Why are American’s so Fascinated by True Crime: an armchair theory + a breakdown of the infamous “owl theory”

Hi friends,

I hope you caught my show this week with Horse. It was a fantastic discussion about the bad habits we have as traders and how to stop them. I am working on fixing a few bad habits myself, notably holding a bad trade too long. I will talk to you next week about how I’m addressing the problem. I’m trying out a new system!


What is it about true crime that fascinates people? The phenomenon is displayed so well in the recent show Only Murderers in the Building with Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selina Gomez. The three bond over a love of true crime and decide to start a podcast about a murder that occurred in their building. If you don’t have a friend or know someone who dreams of starting a murder podcast, you clearly need to expand your friend circle. In fact, before I started The Penny Lane Podcast, I was talking to a producer and a co-host about creating a true crime podcast. This is coming from the woman who falls asleep to Snapped. Perhaps I just fulfill all the stereotypes, but that doesn’t make my love for true crime any less real.

Today I wanted to discuss one of my favorite true crime cases and an oft overlooked theory that could offer a simple explanation to the whole thing. The Staircase was released by Netflix in 2018 and quickly created a buzz among true crime fans. The show chronicles the story of Michael Peterson who stood trial for killing his wife Kathleen.

The night of the murder, the Durham, NC based couple was enjoying some wine by their pool when Kathleen got tired and headed to bed. When Michael returned to the home a short time later he found his wife dead at the bottom of the stairs. He claimed she was drunk and fell down the stairs while the authorities believed he’d beaten her to death with a blow poke (a fireplace tool).

The crux of the prosecution was that Kathleen’s sister claimed the blow poke was missing from the home. The other key evidence in the case was that there were claw-like lacerations on the back of her head consistent with those that could have been caused by a blow poke. Additionally, the fact that Michael was associated with another case of a woman falling down the stairs years earlier in Germany was fairly damning. Incidentally, the blow poke was later found in the basement of their home with no evidence of Kathleen’s blood.

Initially Peterson was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, that ruling was later overturned when the court learned a key witness had lied under oath. While awaiting a new trial in 2017, Peterson entered an Alford plea and was sentenced to time served. He is now a free man.

The fascinating part of this case is an armchair detective theory that Kathleen was NOT bludgeoned to death with the family blow poke, but was in fact attacked by an owl. Here are the key pieces of evidence to support this theory:

  • Barred Owls were living and nesting near the Peterson house at the time of the murder.
  • That type of owl is dangerous and aggressive toward humans.
  • Blood was found outside the house on the front walkway as well as on the front door frame, which would have been impossible had Michael pushed Kathleen down that stairs.
  • The wounds on Kathleen’s scalp are consistent with wounds that could have been made by owl talons. I personally believe the wounds are MUCH more consistent with owl talons than a blow poke. See for yourself.
  • There are wounds on her face that are consistent with a Barred Owl’s beak
  • An owl feather (a small one from an owl’s talons) was found on her body
  • There was dried blood on her hands. Hairs were stuck in that dried blood (source)

The working theory is that Kathleen was attacked by an owl on her front path and then went inside to the kitchen. She then went to the stairway. She got about halfway up the staircase before slipping on her sandal and falling to her death. This is the only theory that can explain all her wounds.

As is my feeling after watching most true crime documentaries, I feel it’s a failing of the justice system that a case with this much doubt could still initially send a man to prison for life. I think that’s the real draw to true crime in general. What would YOU do if you were convicted of a crime you didn’t commit? How could it even be possible? But the truth is it happens every day, and people are forced to put their trust in the American legal system, which is far from perfect.

See you back here on Thursday for another bout of my ramblings.


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