New HBO Max Series Explores The Mysterious Staircase Death Of Kathleen Peterson

The scripted limited series tells the story of Michael Peterson, his family, and the mysterious death of his wife, Kathleen.

May 03, 2022

HBO Max’s The Staircase introduces us to the Peterson family — before and after mother Kathleen’s mysterious death in Durham, North Carolina. The first episode begins in 2017 with Michael Peterson, portrayed by Colin Firth, getting ready in a bedroom mirror. The story then jumps to the fateful night that changed everything for the Petersons, Dec. 9, 2001. We hear an emotional Michael making a frantic phone call to 911, because his wife, Kathleen, has just “had an accident” and fallen down “15, 20” stairs. Michael’s son arrives home to find police all over the house, his distraught father in the kitchen, and his stepmother’s bloodied body at the bottom of the stairs. While Michael tells his son that his wife had fallen down the stairs, the police officially declare the home a crime scene.

The story then jumps back to three months before the death. We see Kathleen, played by Toni Collette, in the kitchen surrounded by her children. As the family celebrates one of the daughters going to college, we get a sense of their dynamic: the playful relationship between mother and daughters and the sense of pride the family has in being there for one another.

The episode jumps between the past — where we see elements of Michael and Kathleen’s seemingly normal relationship — and the immediate aftermath of Kathleen’s death. At first, the emotional family vehemently defends Michael as police look at him as a suspect, but when police share the crime scene images and what they found on Michael’s computer with Kathleen’s sisters, things start to change.

'The Staircase' on HBO Max

This true crime limited series follows Michael Peterson and his sprawling family after the suspicious death of his wife. Premieres May 5.

The first episode ends the way it began — with Michael in the mirror getting ready in 2017. A woman walks in, kisses him, and says, “You’re starting your life again today.” And with that closing scene, we know that we’re in for a retelling of the Peterson saga that is just as dramatic as the real-life story.

Based on a true story, the eight-episode limited series will continue to tell the story of Michael Peterson, his sprawling family, and the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. The Staircase premieres on HBO Max May 5.

Next Up

5 Things To Know About The Mysterious Staircase Death of Kathleen Peterson

In 2003, Michael Peterson went to jail for life without the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife, Kathleen — but that was just the beginning of the story.

An Arkansas Real Estate Agent Went To Show A Home And Was Never Seen Alive Again

On Sept. 24, 2014, Beverly Carter received a call from a man who said he and his wife were interested in seeing a property but when she went to show them the home, horror ensued.

Fugitive Ryan-Rivera-Meister Extradited, Alleged To Have Killed 16-Month-Old Baby

Authorities say Ryan Rivera-Meister was captured in July 2021 in Guatemala.

The Case Of Murdered Mom Renee Pagel Stayed Cold For Over Ten Years

Renee Pagel was recovering from donating a kidney when she was found stabbed to death in her bed on Aug. 5, 2006.

A Florida Man Was Free For A Year Before He Killed — Again

Eric Pierson had already done two stints in prison — one for attempted murder and one for second degree murder — when Erika Verdecia went missing.

Father Is Desperate To Find Daughter’s Alleged Killer, Arturo Munguia AKA Jesse Vega

More than 20 years have passed since Arturo Munguia AKA Jesse Vega went on the run. He stood 5 feet 5 and weighed 140 pounds at the time he fled. Munguia had strong ties to the Chicago area but could also be in Mexico, authorities said. If you have any information on his whereabouts, please submit your tips to or text 1-833-378-7783 (3-PURSUE).

A Young Wisconsin Woman Was Killed Leaving Work, Her Case Went Unsolved For 10 Years

The lead detective on the 1999 murder case assured Theresa Wesolowski’s family he would not retire until he found her killer.

5 Things You May Not Know About Marilyn Monroe’s Life And Death

The owner of the company that transported Monroe to the hospital claims the actress was alive in the ambulance the night of her death.

Michigan Man Stages Fiancée's Death In Fiery 'Car Crash'

During an interrogation, Donald Spice didn’t even attempt to claim he was innocent after police found Lori Marie Vargas’s body in a burned-out car.

5 Lessons We Learned From Candice DeLong & 'Deadly Women'

She said she feels confident she and the production team will never run out of cases to feature on the series.