Michael Peterson’s 911 call

Michael Peterson during his first trial

Michael Peterson during his first trial

On December 9, 2001, Peterson made his first call to 911 at 2:40 am:

911: Durham 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?

Peterson: … uuuuh eighteen ten Cedar Street. Please!

911: What’s wrong?

Peterson: My wife had an accident, she is still breathing!

Peterson is already setting up a scenario (an accident) with the 911 operator and says that his wife is still breathing without being asked, that’s unexpected. 

911: What kind of accident?

Peterson: She fell down the stairs, she is still breathing! Please come!

Peterson says that his wife is still breathing, again, this is sensitive to him, we will see why. He doesn’t describe the scene but shows to know without any doubt the cause of the accident.

911: Is she conscious?

Peterson: Whaat?

He didn’t expect the question, that’s why he is unable to give an answer; to answer with a question is a way not to answer or to buy time to give a reliable answer.

911: Is she conscious?

Peterson: No, she is not conscious… please!

911: How many stairs did she fall down?

Peterson: What?… hat?

Peterson answers with a question because he didn’t expect the question and he is not close to his wife, unable to see the stairs. 

911: How many stairs did..

Peterson: … Stairs?!

Peterson is trying to buy time because he is far from the scene.

911: How many stairs?

Peterson:… uuh… uuh…uh…

We can hear Peterson walking to the scene to look at the stairs. Michael Peterson, after this question, appears to be caught off guard and is stalling for time with some: “What? Stairs? uuh, uuh, uh”, a way to buy time to be able to get to the area of the stairs.

911: Calm down, sir, calm down.

Peterson: No, damned, sixteen, twenty. I don’t know. Please! Get somebody here, right away. Please!

After almost 15 seconds from the start of the phone call, the operator asked Peterson about the number of stairs, he wasn’t able to answer the question because he wasn’t close to the scene. In the first 15 seconds of the phone call Peterson wasn’t approaching his wife, he was close to her just around 25 seconds after the beginning of the call, he went there just to look at the number of the stairs and because asked.

I guess Peterson found the cordless phone in the kitchen, just behind the corner, very close to the service stairs where Kathleen’ body was, so:

1- why he had to walk for around ten seconds to be on the scene to be able to look at the stairs?!

2- And, how he could give informations about his wife conditions if he wasn’t close to her?

911: Okay somebody’s dispatching the ambulance while I’m asking you questions.

Peterson: It’s, ohuuh… It’s Forest Hills! Okay? Please! Please!

911: Okay, sir? Somebody else is dispatching the ambulance. Is she awake now?

Peterson:… uummh… uuh…

911: Hello?… Hello?

Peterson:… uh… uh… mmmm… uuuh… oh… uuuh…

After some questions, Peterson, fearing not to be able to track down his story, didn’t answer anymore, showing a resistance in answering, one of the strongest indicators of potential guilt.

Usually, when people call 911 they stay very close to the victims to give the operator information about their real conditions and to be able to help following the suggestions the operator may give them, like how to perform CPR.

Michael Peterson had no intention to help his wife, that’s why he was far from her when he called 911 and went back to the scene just to look at the stairs to give the operator an approximate number.

Michael Peterson was far from Kathleen because she was already dead for hours and he was not interesting in helping her or in giving any real information to the 911 operator about her conditions.

When Michael Peterson called 911 he was quite far from the victim, instead, when the paramedics arrived, he showed a different behavior, he was on her body trying to resuscitate her, he was acting, he knew she was already dead for hours. Peterson was not just acting as a grieving husband for the paramedics, he was also trying to justify all the blood on his clothes, touching and hugging the victim, in other words: he was trying to cover evidences.

The scene

the murder scene

Michael Peterson’s second call to 911 at 2:46 am:

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!

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…?

Peterson called 911 a second time just to say that Kathleen wasn’t anymore breathing but after he gave this information to the dispatcher he didn’t answer any more questions showing a resistance in answering due to his incapacity to track down his story. In this second call Peterson tried to act as a worried husband but at the same time he reported that Kathleen was not breathing, a way not to motivate the paramedics to hurry up.

During these two short calls Peterson said: “please”, nine times, he used the word “please” as a useful word to act as a worried husband but he showed at the same time a resistance in answering that is one of the strongest indicators of potential guilt. 

Peterson never spoke about the blood at the scene while he was in front of a very bloody scene; usually when people call 911 in the same situation they say: There is blood everywhere! 

At the second question of the 911 operator Peterson answered with an unexpected: .. she is still breathing! those are ‘extra words’, he tried to drive home the point, he wanted the operator to believe that Kathleen was still alive to delay the time of her death, Kathleen didn’t die after 2.40 p.m. as Peterson want us to believe but between 11.08 p.m. and 11.53 p.m. At 11:08 p.m. Helen Prislinger, Kathleen co-worker, spoke to her, at 11:53 p.m. she sent an email to Michael Peterson’s e-mail address that Kathleen was supposed to read but the attachment ‘readiness’ was never opened. It’s quite sure that Kathleen while was at the computer reading Peterson’ e-mails found evidences of a homosexual relation with a male prostitute, a motive for murder.

In the first chapter of the documentary ‘The Staircase’ Peterson said that Kathleen left him at the pool to go inside, his words were: “…and the last I saw her was when I was there and she was just walking here, and that’s it. That was the last time I saw Kathleen alive…. no… she was alive when I found her… but barely’, how could she have died in his arms in the early hours of that morning if he was far from her during the 911 call, as he said, after he found her she was alive but just barely?

Ursula Franco, M.D. and criminologist

P.S. to know more about the case, read my articles:

The murder of Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson at the ‘hands’ of Michael Peterson

Michael Iver Peterson: a liar and a murderer