I've got a big target on my back," Ravenel said. "I'm a pretty well-known guy and people know I have resources. I'm not going to put myself in a position where I can be you know, I can be extorted for money by a bunch of trial lawyers."

BallBounces said...

"Still breathing". It may be that she is dead, but he wants to establish as a fact that he called for help -- and asked for urgent assistance -- while she was still alive. Then, six minutes, later, she is no longer breathing. So, he's establishing that he's a "good guy" for calling for help while she is still alive. Stretching it, and they're the bad guys for not getting there on time (that's a stretch)!

Jo Ann said...

It struck me how much he used the word innocent, instead of saying he didn't do it. Everyone is "innocent" until convicted. Very seldom did he talk about Katherine, never did he say he wanted justice or the truth for her. I would have expected him to talk to her at her grave but nothing. He showed anger about evidence that showed he was not what he pretended to be but showed little anger as a man being "falsely accused".

This case reminds me a lot of a case in WI, Todd Kendhammer. He killed his wife and his whole family supports him and believes he was falsely convicted. To allow your family to go through all that stress and financial hardship to continue to fight for your freedom when you know it is all a lie.

ima.grandma said...

habundia @ June 29, 2018 at 5:48 PM
Your comment is a definition of a predator. I agree.

A phrase used in this 911 call takes me back to:
“When I found her “still breathing”, I thought, ‘This is bad, but if we can get her to the hospital, she is going to be OK,’” Blackburn told a church congregation in South Carolina on Sunday morning.

Jo Ann, thoughtful comment. Perhaps his false pride trumped the false accusation.

Jamie, there are plenty of grammar blogs available out there in cyber land. Go google yourself away from this blog.

Shelley said...

Did the netflix show discuss his friend that also died by falling down the stairs. Elizabeth Ratliff was her name

It was when he lived in Germany. It was stated he spent time with that woman every night. And was at her house that night.

In 2003 Elizabeth's body was exhumed. An autopsy was done and it was stated she died from blunt force trauma and it was the result of a homicide.

I looked for any comments by Michael about Elizabeth but could not find anything.

Mike Dammann said...

Peter, have you ever analyzed any of the statements made by people claiming to have been abducted by aliens?

C5H11ONO said...

Off topic (apologies)
Rod Rosenstein: “We’re not holding anything embarrassing.” What about illegal???????

Anonymous said...

I’m so glad you did this, Peter. I had him pegged at guilty but feel better after reading your analysis

Anonymous said...

At the end of episode 12 when audio of 5he 911 call iplays again....he can be heard, clearly, saying...what to do, what to do....or what do I do, what do I do. This was a heat of the moment murder.

Unknown said...

Ballbounces ""Still breathing". It may be that she is dead, but he wants to establish as a fact that he called for help -- and asked for urgent assistance -- while she was still alive. Then, six minutes, later, she is no longer breathing. So, he's establishing that he's a "good guy" for calling for help while she is still alive. Stretching it, and they're the bad guys for not getting there on time (that's a stretch)!"

~This is what I believe. If he killed her, and there's no doubt in my mind that he did, I don't think he would have called 911 while she was still alive & breathing. He wanted to establish that this was an accident that just happened ...After all, she was just breathing 10 minutes ago and now she's not so that means that I, Michael Peterson, called for help right away and did not wait for over an hour before she stopped breathing before calling". In reality, we know she'd been dead awhile before he called and much was missing from the timeline.

Inquiring Mind said...

did this guy have a girlfriend in Europe, long ago, who also died falling down stairs? is that true or one of those internet things?

Anonymous said...

Inquiring mind, it’s true

lynda said...

His release is such a miscarriage of justice. I feel awful for her daughter and sisters. He should have died in prison.
The blood spatter guy who turned out to be corrupt makes no difference to me. You could remove his testimony completely and still have more than enough to convict him.
1. Blood spatter on inside of his shorts
2. His shoe print, in blood, on the back of her pants
3. The presence of rare red neurons in her brain. That is indisputable evidence that her brain began to "die" approx. 2 hours BEFORE she actually took her last breath. He beat the shit out of her and let her lie there for 2 hours before he called police. Kind of explains his "still breathing" comment.

Anonymous said...

There is a fascinating moment in Episode 12 of The Staircase, at 24:30, where MP is talking about the randomness of events. He says (in remembering the death of Kathleen): ...hey, honey, don’t go out there...” and then he corrects himself by saying: “...don’t go in the house.” Well - his “story” is that she was going INSIDE while he remained outside. But here, he lets slip that they were both inside and she was going OUTSIDE. There are two “realities” - the false reality in his story, and the true reality in actual history. Take a look.

MsGvious said...

I notice he doesn't ask for medical attention. Instead he says "Please" and "Get somebody here".

gabie said...

How can I hire you?

Anonymous said...

For me, it was the first minutes of the Netflix Series. He is telling the events of that night. They went to the pool, they talked, she left. He says "That was the last time I saw her alive", but then quickly corrects himself saying she was still breathing when he called 911.
I'm sure that was a giveaway. She wasn't breathing, but he didn't want to get caught in that lie.

Ria said...

I agree, Anonymous. The first few minutes of the Netflix series really stood out to me too when MP said, "That was the last time I saw her alive", but then quickly corrected himself. For me, this was a giant red flag.

I also noticed the pause at the beginning of the 911 call. The question threw him off his script. MP uses "uh" and "what" repetitively. Is he pretending to not hear the dispatcher clearly? I see his use of shouting "uh", "what" and "please" at the dispatcher as an attempt to block her from speaking; from asking him questions - he wants to end the call as quickly as possible. He's controlling/dominating the conversation and literally filling the call with noises.