The story behind HBO Max true crime series The Staircase

The Staircase - Courtesy HBO Max
The Staircase - Courtesy HBO Max /

True crime is a popular genre among streaming platforms, and HBO Max has been a heavy player for several years now. Their latest production is The Staircase. Other compelling true crime offerings on HBO Max include There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane, Mommy Dead and Dearest, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

The newest true crime series to binge on HBO Max is a story that most people know from the Netflix documentary of the same title: The Staircase. The first three episodes of The Staircase premiered on HBO Max May 5, with the remaining episodes set to air each Thursday through June 9.

The true crime behind The Staircase involves Michael Peterson and his wife Kathleen, along with their blended family. In December of 2001, Peterson made a frantic 911 call, reporting that Kathleen had fallen on the stairs in their house. When police arrived at the scene, they found Kathleen dead on the narrow staircase, and immediately suspected that this was no accident.

To start with, there was an exceptional amount of blood present, and some of Michael Peterson’s statements just didn’t match up with the evidence. Kathleen’s body looked as if it had received multiple blows that were not consistent with her hitting her head on the stairs as she fell.

As the case was preparing to go to trial, some startling facts about Michael Peterson’s life began to emerge, which made him look even more guilty. If Kathleen had found out about her husband’s secrets, might they have argued? And if so, might that argument have ended in Michael striking out at Kathleen in anger, killing her?

What made all of this even more fascinating was the fact that a documentary crew was filming the events leading up to the trial, and they were welcomed by Michael himself. The subsequent documentary aired on Netflix, and I urge all true crime followers to watch it if you haven’t already.

I don’t want to give any spoilers that will ruin the first-time watch for any of my readers who haven’t seen it yet, but I am not exaggerating when I say this very true story reads like exciting crime fiction. Just wait until you get to the defense’s “owl theory”, which was formulated to try and explain how a simple fall down the stairs could result in such physical trauma.

The Staircase
The Staircase Key Art – Courtesy HBO Max /

At the end of this jaw-dropping story, I was still uncertain as to Michael Peterson’s guilt or innocence. Despite his claims that he adored Kathleen, he was obviously lying to her about some pretty significant aspects of his life; but, does that make him a murderer?

I am only one episode into the HBO Max series, but so far, it seems to be following the true story, and both Colin Firth as Michael Peterson and Toni Collette as Kathleen, are giving their usual masterful performances.

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Are you familiar with the Michael Peterson case, and have you seen The Staircase series on Netflix or HBO Max? Is Peterson guilty? Sound off in the comments section.