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!
“Uuuuh” is a non word, an unexpected pause which indicates sensitivity or a need to stall for time to think. Why should Peterson need to think about his own address?
Note the word “Please!”, Peterson shows an unexpected need to ingratiate himself with the operator.
911: What’s wrong?
Peterson: My wife had an accident, she is still breathing!
Michael Peterson is already setting up a scenario (an accident) with the 911 operator and without being asked he says “she is still breathing!”, he doesn’t says that his wife is breathing but “still breathing!”, “still” is unexpected and means that he is expecting her to stop breathing.
911: What kind of accident?
Peterson: She fell down the stairs, she is still breathing! Please come!
He repeats “she is still breathing!”, something important to him, we’ll see why.
“Please” is repeated here. Peterson shows again a need to ingratiate himself with the operator, something unexpected in an emergency call.
911: Is she conscious?
Peterson wasn’t expecting 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!
Note “please” is repeated here.
911: How many stairs did she fall down?
Peterson: What?… hat?
Peterson answers with a question to stall for time because he is not close to his wife, he is 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…
After this question, Michael Peterson 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.
We can hear Peterson walking to the scene to look at the stairs.
911: Calm down, sir, calm down.
Peterson: No, damned, sixteen, twenty. I don’t know. Please! Get somebody here, right away. Please!
Note “Please!” is repeated here.
After around 15 seconds from the start of the phone call, the operator asked Peterson about the number of stairs, he was unable 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 he Dailed 911, 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 information about his wife condition 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!
Note “Please!” is repeated here.
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, doesn’t answer anymore.
Usually, when people call 911 they stay very close to the victims to give the operator information about their real condition 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 interested in helping her or in giving any real information to the 911 operator about her condition.
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 but 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.
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!
Note “Please! Please” is repeated here. Peterson needs to ingratiate and align himself with the good guys with authorities.
For two times in the first phone call, Peterson told the operator that his wife was “still breathing” now he informs the operator that “She’s not breathing!”, this was a way to postpone the time of Kathleen death, she was already death when he made the first call to 911, she was not breathing at that time, he told the operator a lie.
Peterson: Can you hear me?
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 inform the operator 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.
Peterson never used his wife’s name, a incomplete social introduction is a signal of a poor relationship.
Peterson never spoke about the blood at the scene while he was in front of a very bloody scene.
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. 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. Kathleen, while she was at the computer, read Peterson’s e-mails and 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 are: “…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? She died in his arms, this is true, but hours before the 911 calls.
Ursula Franco, M.D. and criminologist
P.S. to know more about the case, read my articles: