Whodunnit: the husband or the owl? How The Staircase invented true crime TV

From OJ to Making a Murderer, true crime shows owe a debt to this extraordinary documentary. As the series is finally shown in full, its director talks about the case that haunts him

The story of The Staircase is a long and twisty one. Kathleen Peterson, a wealthy business executive, was found in a bloody heap at the bottom of the stairs at her home in Durham, North Carolina, on the night of 9 December 2001. Her husband, Michael Peterson, a writer, was charged with her murder. The Staircase, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s extraordinary documentary series, follows the build up to the trial, how it all unfolds in the courtroom and its aftermath.

De Lestrade’s previous work, Murder on a Sunday Morning, was a two-hour film about a teenager accused of murdering a woman in Jacksonville, Florida. After its success (it won the 2001 documentary Oscar), HBO asked for more. De Lestrade was keen to find a very different kind of case from that of a poor black kid (who was acquitted after his public defender proved police had lied and beaten a confession out of him).

It’s got just about everything: tragedy, corruption, disinterment, perjury – plus a lot of blood spatter analysis

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