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The Staircase: Who are Michael and Kathleen Peterson’s children and where are they now? | Explainer

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HBO Max series The Staircase is trending everywhere, with Colin Firth, Toni Collette and Juliette Binoche just a few of the Hollywood names starring.

The fictional series is based on the very true story of Michael Peterson, a novelist and local newspaper columnist who was tried and went to jail for the murder of his wife, Kathleen. His conviction was later evidence reduced to voluntary manslaughter after he accepted an Alford Plea in 2017, protesting his innocence while granting the court had enough to convict him of the offence.

The story is told in French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s renowned Netflix documentary of the same name, which spanned an entire 15 years of filming to accurately tell the ever-winding, perplexing story of Michael Peterson and his family.

One of the most confusing elements of the story is the five Peterson/Ratliff/Atwater children who have all come to be a part of Michael and Kathleen’s family through prior relationships, adoption and entirely different families.

So who are Michael and Kathleen Peterson’s kids? Let us explain.

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The Peterson family: [L-R] Claire Atwater, Clayton Peterson, Kathleen and Michael Peterson, Todd Peterson, Martha Ratliff and Margaret Ratliff. (Netflix)
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Clayton Peterson

Before marrying Kathleen, Michael Peterson was married to Patricia Peterson. During their 22-year marriage from 1965 to 1987, the pair welcomed two sons, Clayton and Todd.

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[L-R] Clayton Peterson, Martha and Margaret Ratliff during their father’s trial. (Netflix)

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Clayton Peterson is the eldest, born in 1974. When his parents split he and his brother grew up with their mother, but were reunited with Michael in their later teenage years.

When Clayton was 19 years old, he was arrested and charged for planting a homemade pipe bomb – that never went off – in a Duke University office, where he was attending college at the time, reports The News & Observer.

Investigators later found six additional bombs in the Peterson family home.

The Staircase
[L-R] Patrick Schwarzenegger as Todd Peterson and Dane DeHaan as Clayton Peterson in HBO Max’s ‘The Staircase’. (Binge)

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According to the Herald Sun, In 1994 Clayton was convicted of possessing a destructive device and served four years in federal jail.

Where is he now?

Today, Clayton lives in Maryland, USA, with his wife and children, according to The News & Observer.

In HBO Max’s The Staircase, Clayton is played by American actor Dane DeHaan.

Todd Peterson

Todd Peterson is the youngest of Michael and Patricia Peterson’s children and born in 1976.

He was reportedly the first person to see Michael after his mother died and supported his father during his trial.

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[L-R] Todd Peterson with Martha, Margaret and Clayton, his wife and baby. (Netflix)

Where is he now?

Todd reportedly now lives in Tennessee according to The News & Observer.

In HBO Max’s The Staircase, Todd is played by American actor Patrick Schwarzenegger.

Margaret and Martha Ratliff

Margaret and Martha Ratliff are the adopted daughters of Michael and Patricia Peterson.

When Michael and Patricia moved to Germany in the 1980s, they were friends and neighbors with Margaret and Martha’s parents, George and Elizabeth Ratliff.

[L-R] Margaret and Martha Ratliff during their father, Michael Peterson’s trial. (Netflix)

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Sadly, George passed away in 1983. According to The CinemaholicGeorge was an Air Force captain and died in a “secret overseas operation”.

Just two years later, the girls’ mother tragically died from an intracerebral hemorrhage, secondary to a blood clot disorder. The following morning, the family nanny found Elizabeth dead at the bottom of the stairs.

After this event, Michael and Patricia Peterson decided to adopt Margaret and Martha, since they had equally grown as close to the girls as they had their parents.

Aussies actress Odessa Young plays Martha Ratliff in HBO Max’s ‘The Staircase’. (Binge)

The similarity of Elizabeth Ratliff’s death to Kathleen Peterson’s has been a great cause of discussion and suspicion in the case of Michael Peterson, though he has not been convicted of any wrongdoing in relation to Elizabeth’s death.

Where are they now?

Both Margaret and Martha maintained Michael’s innocence during his trial, and since then, Newsweek reports that Margaret has moved to California, while Martha lives in Colorado.

In the HBO Max series, Margaret is played by American actress Sophie Turner and Martha is played by Australian actress Odessa Young.

Caitlin Atwater

Caitlin Atwater is not the daughter of Michael Peterson, but of Kathleen Peterson and her first husband, Fred Atwater. Caitlin was born in 1982, and initially supported Michael, her stepfather when he was tried for her mother’s death.

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[L-R] Margaret Ratliff, Kathleen Peterson, Martha Ratliff and Claire Atwater. (Netflix)

Yet, as the trial carried on, Caitlin began to grow suspicious of Michael and eventually became a key witness for the prosecution.

According to Newsweek, In 2008, Caitlin filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Michael, which they later settled for US$25 million (AU$36 million).

[L-R] Sophie Turner as Margaret Ratliff and Olivida DeJonge as Claire Atwater in HBO Max’s ‘The Staircase’. (Binge)

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Where is she now?

According to The News & Observer, Caitlin now goes by her married name, Caitlin Clark and is the mother of twins.

In The Staircase, Caitlin is played by Australian actress Olivia DeJonge.

Throwback shows prominent politician in her childhood days

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